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Angel Wedge has been at 3 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
Ingress4,301,415Shaper Septicycle 2014.42: AF02-GOLF-05 (Recife, BR)  AF04-SIERRA-01 (Ponta Delgada, Azores)  AF07-PAPA-03 (Casablanca, MA) [V] AF07-ROMEO-09 (Seville, ES) [V] AF09-SIERRA-11 (Montpellier, FR)  AF13-SIERRA-00 (Athens, GR)  AF14-CHARLIE-11 (Durban, ZA)  AF14-SIERRA-09 (Ankara, TR)  AM01-FOXTROT-06 (Denver, CO, USA)  AM01-GOLF-09 (Omaha, NE, USA)  AM01-JULIET-03 (Madison, WI, USA) [V] AM01-KILO-05 (Toronto, CA)  AM01-KILO-12 (Columbus, OH, USA)  AM02-ECHO-01 (Albuquerque, NM, USA) [V] AM02-GOLF-13 (Wichita, KS, USA)  AM02-HOTEL-12 (St. Louis, MO, USA)  AM02-LIMA-11 (Alexandria, VA, USA)  AM03-GOLF-00 (Houston, TX, USA)  AM03-KILO-10 (Atlanta, GA, USA)  AM05-JULIET-11 (Merida, MX)  AM06-HOTEL-04 (Guatemala, GT) [V] AM06-NOVEMBER-05 (Caracas, VE)  AM15-MIKE-01 (Santiago, CL)  AS10-GOLF-01 (Colombo, LK)  AS10-KILO-05 (George Town, MY) [V] AS11-MIKE-10 (Ho Chi Minh City, VN)  AS12-ECHO-03 (Mumbai, IN)  AS13-PAPA-04 (Taichung, TW)  AS14-ALPHA-07 (Riyadh, SA) [V] AS15-PAPA-09 (Shanghai)  NR01-ECHO-00 (Budapest, HU)  NR01-ECHO-13 (Belgrade, RS)  NR01-FOXTROT-02 (Zagreb, HR) [V] NR01-FOXTROT-06 (Vienna, AT)  NR01-GOLF-03 (Milan, IT)  NR01-GOLF-06 (Geneva, CH)  NR02-FOXTROT-04 (Dresden, DE) [V] NR02-FOXTROT-15 (Warsaw, PL)  NR02-GOLF-08 (Hanover, DE)  NR02-GOLF-12 (Dusseldorf, DE)  NR02-HOTEL-03 (Utrecht, NL)  NR03-GOLF-00 (Oslo, NO)  NR03-GOLF-09 (Copenhagen, DK)  NR04-DELTA-08 (Nizhny Novgorod, RU) NR04-KILO-11 (Reykjavik, IS)  NR13-ROMEO-10 (Portland, OR, USA)  PA01-ALPHA-14 (Nagano, JP)  PA03-ROMEO-11 (Canberra, AU)  PA04-PAPA-08 (Brisbane, AU)  PA07-SIERRA-08 (Christchurch, NZ) [V] Shaper Septicycle 2014.43: AF02-FOXTROT-11 (Salvador, BR)  AF07-SIERRA-02 (Porto, PT)  AF11-SIERRA-13 (Naples, IT)  AF13-CHARLIE-10 (Johannesburg, ZA) [V] AF14-ROMEO-10 (Alexandria, EG)  AF15-NOVEMBER-01 (Jeddah, SA)  AM01-CHARLIE-07 (San Jose, CA, USA)  AM01-ECHO-06 (Provo, UT, USA)  AM01-LIMA-12 (Syracuse, NY, USA)  AM02-DELTA-04 (Las Vegas, NV, USA)  AM02-DELTA-12 (Tijuana, MX)  AM02-JULIET-06 (Bloomington, IN, USA)  AM02-KILO-00 (Cincinnati, OH, USA) [V] AM02-KILO-11 (Charlotte, NC, USA)  AM03-FOXTROT-03 (Ciudad Juarez, MX)  AM04-KILO-01 (Tampa, FL, USA)  AM05-FOXTROT-05 (Leon, MX)  AM07-KILO-06 (Panama City, PA)  AM07-LIMA-02 (Medellin, CO)  AM12-MIKE-01 (Arequipa, PE) [V] AM12-NOVEMBER-08 (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, BO)  AM14-ROMEO-11 (Ciudad del Este, PY)  AM15-PAPA-11 (Rosario, AR)  AS02-NOVEMBER-09 (Perth, AU)  AS07-NOVEMBER-11 (Surabaya, ID)  AS10-KILO-08 (Phuket, TH)  AS11-PAPA-04 (Cebu City, PH) [V] AS12-HOTEL-01 (Kolkata, IN)  AS13-PAPA-07 (Kaohsiung City, TW)  AS15-SIERRA-15 (Kagoshima, JP)  AS16-NOVEMBER-08 (Beijing, CN)  AS16-ROMEO-04 (Busan, KR) [V] AS16-SIERRA-13 (Hiroshima, JP)  NR01-GOLF-08 (Zurich, CH) [V] NR01-GOLF-10 (Luxemburg City)  NR01-HOTEL-10 (Lyon, FR)  NR02-CHARLIE-08 (Krasnodar, RU)  NR02-KILO-02 (Cork, IE)  NR04-CHARLIE-03 (Samara, RU)  NR04-FOXTROT-09 (Helsinki, FI)  NR05-SIERRA-09 (Portland, ME, USA)  NR06-CHARLIE-05 (Omsk, RU)  NR06-SIERR#Darsana Global2014-11-15 09:00:005353  
Angel Wedge1,278Rescheduled because last time people either couldn't make it, or didn't RSVP. Please, let me know you're coming. Chistopher's been hiding out with a friend in Manchester, but a shocking new revelation brings him back into town. And meanwhile, Nathan is coming to terms with recent changes in his situation. Who's having the bigger problem of the two?Reboot of Dracula RPG - Week 18 (rescheduled)2014-03-06 19:00:004  
Adam “Godlypus” Boenig27,728I'll be doing Flash Fiction Monday through Friday until I am recharged to work on the book. If you have an image that you feel needs a story, here's a place to put it!Flash Fiction!2013-02-04 19:00:0021  

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Most comments: 9

2016-01-23 11:38:31 (9 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Does everyone else get this? I started out trying to make a map, and have somehow ended up trying to solve a logic puzzle. I'm just wondering what system you use when arranging a world map to fit the constraints of the plot railroad.

In case anyone can offer advice, here's the problems I'm dealing with. 12 locations, connected together by various routes.
* Jedistadt is isolated, and connected to only one neighbour.
* Dolcruz may also have only a single road out.
* Badenfalle is a major travel nexus, and has either 3 or 4 routes out.
* All other locations have either 2 or 3 exits
* The shortest route from Badenfalle to Marke goes via Grienhüs.
* Grienhüs is connected to Marke, as it has just been occupied by the Markavian Imperial Militia.
* Brütland is connected to Marke, Wendland, and Päris
* There is a link from Arandell to Gaidistan*... more »

Most reshares: 2

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2016-01-30 19:20:06 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

:-p

Most plusones: 8

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2016-01-02 20:24:37 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes , an excerpt from Seven Skies. Joran mutinied some time ago, left the crew and sold landsider (modern world) technology to  the Spanish Pirate Nation. Having just been saved by a Spanish galleon, our heroes are somewhat relieved to find their friend on board…


While the discussion in the big meeting room swung between argument and sharing of information, Joran showed them to his cabin. Tomas was already waiting for them there, though he had even less clue what was going on than anyone else, and there were some tears as he explained he hadn’t seen Shell or Pi since the attack.

The cabin was luxuriously appointed, putting Dick’s or even Captain Brand’s quarters to shame. It looked more like something out of Kubla Khan than a cabin on a pirate ship. But they weren’t interested in the surroundings now. With a few taps at strategic points, apolished br... more »

Latest 50 posts

2016-02-08 18:18:16 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

A decent walk today, and some interesting photos

A decent walk today, and some interesting photos___

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2016-02-06 23:49:07 (5 comments; 1 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

Another #SaturdayScenes , another extract from the journey of Red, Rave, Brelen, and Jon across the twelve worlds

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07 / Go Back to Jail

The seriousness of the situation could probably be gathered from the fact that Red and Rave Menace walked in silence, each with one hand on the tunnel wall. Occasionally Rave would look back to check his brother was still there, but aside from that each of them might be alone. They didn’t speak as they crossed the beach from Brütland back to Marke, and tried not to even look at the others. Each of the escapees was a distinctive figure, and the four of them together would undoubtedly be recognisable enough to see them all arrested, if anyone had reported their departure. So they didn’t look at one another as they walked from the beachhead to the barracks town of Great Marke, where any one of the off dutymilitiam... more »

Another #SaturdayScenes , another extract from the journey of Red, Rave, Brelen, and Jon across the twelve worlds

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 1:07 / Go Back to Jail

The seriousness of the situation could probably be gathered from the fact that Red and Rave Menace walked in silence, each with one hand on the tunnel wall. Occasionally Rave would look back to check his brother was still there, but aside from that each of them might be alone. They didn’t speak as they crossed the beach from Brütland back to Marke, and tried not to even look at the others. Each of the escapees was a distinctive figure, and the four of them together would undoubtedly be recognisable enough to see them all arrested, if anyone had reported their departure. So they didn’t look at one another as they walked from the beachhead to the barracks town of Great Marke, where any one of the off duty militiamen could have been a guard in the Special Prison. They walked right through, and along the large cylindrical tunnel that led to Vorida.

When they arrived at the spa, they had seen a mix of soldiers and supporters, all kinds of people. But they had still stayed apart, walking down opposite sides of the boulevard. Brelen had gone into an armourer’s shop to purchase a new sword for Jon. Markavians liked to boast about their nation and how they surpassed others in all regards, but when it came to the manufacture of weapons they really were in the lead. Red wanted to stop and bathe at the spa, having never had any reason to travel to the town before, but he hadn’t said anything. They had simply walked on, staying barely within sight so that nobody could see them together.

In Lower Hall they had attracted some stares, because that area was quiet and poor. The clothes they’d bought in Ferendol weren’t distinctively Brutal, nor were they particularly fancy. They didn’t have ruffed collars, or any kind of elaborate ornamentation or silks on show. But they were new clothes without soot or singe, and they weren’t the simple shifts of the Hall’s workmen. Four of them stood out, and walking a hundred yards apart made it look like they had something to hide, an easy invitation to alleyway robbery. After the first bunch of thugs challenged them, they walked together as a group with Rave in the lead. They were clearly foreign, or at least not from the Underhall, but they knew where they were going. Most of the meek and weak citizens here wouldn’t dare to challenge them, and many averted their eyes to avoid seeing something they might be asked questions about later.

Now they were back in the tunnels, deep below Underhall if Rave’s sense of direction served him correctly. The fissure they’d escaped through was still there, small enough to be unremarked between two stores if you didn’t know it was there. They’d entered one by one, keeping a sharp eye out for guards, but there had been none. And now, they were in the central stairwells of the jail. Three helical corridors led down, each with dozens of tunnels radiating off that led to different sections of the prison. There were so many, Rave began to wonder if it had been some kind of miracle that put him in with his brother. But no, he remembered in the reading he’d done, a block once filled with prisoners was then sealed, and the shaft redirected to another to guard against all possibility of escape. The same cells wouldn’t be used again until all were dead, or until it was convenient for the guards to move them to some other area.

Now they moved slowly and confidently, hoping they weren’t letting any sign show that they didn’t belong. There were many secrets within the Markavian soldiery that nobody wanted to inadvertently challenge a superior. Men who asked the wrong kind of questions disappeared, and for once this could prove to the advantage of the prisoners.

They didn’t want any of the prisons, they were sure of that much. Brelen’s connection with the spirits allowed him to sketch a rough map of the complex, and there were few paths that didn’t follow the same pattern, small complexes arranged haphazardly around the main shaft like the spokes of a badly made wheel. They found one chamber where the clamour of voices suggested a barracks, the guards relaxing between shifts and using whatever magic they had to spy on the prisoners in different parts of the complex. That was a sobering thought, it meant that even if there was nobody in sight the group’s activities might be observed. But they must have been safe so far, because the guards were laughing and joking.

The next place they visited turned out to be the source of the prisoners’ food.  A huge cauldron of gruel was boiling, and a couple of barrows on the far side of the room were clearly used to dispense it down the chutes to the cells. There were two dozen chutes here, as grimy as the intakes of some mechanical engine, so this refectory must be one of three in the complex. The others, presumably, high enough to dispense food to the cells higher on the shaft. They were about ready to leave, and then Red said stop, he had an idea. He took eight stones, and painted a message on each advising the inmates that the main door to each cell block would be unlocked at some time in the day.

“What are you doing?” Rave muttered angrily, “We aren’t here to free others, whether they’re real spies or innocents like you. And we can’t open the doors, anyway!”

“The lock mechanisms are mechanical,” Red shrugged, “We can open the inner seal into the cells from the control wheels on the stairwell. The doors are counterbalanced, and the mechanism won’t allow the inner and outer doors to open at once, but that’s not a problem. We unlock the doors, and then leave these stones just under the lip of the gruel chutes.”

“You’re crazy. The guards would call an alert as soon as they notice, the place would be in panic.”

“I think that’s the idea,” Jon grinned, helping Red to balance stones inside the chutes. “Nobody opens the doors anyway, the guards have no call to go near the actual cells. But the food dried on those barrows looks hours old, they’ll be fed soon, and when the stones go down the shaft all  the prisoners will think there’s an escape. If even some of them try the door and think they have a shot at getting out, the guards panic.”

“It’s a distraction,” Red explained, “Two of the tunnels we’ve still got a chance to try are right at the bottom of the shaft, so we go down there and open the doors on the way. If it’s not one of those, then when the chaos starts the guards will all be on one of the staircases, and we’ll be heading back up another, so we’ll go straight past them. Makes it easier to get through their barracks area without being seen, if we need to get to that tunnel.___

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2016-01-30 22:04:39 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

This week's entry for #SaturdayScenes  is from a tabletop RPG I'm running. I'm writing up both notes on how to run this campaign (including planning several different plot paths in advance), but starting each area with a prose section like this one, describing a "canon" set of player characters through the adventure. No idea if this will end up being publishable or not, or if anyone would be interested, but I'd be interested to hear what you think.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:04 / Portiston Old Mine

The mines were dark, the tunnels stretching into the far distance. The rock of the walls was the same slate-grey as the rest of Brütland, but the intricate ridged arches and fluted columns had given way to a style that was both more complex and less ordered. These weren’t bare slabs of rock, though there were some walls almost mirror-smooth where therocks... more »

This week's entry for #SaturdayScenes  is from a tabletop RPG I'm running. I'm writing up both notes on how to run this campaign (including planning several different plot paths in advance), but starting each area with a prose section like this one, describing a "canon" set of player characters through the adventure. No idea if this will end up being publishable or not, or if anyone would be interested, but I'd be interested to hear what you think.

❖Tomb of Dragons: Area 2:04 / Portiston Old Mine

The mines were dark, the tunnels stretching into the far distance. The rock of the walls was the same slate-grey as the rest of Brütland, but the intricate ridged arches and fluted columns had given way to a style that was both more complex and less ordered. These weren’t bare slabs of rock, though there were some walls almost mirror-smooth where the rocks had naturally cracked along a layer boundary. Most of these tunnels had spirals and irregular bubbling on the surface, like paint on rusted metal or the complexity of a wasps’ nest. It wasn’t immediately obvious what had caused the damage here, unless you had grown up in a mining community and knew how they worked.

Rock-boring fungi, of which the Brutdelver strain was probably the most popular example, could have the power to split even rock as their underground portions grew stronger. It was a mixture of living tissue that found its way into any structural weakness and grew, and the action of slow but certain noxious emissions from some species. Within walls that many people believed to be solid rocks, the winners in a slow war could have a single fungal body stretching for miles below the surface.

When the environment changed, too hot or too cold, or the massive resilient organism was poisoned by metal salts in the otherwise pure rock, it began to dehydrate and to harden. And it was the solidified remnants of these fungal strata that were mined to provide the staple diet of many Brutal people. Authorities on the subject held that the Brutdelver especially developed a piquant flavour over a decade of maturation as it dried out, and so it was dug out when it was barely distinguishable from an unusual stratum in the rock, that twisted and turned like the branches of an underground bush or grass. The miners could extract every trace of the fossil fungus while leaving the surrounding rock to keep its strength and support the tunnels, using secret techniques that were passed down from miner to minor in the traditional fungus families.  But every child in the towns near here would have played on the edges of the mine at least once, and seen the distinctive curled patterns in the rocky pillars.

Now, the mine was empty. Steel tracks ran along the length of the main tunnel, but there was no sign of fungus remaining in the walls. This vein, an organism that had made a hundred thousand meals over the last decade, was finally exhausted. There were other fungi on side veins, but the me who excavated them weren’t passing this way today.

“There’s something wrong here,” Jon Beele was the first to speak, “I’ve been in the mines in Arandell, and they’re never this quiet. There’s nobody moving here at all, but there’s fresh tracks in the dust. Everybody’s been drawn away.”

“Well, that’s better for us,” Rave shrugged, “We’re not supposed to be here, and if we’re found trespassing we’ll have the authorities down on that Mikial guy as well as on us. We want to get to Päris as soon as is possible. Or anywhere that isn’t going to kill us right away for having a Markavian accent.”

“I don’t think there’s anywhere that’s not on the front lines right now,” Red added, “But if we’re far from home, at least we can try to avoid getting caught up in it. We need to survive, and with the amount of chaos going on around here I don’t think it’s safe to stay. We get through this mine and out the other side while everyone’s dealing with whatever their problem is. Can you find the way?” This last remark was addressed to Berlen, who had now grown used to the brothers’ assumption that he could find his way through any labyrinth.

He placed one palm against the wall, though the dramatic gesture wasn’t really necessary to send his mind into the world of the ethereal dragons. In the past, he had adapted it purely as a cosmetic detail, so the people around him would know he could be deep in a conversation they couldn’t witness. Thoughts came in a rush, panic and chaos that made Berlen physically recoil. Red and Rave were quickly on either side of him, catching him before he fell to the ground and asking what was wrong in an excited babble.

“Quake,” he muttered, after a few seconds to catch his breath, “There’s more, but I don’t understand. I think there’s been a quake, some tunnel collapsed. The miners are fighting to dig people out, loss of life.”

“We have to help!” Red’s eyes were wide, “Where are they?”

“Hold on little brother,” Rave placed a hand on his shoulder, “A mine disaster’s a terrible thing, but what can we do? They’ve got the drilling and cutting machines, they’ve got birds to haul on chains, they’ve got experts in digging and experts in the structures of the rock around here. There’s nothing we could do except get in the way right now. So we’ll be out the other end before they even know we’re here.”

“I guess.” Red conceded reluctantly, but he was smart enough to know that idealism wasn’t going to make any difference here. “So which way do we go?”

“I can’t tell,” Berlen said, eyes cast down at the ground, “The spirits have their own problems, I can’t ask them to help me until they’ve recovered a little strength.”

“We could follow these,” Beele prodded one of the rails on the ground with the toe of his boot, “Mine carts run to wherever they’re mining heavily, and to the exit. There’s got to be at least one line that leads back to Portiston, right?”

They followed the rails, though they had no cart and no miner bird to pull one. The ground was rocky and uneven, and they took slow paces in an attempt not to stumble on an uneven slab or hidden dip. Of course, there was no need for miners to lay a safer floor in a long thin tunnel that would hadn’t been designed with pedestrians in mind.

After a short distance, maybe half an hour walking in the darkness, Berlen was starting to recover some of the unconscious ease he normally walked with. The spirits of the tunnels still weren’t talking, but their connection to his mind meant that he didn’t have to think about where he was putting his feet, and could walk along the heavy steel rails with little trouble. Rave was just about to ask if he could check that they were on the right path, but he never got to say it.

Fire burst out from the walls, and a moment later there were three small creatures blocking the path ahead. They weren’t any kind of livestock or vermin, more like giant mushrooms with a face disturbingly like an animal or human.

“Monsters,” Jon was finding it an effort to stop himself panicking as the apparitions conjured magical fire above their caps. “The quake must have knocked down a wall or something, that’s why there’s nobody down here!”

Rave Menace was a man of few words, but the words he did use had power: “Flare!” magical energy leapt from his outstretched fingers as the battle was joined.



This is followed by 15 pages of notes on the different areas in the dungeon, the monsters to be found there, and various events which may occur depending on player choices. I'm wondering if it might be worth publishing this so other GM's can run the game (and the bits that my players miss don't go to waste)… but while I've put quite some effort into the story side of it, maybe I could make it available separately as a novella too.What do you think?___

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2016-01-30 19:20:06 (0 comments; 2 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

:-p

:-p___

2016-01-25 17:21:14 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Angel Ray Wedge was out walking. He tracked 6.18 mi in 1h:51m:25s.

... why can I autoshare on FB but have to tick a box every time to do it on here?

Angel Ray Wedge was out walking. He tracked 6.18 mi in 1h:51m:25s.

... why can I autoshare on FB but have to tick a box every time to do it on here?___

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2016-01-23 22:06:13 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s)Open 

Today, for #SaturdayScenes  I present a short scene from Tomb of Dragons ... I'm writing this up as a tabletop RPG, interspersed with scenes of the "canon" characters going through each encounter, from where the GM can draw inspiration for their descriptions. If you like, please comment, and then go to #StaturdayScenes  to see what other authors are working on

Zone 1/03 - The Underhall

The passage twisted and turned through the bare rock, getting steadily narrower. Berlan strode confidently forward, not even caring about the darkness. The others were more cautious, huddling together to let the glimmer of light from Rave’s glowing crown show them any sudden steps and fissures in the ground beneath their feet. And just when it seemed they were going nowhere, they turned a corner and the space opened out around them.

It would be a breathtakingspe... more »

Today, for #SaturdayScenes  I present a short scene from Tomb of Dragons ... I'm writing this up as a tabletop RPG, interspersed with scenes of the "canon" characters going through each encounter, from where the GM can draw inspiration for their descriptions. If you like, please comment, and then go to #StaturdayScenes  to see what other authors are working on

Zone 1/03 - The Underhall

The passage twisted and turned through the bare rock, getting steadily narrower. Berlan strode confidently forward, not even caring about the darkness. The others were more cautious, huddling together to let the glimmer of light from Rave’s glowing crown show them any sudden steps and fissures in the ground beneath their feet. And just when it seemed they were going nowhere, they turned a corner and the space opened out around them.

It would be a breathtaking spectacle to anyone who hadn’t lived their life in Marke. Where most cities had grand plazas and even palaces,or networks of tunnels that boggled the mind with their scale, only Marke had anything like the Underhall. It was thin, that was true. The far wall was close enough to recognise a friend, if there happened to be anyone you were friendly with among the crowds. But it was tall, both sides of the cavern criss-crossed with hundreds of slanting galleries. They were carved into the natural rock veins that lined the hall, and their chaotic patterns could be a maze even to people who were familiar with other parts of the structure.

The most startling part, though, was the clouds. Up at the top of the cavern was like walking through mist, which everyone from other worlds said was against science because mists drift downwards. And between those clouds and the ground, there were constant arcs of lightning. But far from the tantrum of an angry spirit, these were Craft lightning, best understood by the craftsman or engineer. The only interaction of the twin great spirits of this place, Ramuh and Gaulifrey, was to shepherd the errant bolts towards the constant floor of corruscating energy at the base of the chamber.

There were bridges, of course, heavy things blessed with the divine energies of stone, but they were few and far between. Especially here, Rave realised as he looked around. They were in the dim lands, the slums where the stone veins were closest together, and everyone sheltered behind the rails of the galleries as they rushed from one tiny store to another. Half of the caves here didn’t even have an owner, passed from one squatter to another through force of arms over the years. The government would have razed the tiny holes long ago, if not for the unusual hardiness of the Dimsiders, and the determination with which they would pursue any opportunity to earn access to the land directly across from them behind the veil of thunder. The soldiers from the dim lands were the most vicious in the Markavian army, taking out their anger and disappointment on the enemies of the state.

It was something of a dichotomy, the irony of which wasn’t lost on Red or Rave. The people of these halls hated the society that ground them underfoot, and were the most distrustful of the machinations of the Imperial Guard, but they were also its most patriotic defenders as they strove to earn a place elsewhere in Marke. Would these people help a couple of struggling prisoners? It was hard to know, but if they were thought to be foreigners they would have little chance of survival here.

The fissure behind them looked like just another natural crack in the uneven wall, not a guard post. That meant they weren’t fighting their way out through legions of guards and dragon masters, at least. Presumably some of the lower ranked guards had been drawn from the dim population, and had made an unofficial exit from their barracks at some point over the years. They wouldn’t be able to find their way back through all of those twists and turns, but then, who would want to?

They didn’t think about splitting up, either. The group had undergone a baptism by fire as they struggled to leave the Special Prison, and they had decided to stick together without anyone actually thinking that there was another option. They had a couple of clear objectives now: To find some new clothes that wouldn’t attract such suspicion, to restore the magical skills of their comrades who had been suppressed, and most importantly, to survive.___

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2016-01-23 20:47:09 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Today has been a stressful day, of tax returns and lost receipts, but… look at my food! Green curry makes everything better.

Today has been a stressful day, of tax returns and lost receipts, but… look at my food! Green curry makes everything better.___

2016-01-23 11:38:31 (9 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Does everyone else get this? I started out trying to make a map, and have somehow ended up trying to solve a logic puzzle. I'm just wondering what system you use when arranging a world map to fit the constraints of the plot railroad.

In case anyone can offer advice, here's the problems I'm dealing with. 12 locations, connected together by various routes.
* Jedistadt is isolated, and connected to only one neighbour.
* Dolcruz may also have only a single road out.
* Badenfalle is a major travel nexus, and has either 3 or 4 routes out.
* All other locations have either 2 or 3 exits
* The shortest route from Badenfalle to Marke goes via Grienhüs.
* Grienhüs is connected to Marke, as it has just been occupied by the Markavian Imperial Militia.
* Brütland is connected to Marke, Wendland, and Päris
* There is a link from Arandell to Gaidistan*... more »

Does everyone else get this? I started out trying to make a map, and have somehow ended up trying to solve a logic puzzle. I'm just wondering what system you use when arranging a world map to fit the constraints of the plot railroad.

In case anyone can offer advice, here's the problems I'm dealing with. 12 locations, connected together by various routes.
* Jedistadt is isolated, and connected to only one neighbour.
* Dolcruz may also have only a single road out.
* Badenfalle is a major travel nexus, and has either 3 or 4 routes out.
* All other locations have either 2 or 3 exits
* The shortest route from Badenfalle to Marke goes via Grienhüs.
* Grienhüs is connected to Marke, as it has just been occupied by the Markavian Imperial Militia.
* Brütland is connected to Marke, Wendland, and Päris
* There is a link from Arandell to Gaidistan
* There is no groups of 3 locations that are all connected to each other (no triangles).
* Nuking one city will not make any others inaccessible
* These are actually planets in space; and if possible I'd like to emphasise this by having an arrangement such that there is no way to project them onto a 2-dimensional map without lines crossing over.

I've been moving planets around for an hour and a half now, and I have no idea whether my goals are impossible, or if I just haven't found the right arrangement. I guess it's kind of the travelling salesman problem in reverse, in a way. Is this a common problem in worldbuilding?___

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2016-01-19 11:38:02 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

I've been working on cover designs for my next book. This is a progression from my first draft, changing based on people's suggestions each time.

Which do you prefer? Is this a book you'd buy? And can you recommend a better image for the background? (I kind of feel the wall is letting me down)

I've been working on cover designs for my next book. This is a progression from my first draft, changing based on people's suggestions each time.

Which do you prefer? Is this a book you'd buy? And can you recommend a better image for the background? (I kind of feel the wall is letting me down)___

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2016-01-16 20:48:14 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s)Open 

This week for #SaturdayScenes  I present a piece of a work in progress, Mandala. This is one of four short stories going into a short anthology titled After Hope which will be available shortly. What kind of stories arise, in a city where super powers have been forbidden? I also present a half-finished cover image for your consideration.

Mandala (part 1)

The patterns were elaborate and complex, traced all over Sophia’s back and arms. They exposed it piece by piece as they cut away her paper surgical gown. It was beautiful, they had to admit.

“You’re really giving up such beautiful ink?” Doctor Carolsen was surprised, though he knew the law would have a big problem if his patient had wanted to keep those tattoos.

“I don’t get a choice, do I?” but she still sounded happy about it. She must know as well as the surgical team didthat it would ... more »

This week for #SaturdayScenes  I present a piece of a work in progress, Mandala. This is one of four short stories going into a short anthology titled After Hope which will be available shortly. What kind of stories arise, in a city where super powers have been forbidden? I also present a half-finished cover image for your consideration.

Mandala (part 1)

The patterns were elaborate and complex, traced all over Sophia’s back and arms. They exposed it piece by piece as they cut away her paper surgical gown. It was beautiful, they had to admit.

“You’re really giving up such beautiful ink?” Doctor Carolsen was surprised, though he knew the law would have a big problem if his patient had wanted to keep those tattoos.

“I don’t get a choice, do I?” but she still sounded happy about it. She must know as well as the surgical team did that it would have been easy to hide them from the scans, that nobody would ever have known if she decided to keep them secret. That she’d come forward at the amnesty meant that she had some reason for wanting rid of them anyway. “So, when does the anaesthetic kick in?”

“Doesn’t seem to be working,” he guessed that was the question she was really asking in any case, “Crystalline matrix absorbing it. Can happen sometimes, I guess you already knew that. Guess you don’t get to be the lucky one, but it won’t hurt too much. Maybe talk through it, take your mind off any pain.”

Sophia nodded, though the gesture probably wasn’t particularly distinct while she was lying face down on the table, looking at the floor through a padded hole.

It had started a few years earlier. At the time, nobody had heard of supernormal powers. Nobody believed in magic, and a man who could fly was something out of a comic book. Sophia would be willing to bet that she hadn’t been born with crystal fragments in her bloodstream, and hadn’t picked up powers by radiation exposure. Like a tiny minority of people with powers, hers had been artificially implanted into her body. In her case, rather than a prosthesis or injection of fragments, she had received the abnormal elements in the form of ink.

Sophia had been fourteen when she decided she was going to get a tattoo, which meant that the shop was some place in an alleyway that wasn’t even listed in the phone book. It had been recommended by a friend, who’d said they don’t make too much fuss about your age as long as you can pay. The place didn’t have the normal government safety or hygiene certificates, of course, but at least one person she knew had been there before and hadn’t died.

The shop sold all kinds of incense, religious ornaments, meditation aides, and other ephemera of some oriental faith. She hadn’t paid too much attention, though she’d looked at a lot of the knick knacks while she waited. There were a few seats dotted around between the rickety wooden shelves, but there was little to indicate the presence of a tattoo parlour in the basement if you hadn’t been recommended by a friend. Even the designs adorning every inch of the walls and ceiling could just as easily have been just artwork, or a sign of the store owners’ religion.

She’d picked a design that they said was called a Mandala, and a position right across the top of her shoulder blades. The artist had asked three times if she was sure, and had warned that it would hurt. He’d said the pattern represented some kind of mystical unity, but Sophia hadn’t known half the words he used. It just sounded like the kind of exotic mumbo-jumbo she’d come to expect from a certain kind of foreign businessman. Then he’d applied a transfer of the design to her back, and spent nearly twenty minutes sorting through boxes in the back room in search of the right ink for this design.

She’d wondered about that at the time. Penny had only just had hers done here, and she didn’t see why two red-and-gold tattoos would require different ink. But she’d just assumed that the man knew what he was doing, and let him work. It hadn’t hurt nearly as much as her friends had said it would, though she still found herself worrying how she would cover up the dressing and bandages to let it heal without her parents noticing.

“So the guy crushed up Atlantean crystals for the ink, eh?” the doctor seemed intrigued by the idea. Ever since the crystals had been identified as the cause of the powers manifested by a good portion of people living in the city, the government had been taking blood samples to check for crystal residue either injected, modifying a person’s genome, or taken orally. Some people tried to get around the tests, finding increasingly elaborate ways to hide the crystal residue inside their bodies, but tattoos was one that wasn’t so far on the list. “What does it do?”

Sophia had realised after two days that her tattoo wasn’t quite normal. She’d come to change the bandages, and found that the design was no longer underneath the strips of synthetic material the artist had applied. It wasn’t that the bandages had slipped, or even that they hadn’t been applied correctly. No, the tattoo was clearly not in the position she’d chosen, and she was so sure that it had been exactly where she expected after the guy had finished applying it.

The next day, it was in a different different position again. Her mandala had moved. She’d told one or two of her most trusted friends at school, and they’d all said that she was mad, or assumed that it was some kind of trick. She hadn’t said anything to anyone else.

It never moved while she was watching, but if she took photographs on her cellphone to compare, she’d say the loops and spirals of gold ink moved like a living thing, writhing like the skeleton of some bizarre dragon. It never stopped trying to get to her, continuing its stop motion dance across her body whenever there was nobody paying attention.

It never gave her any real powers, though. That was the part that really rankled. As it grew stronger, she could even feel it moving and growing even when she was active. She could feel its footsteps, she imagined, even though it was an abstract shape with no anthropomorphic features. It just flowed.

She started using words like ‘Anthropomorphic’ too. She just knew them, and the syllables came out so naturally that she didn’t even realise they were words she’d never learned. In a way it seemed like her vocabulary just expanded, and the mysterious words that seemed to have added themselves into her mind always meant exactly what she’d thought they did when she checked on the computer.

“Seems quite an unusual way for a power to behave,” the doctor noted, but she could tell from his voice that something was starting to go wrong. She wished she could see a little closer. But he tried to keep her calm, continuing the unhurried conversation: “And I see what you mean by the impression that it’s trivial. Though I suspect that must have been pretty useful on exams and on recruitment tests.”

Then she told them about the difficulty of keeping those beautiful spirals hidden; about bosses and friends suddenly treating her like a freak when they realised the red and gold spirals on her back weren’t always in the same configuration. As she grew, they started to move more and more, every hour a different design. Never when anyone else was watching, it had that much discretion at least.

Dr Carolsen carefully didn’t mention that the tattoo was moving now. He figured it was probably best to keep her mind off it, as most people with Atlantean crystals in their bodies could control the powers they gained, at least on a subconscious level. The process here wasn’t like regular tattoo removal, they needed to extract every microscopic fragment of the alien material from her skin. That was easier said than done, when the design writhed like a nest of snakes and ran from the probes and scalpels.

There had been good times too, of course. A decade after she’d first got the ink, the public started to become aware that there were people among them who weren’t quite like anyone else. With the Flying Brick in the news, and later heroes like The Vanisher and Captain Ultimatum, it was accepted that some people in Hope City were just special. Then, she’d been able to show off the swirls in clubs, and people had been happy to hang around with her. But that popularity came at a price, because sooner or later people would always ask about her powers.

It really said something about the mindset of the city at that time, that a girl with a moving tattoo who couldn’t fly or project bolts of energy from her fingertips was somehow more of a stretch to believability. Even worse where the times someone noticed the lines on her back or arms had moved, and knew that she had the crystal in her body. But then they would ask for a demonstration of power, ask to see news stories for the people she’d saved. If you couldn’t point to some proof of heroism, you were clearly a villain. Nobody could understand the concept of being a normal person with powers, you had to tend towards one extreme or the other. Once, she’d even been badly beaten outside a nightclub by a group of drunks who’d thought she must be some kind of Machiavellian psychopath, speculating that the spirals of the mandala could imply some kind of hypnotic ability like the infamous Mistress Panther.___

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2016-01-09 23:05:11 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

A scene (or two) from #SevenSkies  for #SaturdayScenes  ... I'll get this story finished sooner or later. Dick has lost both her ship and her crew at this point, so has taken over as acting-captain of Parlick Vandeboom's ship

The Castaway

“Who’s the Master of the Underdeck?” Dick leaned back against the wall, after carefully checking that the ship’s wheel wasn’t close enough to knock inadvertently.

“Nobody,” Arisette explained, “We haven’t had one since before Kolkata, he’s normally the most expendable member of the crew. A good underdeck has experience with sail, with rigging, and with cannon as well. So if anyone else leaves the ship, the Master of the Underdeck takes their role.”

“But your Master of the Underdeck left before Kolkata, so that’s why Barnard is taking over as Master of Sail?”

“Right.Leaving me Master of Marines, s... more »

A scene (or two) from #SevenSkies  for #SaturdayScenes  ... I'll get this story finished sooner or later. Dick has lost both her ship and her crew at this point, so has taken over as acting-captain of Parlick Vandeboom's ship

The Castaway

“Who’s the Master of the Underdeck?” Dick leaned back against the wall, after carefully checking that the ship’s wheel wasn’t close enough to knock inadvertently.

“Nobody,” Arisette explained, “We haven’t had one since before Kolkata, he’s normally the most expendable member of the crew. A good underdeck has experience with sail, with rigging, and with cannon as well. So if anyone else leaves the ship, the Master of the Underdeck takes their role.”

“But your Master of the Underdeck left before Kolkata, so that’s why Barnard is taking over as Master of Sail?”

“Right. Leaving me Master of Marines, so I have to stay with the defenders on the ship, and I can’t lead boarders.” She sounded surprisingly bitter about a promotion. Then again, Dick could easily imagine how some of the lecturers she’d met at university would react if they were made head of department, and told to do paperwork instead of teaching. If you followed a career because it would lead to your dream, then you wouldn’t want to just manage people chasing after the same target.

“So, does the Master of the Underdeck have any duties except being a stand in? We seem to have managed a few months without one.”

“He does rituals, makes sure the Devices work properly. The Cannon and Sail men call on him if anything doesn’t work how it’s supposed to. He understands the writings of Atlantis, and knows how to build a thing from the design they give us.”

“An engineer, then, or a scientist?” Dick guessed, but Arisette just looked confused, “That’s probably what they call them on land, but I guess it’s more of a specialist role here. Well, if we can’t find another one, we’ll have to hope the Devices keep working just a little…” and then she trailed off as she heard sounds of shouting from one side of the main deck.

Two women ran outside to see what was causing the commotion, and Arisette already had both a sword and a pistol drawn. Dick managed to hide her surprise, and didn’t say anything after she realised that among other duties, the Master of Marines was the Captain’s bodyguard. If she ran unthinking into danger then Arisette would be expected to defend her, and Dick immediately realised that knowing that, she’d take a little more care how much danger she exposed herself to.

The only danger here was a ship, the smallest Dick had seen. Maybe it was only a boat; she couldn’t be sure. It had a single mast, a single sail, and no flag. There was no deckhouse and no wheel, just an open deck with a hatch leading below. It might possibly carry enough stores for two people or three at a push, but right now there was only one man on the deck, a Device in each hand from which ropes looped around the ship’s rail and led up to the top corners of the white sail.

It might have been a landsider on some solo yachting challenge, but for the fact that he turned and waved at the ship flying above the surface with a wide grin of hope but no trace of surprise.

“Let down a line,” Dick ordered, “Bring that man aboard, and see what he has to say for himself.”

It took them a couple of minutes to organise a line, while some of the men looked at Dick curiously. Those who hadn’t seen her in action might be doubting their new Captain’s decisions, but they wouldn’t speak out unless she got someone hurt. They were just waiting for that first mistake, she knew.

“Permission to board?” the stranger croaked when he reached the top of the line. Dick nodded, and with a little effort he heaved himself over the rail and dropped to the boards, taking heavy breaths.

“Welcome to the Shepherd of Nights, of the British Pirate Empire.” Dick kept her voice level as she greeted him, not sure what to say. She didn’t want to give her crew any reason to distrust her, and she could see that almost anything she did in this situation could be a mistake in someone’s eyes. “I am Captain Davies, standing in place of Captain Vandeboom while he is injured. You seem to be without a ship, and we are short on men. So I’ll just ask how we should call you, and if you are willing to stand and fight for a British ship.”

“Aye,” he nodded, voice rough and as cracked as his dry lips, “You can call me Jack. And I’ll stand for any nation, against the chaos that has consumed the seven skies of late. I know of your adventures, Captain, and I’ve spoken to Captain Vandeboom before as well, so I’m thanking all the fates that it was you I first came across. I hope that Parlick isn’t too badly hurt.”

“He’s fine,” Arisette lowered her guard a little, and sheathed the sword across her back. Anyone on first-name terms with her brother must be a good man, though she still kept a gun in her left hand in respect to her assigned duties. “Broke his legs when Bavere Island fell, he’ll be back in the deckhouse in six weeks, the surgeon said.” Dick nodded, only now realising she hadn’t thought to ask any details beyond knowing that Parlick would recover.

“You any good on the underdeck?” Dick was right back to business, “I can’t exactly call a lone sailor Master the day he comes aboard, but ours has gone and somebody needs to make sure this ship stays in working order.”

“I can do that,” Jack nodded, and headed in the direction of the lower decks. A few men split away from their groups to show him what was where, and it seemed that for now at least, the crew was willing to accept him. Dick walked back to the deckhouse, already dreading the conversation she knew lay somewhere ahead, about where the stranded sailor had come from.


* * * (a little later) * * *


“Out of all the captains in the sky,” Jack muttered as Dick walked past his quarters, “I ran into you.”

“Lucky me,” she ducked inside, “You know I recognised you right away?”

“Then you should know there’s no great sentient power shepherding destiny. When people said it couldn’t be blind chance guiding the story of their lives, they were right. It was me. So is someone else guiding me now?”

“Maybe,” she shrugged, “I certainly never expected to have the Pirate King on my ship, following my orders.”

“I think you’re the only Captain who would have seen me as anything other than a castaway. They never looked at my face, you know.”___

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2016-01-09 15:45:31 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

I've been playing for a while. Love the new ad ^_^

I've been playing for a while. Love the new ad ^_^___

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2016-01-02 20:24:37 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes , an excerpt from Seven Skies. Joran mutinied some time ago, left the crew and sold landsider (modern world) technology to  the Spanish Pirate Nation. Having just been saved by a Spanish galleon, our heroes are somewhat relieved to find their friend on board…


While the discussion in the big meeting room swung between argument and sharing of information, Joran showed them to his cabin. Tomas was already waiting for them there, though he had even less clue what was going on than anyone else, and there were some tears as he explained he hadn’t seen Shell or Pi since the attack.

The cabin was luxuriously appointed, putting Dick’s or even Captain Brand’s quarters to shame. It looked more like something out of Kubla Khan than a cabin on a pirate ship. But they weren’t interested in the surroundings now. With a few taps at strategic points, apolished br... more »

For #SaturdayScenes , an excerpt from Seven Skies. Joran mutinied some time ago, left the crew and sold landsider (modern world) technology to  the Spanish Pirate Nation. Having just been saved by a Spanish galleon, our heroes are somewhat relieved to find their friend on board…


While the discussion in the big meeting room swung between argument and sharing of information, Joran showed them to his cabin. Tomas was already waiting for them there, though he had even less clue what was going on than anyone else, and there were some tears as he explained he hadn’t seen Shell or Pi since the attack.

The cabin was luxuriously appointed, putting Dick’s or even Captain Brand’s quarters to shame. It looked more like something out of Kubla Khan than a cabin on a pirate ship. But they weren’t interested in the surroundings now. With a few taps at strategic points, a polished brass mirror on one wall changed to show a slightly grainy image of the debate in the room upstairs. They could clearly see the map evolving, showing more and more incidents with some degree of accuracy.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” Joran said, “I just thought if we could give them some of our technology and get into a position of power, I might have a chance at prompting peace talks. I worked out how to get my radio to work with the ship’s power grid. You know most of their technology is nanomachine based? It’s incredible, systems that act like they’re alive. And like the Ghost said, even the smallest element has a single directive, to ensure the Pirate Code is adhered to. But oddly enough, not the code itself. I’m wondering if, once upon a time, Atlantis lost all copies of its prime directive, and asked a human to remind it what the laws should be. The machines obey the Code without question, and there’s no way a hacker could change that without completely disabling them. But a sufficiently powerful EMP, with some backup plan to get at any shielded systems… it’s not unthinkable that someone could change the Code or erase it entirely, and once they have a Code the AI aren’t capable of questioning it.”

“And the guy they asked to provide a backup was a pirate captain generally known as Mad Jack,” Baz grinned, “I can’t see how that could go wrong.”

“Anyway, I was looking at their technology. Some of it they have to go to Atlantis every time they want spare parts, but the engineers here can manufacture many of the parts even though they don’t understand them. And it turns out that like ninety nine percent of what they have uses the same basic technology. The same power distribution systems, the same voltage and frequency, if you get what I mean.”

“So the remaining percent?” Tomas guessed where this was going, but he wanted to hear it from the expert.

“Isn’t from Atlantis. It’s like comparing our technology to the Atlantisan stuff. I can make it work but it’s obvious it wasn’t originally designed to hang together like that.”

“Atlantean,” Dick corrected, suspecting that would be the only thing she could add in this conversation.

“Yeah, that. So somebody apart from Atlantis is feeding these people technology. Long range snipers, more destructive cannons, even something that could be a kind of dirty bomb.”

“All things that will increase the death toll,” Tomas pointed out, “Someone wants the pirate nations to wipe each other out.”

“Why?” Dick answered, “I can see half a dozen dramatic explanations, and none of them are good. And that map down there is starting to terrify me. There’s probably a hundred attacks on it now. They’re scattered all over the world.”

“I know. It was the same when I only had the Spanish and Dutch data, there’s got to be a clue in there but I can’t see it.”

“Do we know what order the attacks were in? Might be useful to join the dots,” Tomas offered. “And what about projection? Dots that look equally scattered on the map might not be so equal on the globe, right?”

“Yeah. I haven’t got a globe here, though. Kind of a surprise, but nobody really uses one.”

“I have,” Baz grinned and opened up his battered bag. It had holes torn in it, but it looked like his laptop computer was intact. “The strategic map on Angels of Vengeance: Special Missions 4 is the real world, and the scripting engine can do mission planning when you create your own maps. It wasn’t designed for this, but if you can get some kind of coordinates for all those attacks, I think I can get an animated globe, maybe that will help us see it better.”

“Good thought! I can’t believe I didn’t think about that. So, let’s get to work!”___

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2016-01-01 13:33:36 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

Happy New Year!

This Year’s Revolutions [Thank you, Spellchuck]

Well, I didn’t do too badly last year, so let’s see how this year goes. Anyone suggest anything to add?

1) Reading – read all the books I’ve got from authors I follow in Plusland. And at least one video review per month, probably more (assuming I can get VLC to behave)

2) Writing – 750k words this year. I managed 744k last year, so that shouldn't be too hard.

3) Editing – A book to release every month. I’ve got lots of short stories to collect; but would really appreciate any help deciding which ones make the cut.

4) Walking – An easier goal this time. A mile every day, at least, and keep on checking the #Geohashing coordinates every day.

5) Cooking – Something new at least once a month.

Happy New Year!

This Year’s Revolutions [Thank you, Spellchuck]

Well, I didn’t do too badly last year, so let’s see how this year goes. Anyone suggest anything to add?

1) Reading – read all the books I’ve got from authors I follow in Plusland. And at least one video review per month, probably more (assuming I can get VLC to behave)

2) Writing – 750k words this year. I managed 744k last year, so that shouldn't be too hard.

3) Editing – A book to release every month. I’ve got lots of short stories to collect; but would really appreciate any help deciding which ones make the cut.

4) Walking – An easier goal this time. A mile every day, at least, and keep on checking the #Geohashing coordinates every day.

5) Cooking – Something new at least once a month.___

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2016-01-01 00:26:08 (8 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

Year's Resolutions - 2015

Yes;  I'm starting the new year by looking back at what I actually managed. Could also use some suggestions on what to challenge myself to do this year. Goals really help on bad anxiety days.

Release a book every month

Dramatic failure. I managed 2 this year; but at least think I have a better grasp of how to get the number of readers into double figures.


_Walk 50 miles every week*

Started out good, then dropped back. Got 1537.12 miles total, an average of just under 30 per week. I'd like to get back to walking more, though, because walking is good for my mental health. In terms of the #EowynChallenge  thing, comparing my distance to journeys from Lord of the Rings, I've been following Merry's path this year. 1537 takes me from the Breaking of the Fellowship, almost back to Isengard on ther... more »

Year's Resolutions - 2015

Yes;  I'm starting the new year by looking back at what I actually managed. Could also use some suggestions on what to challenge myself to do this year. Goals really help on bad anxiety days.

Release a book every month

Dramatic failure. I managed 2 this year; but at least think I have a better grasp of how to get the number of readers into double figures.


_Walk 50 miles every week*

Started out good, then dropped back. Got 1537.12 miles total, an average of just under 30 per week. I'd like to get back to walking more, though, because walking is good for my mental health. In terms of the #EowynChallenge  thing, comparing my distance to journeys from Lord of the Rings, I've been following Merry's path this year. 1537 takes me from the Breaking of the Fellowship, almost back to Isengard on the return journey.


Do #CampNanowrimo  twice, and #NaNoWriMo  once

Targets 30k in April, 40k in July, and 50k in November.
In April, I wrote Sandpaper Kiss, 30436 words. Subsequently extended to 91284 words, edited (with much help from +Kiba Kurosaki and +UndefeatableTwilight), and published.

In July I wrote Hope City Stories, managing only 38623 words in the month. But I finished it at 90070 words in the first week of November, and am now either waiting for my friends to tell me if it's  any good, or hoping for some other alpha readers to volunteer.

For #nanowrimo  I started working on Tomb of Dragons, but abandoned that on day two and started _Seven Skies with very little planning. That got to 52079 words, further expanded to 52127 after the month ended. I need to get back on the horse and try adding to that again, I think. Or just use the disorganised fragments as a plan, and rewrite it when it comes to next year's Camp Nano.


Write 500,000 other words

Well, I managed that. 744385 words total for the year, which means 510903 excluding the 3 nanowrimo projects. I feel like I should aim for more this year, though. How many is reasonable?___

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2015-12-26 18:17:00 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

Today, for #SaturdayScenes , I'm taking a break from Seven Skies. I've written just over 500k words this year not counting my #Nanowrimo  projects, I thought you might like to see this one, which brings me to a nice neat 733644 words in total. It's a kind-of sequel to the last of my 444 daily short stories, but I think it should stand on its own.

Masks: Kay

An anonymous room in a run-down hotel, that was the way she liked it. A faint trickle of moisture down one wall that might be condensation or might be from a defective window seal in the room above. The management wouldn’t do anything about it either way. The kind of people who stayed in a place like this had spent their lives scraping the bottom of the barrel, and knew there was nowhere else to go. Most of them were hiding from something or someone, whether it was an old criminal record, an ex, or just awor... more »

Today, for #SaturdayScenes , I'm taking a break from Seven Skies. I've written just over 500k words this year not counting my #Nanowrimo  projects, I thought you might like to see this one, which brings me to a nice neat 733644 words in total. It's a kind-of sequel to the last of my 444 daily short stories, but I think it should stand on its own.

Masks: Kay

An anonymous room in a run-down hotel, that was the way she liked it. A faint trickle of moisture down one wall that might be condensation or might be from a defective window seal in the room above. The management wouldn’t do anything about it either way. The kind of people who stayed in a place like this had spent their lives scraping the bottom of the barrel, and knew there was nowhere else to go. Most of them were hiding from something or someone, whether it was an old criminal record, an ex, or just a world that couldn’t support them any more. They’d had a decent life once, most of them.

Kay had been a student, a few months ago. She’d thought her family were reasonably well off, and that she was comparatively poor because she had instant noodles for dinner most days and could only afford takeout once a week. Now that seemed like luxury, imagining a life where there was always food of some kind in the cupboard.

They called this place a hotel, but in reality it was just a room. A place she could pay the rent for daily or weekly, that didn’t ask for a deposit and didn’t check references. A place nobody could find her. Because Kay was on the run too, after the only real crime she’d committed. She didn’t even know if she was guilty. She’d thought she was dreaming, or that her dreams had come true, when she got a ticket to one of the most exclusive events in the upper class’s social calendar. Now her dreams were haunted by greyscale images of a broad-shouldered charmer in a perfectly fitting tuxedo, with black blood pouring from his chest and red footprints in plush carpet.

They were after her. The secret assassin, it turned out nobody else knew how she’d got a ticket either. But she was the woman who’d seduced Prince Phillip and then stabbed him, and left a small bomb as her calling card. Nobody knew her real name, but that didn’t seem to matter. For nearly a month, a photofit image of her had appeared on the news almost every day, and she couldn’t remember. It had only started to come together in her mind when she saw that detectives had found an abandoned shoe, with a place in the heel for a concealed knife.

They were her shoes, and the DNA evidence would certainly lead the police straight back to her. They must have her name by now, she was sure, so she just had to remain anonymous. Would they have put some kind of trace on her passport? Coming to America was probably the best thing she could have done. There were enough people down on their luck here that nobody looked twice, and they didn’t take a foreign monarchy quite so seriously.

She had killed Prince Phillip. The facts couldn’t be denied. She’d gone into that big country house with a ticket she hadn’t expected to receive, trying to remember hasty etiquette lessons from a friend of a friend of a friend, dressed in a costume and mask provided by yet another unexpected friend. Someone had used her, she knew that. She could remember visiting the woman she’d mentally catalogued as ‘Fairy Godmother’ a dozen times, and being too embarrassed to admit she hadn’t caught her name, but she couldn’t remember a moment of the hours they’d spent together. She couldn’t remember the lessons, that were just too boring to recall.

She couldn’t remember being hypnotised, but it was the only explanation that made sense. She could barely remember the Godmother’s face, either. But once she started sketching, her hand moved as if it was on autopilot. The more she drew, the clearer her mental image became. She couldn’t put a name to the face, but quickly convinced herself that she’d never known it. If she wanted to clear her name now, this fairy godmother was the best lead she had.

She’d emailed some of her friends in college, making what she hoped were discreet enquiries. But either they hadn’t responded, or they’d only seen Lue and his friends once or twice. Mac was the best lead she’d got; he’d been the one who actually introduced Luke to many of her other friends. He could say that they guy had been in one of  his Mathematics lectures, though tracking down people in all sixteen of that course’s tutorial groups didn’t turn up anyone who knew him better. Luke wasn’t a student now, and if he was on the college roster it wasn’t under that name. Outside of class, he’d been introduced to Luke by a mutual friend, John, who was on the same course. Luke had asked John where they met, and found it was trying to check the same textbook out of the library for the same research project.

John thought he could remember Luke’s address, in a poky room on campus. Kay sighed and tried to hold back the tears as she realised that even the smallest of those rooms would be twice the size of the space she was occupying now. The next message she got from Mac said that the room was empty, gutted by fire following an accident with a student’s toaster. The building was intact, but the room hadn’t been redecorated in three years. There was no trace of Luke, or of a fairy godmother.

Kay couldn’t quite remember the way to the house where she’d had her training, but she wrote it down as best she could. It was frustrating that she couldn’t get back there now, but she was glad to be far away from an investigation that must be leaving no stone unturned. She could only hope that Mac would be able to follow her directions and find something, anything.

She checked her email every morning, on the library computers. Nothing. It was nearly a week now since she’d heard from him, and she was starting to worry that the police might have hacked her friends’ email even before they announced publicly that they knew her identity. That she might have got Mac arrested, or even worse. She wanted to check on him more than anything, to find out that he was safe, but she knew that contacting him would be the worst possible thing she could do. Today she was even thinking about moving, putting everything she owned back into her backpack and looking for a new hotel in case they could already trace her back here.

She was thinking about it, sitting on the edge of her dingy bed with a city map  in hand, when there was a thunderous knocking on the door.

“Bruce?” she called out, hoping this was just the place’s single staff member coming to check up on something. “Is something wrong? Was I making too much noise?”

“Konstantina?” the voice sounded familiar but she couldn’t quite place it. It wasn’t Bruce, it wasn’t occasional handyman Abe. It wasn’t any of her neighbours, because she hadn’t given anyone her real name. She’d gone most of her life by a nickname, and she was certain she hadn’t even uttered it since she fled the country.

“No, you got the wrong place,” she backed away from the door and did her best to affect an accent. There windows here didn’t  open, and even if they did there was no fire escape on this side of the building. She had no way out except to hope her mysterious visitor went away.

The door burst open in a shower of splinters, and suddenly there was a stocky man in shades and a dark overcoat in her room. He kicked the door closed behind him, and leaned against it to keep it closed.

“You wouldn’t believe the effort I’ve made to find you,” he growled, “And you clearly don’t know how easy it would be if someone else started looking in the right place. Now, I can offer you a more discreet hiding place, but you’re going to explain yourself first.”

“Oh my God…” she gasped, physically shaking in fear, “I don’t know, what… Am I dreaming?”

“No. And that’s one answer more than you deserve. Tell me what’s going on, and you might get to ask another question.” He scowled visibly, but she could tell he really didn’t want to to hurt her. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. She wasn’t sure about anything any more.

“God, oh God,” she sighed and then dived forward, wrapping her arms around his muscular torso and crying into the coarse fabric of his coat. “I didn’t mean to, I don’t understand, they didn’t tell me anything, you’ve got to believe me. Oh, Phillip… I’m so, so sorry.”___

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2015-12-26 00:26:02 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

This is what I got for Christmas once it's unwrapped… amazed at the number of them! Also 3 issues of Doktor Sleepless from my dad… though I'm not feeling dexterous enough to get that out of the packet right now.

This is what I got for Christmas once it's unwrapped… amazed at the number of them! Also 3 issues of Doktor Sleepless from my dad… though I'm not feeling dexterous enough to get that out of the packet right now.___

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2015-12-25 22:27:52 (1 comments; 1 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

This one, day 444, ended up being the end of my challenge to write a short story every day. Now I have the challenge of editing them all to look forward to; if there's anyone out there who might be willing to help (even if just giving your opinion on a couple of stories, saying if you think they make the cut or not), please let me know. Anyway, today I've added the second half to this story, but it looks like it might want to be the start of a longer piece.So what do you think?

Masks

‘The beauty of a mask is that it hides the face you show the world, but reveals another face inside. The face you wear when nobody is watching, an anonymous dancer with danger who can do anything because she knows she won’t be seen. That face can take to the stage, when you wear a mask.’

Konstantina didn’t know who had said that, but it must have been someone notableenough ... more »

This one, day 444, ended up being the end of my challenge to write a short story every day. Now I have the challenge of editing them all to look forward to; if there's anyone out there who might be willing to help (even if just giving your opinion on a couple of stories, saying if you think they make the cut or not), please let me know. Anyway, today I've added the second half to this story, but it looks like it might want to be the start of a longer piece.So what do you think?

Masks

‘The beauty of a mask is that it hides the face you show the world, but reveals another face inside. The face you wear when nobody is watching, an anonymous dancer with danger who can do anything because she knows she won’t be seen. That face can take to the stage, when you wear a mask.’

Konstantina didn’t know who had said that, but it must have been someone notable enough to be worth quoting. She was sure she’d heard it more than once, probably seen it pasted across some poignant image and reshared online. Maybe it had been a poet, or some famous philosopher, or maybe it had come from the memoirs of a killer, but those words spoke to her today. It was the first time she’d been invited to wear a mask since she was a child, and she found herself wondering if this mask could cover up her natural shyness, stop her from being such a klutz at every moment, and set free the witty and charming debutante she’d always wanted to be.

When she stepped into the ballroom, it was everything she had dreamed of. Coloured streamers criss-crossed the ceiling, which was large enough to be supported by fluted pillars. The music was a mix of classics and classical, played at least in part by a quintet of penguin-suited musicians in one of the large alcoves on the far wall, though to have been heard above the clamour of upper-class conversation in a room so large, they must have a well hidden set of speakers around the room. Konstantina looked around the crowd, and saw that every man was handsome and dashing, while every woman looked incredible in a collection of fine silk and crushed velvet, every one of their dresses different. Knowing the reputation of this gathering, she wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had said that every dress here was personally hand-stitched by a top Italian fashion designer. On a stand in the lounge of her apartment her own dress had looked the height of glamour, but here she wondered if she might be thrown out for being too poor.

She was no fairytale princess, she knew. She didn’t have beautiful blond hair that everyone envied, and though she was slender that came at the expense of curves. Most men in her experience would be quite happy to see a few extra pounds on a woman, as long as it was in her bust. Konstantina’s biggest failing, though, was that she was cute. It was a curse that too few people realised, because the nice guys wanted to protect her more than they wanted her, and the not so nice guys weren’t worth thinking about. If she had the choice, she would happily trade in being pretty and having a nice personality for an option that might involve more than just dancing.

Everyone was masked, of course, so maybe tonight Konstantina could let her inner demons run free. Her mask was simple and black, a web of thin lines that let the natural softness of her skin and eyes shine through. On its own it wouldn’t have done much to hide her identity, and she was sure that if anyone who knew her was here they would recognise her in an instant. The dress would probably do more to render her anonymous. It concealed very little despite the sheer volume of frills, ruffles, lace, and tastefully placed bows; but it was something that nobody she’d ever spoken to could believe she would wear. It was tasteful and stylish, but this was clearly not the kind of outfit a sweet and innocent college girl would wear on the world stage.

“Hello,” a man with a perfect tenor voice greeted her as she stood nervously just inside the vast hall. Everyone was watching here, everyone watching everyone, but he seemed completely at home knowing that every person he spoke to and everything he said would be common knowledge in these circles. Even behind her little black mask, Konstantina knew she would never have that kind of courage.

“Hi,” she gasped nervously, “I’m Kay. I mean, Konstantina Alexandria Johnson-Firth.” She started offering a hand to shake, and then reminded herself that at events like this, the conventions were all different. She started to curtsey, then turned the gesture into a slight bob as she realised that she had absolutely no idea what the proper etiquette in this situation was.

The stranger didn’t seem to mind, though. He was tall, and had the muscled shoulders and arms of someone who rowed competitively. The rest of his body was in pretty good shape too, as far as she could make out under the immaculately tailored suit. He had hair darker than hers, and his eyes sparkled from behind a simple diamond-bordered domino mask that did nothing to hide his jawline. He was the kind of guy who must have every woman in the room queueing up to eat out of his hand in normal circumstances, and even here he seemed to have a few more eyes on him than most of the guests. So why was he speaking to her?

“Pleased to meet you, Kay. My name is Phillip Boschester-Wellington, but I have little patience for long names and titles, so please feel free to call me Phil. I don’t recognise your family, is this the first time you’ve been to one of these little gatherings?” Kay nodded, so nervous that she didn’t think she could utter a word without saying something stupid. She knew her etiquette wasn’t right, she knew she should have recognised him at a glance. It was indeed the first time she’d been to anything like this, and she couldn’t believe she’d thought she could get away with it.

She’d thought she was dreaming when the ticket arrived. She’d said something to Malcolm after a few too many glasses of sparkling perry in the union bar, that she’d always envied the movie stars with their tailor-made dresses and everyone thinking they were gorgeous rather than cute. And he’d said he thought models got an even better deal, because they didn’t need talent. And then she’d said that if she could do anything, she’d rather be an heiress. Not just because they got the fancy clothes from the day they were born, but because with so much old money behind them, they could afford to do whatever they wanted. Nobody would ever stop the second daughter of the Duchess of Barrington-Heisworth if she wanted to be an actress or write a novel. Konstantina knew, of course, that she would always value accomplishment over mere success, so such cheap victories would never have made her happy. But that night she’d been drunk enough not to think about what she was saying.

And then Mal’s friend Luke said how would she like to see how the other half really lived, and he’d introduced her to his friend Ban, who had introduced her to a tall, dark haired lady who liked to joke that she was a fairy godmother. Maybe the first time they’d met Konstantina had been told the woman’s real name, but it was lost in a sea of cheap wine and too many introductions, and she was too ashamed of any behaviour she couldn’t remember to admit her intoxication that night by asking again.

She’d thought it was a joke when Luke delivered that dress, on a mannequin to stop it losing its shape. Then she’d thought it was a very, very expensive and elaborate joke. Then she’d got the ticket, and it had seemed a little more real. She’d still doubted it, not sure if the ticket was real. When the car arrived to pick her up, her estimate of the prank’s cost had gone up again. But the car had really brought her here, and suddenly she wished she’d actually paid attention in the blurred rush of Mal’s etiquette lessons.

As well as the upwardly mobile and business heiresses here, there were the old money crowd who’d probably been born with an innate understanding of these rules. Lords and Barons even. Like the man in front of her now, as she suddenly recognised a name she’d heard before but never really noted. Phillip Wellington, officially Duke of Byrony but possessed of so many honorary titles that it was no wonder he declined to mention them. Duke, Knight, His Lordship, His Royal Excellency Prince Phillip, currently fourth in line to the throne and a genius investor with controlling interest in enough corporations to make any economist listen. A man who nobody dared say ‘no’ to.

Kay could say no, she was sure. There were some areas where her personal rules left no room for interpretation. But why would she want to? If she was presumptuous enough even to assume the great man would ask. For now, he didn’t ask anything. He pressed a glass of wine into her hand, a slender flute cut with such complex, delicate facets that it seemed to have an aura of rainbows around it. The wine looked just the same as the perry she’d been drinking with friends just a few weeks ago, almost colourless and with a gently rising stream of bubbles. But she knew from a single sip that this vintage was many times older than anything the off license on campus could sell, and hundreds or even thousands of times the price.

After she had enjoyed the wine, and Phillip obviously relished the opportunity to share his knowledge about the techniques involved in producing twenty-dollar canapés, and they had exchanged stiff nods with a few minor nobles whose faces she didn’t recognise, Prince Phillip finally suggested that he would like to dance.

There were knots of people dancing around the room, and it wasn’t clear if there was a specific area set aside for it or not. But Prince Phillip knew exactly where he was going. He took her hand, and here that was somehow a gesture direct and intimate enough to set her blushing crimson. She could only hope that nobody would notice beneath the slender mask. She quickly realised that this area, where a few couples whirled in a waltz, was reserved for the higher echelons of nobility. Nobody would come to this part of the room unless their money went back generations, and she was privileged to be admitted. Elegant flowing drapes somehow afforded privacy without detracting from the openness of the room, and very heavily built men who could only be security kept their eyes open from the foot of the pillars. They were dancing on a raised dais, and Kay realised that she was actually managing to dance. Some lessons must have sunk in, even if she barely remembered her crash course in aristocracy.

It was like a dream.

* * *

Some time later, the dream had turned sour and Konstantina decided it was time for her to be heading home. It wasn’t that the ball fell  below her expectations, but she couldn’t keep up with all the new experiences. She felt that she must have made so many mistakes, and the endless supply of high quality sparkling wine had made it hard to remember what she should do and what she shouldn’t. She’d felt on top of the world as Prince Phillip introduced her to many of his family, including a few names she never thought she’d see outside a newspaper column.

Now she walked a little unsteadily along a plush red carpet in one of the building’s corridors. She hadn’t thought anything of it when Phillip had offered to show her how the other half lives. She’d been tipsy, maybe even drunk, and had decided to leave thinking about it for later. As she started to realise that her judgment wasn’t as clear as she’d thought at the time, there might have been space in her mind for a little animosity towards the prince.But she quickly realised that he’d been a little tipsy as well, else he wouldn’t have invited a girl he just met back to his room.

She was a little unsteady on her feet, whether from the wine or tiredness she wasn’t quite sure. Her memory was hazy, too. She could remember getting to the room where Phillip was staying, decorated in a style presumably common to the rest of this massive house. The only personal touches were a few ornaments in various places, and a framed literary quote hanging on the back of the door. He explained that he spent much of his life travelling between three palaces in different parts of the country, as well as official and social visits spanning the world, so he made sure that his servants knew how to arrange the tings that made any place feel like home.

He’d gone to get more wine, or something. She couldn’t quite recall. But she knew she’d been fascinated by the fact that a man with his background in old money would have a perfectly normal-looking laptop on his desk. Of course, he was a self-made millionaire from his business dealings, but that was still a tiny sum compared to his inheritance. It was hard to think of a prince sitting down at his own computer to check his own email. Didn’t he have servants to do that for him? Her mind hadn’t been up to the task of handling this shift in opinion, but the wine quickly suggested that maybe he liked Internet porn. Were royals even allowed pornography? She had no idea, but she had to check. Now, staggering barefoot along a corridor with the thickest carpet she’d ever seen, she regretted the decision even if she couldn’t clearly recall what she’d found.

She looked down, and realised she was barefoot. Leaving a trail of conspicuous footprints, as well, red wine on beige carpet, but only a few specks with each step. It had probably left a trail all the way back to Phillip’s quarters, wherever they were, and she hoped he wouldn’t be angry with her.

For just a second, an image flashed in her mind’s eye. A handprint, vivid on white sheets, and Prince Phillip cursing in an exotic language. She didn’t remember how the wine had got spilled. Just a crimson outline in the shape of her palm, and a few guttural words she didn’t recognise. Other details didn’t come to mind right away. Maybe she should have gone back, just to see him again, but that would probably have been against some of those rules that she hadn’t really learned. She didn’t want to cause a scandal, and she didn’t know just how many staff were in this building now. She had to get back to the ballroom and mingle again.

Konstantina knew she didn’t belong in a place like this, she’d been so lucky to get that ticket. But she was still not quite thinking clearly through the haze of alcohol, and she wondered if people might not be able to see the difference between a drunken noble and a drunken and displaced commoner. It just seemed the right thing to do.

As she returned to the ballroom, the staff seemed to have been instructed not to notice her arrival. She wondered just how often Phillip might show some lady his room, and whether he had a reputation that had somehow been kept from the paparazzi and the general public. It couldn’t just be chance that he’d chosen to entertain her rather than anyone else; there were a whole gaggle of ladies more popular, more famous, more beautiful than her. She wasn’t the kind to catch a Prince’s eye unless it meant something, she was sure.

And then another flash. A laptop screen, a gallery of photographs. It seemed the Prince liked glamour shots, a guilty pleasure for royalty. Not porn, but maybe he kept that elsewhere. He knew what he liked, though. Short dark hair and heart shaped faces, thin red lips quirky smiles. She’d fit perfectly into his collection, so maybe she had a chance of getting a little closer. She remembered that after first drawing that conclusion, she had drained her glass in one nervous gulp. After that, she couldn’t pull back an image of what had come next. Had the thought that she might fit his ideal been enough to make her do  something she was sure she would regret?

For now, though, she had to rush. She didn’t have her shoes on, but she still had most of the elaborate gown. She might look presentable, but she had to fulfil her social obligations before it was time to leave. She was aware of her head nodding slowly in time to the music as she headed back towards the family’s more private space. The room swayed around her, and it took every ounce of concentration to focus on the task at hand. A small parcel from her purse, and she smiled at the security men whose presence was a little more obvious now she wasn’t actually with Phillip.

“Is Magda here?” she asked the first person who came towards her, “Phillip said I should give this to her.” She waved the small parcel helpfully, and a duke whose name she couldn’t recall took it from her and passed it to one of the servants, who conveyed it to a table where a large number of other gifts were on display. Right now she couldn’t even remember who they were for, or what occasion this masked ball was celebrating, because everything else had faded into unimportant background. In her mind this was nothing more than a party that had contained Phillip, but she was content to have ticked off a box on her mental list of things that needed doing tonight. Then she took another drink, the champagne flute in her hand having been refilled at some moment since she last gave it her full attention.

“Would you care to dance?” someone asked. She wasn’t quite sure if she’d been introduced to him, but if she had then it would seem rude to have forgotten so quickly. He had a fussy little moustache, the kind that needs trimming daily to ensure the bottom is neat, and rather more chin than was normal for someone of  his size. He also wore a scarf that didn’t fit so well with his overstarched penguin suit, and an expression of good natured (if slightly oblivious) hope.

“I’d be honoured,” she found that she was still inebriated enough that a cheerful smile was easier than a scathing putdown. She idly wondered, as this perfect stranger took her hand, if this was how a party always went among society’s elite. It hadn’t been what she expected, but then she didn’t really know what she’d been hoping for. This was probably better.

“I think Phillip has taken a shine to you,” her dance partner commented, as her slightly erratic movements brought them closer together.

“Are you related to Dougie at all? Your eyes are the same colour,” he said the next time, leaving her to wonder if she was supposed to reply or not. This guy seemed just as out of place here, but the thick accent gave her the impression that it was socialising in general that didn’t suit him rather than the partygoers’ wealth and power.

“I have to say, it suits you a lot better,” he grinned on his next pass, seemingly proud of having said something witty. Konstantina wondered if her crash course in etiquette had included anything about how to break away from a dance partner without causing offense. Then she caught sight of a clock, and remembered something much more important.

“I’m sorry, I just noticed it’s nearly midnight” she cut off whatever he was going to say as he leaned close to her ear again, “I just lost track of time. I should get my coat, so sorry to cut the dance short.”

He opened his mouth and closed it again, giving the impression of a slightly concussed fish. Maybe he wanted to reassure her that the party didn’t end when the clock struck twelve, or that she could find a guest room if she wasn’t up to driving herself home. She wondered if someone who had a right to be here would even understand the concept of same-day return train fare. Maybe it would  be easier just to say that her fairy godmother had told  her she had to leave by midnight, which was technically true but would undoubtedly lead to more questions. Then an idea struck; honesty wasn’t always the best policy.

“Oh, I don’t want to miss the fireworks,” she said, and hurried over to the gaggle of servants who could presumably reunite her with her coat and bag.

“Fireworks?” the man gaped in surprise, and hurried off to ask other guests if they were expecting a firework display. By the time he found anyone capable of giving a straight answer, the mysterious stranger was long gone. She tripped on the steps in her hurry to leave, and almost dropped her cellphone. Her hands were shaking now, she must have drunk more than she realised. The taxi was waiting for her, though, and she bundled herself into the back before anyone could complain about her prompt departure.

She looked back, and if Phillip had been there she was sure she would have changed her mind. She would have been willing to risk finding her own way home in the morning if she could chat with him again, or whatever other activities he had in mind. But somehow she knew he wouldn’t be there. This had been a once in a lifetime experience for her.

“The station,” she muttered to the driver, handing over the last of the cash Luke had lent her, and added, “Before midnight if you can.”

“Not much chance of  that now, love,” the driver muttered, but he pocketed the money anyway and the car lurched forward a little faster. It was almost twenty seconds before her phone bleeped to signify the changing date. In the background, the big house was topped by a crown of fire. There was a dull boom, and screams, and minutes later the sound of sirens approaching.

“Oh God, oh God, I could have been in there!” Konstantina babbled, tears flowing freely now. Forensics specialists would soon report that a device had been placed in the main ballroom, hidden among a pile of wrapped gifts for the Duke of Erdingham and his new wife Mirabelle. But in the back of a taxi, inhaling the subtle odour of all the night’s previous passengers, the only thing on Konstantina’s mind was Phillip, who’d been so nice to her all evening and had made her feel like she fitted in among the toffs. He was probably dead now, and that was closest as she’d ever come to tragedy. It was impossible to believe; she could imagine his face now, reclining happily on a king size bed, and then she could picture him painted in greyscale shades, handsome chest split open and a fountain of black blood spilling out over the floor.

Sparks floated through the sky, fragments of burning paper and fabric. They weren’t the fireworks she’d hoped for.___

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2015-12-25 13:21:06 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

Christmas presents, with many thanks to +mum and +dad and ±Dennis and ±Dave & Jan.

Also, loving the auto-awesome :)

Christmas presents, with many thanks to +mum and +dad and ±Dennis and ±Dave & Jan.

Also, loving the auto-awesome :)___

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2015-12-20 14:11:22 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

Awesome €:

I was hoping to have A Dozen Secrets out by Christmas, but it's not looking likely now. One thing I'm wondering; is there a little spike in Kindle purchases from people who got a new device for Christmas? If I wasn't so far behind schedule, would releasing (or running freebies) over the holiday period be a good idea? Would any time be particularly beneficial?

In any case, happy Jólabókaflóð to all the readers and writers!

Awesome €:

I was hoping to have A Dozen Secrets out by Christmas, but it's not looking likely now. One thing I'm wondering; is there a little spike in Kindle purchases from people who got a new device for Christmas? If I wasn't so far behind schedule, would releasing (or running freebies) over the holiday period be a good idea? Would any time be particularly beneficial?

In any case, happy Jólabókaflóð to all the readers and writers!___

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2015-12-20 09:29:44 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

Today is the 444th day I've written a short story for my #DailyStory  project. I think this isn't complete, and is just setting the scene, but I wanted to  share what I've got so far.

#DailyStory  № 444 - Masks

‘The beauty of a mask is that it hides the face you show the world, but reveals another face inside. The face you wear when nobody is watching, an anonymous dancer with danger who can do anything because she knows she won’t be seen. That face can take to the stage, when you wear a mask.’

Konstantina didn’t know who had said that, but it must have been someone notable enough to be worth quoting. She was sure she’d heard it more than once, probably seen it pasted across some poignant image and reshared online. Maybe it had been a poet, or some famous philosopher, or maybe it had come from the memoirs of a killer, but those words spoketo her today. ... more »

Today is the 444th day I've written a short story for my #DailyStory  project. I think this isn't complete, and is just setting the scene, but I wanted to  share what I've got so far.

#DailyStory  № 444 - Masks

‘The beauty of a mask is that it hides the face you show the world, but reveals another face inside. The face you wear when nobody is watching, an anonymous dancer with danger who can do anything because she knows she won’t be seen. That face can take to the stage, when you wear a mask.’

Konstantina didn’t know who had said that, but it must have been someone notable enough to be worth quoting. She was sure she’d heard it more than once, probably seen it pasted across some poignant image and reshared online. Maybe it had been a poet, or some famous philosopher, or maybe it had come from the memoirs of a killer, but those words spoke to her today. It was the first time she’d been invited to wear a mask since she was a child, and she found herself wondering if this mask could cover up her natural shyness, stop her from being such a klutz at every moment, and set free the witty and charming debutante she’d always wanted to be.

When she stepped into the ballroom, it was everything she had dreamed of. Coloured streamers criss-crossed the ceiling, which was large enough to be supported by fluted pillars. The music was a mix of classics and classical, played at least in part by a quintet of penguin-suited musicians in one of the large alcoves on the far wall, though to have been heard above the clamour of upper-class conversation in a room so large, they must have a well hidden set of speakers around the room. Konstantina looked around the crowd, and saw that every man was handsome and dashing, while every woman looked incredible in a collection of fine silk and crushed velvet, every one of their dresses different. Knowing the reputation of this gathering, she wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had said that every dress here was personally hand-stitched by a top Italian fashion designer. On a stand in the lounge of her apartment her own dress had looked the height of glamour, but here she wondered if she might be thrown out for being too poor.

She was no fairytale princess, she knew. She didn’t have beautiful blond hair that everyone envied, and though she was slender that came at the expense of curves. Most men in her experience would be quite happy to see a few extra pounds on a woman, as long as it was in her bust. Konstantina’s biggest failing, though, was that she was cute. It was a curse that too few people realised, because the nice guys wanted to protect her more than they wanted her, and the not so nice guys weren’t worth thinking about. If she had the choice, she would happily trade in being pretty and having a nice personality for an option that might involve more than just dancing.

Everyone was masked, of course, so maybe tonight Konstantina could let her inner demons run free. Her mask was simple and black, a web of thin lines that let the natural softness of her skin and eyes shine through. On its own it wouldn’t have done much to hide her identity, and she was sure that if anyone who knew her was here they would recognise her in an instant. The dress would probably do more to render her anonymous. It concealed very little despite the sheer volume of frills, ruffles, lace, and tastefully placed bows; but it was something that nobody she’d ever spoken to could believe she would wear. It was tasteful and stylish, but this was clearly not the kind of outfit a sweet and innocent college girl would wear on the world stage.

“Hello,” a man with a perfect tenor voice greeted her as she stood nervously just inside the vast hall. Everyone was watching here, everyone watching everyone, but he seemed completely at home knowing that every person he spoke to and everything he said would be common knowledge in these circles. Even behind her little black mask, Konstantina knew she would never have that kind of courage.

“Hi,” she gasped nervously, “I’m Kay. I mean, Konstantina Alexandria Johnson-Firth.” She started offering a hand to shake, and then reminded herself that at events like this, the conventions were all different. She started to curtsey, then turned the gesture into a slight bob as she realised that she had absolutely no idea what the proper etiquette in this situation was.

The stranger didn’t seem to mind, though. He was tall, and had the muscled shoulders and arms of someone who rowed competitively. The rest of his body was in pretty good shape too, as far as she could make out under the immaculately tailored suit. He had hair darker than hers, and his eyes sparkled from behind a simple diamond-bordered domino mask that did nothing to hide his jawline. He was the kind of guy who must have every woman in the room queueing up to eat out of his hand in normal circumstances, and even here he seemed to have a few more eyes on him than most of the guests. So why was he speaking to her?

“Pleased to meet you, Kay. My name is Phillip Boschester-Wellington, but I have little patience for long names and titles, so please feel free to call me Phil. I don’t recognise your family, is this the first time you’ve been to one of these little gatherings?” Kay nodded, so nervous that she didn’t think she could utter a word without saying something stupid. She knew her etiquette wasn’t right, she knew she should have recognised him at a glance. It was indeed the first time she’d been to anything like this, and she couldn’t believe she’d thought she could get away with it.

She’d thought she was dreaming when the ticket arrived. She’d said something to Malcolm after a few too many glasses of sparkling perry in the union bar, that she’d always envied the movie stars with their tailor-made dresses and everyone thinking they were gorgeous rather than cute. And he’d said he thought models got an even better deal, because they didn’t need talent. And then she’d said that if she could do anything, she’d rather be an heiress. Not just because they got the fancy clothes from the day they were born, but because with so much old money behind them, they could afford to do whatever they wanted. Nobody would ever stop the second daughter of the Duchess of Barrington-Heisworth if she wanted to be an actress or write a novel. Konstantina knew, of course, that she would always value accomplishment over mere success, so such cheap victories would never have made her happy. But that night she’d been drunk enough not to think about what she was saying.

And then Mal’s friend Luke said how would she like to see how the other half really lived, and he’d introduced her to his friend Ban, who had introduced her to a tall, dark haired lady who liked to joke that she was a fairy godmother. Maybe the first time they’d met Konstantina had been told the woman’s real name, but it was lost in a sea of cheap wine and too many introductions, and she was too ashamed of any behaviour she couldn’t remember to admit her intoxication that night by asking again.

She’d thought it was a joke when Luke delivered that dress, on a mannequin to stop it losing its shape. Then she’d thought it was a very, very expensive and elaborate joke. Then she’d got the ticket, and it had seemed a little more real. She’d still doubted it, not sure if the ticket was real. When the car arrived to pick her up, her estimate of the prank’s cost had gone up again. But the car had really brought her here, and suddenly she wished she’d actually paid attention in the blurred rush of Mal’s etiquette lessons.

As well as the upwardly mobile and business heiresses here, there were the old money crowd who’d probably been born with an innate understanding of these rules. Lords and Barons even. Like the man in front of her now, as she suddenly recognised a name she’d heard before but never really noted. Phillip Wellington, officially Duke of Byrony but possessed of so many honorary titles that it was no wonder he declined to mention them. Duke, Knight, His Lordship, His Royal Excellency Prince Phillip, currently fourth in line to the throne and a genius investor with controlling interest in enough corporations to make any economist listen. A man who nobody dared say ‘no’ to.

Kay could say no, she was sure. There were some areas where her personal rules left no room for interpretation. But why would she want to? If she was presumptuous enough even to assume the great man would ask. For now, he didn’t ask anything. He pressed a glass of wine into her hand, a slender flute cut with such complex, delicate facets that it seemed to have an aura of rainbows around it. The wine looked just the same as the perry she’d been drinking with friends just a few weeks ago, almost colourless and with a gently rising stream of bubbles. But she knew from a single sip that this vintage was many times older than anything the off license on campus could sell, and hundreds or even thousands of times the price.

After she had enjoyed the wine, and Phillip obviously relished the opportunity to share his knowledge about the techniques involved in producing twenty-dollar canapés, and they had exchanged stiff nods with a few minor nobles whose faces she didn’t recognise, Prince Phillip finally suggested that he would like to dance.

There were knots of people dancing around the room, and it wasn’t clear if there was a specific area set aside for it or not. But Prince Phillip knew exactly where he was going. He took her hand, and here that was somehow a gesture direct and intimate enough to set her blushing crimson. She could only hope that nobody would notice beneath the slender mask. She quickly realised that this area, where a few couples whirled in a waltz, was reserved for the higher echelons of nobility. Nobody would come to this part of the room unless their money went back generations, and she was privileged to be admitted. Elegant flowing drapes somehow afforded privacy without detracting from the openness of the room, and very heavily built men who could only be security kept their eyes open from the foot of the pillars. They were dancing on a raised dais, and Kay realised that she was actually managing to dance. Some lessons must have sunk in, even if she barely remembered her crash course in aristocracy.

It was like a dream.



Interesting.  When I started writing this, I was planning a kind of fairy tale inversion based on a random image from +Dollar Photo Club. But looking back now on what I wrote last night I wonder if it wasn't more inspired by +Bliss Morgan's Dance Me. Weird that I didn't recognise that while I was writing it. If this kind of thing catches your interest, it's worth checking the book out - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00A7JCZRA - which is a lot more polished than anything I could come up with in one night.___

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2015-12-19 22:09:16 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes , another extract from Seven Skies … I need to get on with putting these chapters into a final reading order. If you like, comments are welcome. And check out #SaturdayScenes  to see what other authors have been writing

Alone

Around the edge of Baron Island, British ships were taking on supplies ready for a long voyage. Dick walked briskly along the front, keeping an eye out for familiar faces. A few months before she hadn’t even known that all these people existed, but now she felt almost useless not having a ship she could command. There was something about the Key of Authority that got inside you, losing the ship was like losing a part of her body and made her crave another crew to serve with.

She didn’t see anyone she recognised along the shore, but she quickly spotted a familiar ship. The Shepherd of Nights was tied up with ahalf do... more »

For #SaturdayScenes , another extract from Seven Skies … I need to get on with putting these chapters into a final reading order. If you like, comments are welcome. And check out #SaturdayScenes  to see what other authors have been writing

Alone

Around the edge of Baron Island, British ships were taking on supplies ready for a long voyage. Dick walked briskly along the front, keeping an eye out for familiar faces. A few months before she hadn’t even known that all these people existed, but now she felt almost useless not having a ship she could command. There was something about the Key of Authority that got inside you, losing the ship was like losing a part of her body and made her crave another crew to serve with.

She didn’t see anyone she recognised along the shore, but she quickly spotted a familiar ship. The Shepherd of Nights was tied up with a half dozen heavy-set men hauling sacks up the boarding plank. There were a dozen cranes along the edge of the island that would normally be used to load the heaviest cargoes, but today it seemed every ship was sailing at once and they didn’t want to wait.

“Need a hand?” Dick helped two of them to stabilise a sack of potatoes as they manhandled it up onto the deck. It crossed her mind that after all her time among the pirates, she still didn’t quite know where their food actually came from. It was just one more quirk of this strange society that she’d seen supplies bought several times, stolen a lot more, but never any suggestion of there being someone responsible for growing the crops in the first place.

“Thanks,” one of them nodded. She noticed he was wearing an eyepatch, the first pirate she’d actually seen with one except for the ghost. Strange how she’d dismissed so many stereotypes from fiction without even thinking about them, only to notice when she met someone who actually fit. “Is Captain Vandeboom around? My ship’s beached for repair, and I need to be out there.”

There was no reply. She walked down with them and helped them to pitch their sacks into the hold, before two of the musclebound men turned to face her. They seemed oddly embarrassed, not meeting her eyes in a way she guessed was quite out of character for people who put so much effort into their physique. She’d expect to see confidence to go with that kind of strength.

“He’s lost, isn’t he?” She said after just a few seconds, “Who’s in charge now?”

“That would be me,” Barnard appeared at the top of the stairs, “You want to take our Captain’s place?”

“I wouldn’t want to impose, but I can’t just sit back here and do nothing. You got a place for me on the ship?”

“It’s no shame. I’m Master of Sail here, I can name you acting Captain if I want. Let me stick to what I know, and I’ve served under you on the (SHIP NAME) long enough to know your judgement is sound.” One of the men gritted his teeth but didn’t say anything, and Barnard turned to face him, “I know I can trust her as Captain, you got that? She’s a Captain in her own right, so the wheel will answer her. She’s saved my life and Parlick’s too, and I expect every man to respect that. I don’t care what you’ve heard about landsiders, these guys are our friends. Right?” The men nodded, and went to carry on with whatever duties they’d been assigned.

“The others with you?” he asked, and Dick shook her head, trying to hold back a sudden flood of tears.

“Joran’s still with the Spanish fleet. Tomas and Shell got taken prisoner on a Chinese ship. Baz I don’t know. Pi didn’t know if he can hold with the British empire after what we found out about High Captain Thatcher. I think maybe he’s jumping ship to the Mayans, even the Caribbean. It’s hard, but I know I need to… do this bit on my own.”

“Not alone. We’re here for you. You can depend on your crew.” And Dick nodded as he said it, because she knew her crew was one thing she could depend on come what may. She would trust them with her life, and probably would have to in the coming battle.

“Right,” she declared to the assembled masters as she took the wheel, just an hour later, “I don’t know what your plans were before, but if anyone thinks they were important speak up. But I need a ship to run to Paris now, where we plan to hit both the Spanish and Chinese fleets. They’re getting ready to engage each other in the skies, and while they blast each other, we should be able to get close with little fire. I’m hoping some of my friends can make it there as well, but if not it’ll just be us. You with me?”

A cheer rang out from all the men, those who had met her and those who just trusted what the Master of Sail had told them. A few remained silent, but didn’t have the courage to defy a duly appointed captain now she had the Authority about her neck. The Master of Sail and the Master of Marines were the loudest to respond, almost competing with each other who could be most enthusiastic in their support.

“Aye, Captain!”

The Shepherd of Nights set course for the skies of Paris, and Dick prayed to a god she didn’t believe in that her desperate plan would work.___

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2015-12-18 11:18:58 (5 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

A #DailyStory  for yesterday, if finished a little late. Hard to believe I've been doing this for 442 days now. Hope the ending is clear enough

442 - The Quiet Ones

She looked nervous and ill at ease. That wasn’t uncommon, the people around her were almost without exception young, attractive, boisterous friendly, and drunk. They were students and young professionals, so their behaviour was probably acceptable. I moved closer, wondering if she might appreciate a little comfort, or even a chat somewhere quieter. My shoulders rolled slightly in time to the music, and to my steps. But I didn’t dance, I didn’t pose. I don’t want to draw attention to myself, but I know that if someone wants to see me, they will.

My aura would capture the attention of anyone I was interested in. That didn’t mean I was a vampire or a mage, of course. Many people have apowerful s... more »

A #DailyStory  for yesterday, if finished a little late. Hard to believe I've been doing this for 442 days now. Hope the ending is clear enough

442 - The Quiet Ones

She looked nervous and ill at ease. That wasn’t uncommon, the people around her were almost without exception young, attractive, boisterous friendly, and drunk. They were students and young professionals, so their behaviour was probably acceptable. I moved closer, wondering if she might appreciate a little comfort, or even a chat somewhere quieter. My shoulders rolled slightly in time to the music, and to my steps. But I didn’t dance, I didn’t pose. I don’t want to draw attention to myself, but I know that if someone wants to see me, they will.

My aura would capture the attention of anyone I was interested in. That didn’t mean I was a vampire or a mage, of course. Many people have a powerful spiritual energy, and their aura shimmers like a perpetual glow all around them, even filling the room. I’d been one of those people, able to captivate people effortlessly even before I knew why. Becoming a vampire had only sharpened my senses and made it easier to control. Now I was looking for prey,  and this girl was the first who caught my eye.

Of course, I’m not a fool. One common trick is to look awkward and alone, then direct your will towards a potential target and make them notice you. Humans have quite a tendency to be more trusting of other people if they’re the one making the first move. And I know just how easy it can be to influence someone else’s instincts, even another mage. So I wouldn’t approach without checking the power of her aura first, and making sure she couldn’t be a threat.

There was practically nothing there. A faint shimmer around her shoulders, and that was all. The other people around her were loud and vibrant, an interlocking rainbow. Some of the auræ extended a palm’s width from their bodies, while others were large enough to be a cloud around a whole group of friends, shimmying as the one at the centre danced. Everyone has something, even the dead. This girl, though, had one of the weakest souls I had ever seen. She probably had people shouting over her the whole time, couldn’t get served at a bar even if she wanted to drink. People just not realising there’s anyone there.

Or she could be a trickster. Mostly it’s mages that pull that trick, but I’ve seen vampires do it too, or even one or two humans. They enhance their spirit aura until it’s too large to easily be seen, until their aura fills a room or encloses an entire city block. They give an impression of detachment, a living enigma who defies empathy. But then if they want to, they can create a new aura, like a bubble inside the first. Newly ascended vampires might not realise, they just see the weaker aura that projects an impression of normalcy, and they don’t even see the larger one around them. Then they try to feed, and the victim turns the tables. If their true spirit is powerful enough, the aura might be so diffuse that it’s hard to recognise as it changes, and those hunters are like a frog in boiling water.

I did not wish to be a cooked frog. I turned to look at my own hand. I have memorised every detail of my own inner aura, and know its shades and imperfections like the back of my hand. If I was standing inside the aura of another, I would spot the difference there. I could make up some slight variation as one of the loudest guests at this party gyrated, his spirit radiating out across the room and encouraging others to dance with him. I could even see the faint influence of the spirit of the city, that I had carefully tracked the shape of over the last week. I’d even observed the ebb and flow of life force in the city, and located its foci, in case some person with power beyond belief was disguising himself as a part of the city, only to trap vampires when they came close without realising his power surrounded them. I could be sure this girl wasn’t a significant part of the city’s aura, and there was nothing else around me.

It might seem I was paranoid, to do so many checks every time I find prey. But you wouldn’t find a vampire who wasn’t cautious. The stupid don’t last long in our world.

I walked slowly towards her, masking the music between us so she could hear me clearly. I didn’t walk right up to her, but extended my own presence to draw her in. She would find herself fascinated, and have no idea why. Within a minute, she was standing by my side. She didn’t say anything though, and I realised that after a lifetime of being overlooked she must be too afraid of rejection to even address a stranger. It was hard to say for sure which was the cause and which the consequence here, but shyness and weak spirits always seemed to go together. There was enough power there to sate my hunger, though.

“I don’t think much of their singing,” I gestured towards a group of intoxicated youths who were trying to remember the lyrics of whatever pop classic the sound system was currently distorting. “Maybe you’d like to step outside, where I can hear you talk.” I put my power into  the words, my aura resonating to make the command irresistible in ways which the simple physics of sound could not explain. It would seem so natural to her to come with me.

It only took a few more seconds for me to get her into a quiet room where nobody would disturb us. She smiled quietly, looking around at the decor. It wasn’t much, but it would suit my purposes. Then I focused my presence and projected a solid shock of spiritual energy. She would be rendered docile for a few hours, unable to fight me or to make a sound. It would be obvious something was wrong if anyone saw her,  but I’d already made sure I couldn’t feel any other presence in the area.

She turned around to face me and glared, raising an eyebrow in interrogation. I hit her again, and she shrugged it off with a wave of one hand. I could see her aura thicken as she manipulated it, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. t was entirely the wrong flavour for the life of the city, and too strong as well. So why hadn’t I noticed the change when I moved into it? It made no sense.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered, and dropped control over the inner shell of my own aura. If she hadn’t seen that I had two layers, it would seem an act of complete submission. But she glared just as hard. “I thought you were weak. It seems I was wrong. I’ll leave, with your permission, and hunt outside your territory.” I didn’t even put any resonance into the words. The raw power she was wielding was simply too much, she wouldn’t fall for any of my tricks even if I still couldn’t see when I’d come within reach of her aura.

Her glare was of pure hatred, though. I felt the echoes of her own resonant voice as soon as she opened her mouth. This was a power so intense she could never fully suppress it, giving the shy girl image a whole new spin. She didn’t want to talk, because speaking would change the world.

“Where could you go?” she said, simple enough words. She didn’t shout, but the spirit energy riding on every word amplified them into the single most powerful magical effect I had ever imagined. Still, she was making every effort to minimise the power she let slip. The sound divided my corporeal body into its constituent atoms, and the force of her will behind it erased the identity from my own aura. Annihilated totally, my only consolation was that for a moment, I had seen her face and known what she was.___

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2015-12-14 16:25:47 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

A good sign

A good sign___

2015-12-14 14:49:02 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

"We already sell these, but we're going to take our shopping cart offline and run sales through a Kickstarter instead. You get massive turnaround times, we get extra buzz." - had to happen sooner or later.

"We already sell these, but we're going to take our shopping cart offline and run sales through a Kickstarter instead. You get massive turnaround times, we get extra buzz." - had to happen sooner or later.___

2015-12-13 13:20:06 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

I quite like this one. What do you think?

#DailyStory  day 438 - Patient Negative One

Nikolaus stomped the snow off his boots as soon as he was under shelter, and shook his massive shoulders to add slightly to the layer of white powder on the ground around him. The wind was icy cold here, and everything was white rather than the dark grey-brown of mil spec concrete. But despite the chill, he knew some of the guards would come out onto this ledge occasionally for a cigarette; those who weren’t brave enough to risk the wrath of the scientists by smoking inside the lab. Turrets on the roof were constantly watching for the approach of Infected, both humans and animals. Their response was to shoot any uninvited figures on sight, and clean up the mess later. It was the only safe way: it was too easy to underestimate the speed of those shambling figures, and enough people relied onth... more »

I quite like this one. What do you think?

#DailyStory  day 438 - Patient Negative One

Nikolaus stomped the snow off his boots as soon as he was under shelter, and shook his massive shoulders to add slightly to the layer of white powder on the ground around him. The wind was icy cold here, and everything was white rather than the dark grey-brown of mil spec concrete. But despite the chill, he knew some of the guards would come out onto this ledge occasionally for a cigarette; those who weren’t brave enough to risk the wrath of the scientists by smoking inside the lab. Turrets on the roof were constantly watching for the approach of Infected, both humans and animals. Their response was to shoot any uninvited figures on sight, and clean up the mess later. It was the only safe way: it was too easy to underestimate the speed of those shambling figures, and enough people relied on this facility that letting them get within spitting distance of the guards was an unacceptable risk.

Nikolaus had got this close by the simple expedient of a white hood, actually a miraculously clean bedspread from Annie’s house held over his head.With flurries blowing this way and that, a white on white infiltrator wasn’t going to attract attention. Now that they were killing everything that moved within half a mile, there was no need for the balconies and sentry points lower down the building, and the contracted guards (like the architects) were ex-army guys, not locals. They wouldn’t realise that the snowdrifts made it possible to access a second floor exit under the sightlines of the rooftop snipers. Now all he had to do was wait for someone who thought that a crafty fag provided enough heat to be worth enduring temperatures four below zero for a few minutes, and he’d have a uniform and a badge as well.

Maybe the weakness in their security was understandable. The infected didn’t do strategy, or decoys, or any kind of trick. They didn’t even try to hide, just rushed straight at you in an unending wave, like something from a movie at the end of the last century. He’d seen them show guile once, in an attack on the meritocratic commune that had sprung up in the ruins of his home town. That had been a terrible night, and he could only pray that it had been some kind of fluke, the second and third waves of infected happening to arrive at exactly the right time to blindside the defences. With the monsters’ strength in numbers, even the Laboratory for Unknown Contagion Research and Extermination only had enough manpower to defend those few cities that supplied them with essentials. If they started thinking, humanity would have no hope.

All across the world now, there were cities run by gangs, or by remnants of whatever government there had been before. The ones who hadn’t been overrun by the first wave of infection were the ones who’d focused first on building barricades and setting up defences, and second on command structures so that they could stay organised and react quickly to threats. Communicating with outside groups was a lower priority, so every town that survived was left to fend for itself. And then when they had enough power to expand, they ran into each other and there was often a turf war. Defending farmland took a lot of effort, and a lot of bullets. Nobody had enough food to support much growth, and that made anybody else a potential rival for scarce resources.

The only organisation worth speaking of, after the communes that made up the Federation had been overrun, was the Laboratory. They’d had soldiers trained and weapons stockpiled before R-Day, just in case. And their first response had been to enact a rigorously scripted quarantine protocol. They knew how to survive in this situation from decades of experts making plans, rather than learning as they went along, and their resources were practically unlimited. If you were their allies, if you gave them enough of the scarce fresh crops, they could provide soldiers to help enforce the law, and vaccines that might keep your crops free of infection. That was a good thing, for sure, but the wrong kind of people had risen to the top of the pile. When the Federation had defended land that a Laboratory-supported town wanted to claim, they had shown their true face as warmongers, shelling the barricades to let an infected horde into the city from the far side, and then massacring the Federation guards as they turned to save their city. It was that defeat that had left the other towns in the area weak, with no soldiers to sweep in when the commune had come under siege two weeks later.

That was when Nikolaus had decided the Laboratory had to arm up and come here. He would strike back against their monolithic government, and show everyone that there could still be a better life ahead if they pooled their resources to provide for everyone, rather than paying tribute to let a couple of scientists and lab directors live in luxury. And for the next stage in that plan, he just had to hope, and wait.

Someone else was waiting. It took him nearly five minutes to realise, but as soon as he glanced in that direction the man stood up, rifle raised. A dark grey camo jacket, and a painted gas mask over his face. The soldier had crouched silently behind a couple of identically coloured crates, his rifle kept steadily on Nikolaus’s head as he waited to see what the intruder would do.

“Inside,” the voice was made deep and unnatural by the mask, but Nikolaus could still guess that for all the gruffness, it might be a woman under the bulky clothes. It didn’t make any difference, some of the best snipers he’d known had been women. He held his hands out away from his weapons, and walked through the door as soon as it sprang open. There were two more figures inside, waiting for him with identical rifles.

“Move,” one of them barked, gesturing along the corridor. This wasn’t the time for silly heroics. They knew he wasn’t infected, and they’d been expecting someone like him if they’d posted guards looking for infiltrators. Every step closer to this group made it clearer that they were focused on conquering the world rather than just fighting the disease.

They marched him down one hall after another, past many science labs and store rooms, but just as many barracks and offices. Behind the toughened glass in one war room, he saw a map of the world with flags to indicate their troops on the ground. The enemy here were independent cities, though, with two soldiers obviously looking at strategies to take them out. Nikolaus felt his hatred grow, as he thought of others consumed like his little sister. Still, there were others out there who were going to bring the fight to the Laboratory.

This was the plan. He might be captured, they’d probably use a hard object scanner to check for weapons now. So as well as the guns and knives that had been taken away by businesslike guards, he had two surprises lurking in his pants. A small pack of plastic explosive, and a flask of the contagion, as near as independent scientists could make out. Nobody could even tell if it was a bacteria or a virus, every blood sample they’d got once the infected were down had no pathogens they could identify. But a chunk of severed tissue large enough to crawl along the lab bench and fight examination had to be infectious.

This facility was one of the monolithic corporation’s larger ones, so the computers here would likely have plans for everything. He could cause chaos here, and the infected would move on as soon as there was nothing left to kill. Then the locals could mop up any remaining resistance, claim the stockpiles of food and weapons, and disseminate their files to independent groups all over the world. With a thousand minds on the problem, free information would find a cure much faster, and when anyone could make the vaccines there wouldn’t be a reason for all those little wars.

In the end, they brought him to a lab for interrogation. A lab with caged infected all down one wall, hundreds of them. A distraction, an explosion, grabbing a gun in the confusion, everything went better than Nikolaus could have hoped. In two minutes, he and Charity were crouched behind a computer console with rifles, while enemy soldiers gathered at the other end of the room.

“You won’t get away!” a commander’s voice called from the other side.

“We don’t need to,” Charity’s voice was unsteady, but she was sure she’d be able to go through with the plan. “We’re the suicide squad, we already got nothing left to live for. At least we can shake your control, give people a chance to live by their own rules.” And without a second’s hesitation, she pulled a lever on the console, and let the cages spring open. A dozen infected moved into the middle of the room, and Nikolaus got an easy shot at the first soldier who popped up to level his weapon at them.

“Careless,” Nik yelled, hoping that through the bluster they wouldn’t notice him prepping his last charge to blow a hole into whatever chamber was below, “No proper quarantine procedure for an escape, no isolation doors within the lab? You’ll be infected soon enough.”

“We don’t need them,” the Laboratory commander called back confidently, “and the directors will never be infected. Stop!”

And the infected mob in the middle of the room stopped. They might as well have been puppets on strings.

“We wouldn’t have released the nanites until we were sure of our immunity. Nobody can stop us, you know the consequences of fighting in a war of attrition. And with my implant, I’d have an army at my disposal even if you did manage to take out one base, or a dozen. We’d won this war before it even started, but don’t worry. The infected tissue sensors chimed as soon as you approached the building. So it’s only a matter of time before you’re on the winning side, too.”___

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2015-12-12 22:29:39 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

For this week's #SaturdayScenes  I present a slightly edited version of the first chapter of Seven Skies; There might be something earlier than this in the final version, but it's a chance to see our main characters before they get all caught up in a war of pirates vs aliens

Tomas arrives at the house

Tomas found that riding his scooter along the coast road, wind whipping his hair back, was quite a change from weaving through the narrow streets of the town. He made a mental note that as soon as he got to the house, after making sure he had a data connection on his mobile, he could tick off ‘Think Positive’ on his online to-do list. The fresh sea breeze on the clifftop roads was bracing, and the view out over the sea was breathtaking. No doubt it would be a nightmare in bad weather, especially as he noticed several sections where there was no guard rail in betweenthe ... more »

For this week's #SaturdayScenes  I present a slightly edited version of the first chapter of Seven Skies; There might be something earlier than this in the final version, but it's a chance to see our main characters before they get all caught up in a war of pirates vs aliens

Tomas arrives at the house

Tomas found that riding his scooter along the coast road, wind whipping his hair back, was quite a change from weaving through the narrow streets of the town. He made a mental note that as soon as he got to the house, after making sure he had a data connection on his mobile, he could tick off ‘Think Positive’ on his online to-do list. The fresh sea breeze on the clifftop roads was bracing, and the view out over the sea was breathtaking. No doubt it would be a nightmare in bad weather, especially as he noticed several sections where there was no guard rail in between the single track road and a sheer drop, but he couldn’t even bring himself to worry about that right now. He was surrounded on all sides by nature, and he felt like he’d been waiting for the experience all his life.

Once he was off the road and into the complex network of little roads that skirted Freeman’s Bluff, he started to regard the scenery with a little less than absolute positivity. The lanes were quaint and picturesque, framed either by open meadows or woods full of birdsong, but as a non-native he found that one shady tree at a junction looked much like another, and the signs were pointing towards what seemed like dozens of similarly-named villages. He wasn’t sure if he’d passed through Barecliffe a mile back, or if that had been Tidecliffe. And in the less populated parts of the area, there was little clue to help him distinguish between the road, someone’s driveway, or just a line of packed earth where some farmer always drove the same route across a field.

It took him nearly an hour to find Shandy Cove House, but when he pulled closer his first thought was that the effort to find the place had been worthwhile. He couldn’t understand why the house had been so cheap. It was surrounded by greenery, various kinds of trees as well as creepers decorating the sheer cliffs that were on the far side of it. It had a small lawn, with segments of a neat border just visible between all the wildflowers and shrubs that were colonising the area. There was only one garage visible, but it looked like there would be space for two cars to park outside if they didn’t mind a carefully planned driveway-Tetris session to get out each morning. Parking might be a problem for most groups who’d need such a large house, but for these guys it probably wouldn’t be an issue.

Tomas wheeled his scooter closer and leaned it against the wall for now. No doubt sooner or later he’d pick out the perfect spot to store it. For a second he wondered if he should knock, but then he noticed Joran at the top of a ladder, half hidden among a network of climbing roses that seemed to have used the upstairs window boxes as a foothold to stretch even higher.

“Hi J,” Tomas called, walking over to the base of the ladder instead of going straight to the door, “Guess I got the right place at last. What are you up to… oh, you’re not, are you?”

“What’s wrong with it?” Joran had a screwdriver in his hand, and was slowly removing a sign from over the door. It was battered wood, and the letters that had once presumably spelled out the house’s name. Tomas would have been happy enough with removing the sign, or replacing it. But once he’d looked around he saw another with the same curved shape to it, clearly intended to fit in the place of the one he was taking down. But rather than pale timber, this sign looked like something out of a dystopian futuristic fantasy, brushed aluminium with rust and oil highlighting the letters. It looked like the kind of thing that would cost a fortune to have made to order, but Tomas was confident that all the detail was just printed onto a hollow acetate model. Something that would have come out of a 3d printer, implying that Joran and Dick had managed to find the money for one after all.

“‘Here Be Geeks’,” he read it out loud, with the most sarcastic inflection he knew how to call up, “It’s a bit lame. Not to mention the grammar fail.”

“I’ll admit that. I wanted ‘Geek House’, but then Shell wanted to translate it into German or Japanese so we can be more cosmopolitan, you know what she’s like. I figured this one’s safer, and she can’t translate it without losing the meme.”

“Do we really need a sign?”

“Yes,” and then he worked the screwdriver a few more minutes before realising that an answer seemed to be expected. “The surveyor said the sign’s broken, could fall and hit someone. Previous residents took it down, then saw the stucco underneath, decided they’d rather put some extra glue on the sign to hold it up for another year.”

“What’s wrong with the wall behind it?” Tomas glanced up and down the house. The stucco was starting to crumble all over, a few small pieces missing. “It can’t be that bad, can it?”

“No, it’s in better nick than the rest of the wall. But they didn’t take the sign down when somebody repainted, and we’d never match the shade. So it’s either paint the whole back of the house, or get a new sign.” At that Tomas just shrugged. He knew without asking why they couldn’t just put up with a small piece of wall being a different colour under the plants: Dick was the kind of person who couldn’t stand looking at a crooked picture, or sitting in a room with two different door knobs. It was a bit of an odd quirk, but they all had some little thing that made them unique. That was one of the main reasons they’d pooled their funds to get a house this year, instead of putting up with the jerks who haunted the on-campus residence blocks.

Tomas tried the door handle, and was almost inside the house when he realised what he’d just heard and turned back to ask: “Wait, the back off the house? Did I come in the wrong way?”

“No,” a voice nearly an octave higher than Joran’s answered from somewhere inside the building. “The bit with all the pillars and a double door ten feet high is clearly the front door. Looks like a full-on stately home or something from one of Pi’s period dramas. Weird thing is the road only goes to the back yard. The front leads to the beach.”___

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2015-12-11 17:58:02 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

Lag lets me draw pretty swirling galaxies (looks nicer in motion); then it manages to connect and I see that an ally beat me to it.

Lag lets me draw pretty swirling galaxies (looks nicer in motion); then it manages to connect and I see that an ally beat me to it.___

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2015-12-10 17:16:11 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

A #DailyStory  inspired by a #NightmareFuel  image, even if rather late. Today I've written a story every day for 435 days, so I must have been slowly working on this one for nearly a week before I thought it was ready to share

Day 429 - Dig

Trent leaned on his shovel, panting heavily as he moved another back-breaking clump of moist earth. It was only damp now, not mud like the surface, and he suspected that if he’d dug down another three or four feet he would have been shifting dry, fibrous powder. The soil right here was just damp enough to be trouble, dry enough that the water stayed bound up in the clayish layer and added weight to every shovel load.

He put a little weight on the shovel as it bit into the earth again, but he didn’t push any harder when it stopped. He was looking for buried treasure, if such things still existed in the modern day. Hehad v... more »

Nightmare Fuel, Day 29

Source: Ilya Kisaradov
http://vk.com/ezorenier___A #DailyStory  inspired by a #NightmareFuel  image, even if rather late. Today I've written a story every day for 435 days, so I must have been slowly working on this one for nearly a week before I thought it was ready to share

Day 429 - Dig

Trent leaned on his shovel, panting heavily as he moved another back-breaking clump of moist earth. It was only damp now, not mud like the surface, and he suspected that if he’d dug down another three or four feet he would have been shifting dry, fibrous powder. The soil right here was just damp enough to be trouble, dry enough that the water stayed bound up in the clayish layer and added weight to every shovel load.

He put a little weight on the shovel as it bit into the earth again, but he didn’t push any harder when it stopped. He was looking for buried treasure, if such things still existed in the modern day. He had very good reasons to dig in just this spot, even if you didn’t count a prediction from a crazy fortune teller at the carnival. Trent was a rational man, and certainly hadn’t based his plans on the claims of an obvious charlatan.

It wasn’t a treasure chest at the bottom of the hole. He’d just uncovered it, and almost spilled his lunch in the hole as he realised what it was. He would have gone to a phone box and called someone, keeping anonymous of course. But he didn’t get the chance, because there were suddenly police all around him, yelling for him to drop the shovel and back away. He couldn’t follow what was happening, there wasn’t a break in the shouting until he was sitting handcuffed in the back of a van, with a uniformed figure on either side of him. In the clamour of questions and cautions and whatever else they’d yelled, he only distinctly recalled one thing that each of them had said. The burly crew-cut guy on his left had muttered, “That means you’re nicked!” as he manhandled trent down the embankment, and the taller one had said “You make me sick.”

Once they were moving again, it changed from everybody talking to nobody talking. Just Trent and two men staring at him with undisguised hatred. He felt a jolt as the van bumped against his car again, squeezing out of a layby that really wasn’t big enough for two vehicles.

He was in a tiny police cell, a room with no decorations beyond a bench and a toilet in the corner. It was an hour before they dragged him to an interview room. Trent was a tough guy, and he tried not to show his fear, but he knew there was little hope of him getting a fair hearing. When they’d seen him at the edge of the hole with a shovel, they were already so sure he’d done the most terrible things imaginable. There was no room in their worldview to think he was just an innocent bystander who’d dug up… that.

“Who is she?” the detective snapped, as soon as the tape had started, “We can deal with convicting you later. We’ve pulled a kid out of a hole, and there’s some family out there looking, waiting for her to come home. Can you imagine how they must feel?” Trent tried to get a word in, but the man was like a fountain of anger, and he needed to let off some steam before he exploded.

“Does a sicko like you even think about the family? Do you not fucking care about their misery, or is that all part of the game to you? If you got any shred of humanity in you, at least tell us so we can let her family know. Well?” Now the rage had turned into an accusing silence, almost daring Trent to say the wrong thing. He wondered for a second if he could think of a way to spin this, but he’d never been big on improvising. He was starting to doubt that the truth was the best way to deal with the police, but it was all he had so he told it anyway.

“I don’t know,” he mumbled, and the words came out so quietly that he immediately wondered if the recorder would even pick them up.

“You don’t know?” the detectives yell would probably be picked up by people in the next room, if not the next building. “You. Don’t. Know?” he repeated, just loud enough to terrify Trent as he leaned forward to deliver the words from a couple of inches away, “What do you know then? I guess you tossed her bag or whatever without even looking to see if there’s something with a name on. Tell us where. Or tell us where you found her, a starting point so we can find the poor kid’s family. You give us something, or you can spend the rest of your life behind bars. You know how many crimes you committed today?”

“Trespassing, I guess,” he answered the question, if only to pass time until he could  figure out what else to say, “Maybe the farmer could claim criminal damage, but I don’t think a hole is that damaging if I’d had time to fill it in again.”

“Where did you find that poor girl?” the detective raved, his anger overwhelming any attempt he might have made at a subtle interrogation, “Last chance, give us an answer or I’ll see to it you end up in a cell with some hardcase who’ll make your life a living hell.” And then a second later, an afterthought as all the rage burned out, a single breath that might just have been: “Please?”

“I’m sorry, detective. I found the body in that field. I was digging her up, not burying. I read about Tardy John when I was studying local history, a fortune teller at the fair told me I’d find all that loot he supposedly hid, then I spotted a code in his letters, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t mentioned in any of the books, then I got a metal detector, I checked the place out a dozen times until I could walk there blindfold, and today I thought I’d be in the news finding buried treasure. And I just found a body. I have no idea who left her there, even how long it’s been, you’ve got to believe me.”

“Real smooth,” the second cop spoke up for the first time, “Like you don’t give a shit what’s going to happen to you. We found you standing over a hole with this delicate little thing, like eight years old, half covered with earth. Skull fractured from repeated blows with a blunt instrument, they tell us, and a single stab wound in the chest. We don’t know what you did to her before you hit her, or after, or both. But if she can’t tell us then the scientists will, and everyone will know just what kind of freak you are.” He wasn’t loud or aggressive. This guy didn’t give the impression that he was barely restraining the urge to leap over the table and give Trent a kicking, but his words came out slowly and deliberately, and his emotions were conveyed entirely by his eyes. This guy was just as angry, behind the mask of ice, and just as dangerous in his own way.

“It wasn’t me!” Trent couldn’t hold back the tears any more. Not just from fear of what they were going to do with him, but because he could imagine what the family must be going through now. “I was looking for a box of cash, I didn’t expect to find… I have no idea how long she’s been there, even. Can’t your scientists tell you that?”

“Maybe,” still the deadpan tone, that came out as icy cold when you saw his expression, “Maybe they’ll tell us just what we saw when we pulled her out. I’ll bet anything we get a call soon to say those injuries are a couple of hours old, and we caught you before you finished burying the evidence. A full six feet under, too. Most psychos aren’t so thorough. You didn’t clean your spade, though, there’s traces of blood on it we can identify, and we got a dozen officers saw you at the scene. You seriously think you’re going to get away with this? Tell us where you snatched her, maybe you get a tiny sliver of lenience. Keep on telling us you just missed some other pervert at the scene, you’re going away forever.”

“I told you, I found her there. She was buried. I’m not saying I just missed the guy. I came in an hour and a half before, making sure whoever owns that field wouldn’t catch me. Nobody else in the layby, and I’d swear there was nobody on that ridge while I waited. The coroner’s going to come back and tell you she’s been buried there at least a couple of hours, probably days or weeks. You don’t need to keep on threatening me, because you’re not going to change the facts. That girl was dead long before I got there.”

“You’re wrong there, asshole,” the first detective sneered, unable to restrain himself any longer, “You know why? You fucked up. You hit her and you stabbed her, but you even screwed that up. Your victim’s in hospital now, not in the morgue. You stabbed her, but you missed the heart. And she’ll be talking to us in a week or two. Think she’ll be able to pick you out of a lineup? No jury ever doubted the word of a cute little angel like that.”

“That…” Trent just didn’t know what to say. It was impossible, but that much was obvious. With a head injury and a stab wound, he couldn’t see any way that girl could have survived two hours under the hard-packed, sodden earth.

“You get it now?” the other cop felt he had to drum in the point, “You’re going down either way. Let us know where you found her, let her family be there when she regains consciousness, maybe the judge will consider that a point in your favour.”

Before either of them could say anything more, before Trent could again protest what he’d seen, there was a sharp rap at the door. The two cops left the room, but didn’t quite close the door behind them. Maybe the intellectual thought that letting Trent overhear this conversation would make later interrogation easier, or maybe it was just a careless slip. He didn’t move, just sat in growing terror as whispers of half a conversation in the hallway drifted into the interrogation room.

“The hospital called –”



“No, the girl’s gone.”



“Bardowski and Taylor, not the brightest apples in the bunch but good officers. No answer on the radio, but they’ll call in if something’s wrong.”



“Security says she just walked out. The receptionist didn’t think to stop her. Last person to see her was Dr Grizewald, no sign of him either.”

Trent gave a sigh of relief, and immediately hated himself for it. Whatever had happened must be a load more stress for the cops, who were already worrying enough about this kid. Could she really be alive? It had seemed impossible when they said it, like some kind of trick. But to have been buried alive, and then recover enough to give police guards the slip the same day, that was impossible. Something horrifying was happening, someone crazy enough to try finishing what they had started? About the only possible silver lining was that with Trent in a police cell, this had to be all the proof they needed of his innocence.

The sound of running feet in the hallway, and a younger voice gasping for breath as he spoke: “Hospital called again. Found Grizewald. Dead.” There was a lot of noise outside, the sounds of a police force getting organised for a large operation. Trent didn’t have a clue what was going on now, and he got little solace from realising that he couldn’t be a suspect.

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2015-12-10 13:18:08 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 7 +1s)Open 

Sorry, I had to.

Sorry, I had to.___

2015-12-08 22:29:17 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

Today's #DailyStory  is a bit long, words just kept on coming. I think it might need a lot of cutting to work. Inspired by an image that was in my feed a couple of days ago, but I can't find it now.

Day 433 - Synchronicity

Imagine space. Not a sheet of blackness with the glitter of stars scattered across it like powdered glass; not the majestic spectacle of a many-ringed gas giant up close. Space. The universe, an infinite mass of cosmic dust scattered over a much larger infinity of emptiness. So much matter that one planet, one star, even one galaxy would be a grain of sand on top of a mountain. And yet spread out so thinly that only the most advanced races in the universe can perceive that anything is there at all. Imagine space. All of it at once, filled with more detail than a mortal mind can comprehend. Not just the stars you see in the sky, but a hundred billion... more »

Today's #DailyStory  is a bit long, words just kept on coming. I think it might need a lot of cutting to work. Inspired by an image that was in my feed a couple of days ago, but I can't find it now.

Day 433 - Synchronicity

Imagine space. Not a sheet of blackness with the glitter of stars scattered across it like powdered glass; not the majestic spectacle of a many-ringed gas giant up close. Space. The universe, an infinite mass of cosmic dust scattered over a much larger infinity of emptiness. So much matter that one planet, one star, even one galaxy would be a grain of sand on top of a mountain. And yet spread out so thinly that only the most advanced races in the universe can perceive that anything is there at all. Imagine space. All of it at once, filled with more detail than a mortal mind can comprehend. Not just the stars you see in the sky, but a hundred billion galaxies out of sight for every star you see.

Standing on a convenient platform, the class didn’t need to imagine something so complex. They could see it spread out all around them. Some of them thought it was spectacular, but most of the older students had already looked at it in such detail that they didn’t see it as anything special. Every lesson was full of miracles here, but even a miracle could become boring once you’d seen it enough times. The tutor was well aware of that, and was trying to find a new way to engage their young minds so that they might still grow with a fascination in observing the universe, and an unlimited ambition to discover all the things they might one day create.

For this lesson, he was setting them a task that he hoped would be challenging enough. And with the aim of making it a little more interesting, he’d borrowed a pupil from a different teaching group. Older than the rest, he had missed some vital parts of his education and was now coming back to complete the course. But with much more practical experience, he was reluctant to accept authority. It wasn’t that he was a bad student. He was smart, and came up with imaginative solutions that others might not even understand, and he never gave up. But he wasn’t a star pupil either, because he was stubborn and didn’t know how to admit he was wrong. Rijalis was a wild card, who he hoped would inspire his students to think differently, whether through imitation or animosity.

They weren’t looking at any particular world today. They were looking at the universe. The teacher hadn’t yet explained why, and some of the more experienced members of the class were starting to get impatient. He had caught an occasional flutter of ‘Is this a surprise examination?’ and ‘What are we going to make all the way out here?’ on the telepathic grid earlier, but now it was an almost constant murmur.

“Enough questions!” the teacher addressed the group, assuming a physical form so that the others who had done so had something to focus their eyes, radar, or other sensory organs on. “We aren’t creating anything today. Even a neophyte can create a world, and by this stage you should have the skills necessary to assemble whatever type of star system I assigned you. Today, we are going to study resource gathering in a lot more detail.”

The background chatter gained a tone of vague disapproval. He ignored it and continued.

“Elements! We’re going to start with a new world, and we need elements. Which ones do you gather first?” with a sharp gesture he singled out one member of his audience, Caliro, who had been thinking more assertively than others that simply collecting elements should be beneath the notice of even an apprentice Designer. “Caliro?”

“Umm… what’s the brief?”

“No elements specified. You’ll get a brief later, but for now you’re gathering components so you won’t have to do too much work once time is against you. So you’re making a template world, that the required physics can be grafted onto when you get the full brief. Which elements do you use for your blank canvas?”

“Fire!” another student exclaimed, “It’s pretty much a constant. Earth, water, fire, narrative, time, ether…”

“What if the requirements are for a pure-science world?” Caliro interrupted, showing more insight than his mood would have implied, “You can’t take magic out once you mixed it in, you’d have to blow it apart and salvage what you could. That’s going to leave emotional scars on any sentient race.”

“What would you suggest, then?” the teacher asked. Caliro hesitated, but only for a attosecond.

“Science. Hydrogen, helium, carbon, iron, caloric, oxygen, niobium, mithril, lithium, calcium, boron, argon. Can add exotic scientifics later if we want the race to leave their planet. There’s always room for plutonium, titanium, unobtainium, orichalcrum, silicon… whatever kind of technology you want to give them. And if it turns out to be a magic world, then they’re not mutually exclusive. You can layer Earth as an element over the top and have it subsume the others, or just add ether, deity, celestial, runes, and whatever you feel like.”

“Too concrete,” Rijalis cut in, “science, magic, mythology, life, and fictional elements are all secondary. I’d build on firmament, energy, cohesion, time, and abstract. A solid framework that you can build into whatever you want later. You’re less likely to forget something if you’ve got five basic elements rather than thirty.”

“But any life growing on such a world is likely to develop…” Caliro tried to defend her idea, but then noticed the teacher was waiting for silence. The whole class turned to their tutor and waited for him to speak.

“Both good answers. And both ones which will require a great deal of effort for the initial harvesting. Scientific elements are relatively abundant. Tin, for example, often exists as a natural metal even on worlds which don’t consider it a fundamental element. But collecting them is difficult, because there are few fundamental oppositions between them, meaning that you cannot easily force one element to be ejected from a doomed world for harvesting. You more likely end up with mixtures and alloys, having to pulverise the source worlds entirely to get anything you can use, and then that greatly complicates the procedure of combining your elements in the desired proportions. It is possible, but very time consuming and difficult. I think, Caliro, that you have set an extremely complex exercise for yourself and whichever classmates elect to join your team.”

“Firmament and time, on the other hand,” he addressed Rijalis, the black sheep, the troublemaker, “Are abundant and easy to procure. Even filtered from the void itself, if you prefer. Abstract as an element is a little esoteric for my tastes, but it could work. I’m guessing you intend to subject an enlightened civilisation to an apocalypse entirely outside their understanding, such that their intelligence coalesces in a form which can be converted into the pure essence of abstraction. Workable, as I said, but expensive. You would have to find an existing world whose owner doesn’t object to its harvesting, and that will be hard purely because creating a race capable of synthesising abstract without it having been added, that would require significant effort. And cohesion, this makes me think that you are joking with me. What do you plan to substitute, when I tell you that I expect you to carry out this exercise?”

“Cohesion. Every world has it, I simply intend to add it as the first element.” Rijalis smiled, projecting empathically so that those not familiar with the body shape he’d chosen would be able to understand the mood indicated by the twitch of primitive muscle fibres in a facsimile of a living body.

“I believe you are joking with me,” the tutor was suddenly grim, and every student capable of feeling fear backed away. Apart from Rijalis. “Very well. Gather sufficient Cohesion for a world core. This is your exercise. You may ask others to join you in this effort, but I will be fair and state that only you will be subject to deresolution if it proves you were promising me the impossible. And so that you cannot say I am being unjust you may deconstruct up to a myriad of worlds for your materials, but no more than that, and you can continue with this project for up to five eternities. I will speak with your personal advisor and have your classes rescheduled until such time as you resign.”

“That shouldn’t be necessary,” Rijalis shrugged, and opened a view portal in front of him. He moved his hands, as if the actions of physical appendages were somehow linked to his manipulation of the very nature of reality. He knew it didn’t really make any difference, and that he could work faster if he discorporated. But he liked being human, or at least wearing a human shape.

He selected two worlds, both with advanced cultures. One was a flourishing kingdom of magic, with linear gravity and twelve hells beneath the ground, encircled by a giant thorned vine that no living thing could possibly harm or climb over. The other was ruled over by shelled reptiles who had built an empire that lasted a hundred million years while the assembled class watched. As they flickered across the screen of the portal, he nodded and brought the worlds closer. The reptiles had much more dimensional space in theirs, and had conquered a dozen other civilisations to find the limits of their observable universe. Rijalis must feel sorry for them; though he hadn’t been added to this class before, anyone who had heard of him knew that he had a personal dislike of destroying civilisations that might otherwise come to understand their nature.

Both worlds had significant cohesion levels. The races that lived there couldn’t detect it, and it wasn’t an element in the private physics of those worlds. But it was there, formed by the interaction of different elements as they merged to create a coherent framework, and further enhanced by the living things’ attempts to understand their worlds, to force potentially conflicting elements to unite into something their minds could understand. Still, even if the destruction of these two worlds could yield all of the cohesion they contained, uncontaminated by the elements that had formed it, it would not be enough to form the core of a world. It would be close, but not enough.

“The flat world is mine,” Rijalis explained to the tutor, “I was experimenting with internally folded dimensions in a non-physics-driven universe. Their behaviour under the constraints of a narrative is quite intriguing, though it turned out to have no greater use, so I just left it to be recycled later. The Ninth Great and Powerful Holy Empire of the Turtles was a battle royale that Jordadir intended to use as his final project for assessment, but it didn’t finish in time. He intended to set up starting conditions so that every form of organic life possible under these physics would be set to battle each other in pairs until only one claimed the universe. I’m glad to see it actually finished, it took long enough. I think Jord long since graduated, maybe even a teacher himself now. I should get back in touch some time, but he left me permission to further expand this world if I could find anything interesting to do with it.”

“Permission to expand a world is not permission to destroy,” the teacher seemed almost angry now. He had expected Rijalis to rebel in some way, to go against the norms, but not this. Harvesting an owned world without the permission of its creator was grounds for immediate termination. A sentence which everyone was glad to see had never been carried out, because the concept of stealing a world was so abhorrent it had never even been attempted. Had this boy’s experience trapped as a mortal for an entire cycle of time corrupted him so much?

“I don’t do destruction any more,” Rijalis answered simply. He held one hand up, palm out, in front of the two viewing portals, and then moved both at once. The hands moved through each other with little effort. The portals interfered, and he quickly threaded both through each other and tied a complex knot to prevent them dispersing. The universes too, he placed in exactly the same space and time, twisting them around so that their internal chronology loops ran in opposite directions, passing through each other like links in a chain. The metaphor was quite unnecessary, but was one of the habits of a human brain that he had decided against leaving behind.

Two worlds, built around incompatible worldviews. Normally forcing a world based on science into one that runs on mythology, or some equally contrary precept, would either force them apart, or reveal that magic was actually a form of science or vice versa. Forcing a round world and a flat world to coexist would more likely destroy one or both, leaving little that could be salvaged in the debris. Nobody present had ever seen a flat world become one with a galactic empire, but apparently Rijalis had thought about what might happen.

“Because the internal chronology is reversed, each world arises from the ashes of the other’s destruction. Two great empires, enlightened civilisations, thrust into foreign worlds simultaneously. A massive yield of abstract, as you can see. And the incongruity between the worlds causes the majority of their cohesion to be ejected from the system at each apocalypse, only to be replaced by the conversion of the other race’s abstract intent. And now that these worlds coexist in the same space and time, I suddenly have a surplus of both which can easily be trimmed from the edges of the loop.”

“Not enough cohesion,” a student who hadn’t even said anything so far offered from the sidelines, “Even with two worlds’ worth, you’d need a dozen times that to actually base a world on. Not enough abstract, either, because most of it goes back into replenishing cohesion to stop the system self-destructing. Besides, you said you didn’t destroy! You’ve got a world with two permanent apocalypses in it there! Hypocrite.”

“Angry much?” Rijalis shrugged, “And I’ve got all the elements I need. It’s a loop, a world that’s constantly destroying itself but never actually ends. The timelines are reversed, so what looks like an apocalypse from the outside is actually a catastrophic beginning, a great civilisation springing fully formed. They’ve got infinity to play with in there, and as long as each world keeps on going for eternity, the part of  the cycle that contains the other’s apocalypse keeps on ejecting the newly formed cohesion into the world.”

“How did you…” the teacher was finally at a loss for words, and knew why his comrades had been so eager to get rid of this student. “How do you even think of that?”

“It’s a human idea. They called it ‘perpetual motion’, but I think ‘perpetual creation’ would be a more appropriate label. Amazing, the things they think of that aren’t even possible in their world. They have a space with only seventeen dimensions, their spacetime is too small and restrictive to contain even the thought of the process I just executed, and yet they produced the core idea. There’s reasons I like their world. Now, I believe it will take exactly an eternity for these two worlds to produce sufficient firmament, energy, time, cohesion, and abstract for the project originally set us. If you want I can make the worlds into a mold, so the new one will be formed automatically when it reaches critical mass.”

“Thank you, for a most interesting challenge,” and just like that he discorporated, and made to leave. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another tutorial to attend. You might want to check on Caliro, he seems to have built up a critical mass of phlebotinum without anything to stabilise it.”

The rest of the class just stared in shock at the marvel of the vast universe, and the even greater marvels that could be created by their own ingenuity.___

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2015-12-05 22:28:45 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Another random chapter from Seven Skies for #SaturdayScenes … If you like, please leave a comment, and then click the tag to see what other authors have been working on.

Dick’s Petition

Mad Jack leaned back in his throne, wondering who would be in next to see him. Of course, using the powers of the Monitor he could have images from the passageway outside broadcast directly into his mind’s eye, but he felt that would somehow be unfair on the pirates who had an issue pressing enough to use their one chance at meeting him. Plus, he preferred to be a little surprised who had won the debate and been judged worthy of his time by their peers. They would make their case to each other first, and those with the best petition would come in to ask him for what they wanted.

In this case, he was truly surprised by the man walking in, because he didn’t know hername. Ma... more »

Another random chapter from Seven Skies for #SaturdayScenes … If you like, please leave a comment, and then click the tag to see what other authors have been working on.

Dick’s Petition

Mad Jack leaned back in his throne, wondering who would be in next to see him. Of course, using the powers of the Monitor he could have images from the passageway outside broadcast directly into his mind’s eye, but he felt that would somehow be unfair on the pirates who had an issue pressing enough to use their one chance at meeting him. Plus, he preferred to be a little surprised who had won the debate and been judged worthy of his time by their peers. They would make their case to each other first, and those with the best petition would come in to ask him for what they wanted.

In this case, he was truly surprised by the man walking in, because he didn’t know her name. Mad Jack was supposed  to know the name of every pirate in the nations, from the day they were born. He could sense an Authority about her person, though she didn’t wear it about her neck like most captains. She was alone, and dressed in a fashion that didn’t quite seem familiar. There was only one thing he could assume.

“Welcome, landsider,” he grinned and raised his ancient body slightly from the throne. For the first time in decades, he felt the urge to act as a human and lean forward to better see his visitor. “What brings you to my chamber?”

“I am a Captain, and expect to be accorded the same rights as any other,” Dick started, forcing her voice to take on a confident tone that she really didn’t feel. “I am Josephina Davies, Captain of (SHIP NAME), though most of my friends call me Dick. I suspect the rules permit you to address me however you choose. And you are the Pirate King, otherwise known as the Council, or the Monitor. Can I ask a little clarification on who I’m addressing?”

“You believe me to be a hollow body on the throne, reduced to a figurehead and spokesman for my council? You think I am a token vessel to represent centuries of continuity, and the decisions are no longer mine alone?”

“No. I believe you to be a gestalt composed of many of the High Captains who have had their minds uploaded into this city's computers over the last half millennium, the resulting consciousness downloaded back into the brain of a cybernetically reanimated corpse for the purpose of interacting with humans.” There was a long pause, as the Pirate King wondered how to respond to her suspicions. Dick felt as if she was under careful scrutiny as well. Finally, he spoke.

“Nobody has ever accused me of that before.”___

2015-12-04 23:02:37 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Yesterday's #DailyStory , finished a little late. I think it needs less background at the beginning, and the characters need to feel more real. I cut out some detail so I could get it finished today, but now it feels a little empty to me.

#DailyStory  № 428 - Fear the Reaper

The reaper is a symbol of fear and anguish. It’s been the case for generations, maybe as long as the world has been turning. Even in cultures which have no mythology about the spirits of death, any mythology about them knows that they inspire pain and suffering.

You don’t see the reapers as they walk among us. Some legends say the Reaper is a figure shaped like a man, but completely alien to us in his manner of thought, who comes to everyone in time. He would have infinite patience, to take on a job no mortal mind could even comprehend. Others say the reapers are gods, an army or acommitt... more »

Yesterday's #DailyStory , finished a little late. I think it needs less background at the beginning, and the characters need to feel more real. I cut out some detail so I could get it finished today, but now it feels a little empty to me.

#DailyStory  № 428 - Fear the Reaper

The reaper is a symbol of fear and anguish. It’s been the case for generations, maybe as long as the world has been turning. Even in cultures which have no mythology about the spirits of death, any mythology about them knows that they inspire pain and suffering.

You don’t see the reapers as they walk among us. Some legends say the Reaper is a figure shaped like a man, but completely alien to us in his manner of thought, who comes to everyone in time. He would have infinite patience, to take on a job no mortal mind could even comprehend. Others say the reapers are gods, an army or a committee working together to usher souls into the next world. Still others think that a man’s soul will be collected by some deity determined by the manner of his end. A soldier falling in battle, for example, would have a god of war come to collect him, while the victim of disease would be claimed by a plague god.

They all underestimate the number of the reapers. They approach their appointed task with patience, eventually, but that is not because they have many more souls to claim for some master. They are never rushed to complete one job because they must hurry on to the next. If your religion or mythology suggests that, then their estimate of the population of these entities is too small by orders of magnitude.

They walk among us. Every one of them is sad and alone, even when surrounded by their own kind. There is nobody they can share the stories of their difficulties with, nobody else who could even understand. Not even another reaper. This sadness can be picked up by a person with the right talents, and so after centuries, all the people of the world have come to have some conception of the reapers, however far from reality their imaginings may be. And everyone picks up on that sadness, the feelings of despair that surround them.

The Reapers aren’t intangible or invisible. You would see them as effectively as you see anyone, if they walk in front of you. You just don’t remember them. You see them, even talk to them, but your mind can’t remember. Every single man on this world has a fear so intense that it becomes impossible to hold that image in yur mind. They could talk to you about the weather, or the sports, and you might think they’re like anyone else, even as the memory fails to lodge in your mind.

You don’t need to see them, though. When you die, if you’re ready to leave this world with no regrets, then you can just go. It’s automatic, and you don’t need anyone to  show you the way. The reapers come for the people who are uncertain, who worry about what lies beyond, or who cannot discard the last ties to their mortal lives. They can’t take you away, and that is why we should fear them. They can only talk to you, talk about the worries and regrets that are holding you back, and hope that once you think about it you will be ready to go.

But life is hard for those who haven’t left. They can still walk in the world of the living, but unseen by mortal eyes. Some of them haven’t met the reaper yet, and are still waiting for the appointed time. But every one of them might worry that they have already had their chance, that the reaper came and told them how to leave, and they still couldn’t let it go. They could have forgotten all the advice they were given, and condemned themself through stubbornness to walk this world alone.

It wasn’t as bad as all that, though. Sooner or later, the reaper would return. It seemed to be purely their choice how long they would wait, not subject to any rules. And maybe time didn’t pass the same, because it could be years before you got your second or third chance at redemption, but the reaper would be so familiar with your story that you might think it was only yesterday. Nobody knew how such stories became known by the great number of earthbound souls. But though no-one could remember an encounter with a reaper, the stories about what they were and how they worked were quickly passed on to newcomers, and everyone knew the same.

Cassie was afraid. Not of hell, or purgatory; or of deserting the family who even now were starting to forget her. She could watch her grandchildren now as if they were characters on a television screen, and not be too invested in their lives. She felt that she was almost ready to leave, but still there was a little fear that she might have to walk the world forever, and even fear of this world was enough to bind her to it. She sat on the porch outside Andrew’s house, her grandson, and looked in at him playing with his sons. He looked like a typical, respectable husband and father. His family would probably never know that he was having an affair, and even he didn’t know that he would soon have the daughter he’d secretly hoped for. Melissa told herself, when she noticed that anything in his behaviour wasn’t quite right, that it was just a mid life crisis. That meant he was already a decade older than Cassie had been when the accident came.

She was content now. Aside from a few last strains of fear, and of loneliness, the world was something she watched simply because it was there. She would never again stand by the grave of her parents, or her children, and welcome them to this existence. She wasn’t proud enough to think she could help them to understand, when she hadn’t been able to cross over herself. But she’d been there when the reapers came for them, and maybe then she’d started to understand why she was still here a little better.

She’d spoken to them, she knew, but she couldn’t remember. A reaper encounter was lost to memory, and not just for the person departing. But after that, she started to leave herself notes when she saw it happen to someone else. Maybe that was how the secrets of existence had become common knowledge, someone else had tried the same. She never remembered her own, but she could at least keep a tally of how many times her memory had gone. She knew that she’d seen her reaper seven times now, years apart. That was a part of the fear, because she didn’t know how many times they would try before they gave up and moved on to another soul, leaving her trapped for eternity.

Then she turned, and saw the reaper. And in an instant she understood that she would never be left here forever. That the reaper would never help another to cross over while Cassie was stuck in this world. She knew that in the past, she must have understood. She still couldn’t remember the last time, what she had got wrong, so she must have come to the same realisations over and over.

“I think you understand now. Are you ready to go?”

“That’s it?” Cassie hoped it would be that simple, but she knew on some level it couldn’t be. If crossing over was that easy,they wouldn’t need the reapers at all.

“Almost. You’ve come to terms with waiting, and with being detached from the world. You don’t regret anything in your life any more, you understand that you couldn’t change the past. That’s all that you really need, to be capable of giving up your temporal anchor. You can go anywhere in time and space, anywhere you can imagine, just as soon as you truly understand why you can’t attempt to change anything.”

“So I can’t do anything?”

“No. One thing you can do. You can go back in time and find a lost soul, struggling to hold on to her identity in the hope she can take it with her to the next life. You can be the reaper, and wait patiently for her to understand. The first time you try to explain, it will feel like torture. You won’t believe how foolish her ideals seem, but each time you meet she’ll get a little smarter, until she is ready. Then you can go to the next world.” Cassie looked the younger ghost up and down, and gave a wry grin. “I’ll be waiting for you,” she said, and vanished into thin air.

Before Cassie’s memory of the encounter faded completely, she muttered to herself, “I must have been waiting centuries for my chance to use that line.” And then she went back, knowing that all she had to do was to help a less experienced Cassie understand the things she now understood. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, and she knew that she would probably say the wrong things and ask the wrong questions in their first encounter. But that didn’t matter, because sooner or later she knew her protégée would understand, and would then hurry on to join her in the next world.___

2015-12-04 09:48:46 (5 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

Today I woke with a very weird dream. I blame +Bliss Morgan (for being head librarian). I had a library, where everyone I know seems to work (including both RL and Pluslandian peoples). We were like superheroes; we found out that an evil cartel was spreading a telepathic virus that makes people think "I don't need to know that" and takes away their desire to learn; because dumb people are easier to sell porn to. So we fought back by creating and disseminating memes online that might make somebody want to pick up the book and find out what it's about.
Then our Head Librarian went into a Super-Saiyan Rage Thing and started striding around town punching the ignorance out of people. All the weird telepathic virus things combined into a giant ghost monster that can make people stupid just by touching them. Luckily, the library's new motorised self-organising shelves have an emergency... more »

Today I woke with a very weird dream. I blame +Bliss Morgan (for being head librarian). I had a library, where everyone I know seems to work (including both RL and Pluslandian peoples). We were like superheroes; we found out that an evil cartel was spreading a telepathic virus that makes people think "I don't need to know that" and takes away their desire to learn; because dumb people are easier to sell porn to. So we fought back by creating and disseminating memes online that might make somebody want to pick up the book and find out what it's about.
Then our Head Librarian went into a Super-Saiyan Rage Thing and started striding around town punching the ignorance out of people. All the weird telepathic virus things combined into a giant ghost monster that can make people stupid just by touching them. Luckily, the library's new motorised self-organising shelves have an emergency mode that lets them form into a 180 foot tall robot made entirely of books. I suspect it would have been an epic battle, but when I woke up we were still arguing about what to call it.___

2015-12-02 23:13:16 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Today's #DailyStory  … the ending could have been better executed

Day 427 - Realism

“Dr Trillim’s research was crucial,” the salesperson explained, “She discovered that a strobing effect at certain frequencies can induce tactile and olfactory hallucinations, allowing a simple display screen – correctly oriented and aligned with respect to the inner edge of your field of vision – can be used to create virtual images that feel real in every respect.”

“But that reduces the realism of the visuals,” Mac shrugged, and turned back to his computer. He wasn’t so well known except by really hardcore gamers, but his endorsement would still mean something to a few. He’d had more than a few people actually show up at his office trying to sell him on some new peripheral, and lately  he’d made a point of listening for five minutes before he decidedthey were full of shit. Thi... more »

Today's #DailyStory  … the ending could have been better executed

Day 427 - Realism

“Dr Trillim’s research was crucial,” the salesperson explained, “She discovered that a strobing effect at certain frequencies can induce tactile and olfactory hallucinations, allowing a simple display screen – correctly oriented and aligned with respect to the inner edge of your field of vision – can be used to create virtual images that feel real in every respect.”

“But that reduces the realism of the visuals,” Mac shrugged, and turned back to his computer. He wasn’t so well known except by really hardcore gamers, but his endorsement would still mean something to a few. He’d had more than a few people actually show up at his office trying to sell him on some new peripheral, and lately  he’d made a point of listening for five minutes before he decided they were full of shit. This lady’s five minutes were just about up.

“Don’t judge it until you’ve tried it, Mr Habbegran,” and that got his attention, because none of his blogs, podcasts, or other online presences so much as mentioned his real name. “It’s a free trial, so what have you got to lose?” He was going to give her just a minute more, to see if she could convince him, but she’d already walked right out of the door. She left the prototype to speak for itself, a pair of goggles and a game disc. The latter was stamped ‘Authorised reviewers only’, but there was no license agreement attached. Mac was familiar enough with the law to know that in those circumstances he could try it and then review it, slate it, make jokes about it, or just dump it as he saw fit. As the woman had said, there was no reason not to try.

* * *

[System online]

Mac looked around at his surroundings. He was in a park, leafy trees and cherry blossom. Contrary  to his expectations, the visuals were spectacular. Not realistic, he could make out the pixilation in some textures, but about as good as any other game he’d tried. He could smell the flowers too, though that didn’t mean anything. He had been sitting on a park bench when he plugged the goggles into his portable system, so he could just as easily smell the flowerbeds that were next to his reclining form.

There was one way to test that, though. He stood up and walked along the path. He could hear the gravel  crunching under his feet, and much to his surprise he could even feel himself moving. The kinesthetic projector certainly worked. The video lagged slightly, following maybe a third of a second behind his movement. He would put up with that, he decided, until it made him feel nauseous. He walked down alleys, found a lower class part of the virtual city. An oil drum that a couple of refugees had lit a fire in smelled of burning tar. It was as real as he could possibly have imagined.

Over the next few weeks, he spent more time trying out this new game. The menu allowed him to buy weapons, but they didn’t go straight to his inventory. In what he would normally see as a streak of unnecessary realism, he would have to walk around the darker parts of the town, following glowing arrows in the air to pick up his purchase. But in this case, it somehow felt less like a game mechanic and more like an intrusion of realism into the game world. It felt natural, and it actually added to the impression of being a covert operative in a hostile cityscape. The game was immersive, and some things he might have expected to detract from the experience actually ended up drawing him in more. Once you were in the virtual world, you had to go to a save point in order to sign out; the option wasn’t there on the default menu. But that meant he had to think more about whether he had time to complete some side objective before the end of the day. And each new game session might start in a different place. If you signed out, you could never be sure you’d restart from the same place. That made a lot of sense if it was an online game, because maybe the place he’d been at his last save was too crowded right now. He would have thought it was odd and disorienting, and it was, but somehow that just made him more determined to do as much as possible before logging out.

The things that made the most difference was the reality of the training missions, though. He could stalk the back alleys of some fictional metropolis, learning to evade patrols and to get a clear shot. But it was very rare he was authorised to take a shot; and the Assassins Bureau were supposed to start refusing new contracts to a player who didn’t follow orders well. It felt so real that he didn’t notice the lack of excitement.

He wanted to review this new game, to tell the world how immersive it was. But he decided to at least finish the training missions first, so he could get a good feel for the game. Unfortunately, once he’d made his first kill, he was no longer free to speak to the public. Turns out that “I thought it was a game” isn’t the kind of excuse the secret service understands.___

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2015-11-28 22:02:19 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Today for #SaturdayScenese and #Nanowrimo I present a scene from quite late in the story of Seven Skies … like most of my WIP posts, this is first-draft writing pre editing, so sorry it's a bit rough, but I hope you'll enjoy reading it, leave a comment, and check out some #SaturdayScenes by other authors

Pirates in Space

At this point, Joran is aboard a Spanish Color Galleon, the flagships of the pirate fleet. The captain's used to flying ships, but this is the first time any of them have been in space.

The standing wave created by the Transport Cannon made the fabric of space vibrate in ways that were alien to most of the physics that present-day landsiders understood. They probably couldn’t even measure the interaction, wouldn’t notice if the air in front of them was filled with energies they knew nothing of and thrumming like abowst... more »

Today for #SaturdayScenese and #Nanowrimo I present a scene from quite late in the story of Seven Skies … like most of my WIP posts, this is first-draft writing pre editing, so sorry it's a bit rough, but I hope you'll enjoy reading it, leave a comment, and check out some #SaturdayScenes by other authors

Pirates in Space

At this point, Joran is aboard a Spanish Color Galleon, the flagships of the pirate fleet. The captain's used to flying ships, but this is the first time any of them have been in space.

The standing wave created by the Transport Cannon made the fabric of space vibrate in ways that were alien to most of the physics that present-day landsiders understood. They probably couldn’t even measure the interaction, wouldn’t notice if the air in front of them was filled with energies they knew nothing of and thrumming like a bowstring.

It wasn’t the air vibrating, because the hard vacuum was vibrating just as strongly, miles above Paris. In this case, the wave was between the projectors on the Cannon itself and the smoothly polished face of a relatively new television broadcast satellite of Russian origin. Suddenly there was a pirate ship a hundred yards below the satellite, its crew shocked by their sudden displacement.

“Calm down!” Joran shouted over the ship’s intercom, from his position in the Captain’s quarters, “The ship has basic shields, nearly all of our ships do. There’s no need to fear being in space, with a field to keep the atmosphere in it’s just like being under the night sky.” Then he looked outside, and realised what was inspiring terror among the men. It wasn’t the blackness all around them, or the Earth thousands of miles below.

It was matt black, only a few surfaces gleaming in the light from the sun, but that was enough to make out a shape once you realised it was there. It was huge, blotting out several constellations. And it looked like nothing Joran had ever seen before. If he had to describe it he would have called it bone shaped, like a toy bone or some rubber thing you’d give to a dog. It was long and thin, but bulging slightly at either end. There was no sign of viewports, and no familiar features by which he could get any idea of perspective or scale. But as they drifted relatively to the strange thing, the small amount of sunlight reflected from its surface made it possible to make out something of the shape. It wasn’t timber or metal, but looked more like coils of rope or sinew, braids of braids of thick black material. The grain spiralled over the whole thing, and gave it the disturbing impression of being almost alive.

There was a sudden change on the scene Joran was looking at, and it wasn’t until they reappeared that he realised a dozen stars had vanished. A minute later, it happened again. A line of blackness stretched from the Earth to a point close to the mysterious ship, but not touching it. They couldn’t even see the beam against the blackness, but it hid stars from their vision.

“I think that’s the weapon,” Joran concluded, not entirely happy about his inability to provide more information, “That’s what’s been killing our ships.”

To their credit, neither the men nor the Captain panicked. Anger was evident in every glance towards the foe, every movement. But it wasn’t the hot anger they’d shown when they struck at the Dutch force at Kolkata. Their rage was tempered now into a kind of determination that Joran hoped would be enough to see them through this battle. They moved quickly to load and ready the cannon, to make sure every sail was ready to be turned in the heat of battle, so that they could cope with any damage inflicted by their enemy and keep a favourable position. The marines checked their weapons and formed up with their gangs, though all they could do at present was lend extra manpower to haul on lines and the other routine business of the deck.

Another ship appeared behind them, maybe three hundred yards to port. It shimmered for a moment and then vanished, and Joran suddenly realised the urgency of the situation. An orbit wasn’t a place, or even a path, but a mixture of altitude and velocity. The Transport Cannon had been pointing at the same communications satellite, and had deposited two ships hundreds of yards apart, but with just as much difference between their speeds.

“Captain!” he yelled, “We need to watch our heading!”

“We’re drifting towards that big black thing,” the captain gestured with one hand, keeping the other on the wheel. “You said she’s the foe, so I reckon we’ll wait until she’s close and then cut across her to attack.”

“We don’t know how fast we’re going,” Joran tried to think of an explanation the tradition-bound man would understand, “We’re above the sky, there’s no landmarks to steer by, so we can’t judge our own speed. There’s not even any water. But that thing is where I expected it to be, it must be drifting at close to twenty thousand knots, so our speed will be something similar. I don’t know what will happen if you turn the rudder at that speed, but be warned the ship might not handle like you expect.”

The captain turned away from the wheel and looked him up and down. For all the time he’d spent on the Spanish fleet, Joran had thought he was given special treatment for his knowledge. He’d joined their navy as an admiral, and never doubted that his orders would be obeyed. But stripped of the ribbon, he now had no authority to command anything, and it was only his own personality that had driven the captain to follow his suggestions. Now he was realising just how young he must look in the eyes of this old seadog, and how easily his warnings could be taken as the fear of a pirate who’d never sailed into battle before. The captain slowly ran his eyes over the young man’s body, met his gaze, and it was clear to Joran that it was his resolve rather than his science that was being judged here.

“A ship at high speed turns hard,” the captain spoke calmly as he returned his eyes to their course, “You’re running more than a dozen knots, turning the wheel at all sends you slewing to one side. You lose a little speed, but not much, and you’re heading a different direction as fast as you were afore. Too hard, and men fall from their feet, the sails creak like they’re under a gale. How does that change at a thousand knots? There’s nowhere in the skies we can hit speeds like that without running afoul of the currents, so I can’t answer.”

Joran didn’t answer. He didn’t even know how the ship’s wheel worked in the air, except that it seemed to make them change course. If turning above a dozen knots made men fall down, then at this speed it would be lethal. But he wouldn’t insult the Captain’s intelligence, he was shrewd even if he wasn’t a scientist, and that much should be obvious.

“Burning height doesn’t seem any different at speed or in place,” the Captain mused again, “So unless you know different I’ll wager we can do that at least. By my reckoning, we’ll pass that ship three hundred yards to starboard and maybe a century and eighty in height. So if we lose that height now we should have time for two full salvoes from the cannon as we pass, and then I’ll call the men to tack in place and see if we can shed some speed, keep alongside them while we can. You’d agree with that?”___

2015-11-27 22:43:39 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

A story every day. For 421 days, and yesterday's #DailyStory was this:

Why I Carry a Sword

The grit crunches underfoot, and I grind my teeth as I struggle to carry my aching body forward. I have probably walked thirty miles since I last rested, but I long ago lost count of the villages and landmarks. Such a distance wouldn’t be a challenge on its own, and certainly wouldn’t take me two or three days to traverse. The armour slowed me down, of course. They say a chain vest is light by comparison to full plate, but that’s like saying that carrying a horse is easier than an elephant. It’s still sixty pounds of extra weight about my shoulders. The sword was worse; magically unbreakable, but by the same token two or three times the weight of normal iron.

Another man wearing light leather leapt out from behind his barricade, lunging for me with a dagger. Foolish.I force... more »

A story every day. For 421 days, and yesterday's #DailyStory was this:

Why I Carry a Sword

The grit crunches underfoot, and I grind my teeth as I struggle to carry my aching body forward. I have probably walked thirty miles since I last rested, but I long ago lost count of the villages and landmarks. Such a distance wouldn’t be a challenge on its own, and certainly wouldn’t take me two or three days to traverse. The armour slowed me down, of course. They say a chain vest is light by comparison to full plate, but that’s like saying that carrying a horse is easier than an elephant. It’s still sixty pounds of extra weight about my shoulders. The sword was worse; magically unbreakable, but by the same token two or three times the weight of normal iron.

Another man wearing light leather leapt out from behind his barricade, lunging for me with a dagger. Foolish. I forced my fatigue to the back of my mind and swung, taking his head off and showering the ground at our feet. His tabard bore the flag of Ereldric the Betrayer, which was quite a surprise this late in the day. Most of that lord’s troops had been stationed around a ruined monastery and the two villages that had once served it. I’d passed through there the day before. As the momentary surge of adrenaline faded away, the point of the sword fell to the ground. I let it trail behind me, dragging rather than carrying my weapon. The sand against its edge would clean it, anyway, and sharpen the edge as well as any whetstone.

People asked me why I carried a sword on a battlefield, or they once did. They said that a spear was a better weapon; longer reach, which was the important thing. But I didn’t face many pikemen. They were footsoldiers, not the nobility. If they came close enough to stab I’d leap inside their reach and cut three or four down with a swing. The men I faced were the knights, the strong and powerful. They were worth adversaries every one, though I lost track of their names after the first dozen. Now I’d even lost count of the skulls, and hearts ripped out to ensure no sorcery could revive them.

A sword didn’t have the reach of a pike, or the speed of a dagger, or the range of a bow. But it glittered under torchlight and glowed like fire when the sun caught it, mithril marking me as a leader. It earned me as many duels as I could care for, and as my body grew tired I only got stronger. I took on their commanders, and their allies’ commanders, and soon my reputation made people look out for this sword. I knew that by any law of nature I should have collapsed by now, and it was only willpower driving me. But this battle could go on forever, and until it ended I could not fall.

With the skill I gathered, years of training in one night, I would be the greatest swordsman of my generation. And if I died in the process, I would just come back and try again. This is what they mean by joy.
___

2015-11-25 17:36:59 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

What’s up with G+ lately? Every day I’m getting notifications of replies to posts 2 or 3 years ago, and with no apparent pattern. Is there a new or enhanced interface detail encouraging necroposting?

What’s up with my head today? So much hurting, mostly concentrated behind one eye and into my forehead. Throbbing, hammering. Feels like pressure, I’m surprised to see my head isn’t swollen. Worse when I stand up, feel dizzy. Blood sugar normal. Just about coped with this yesterday, it faded after about 8-10 hours. Same time today, it’s back. FML

What’s up with G+ lately? Every day I’m getting notifications of replies to posts 2 or 3 years ago, and with no apparent pattern. Is there a new or enhanced interface detail encouraging necroposting?

What’s up with my head today? So much hurting, mostly concentrated behind one eye and into my forehead. Throbbing, hammering. Feels like pressure, I’m surprised to see my head isn’t swollen. Worse when I stand up, feel dizzy. Blood sugar normal. Just about coped with this yesterday, it faded after about 8-10 hours. Same time today, it’s back. FML___

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2015-11-21 22:25:15 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s)Open 

Another saturday, another #SaturdayScenes, another excerpt from my #NaNoWriMo project. This one's a bit rough, as I wrote it at around 1am this morning. If you like it please comment, and then check out the #SaturdayScenes hashtag to see what scenes other authors have been working on this week

After weeks hanging around with pirates who act like the 16th Century never ended, and commanding a naval battle with invisible flying galleons, the crew have finally got back to their house and found a lot of letters from school/college waiting for them…

Decision Time

“We have to choose,” Pi echoed, “I’m looking at getting kicked off my course already, because we got carried away on the high seas.”

“Skies,” Baz corrected.

“Whatever. But Dick had that tribunal on Thursday, I’ve barely seen her since to ask how it went, and I bet youall got similar thr... more »

Another saturday, another #SaturdayScenes, another excerpt from my #NaNoWriMo project. This one's a bit rough, as I wrote it at around 1am this morning. If you like it please comment, and then check out the #SaturdayScenes hashtag to see what scenes other authors have been working on this week

After weeks hanging around with pirates who act like the 16th Century never ended, and commanding a naval battle with invisible flying galleons, the crew have finally got back to their house and found a lot of letters from school/college waiting for them…

Decision Time

“We have to choose,” Pi echoed, “I’m looking at getting kicked off my course already, because we got carried away on the high seas.”

“Skies,” Baz corrected.

“Whatever. But Dick had that tribunal on Thursday, I’ve barely seen her since to ask how it went, and I bet you all got similar threats. We can’t keep on doing this, and by now I’m not sure how many of us got a chance of staying in college this year. This needs our full attention, and it’s our futures we’re talking about.”

“I think we can do it,” Tomas said, but without any air of surety, “I’ve missed a few things, but the course is mostly practical work. If I can fit all the exercises in before the deadlines, then they can’t say anything about me not being in the labs on the times or days the schedule says.”

“Your course lets you get away with more than mine,” Shell spoke for the first time that morning, “I gave them an excuse, but we can’t keep on lying. I can’t give up on the pirate nations, I wouldn’t leave you guys in the lurch, but I can’t afford to miss anything else on my schedule. Weekends only, right? We can sail out to Sword’n Scabbard Friday nights, and then help them out in some raid or battle or whatever over the weekend, as long as we’re back to uni Monday. You all think you can please your tutors on that schedule?”

“Half-assed,” Joran barked, a slice of toast halfway to his mouth. “You’re all treating this like some kind of game! Don’t you realise people’s lives are on the line?”

“Yeah,” Tomas stopped trying to keep the irritation out of his voice, “and that’s why we can’t let our nation down. But we can’t let our careers crash and burn either. We have to find a compromise, and we’re all adults enough to see that. Yelling at us won’t help anything, neither will treating us like kids.” Joran didn’t even answer that. He finished his piece of toast, chewing quickly, and then left the room.

“I’m serious, though,” Shell said after the awkward silence had been drawn out way too long already, “Weekends only. We can go out more over the holidays.”

“I can’t make you,” Tomas shrugged, all trace of his earlier flare-up gone, “Maybe if I’ve got a lighter workload one week, I can take the ship out on my own, even. I don’t want to let our friends down, Parlick and Arisette, and all those guys, and I think I can do some good even if you’re not with me.”

“I’d come with you,” Baz grinned, but glared as he anticipated his brother’s response, “And that’s not me being some kid just out for adventure. I care about Arisette and everyone, but I care about you most. I’d rather get flunked out of school than find out you died somewhere in the sky because you were short handed.”

Tomas couldn’t answer that. Pi mulled those thoughts over for a while, before eventually declaring that he’d set down the same rules as Shell. They could go out at weekends, only doing short raids, or they could sail with two men short. Much to Tomas’s surprise, Dick wasn’t opposed to going out with just four of them, or to taking Baz along when they were bound to get in trouble sooner or later.

“I’ve been looking it up,” she said when he eventually got a chance to tell her what had been decided in her absence, “That’s why I’ve been holed up in my room the last couple of days. They kicked me out of college, and I’ve been taking stock, working out what I got.”

“Can you appeal? There’s bound to be a –”

“No. It’s not something to fight. I’ve thought about it. The nest egg my parents left me went into buying this place, and they matched what I was putting up. I paid more up front than you guys, so that means I can take a break on my share of the payments. I’ve never really wanted to be an accountant, all I ever wanted to do is write. I got a few short stories in magazines, and nothing but praise. You’ve seen it. You know I can do it, and the only thing holding me back was that I haven't got any ideas that nobody’s done before. And now I have.”

“You’re writing about…” he was shocked at first, but then he thought about it and started to wonder if there would be any problem with publishing a science fiction novel about pirates in flying ships. It wouldn’t make the landsiders any more likely to find out about them, that much was for sure.

“Not directly,” she seemed to second guess his thoughts before they’d even crossed his mind, “I’m writing about the ruins of an advanced civilisation, like the descendants of astronauts who’ve gone back to the stone age, in a fleet trying to sail across a huge desert of really fine sand. But the people, the feeling of being in danger. That’s all real. You understand, don’t you, all the emotions, the adrenaline rush, it’s something you can’t really understand until you’ve been through it. But now I’ve been there, I can write those feelings and the world just grows around it. I started that night we were in Atlantis, trying to find a way to deal with all the turmoil in my heart, and this just grew out of it. I wrote it on my phone, and every evening since we got back I’ve been editing it, posting chapters online, and asking for donations. You know the kind of thing, when I get fifty dollars I’ll put the next chapter online. If you send me fifty I’ll name a character after you.” The torrent of words paused for a moment, and she blushed as she stared at her hands.

“I’m not so proud of that. And I won’t tell you I’ve made a fortune in just a week. But I’m getting something already, and I think if I can keep this up, I can make enough to pay my part of the bills. So they don’t want me in college, well I don’t want to go back. I’m doing what I want in both lives, and if you guys can find a way to make it work then I’ll do my best to help you get what you want out of it. Whether you’re sailing with me or not.”


Oh... and it seems G+ no longer has the ability to easily add captions to images?___

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2015-11-21 20:12:06 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

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2015-11-21 14:24:03 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s)Open 

I captured a ghost!

I captured a ghost!___

2015-11-18 23:27:49 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

Day 413 of the #DailyStory project, today inspired by a photo posted on a facebook group. No idea if I'm allowed to share the image or not, as I don't know who the artist was

413 - Melancholy

The beach had no sand, just a line of cracked black rock leading down to slate-grey waves. The clifftop had some greenery, but dulled by the mist it could just as well have been rock all around this lonely cove. The clouds in the sky boiled with warning of the oncoming storm, and towards the horizon it became impossible to tell where imposing, rolling thunderheads ended and choppy wind-tossed waves began. It was the same grey all the way around the world.

A shrimp spluttered unnoticed on the ground, gasping for breath as the next wave didn’t quite reach with enough force to drag it back to the life-giving depths, and the next wave didn’t reach it at all. Everythingwas... more »

Day 413 of the #DailyStory project, today inspired by a photo posted on a facebook group. No idea if I'm allowed to share the image or not, as I don't know who the artist was

413 - Melancholy

The beach had no sand, just a line of cracked black rock leading down to slate-grey waves. The clifftop had some greenery, but dulled by the mist it could just as well have been rock all around this lonely cove. The clouds in the sky boiled with warning of the oncoming storm, and towards the horizon it became impossible to tell where imposing, rolling thunderheads ended and choppy wind-tossed waves began. It was the same grey all the way around the world.

A shrimp spluttered unnoticed on the ground, gasping for breath as the next wave didn’t quite reach with enough force to drag it back to the life-giving depths, and the next wave didn’t reach it at all. Everything was transient here, as brief as the thunder rumbling deep within the clouds.

A girl stood on the jagged rocks, a flat space as close as the edge of a pool. She wasn’t dressed for the pool, you might say she wasn’t dressed for the beach, but she looked like she belonged here next to these steel-coloured waves. Maybe her skin was pale and white, or maybe it was the dim light percolating through the clouds that robbed her complexion of colour. Her long, layered skirt had hints of red, or maybe it was brown. Her top was laced at the back like a corset, though he couldn’t tell if was real corsetry or just for appearances without touching, and her demeanour very much screamed that touching would be the wrong choice.

She wasn’t aggressive or threatening, more melancholy. She stood on the edge, staring out to sea with a water-damaged fiddle in one hand. The varnish had cracked where the brine splashed across it, but maybe the strings were still taut. She didn’t seem to be worried about her instrument, anyway. She was sad, and alone, and tired. She hadn’t come to this beach to meet others, but because she didn’t want anyone to see her. That much was clear, but it was just as easy to see that she wouldn’t be ready to move on until someone helped her.

“Aren’t you cold, lass?” he drawled, taking off his coat to offer her bare white arms protection from the stinging spray.

“I’ll wait a little longer,” she whispered, breath almost gone beneath the sound of the waves. “I’ve waited hours now, I can go in the warm when he comes.”

“You’re waiting for someone?”

“Geordie,” she said, sounding so weary that it was hard to tell if this Geordie was a lover or a friend. Any emotion in her voice had faded long ago with the wait. “I said I’d stand right here, where we first met, and play our song when his boat came in sight.”

“It’s a rough night, lass,” he wheedled persuasively, “You’ll catch your death staying out here much longer. No man’s going to put to sea on an evening like this, no matter what boat he’s got. You should warm yourself by the fire, and you can wait for him in the morning.”

“I’ve stood on this spot for three hours. I know he’s coming, I couldn’t live with myself if I missed my chance to greet him. I got him the fiddle to take with him when he goes, I have to play the song when he arrives.”

And then he looked at her again, and he saw the truth. The violin with varnish cracked after being exposed to sea, but no way was that the damage of one day. Her legs were dusted with damp sand, and the skirts damp from the spray. She said she’d been here for hours, but the tide rose fast in these parts and dropped just as quickly. Ten minutes before the sea would have been above her knees; half an hour and this beach completely underwater. She didn’t strike him as a liar, though. And he looked back at the sharp black gravel that lined the path down here, at the blocky bootprints he’d left clearly visible. At the faint trace of blood around the calluses on the girl’s bare feet. He looked up at her again, and understood.

The kind of girl who’d go through any pain or discomfort to fulfil a promise to the boy she loved, and wouldn’t be dissuaded. The kind of girl who’d come to a desolate shore in a black dress ill suited to the weather, and stand at wait amid the elements even when it was clear her beau wouldn’t come. It was too late to change her mind now.
___

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2015-11-15 21:45:16 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

I don't normally do political posts. But everyone seems to be shooting their mouth off about how to solve the current political problems.

Here's someone who actually thought about it.

Twenty-four hours after an attack by Da'esh (the organization formerly known as ISIS [1]) on Paris left 129 dead and 352 wounded, the Internet and the airwaves alike have been filled with profound waves of self-serving nonsense and stupidity from left and right alike. Everyone seems to have found a way in which this situation justifies their position – protect the refugees! Exile the refugees! Bomb someone! Stop all bombing of anyone! – and magically, it seems that one of the most complex political situations of our time can be reduced to simple slogans.

Well, I've run out of patience with this, so let me seriously discuss what just happened here, and what it tells us. I'm going to talk about three things which have combined to lead to yesterday's massacre: the refugee crisis, Europe's Muslim population, and Da'esh. I'll then talk about a few things which I think have little or nothing to do with what we're seeing – most importantly, religion and oil – and a few things which do – such as food and water. And finally, we'll talk about what it's going to take to fix this, both in the short term and the long term.

Being entirely out of patience right now, forgive me for being particularly blunt. I suspect that, by the end of this, you will be thoroughly offended by my opinions, whether you are American, European, or Middle Eastern, left or right: nobody has behaved well in the lead-up to this.


The first thing to realize about the refugees streaming into Europe from Syria and its environs is that not only are they not, by and large, terrorists – they're people fleeing these exact terrorists. France was just hit by Da'esh, with over five hundred casualties; in Syria, people are surrounded by Da'esh on one side, and a bloodthirsty army on the other side, and have been seeing death on the scale of yesterday's attack every single day for the past four and a half years. [2] If you were living there, you would very likely be fleeing, too.

But the second thing to realize about the refugees is that there are, in fact, Da'esh members among them. It's clear that at least one of the attackers came in from Syria as part of October's refugee flood, and there's no reason at all not to believe that quite a few more are among them, working both at short- and long-term goals. (More on which in a moment)

Everyone seems to have simplistic solutions, here: kick out all the Muslims (as America's Ann Coulter and Donald Trump suggest), settle the refugees more permanently, build giant prison camps. These solutions tend to miss a few very basic points:

(1) When you have hundreds of thousands of people who are quite literally willing to risk not only their deaths, but the deaths of their families, in order to escape, your odds of being able to keep them out aren't actually great, unless your plan is to mobilize a giant army and start attacking inward until they're fleeing in the opposite direction.

(2) You do not have enough prison camp capacity to handle this many people, nor could you build it. Nor do you have enough housing and residential infrastructure capacity to easily settle this many people, because the flux you're seeing out of Syria is very far from the end of it. 

This is why large regional disasters quickly tend to spread into adjacent regions. This is why it's important not to let regional disasters get out of hand, no matter how politically appealing isolationism may appear.


The second thing to be aware of is that this didn't happen in a vacuum: Europe has a very large Muslim population, and it seems that most of the attackers were French or Belgian citizens. This started out with Europe's colonial ambitions, back in the day: France, for example, ruled over Algeria with a mind-bogglingly bloodthirsty approach [3] for decades, but now has a large population of people with a right to French residence who have been moving in to the country in search of a better economic situation. (Hardly surprising, when you leave behind a colony wracked by a horrifying civil war for decades) And France is far from alone in this.

Europe's Muslim population is both profoundly European and profoundly not European. They are European in that they have been living there, often for more than a generation; they work there, they pay taxes, they have become as assimilated as they can. They are not European in that Europe has been profoundly unwilling to allow them to assimilate. This is far from a historical anomaly: Europe has historically defined itself in terms of villages or cities and their local populations, which one can't really join very easily. Groups marked as outsiders – be they Jews, Romany, or Muslims – have been considered only marginally European. At times, there has been a high degree of apparent assimilation: for example, Jews were thoroughly integrated into European culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, intermarrying, forming friendships and professional associations across the board. As you may notice, "thorough integration" can be an awfully chancy business. 

Muslims in today's Europe, on the other hand, don't have anything close to this superficial level of integration; France has been routinely passing laws banning Muslims from dressing the way they did in their home countries in the past few years, which should tell you a great deal about local opinions of that population.

So you have a large population who finds it systematically hard to find work, impossible to be accepted, the regular target of police, and told every day that they should probably be kicked out of the country. I'm sure you will find it shocking that, if you do this to a few tens of millions of people for a few decades at a stretch, you will end up with a disillusioned and disenfranchised youth, some of which will combine this with the general hot-headedness and stupidity of being a young adult to become easy fodder for people who have shown up to recruit.

Lots of people seem to have half-assed solutions here, and they tend to be even more foolish than the solutions to the refugee crisis. "Send them back," the European right frequently cries: back to where? Most of the Muslim population is no longer fresh immigrants; they are second and third generation Europeans. They don't have homes anywhere else. The European left, on the other hand, preaches a mealymouthed combination of urging assimilation and unmistakeable racism. 

For some context, go back to the Charlie Hebdo attacks several months ago. There was a large outcry, saying that what the magazine (a notable left-wing satirical organ) had been doing was entirely in the bounds of proper satire, that the satire of religion was a hallowed European tradition. What this explanation glosses over is that nobody on the receiving end of the satire saw it as satire of religion, for the simple reason that religious affiliation, in Europe as in the Middle East, has little to do with what you believe and much to do with who you are. Charlie Hebdo's targets weren't simply religious extremists preaching from Saudi mosques; they were a portrayal of the French Muslim population as violent extremists, the dangerous other. And that's precisely the European left-wing line: Muslims are fine, so long as they become completely European, to the extent that we can forget that they were ever from someone else. Which, realistically, might mean they have to intermarry for a few generations and acquire blue eyes and blond hair, but that's OK, we welcome them!

The honest fact is this: neither the European left nor the right have ever made the large Muslim community into a full part of society. One side has covered it in nice words, while the other side has blared its xenophobia from the rooftops, but nobody on the receiving end of either of these has been fooled.

You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. What did you expect was going to happen?


And then we come over to our friends in the Middle East, the psychotically bloodthirsty bastards of Da'esh itself. It's a bit off to even refer to them as Islamist extremists in the mold of al-Qaeda; they've gone so far off the rails of Islam that the only clear ideology that often seems left is power and murder. Exhortations from theologians of any stripe aren't really going to have an effect on them.

But they seem to have realized that they are on an upswing of power, nobody having the resources or will to stop them, and have come up with the idea of spreading this worldwide, with attacks spreading to places like Russia and France – and, as soon as they can, everywhere else. Because as far as anyone can tell, they want to take over the world.

(Yes, this is a kind of screwy plan, and they barely even control chunks of land in the ass end of Syria and Iraq. But they've had enough luck with killing people that they seem to have convinced themselves that if they engage in even more killing people, it'll continue to work just as well. [4])

They seem to have one fairly simple strategic objective with these new attacks: drive a hard wedge between Muslim and infidel populations around the world, so that the Muslims will have no choice but to join them and become their army, overthrowing the local governments and establishing a world-wide Caliphate.

Unfortunately, political stupidity seems likely to help them. If the response to these attacks is to further isolate Muslim populations – both settled and refugee – then they will certainly have a far easier time recruiting among them. It's not actually going to lead to them taking over the world, but it will lead to bloodshed.

This recruitment tends to take a few forms. One is to recruit fighters to come and help in the bloodshed in existing battlefields; the second is to recruit suicide bombers and the like in other countries. These are somewhat disjoint processes, since the process of recruiting someone to commit suicide is rather different and targets different sorts of people, but there is also overlap: one strategy which al-Qaeda long favored was to recruit people to come to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Chechnya to fight, and later export trained fighters elsewhere.

One important thing about these tactics is that they seem to be realizing that surprisingly little training and planning is required. Yesterday's attack required some coordination among teams, but nothing spectacular; it did require practice in gunplay. But even this was fairly complex compared to the bare minimum required; consider the amount of chaos caused by the D.C. Sniper back in 2002.


Da'esh poses a particular danger because they seem to have latched onto the idea of exporting their violence to the rest of the world, but they're hardly the first or the last group to do this. If they were to be wiped out, I wouldn't bet any money that someone else wouldn't get the same idea soon after, much like al-Qaeda did before them. It's not even a particularly regional idea; the notion that if we kill enough people we can restructure the world to be perfectly {Aryan, Muslim, Democratic, Christian, Communist, etc.}, or to be the economic vassal states of the {X} empire, is frankly a cliché by now on pretty much every square kilometer of the planet.


So let's review where we are, for a moment. There's a large European Muslim population which is disillusioned, disenfranchised, underemployed, and generally treated as outsiders and fair political punching bags by the society as a whole. There's a giant stream of refugees pouring in to Europe, combining huge numbers of people running for their lives from bloodthirsty maniacs with small numbers of bloodthirsty maniacs looking to recruit. There's a factory of particularly bloodthirsty maniacs with a vision of taking over the world through (a) killing people and (b) convincing the rest of the world to treat Muslims even more like outsiders, who are actively trying to both create refugee streams and send out recruiters, to this end.


At this point, I expect to hear a chorus of voices blaming two things for this: religion (specifically, Islam), and oil (specifically, the West's insatiable need for it). To which my main response to both is "hogwash."

The reason I reject Islam as an explanation for this is that there's nothing particularly Muslim about any of it. The European Muslims which are being treated as second-class citizens aren't being treated that way because they pray on rugs facing Mecca, rather than in pews facing an altar; they're being treated this way because they're "dirty foreigners." (I'll spare you the actual terms used to describe them) Da'esh's plan to take over the world isn't rooted in a theological destiny of Muslims; it's rooted in an explicitly political vision of conquest. And quite frankly, the people being shot at the most are Muslims, too; remember who the refugees were running from?

More profoundly, people in the Middle East aren't systematically any more religious than people are in America. You have the same spectrum from the wholly secular to the crazed fundamentalist, with the former predominating in cities and the latter in the countryside. There's a tendency to assume (for example) that any woman wearing a headscarf must be extremely devout, or subject to domination and terror by some devout man; you have to back away and look at it in its local context, where sometimes it's a sign of devotion or a political statement, but it's also just what people wear; for many people, walking around with one's hair exposed is not done in much the same way people don't walk around in most of the US or Europe with their asses hanging out.

Oil is generally used as a proxy for "if only the Americans|Europeans never intervened in the Middle East, it would be peaceful there!" This bespeaks a rather curious innocence as to the history of the Middle East, combined with a reversed vision of (generally American) exceptionalism, that somehow our surpassing evil can corrupt otherwise noble savages. It's certainly true that without oil, most of the Middle East would be desperately poor – but as it happens, most of it is desperately poor anyway. Oil is not uniformly distributed, and Syria doesn't have that much of it to begin with.

There is one sense in which this is true, which is that the 2003 invasion of Iraq created a spectacular disaster. George W. Bush's belief that if we just created enough of a power vacuum, democracy would magically rush in to fill the void – the precise belief which his father didn't have, mind you, which is why GHWB made the explicit and deliberate decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power – proved to be exactly as unwise as it sounds when written so plainly. The result was a giant area of anarchy and civil war smack in the center of the Middle East, into which would-be fighters from all over the region (as well as other regions) swarmed: veterans of Chechnya and Bosnia found new employment in Iraq, as Sunnis and Shi'ites alike slaughtered one another. This anarchy, never resolved, has been the perfect factory of chaos which quite easily spilled over elsewhere.


But there's one profound factor which has driven the violence in the Middle East far more than oil ever could: water.

The entire Middle East has been in a water, and thus food, crisis for decades. In Egypt, for example, the Nile Valley has been drying out ever since the Aswan Dam was completed in 1970; as this once-fertile soil turned to desert, people have streamed into Cairo, doubling and tripling its population by forming tremendous shantytowns. Unemployment was extreme, as it's not like the cities suddenly had tens of millions of new jobs in them; the government kept order as well as it could by importing grain in tremendous quantities (the government's by-far largest annual expense) and selling bread cheaply. Unfortunately, a drought in Russia and Ukraine, Egypt's primary suppliers, caused those countries to cut off wheat exports in 2011 – and the government collapsed soon after.

Syria is a similar story: the lead-in to the collapse of Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship was steady droughts in the Syrian countryside driving people into the cities by the hundreds of thousands, leading to mass unemployment and unrest. People's livelihoods had simply disappeared. Stories like this repeat across the entire Middle East.


When we talk about the ultimate causes of the situation, this is the fact we tend to ignore: at the root of it, there isn't enough water, and there isn't enough food, and droughts have been hitting the area harder and harder for a decade. When there isn't enough food, people move from the countryside to the cities; and now you have giant groups of people who still don't have jobs or food, and that's a recipe for the collapse of governments as surely today as it was in Europe in the 1840's.

If you've ever wondered why I have often said that we need to be very actively worried about climate change, this is it. Changing climate breaks agriculture in various areas; the people who were farming there don't magically turn into factory workers or teleport to places which are (slowly) becoming more fertile; they become desperate former farmers, generally flooding into cities. 


So given all of this, what can we actually conclude? I think the most important thing is that you can't bury your head in the sand, and assume that problems in some other part of the world aren't your own. A drought or a civil war somewhere else can easily start to spill over in unexpected ways.

If you want to avoid terrible consequences, what you have to do is plan, and in particular never let kindling build up. For example:

(1) If you have a large, disenfranchised, population, this is trouble waiting to start. The only way to fix this problem is to enfranchise them: give them a full stake in your society. Yes, that means treating people who are very different from you like full equals. Yes, it also means that your society – that is, the set of people that you're responsible for – now includes a bunch of people who are a lot poorer than you are, and this is going to be expensive to fix. You're not going to like it. But you're going to like the alternative a whole lot less.

(2) If there's political instability, or worst of all, food supply instability somewhere else in the world, it doesn't matter how far away it seems: you need to get together with everyone else and have a serious plan to deal with it. Once masses of hundreds of thousands of people start streaming across the countryside, chaos will follow in their wake. 

(3) Climate change isn't an abstract fear for the future; it's a major political problem right now. You can't punt it away and talk about what to do about carbon emissions or its effect on the economy; you have to sit down and come up with serious strategic plans for what to do when agricultural productivity in critical breadbaskets drops sharply, or watersheds dry up. Contingency planning for any government needs to include anything from hurricanes to long-term droughts, and not just as one-offs, but what to do if these start happening a lot. The reason you need to plan for this is that it's not a goddamned hypothetical, you idiot.


What do we do in the short term? This is harder, because right now Da'esh has been sending agents across the planet to cause as much trouble as they can. One obvious prong of the solution is ordinary police work; that's proven far more effective than complex intelligence solutions at catching terrorists. Another prong is stopping their support system at the root. Because Da'esh's plans are so focused on actual conquest, a collapse of their regime back home is likely to have more of an effect on their satellite agents than the collapse of a more ideologically-oriented organization like al-Qaeda.

A third prong is to stabilize the situation in Syria: here the key isn't so much blowing anyone up as giving people a way to stop fighting. There are three key obstacles to this. One is Da'esh, which seems to be pretty committed to fighting for its own sake; this is unlikely fixable by any means short of straightforward military defeat. One is the underlying lack of food availability. The third is that quite a lot of people have reason to believe that they will be killed either if al-Assad regains power, or if he loses power. They need a serious guarantee of personal safety in any peace.

What this probably means is that a peace agreement will require very heavy international support: aid to rebuild the country, neutral military forces to guarantee cease-fires, and some way to deal with the underlying economic issues. That's going to require heavy international coordination of the profoundly unsexy sort: not deploying giant militaries to bomb targets and wave banners, or propping up regimes and helping them "suppress insurgencies," but working on the long-term realities of helping locals build a government that they're invested in – even when said government is unlikely to be either similar to Western norms, or friendly to Western aims. Military force to crush Da'esh is almost certainly needed as a precondition to this, but it's by far the smaller part of the game.


The short version is: if you want to fix problems, you're going to have to deal with some very serious, expensive, and unsexy solutions. Because life isn't simple, and you can't just bomb your way out of trouble.

[1] See this recent editorial for the argument for switching to the term Da'esh more broadly: https://www.freewordcentre.com/blog/2015/02/daesh-isis-media-alice-guthrie/ [Thanks to +Lisa Straanger for finding this more in-depth discussion than the Boston Globe op-ed which I had earlier cited]

[2] cf, for example, this infographic: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/09/14/world/middleeast/syria-war-deaths.html

[3] cf, for example, this obituary of a proud French torturer: https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/1PQQQ3XfnYA

[4] cf https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B3slX6-_20___I don't normally do political posts. But everyone seems to be shooting their mouth off about how to solve the current political problems.

Here's someone who actually thought about it.

2015-11-14 23:39:31 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

And a #DailyStory  - posting today for a change, rather than a late post of yesterday's. Have I really written a short story every day for 409 days?

Flotsam

Captain Machiavelli D. Narwahl growled in the back of his throat. He’d ordered the crew to fire a warning shot, but there was clearly a hole in the English galleon’s hull. Close to the waterline, too. He turned back to face his men, who seemed slightly more nervous about the wrath of their captain than the possibility of fighting whatever unknown defences the cargo  ship might have.

“Watch what you’re doing, lads!” he bellowed, “we don’t sink them unless we have to.” The men silently nodded in agreement. They knew that, and they knew why as well. It was hard to loot a ship that was sinking, and you didn’t have time to choose the best pickings. They said nothing, because they were afraid.They were a bunch o... more »

And a #DailyStory  - posting today for a change, rather than a late post of yesterday's. Have I really written a short story every day for 409 days?

Flotsam

Captain Machiavelli D. Narwahl growled in the back of his throat. He’d ordered the crew to fire a warning shot, but there was clearly a hole in the English galleon’s hull. Close to the waterline, too. He turned back to face his men, who seemed slightly more nervous about the wrath of their captain than the possibility of fighting whatever unknown defences the cargo  ship might have.

“Watch what you’re doing, lads!” he bellowed, “we don’t sink them unless we have to.” The men silently nodded in agreement. They knew that, and they knew why as well. It was hard to loot a ship that was sinking, and you didn’t have time to choose the best pickings. They said nothing, because they were afraid. They were a bunch of terrible brutes, corsairs of the seven seas, but they were still afraid of their captain. That was understandable, because between the hat, hook, and eyepatch he was the perfect archetype of what a pirate should aspire to if they managed not to expire along the way. A full mouth of gold teeth didn’t hurt his reputation any, either.

“They’re running!” Braggs called, from his station atop the mast. Narwahl would have noticed that himself, if he hadn’t turned to address his crew.

(“Surely sailing, ain’t they?” Bosun Mickes called from the back of the ship, “I mean–”)

“Then follow them, ye scurvy beggars!” the Captain yelled, cutting off any further debate of the point. The crew followed orders, they didn’t dare not to, and soon the ship was in hot pursuit. At one point the wind was driving both the merchant ship and their pirate pursuers at nearly eight miles per hour, but that kind of pace couldn’t last for long.

It was Mickes who first noticed that they were hitting something, and called out to the lookout to check.

“Aye,” Braggs yelled back, “They’re casting the cargo overboard, barrels and cases and everything. Think they’re having trouble keeping that hole above the water, and they need to lose some weight.”

“Trim sail!” Narwahl ordered, “We pick up the flotsam first, then pursue to see if they got any treasures left.”

(“Isn’t it jetsam?” Mickes was saying before his captain had even finished)

(“I dunno that,” the cabin-boy, Roger, was closest and so took the thankless task of answering, “What’s the difference?”)

(“The salvage companies pay different rates. If you recover flotsam, I think, you have to sent thirty percent of flotsam back to the ship that lost it. Or jetsam, one or the other, I always forget which one you can keep.”)

(“Oh right.” Braggs couldn’t whisper, but answered in a normal talking voice rather than shouting, “Well it must be flotsam, I think, cos it’s floating on the surface. It’s only jetsam if it sinks. But which one do we have to –”)

(“No, ye daft bilgerat!” Portico interrupted, “That’s lagan if it sinks. Flotsam’s the floating bits of a wreck, jetsam’s thrown overboard by a ship that’s too heavy in the water. You can remember, cos it rhymes with jettison.”)

“Shut up and collect it!” Narwahl yelled, putting the fear of Narwahl into most of his crew once again, “We don’t care what the salvage law says, because we’re not salvaging it. We’re pirates! And I don’t want to hear any man using rhyming words on my ship until the job is done.”

(“Surely he means alliteration,” Mickes whispered as the rest of the crew scampered to fulfil the order, “Rhyming would mean the words have the same end, but …”___

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2015-11-14 21:45:22 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes , I present a piece of negotiation from my #NaNoWriMo  project this year. Please read, comment, and check out the #SaturdayScenes  hashtag to get a look at other authors' works in progress.

Negotiation

Captain Brand had a luxuriously appointed cabin, the walls hung with tapestries and the furs of exotic animals. His desk was a monstrosity of dark, ancient timber and even the doorknob was studded with precious stones. The man himself was dressed in rich silks, looking every bit the pirate captain. He was a large man, not exactly muscular and certainly not fat, just built to a scale slightly larger than normal. The opulence of his outfit, and the menace from the skulls-and-blood embroidered on a black bandana, were both somewhat let down by a wispy moustache that looked like a teen boy’s first attempt at growing one.

Tomas and Shelldidn... more »

For #SaturdayScenes , I present a piece of negotiation from my #NaNoWriMo  project this year. Please read, comment, and check out the #SaturdayScenes  hashtag to get a look at other authors' works in progress.

Negotiation

Captain Brand had a luxuriously appointed cabin, the walls hung with tapestries and the furs of exotic animals. His desk was a monstrosity of dark, ancient timber and even the doorknob was studded with precious stones. The man himself was dressed in rich silks, looking every bit the pirate captain. He was a large man, not exactly muscular and certainly not fat, just built to a scale slightly larger than normal. The opulence of his outfit, and the menace from the skulls-and-blood embroidered on a black bandana, were both somewhat let down by a wispy moustache that looked like a teen boy’s first attempt at growing one.

Tomas and Shell didn’t laugh. They were sitting at a low table laid with all kinds of fruit and glistening confectionery, in chairs that were a good foot too low to allow them any comfort. It was clearly designed to fulfil some arbitrary rule of hospitality, while dispelling any thought that the prisoners might leave with their dignity. At this point, as far as they knew, their friends were all in some kind of cells below deck. They hope their conditions wouldn’t be much worse.

As they waited for the captain to speak, Shell slowly nibbled on some of the sweets. She tried to be discreet, but the tangy taste of one crystalline candied morsel was too much of a surprise, and her face split in a huge grin as her left hand reached out for another.

“You shouldn’t be eating those,” Tomas whispered out of the corner of his mouth.

“How do you know? We don’t have the first clue what the etiquette is here. If they’re feeding us, then it would be bad manners not to try some.”

“I’m not thinking about them. aren’t you supposed to be on a diet? I hope you’re not going to be berating us all at the end of the month, yelling that we all should have done more to help you stick to it, when you’re eagerly wolfing down chunks of what could be pure sugar flavoured with a truth serum for all you know!”

“I hope I get the chance,” she mumbled through teeth stuck together with sickly sweet nectar. And then as her brain caught up with what her ears had just heard, “Truth serum? That’s the kind of crazy thing you get in old spy movies, I never heard of a real one or they’d use it in court.”

“Who knows? I never heard of flying pirate ships before, but now we’ve seen two in one week!”

“Well, Captain,” Brand greeted Tomas, “My men should at least have told you my name, so I suggest you introduce yourselves first. I assume you are Spanish pirates, to fly a white rather than a red flag for parlay, but I accept your request nonetheless.” His voice was the one they’d heard before, presumably through some kind of amplification system to carry between the two ships. Without the enhanced volume, he sounded like a well-bred Englishman, maybe even posh in his demeanour.

“Spanish? No. We just didn’t know what else to do, we only just got the ship, we don’t know how to sail properly, I was terrified, and I thought I had to do something to let you know we didn’t want to fight. I don’t think we’ve even got a red flag, though we haven’t looked through half the stores yet.”

“Well, that explains you not flying your true colours. We had thought you might be a traitor or yellowsail. But if you would indulge me, I must ask who trained you. Your entire crew lacks discipline. Which island let you set sail so undermanned?”

Tomas pointed in what he hoped was the direction of the house, and explained, “We just moved. We’e got a house on the cliff at Shandy Cove, and the ship kind of came with it. I’ve sailed ships before, but never a flying one. We didn’t have anybody to train us, we didn’t even know there was…” his panicked pleas for mercy were forgotten as he looked up and caught Brand’s eyes. The man was staring as if they had said something truly horrific, even monstrous.

“What?” Shell’s lips shaped the words, not understanding why Tomas had gone silent.

“You come from…” Captain Brand shivered and pointed out of the porthole, that melodic voice slowed by skepticism, “Dry land?”___

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2015-11-14 17:15:59 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s)Open 

___

2015-11-09 23:12:24 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

Yesterday's #DailyStory  - day 403. Haven't even started on today's yet. Not really sure where to post this, but here goes

Thor’s Hammer

I never thought I’d be going to Wagner for help. Not just because of the little brass plaque looking completely out of place beside the door of a low-rent apartment, ‘Wagner Herod Batman Caesar Johnson, MSc, MNCCH, BoRD, SCA’. That was weird, but the collection of middle names could certainly be attributed to his parents, rather than any personal preference. I hadn’t seen Mr and Mrs Johnson since Wagner and I had been in middle school together. I assumed wherever they were they would be carrying on a life just as outlandish as I remembered. If you had to describe them in just one word, it would have to be ‘weird’. Or ‘crazy’. Maybe ‘freakish’ would be a descriptor to add as well, but I realised I wasdiverting myself from ... more »

Yesterday's #DailyStory  - day 403. Haven't even started on today's yet. Not really sure where to post this, but here goes

Thor’s Hammer

I never thought I’d be going to Wagner for help. Not just because of the little brass plaque looking completely out of place beside the door of a low-rent apartment, ‘Wagner Herod Batman Caesar Johnson, MSc, MNCCH, BoRD, SCA’. That was weird, but the collection of middle names could certainly be attributed to his parents, rather than any personal preference. I hadn’t seen Mr and Mrs Johnson since Wagner and I had been in middle school together. I assumed wherever they were they would be carrying on a life just as outlandish as I remembered. If you had to describe them in just one word, it would have to be ‘weird’. Or ‘crazy’. Maybe ‘freakish’ would be a descriptor to add as well, but I realised I was diverting myself from my original purpose. The whole family was weird, crazy, and every other eccentric pejorative you could think of, but I was still standing there staring at that little brass sign, fist upraised to knock on the cheap timber door.

I stopped worrying, and knocked. Wagner was strange, but there was a spark of genius in there. He had the kind of mind that would take apart problems nobody else would even consider. He wasn’t the first person I’d think of going to for dating advice, especially as he served his crazy with a side of slimy misogyny. But this time round, there was something a little strange, and I thought he might be able to give me a sensible answer, or at least tell me where to look.

He came to the door wearing jeans, a velvet waistcoat, and goggles. I knew straight away he hadn’t changed since high school, despite the number of qualifications and professional organisations listed on his nameplate. He gestured with one hand, but didn’t speak as he led me into the lounge. Thankfully, the goggles were transferred from his forehead to a cluttered workbench in one of the rooms we passed, so it was possible he at least had a legitimate reason for wearing them.

His front room was normal enough to be comforting. The bookshelves all around the walls were an odd feature, but they weren’t disturbingly odd unless you got close enough to read the titles. There were three chaises longues in the middle of the room, all facing a central coffee table. He even had something as common as a television, though it was on the window ledge where it was behind two of the couches.

He told me a little about how his life had gone since school, making idle small talk. It was a collection of non sequiturs and random events, with no apparent underlying logic. I hadn’t expected him to spend a year in Bangkok, or to study for a psychiatry qualification online, or to have individually mailed more than a hundred cinderblocks to the US Senate. But in general tone, his life was exactly the string of unpredictable events I’d expected. I tuned it out after a while, and focused on the conversation again when he finally asked what I was there for.

It was a hard thing to say, because I wasn’t exactly sure why I’d come to him, and I wasn’t entirely sure it didn’t make me crazy. But I started to tell him, and he said he understood. At one point it seemed like each thing I wanted to say needed an explanation first to make it sound less crazy, and those justifications needed an explanation of their own. But I think I didn’t need to justify myself so far, because Wagner understood where I was getting at. He filled in the gaps in my story, and I only needed to add a few words now and then. When I finally got far enough that I could ask for his help, I glanced at the clock and saw that two hours had passed; I really hadn’t thought it would take that long.

“So, that’s what it comes down to?” he said, “You’ve seen Thor, an ancient god from a pantheon you don’t otherwise believe in, shopping at the the farmers’ market in Kingston. And you want my advice because you’ve never tried to seduce an actual deity before, and you think I might have some ideas?”

“Well…” when he put it like that, it was a perfect example of why I hadn’t told any of my friends about this.

“Why didn’t you just say that? I’ve got a few theories about the minds of gods, though I haven’t had chance to test them yet. I’d be happy to give it a try, but first …”___

2015-11-08 00:24:13 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s)Open 

A   #DailyStory  for day 402, following on from a previous one

Shadows

Berlan waited. It wasn’t a rare practice for those incarcerated in the Markavian Special Jail for Traitors. All of them were waiting, most of them waiting to die. Marke wasn’t the most forward thinking of Kingdoms, even among the warlike states of Helstad, and there was no reprive for those accused of treason or espionage. Merely stepping along the line, leaving Markavian territory even for a day, was considered just cause for a lifetime of incarceration. They would probably have been executed outright, like thieves or killers, but for the belief that the dead might be reincarnated in the Kingdom that truly held their hearts. Better to hold them in conditions of torture, than to allow the enemies of the state another able-bodied soldier.

Berlan waited. Nobody expected him to survive for solong,... more »

A   #DailyStory  for day 402, following on from a previous one

Shadows

Berlan waited. It wasn’t a rare practice for those incarcerated in the Markavian Special Jail for Traitors. All of them were waiting, most of them waiting to die. Marke wasn’t the most forward thinking of Kingdoms, even among the warlike states of Helstad, and there was no reprive for those accused of treason or espionage. Merely stepping along the line, leaving Markavian territory even for a day, was considered just cause for a lifetime of incarceration. They would probably have been executed outright, like thieves or killers, but for the belief that the dead might be reincarnated in the Kingdom that truly held their hearts. Better to hold them in conditions of torture, than to allow the enemies of the state another able-bodied soldier.

Berlan waited. Nobody expected him to survive for so long, a priest in a long robe. The prisoners roamed free down here, the doors open only long enough to deliver the minimum food necessary for survival. Within each cloister were a dozen or more dangerous criminals, all from different enemy nations. Berlan had nearly died when attacked by a couple of Peristikan brawlers within hours of first arriving here. But a lifetime of meditation had told him that there were techniques more valuable than brute force.

Now he waited within the jail itself. Not inside his cell;  he had never even had the strength to claim one of the eight tiny chambers large enough for a bed which branched off the central cloister. Not even on the ground, like anyone else too weak to take a private space. He slept within the rock itself, his mind melded with the vast, slow consciousness of living stone which made up the walls of his prison. And much to his surprise, he wasn’t alone there.

Kaora spoke to him regularly. Every week, or every month, the sprite brought him up to date on the progress of the war. Kaora was always optimistic, reporting brightly the military command’s confidence that the war would be over in ten years, and then in five. It had reported the same news with equal trust for the last three centuries, and Berlan suspected it would always be hopeful that some time soon they would both be free from their prisons.

Berlan wasn’t so optimistic, or overconfident. But he knew that in time, things changed. Not in the way you might expect, but everything changed. He might have been sentenced to be imprisoned for life, but as long as he kept his consciousness within the heart of the planet itself, his life would never end. Keeping a mortal trapped for life wasn’t hard, but restraining any being literally forever must be a lot less likely. Whether it was a change in the political situation, or a new kind of magic, or even the slightest mistake by one of the guards… eventually, there would be some way for him to leave. So Berlan waited.

Another prisoner waited with him. She didn’t speak, didn’t make her feelings known. But within the mind-space of eternal stone, Berlan could feel her presence. She was patient, and had been waiting for much longer than he. She no longer felt it worthwhile to converse with prisoners who, in her experience, were often gone in a century or two. She said she’d seen them try this before, and they always tried to escape when the opportunity was too slim. After a hundred years, or a hundred and fifty, she was sure he too would slip away to leave her alone in their rocky cradle. In that case, she didn’t even see the need to speak to him.

She showed interest after the first half millennium, but still didn’t acknowledge that there was anyone there besides her. Berlan couldn’t even know what her crime had been, or her sentence. He couldn’t know what magic she had used to transfer her consciousness into the rock, but he could tell it was something that worked in a different way to his own. Because although he couldn’t see it, he knew it was there. Her body was there too, within the core of the world. She wasn’t maintaining a body, magically rendered an invulnerable statue, ready to return to if there was some chance of escape. Her body was right here with their souls.

Eventually, Berlan got his wish. Kaora came to him and said that there were strangers in the cloister, more prisoners. But according to the sprite’s analysis of their capabilities, they might have the potential to break free.

Berland stopped waiting.___

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2015-11-07 23:10:01 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s)Open 

For #SaturdayScenes  this week, I present the (almost) last chapter of Hope City Stories. If you're planning to get the book when it comes out and don't like spoilers, it might be worth skipping this week's chapter. Sorry if it's a bit rough; we're cutting back and forth between a few locations here. As always, opinions or suggestions very much welcome.

53 - Unarmed

Antique Blaze (Miranda Cohen) is challenging the Big Bad of the novel, her former mentor Antique Angel (Mayor Antoinette Clarke). Meanwhile, Captain Ultimatum (Roy Jones) is doing his best to get to Clarke's lair at the top of Hope Tower

“Oh dear,” Clarke grinned, but there was no trace of humour in her eyes. Her ambition was so strong now that she’d cut herself off from most normal emotions. “It looks like your friends are making a rescue attempt. Does he reallythink he... more »

For #SaturdayScenes  this week, I present the (almost) last chapter of Hope City Stories. If you're planning to get the book when it comes out and don't like spoilers, it might be worth skipping this week's chapter. Sorry if it's a bit rough; we're cutting back and forth between a few locations here. As always, opinions or suggestions very much welcome.

53 - Unarmed

Antique Blaze (Miranda Cohen) is challenging the Big Bad of the novel, her former mentor Antique Angel (Mayor Antoinette Clarke). Meanwhile, Captain Ultimatum (Roy Jones) is doing his best to get to Clarke's lair at the top of Hope Tower

“Oh dear,” Clarke grinned, but there was no trace of humour in her eyes. Her ambition was so strong now that she’d cut herself off from most normal emotions. “It looks like your friends are making a rescue attempt. Does he really think he’ll be able  to get up here without that suit?”

She waved her hand, and a holographic projection appeared in the air in front of her. Roy Jones, back in his Flying Brick costume after he’d lost or burned all his spare flight suits, drifted sedately past one elevator and landed on the top of another. Antique Blaze breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that her friend was still alive and had apparently recovered his gravity-defying powers. She couldn’t believe that he was trying the same thing again, though.

“Why don’t you go up the outside?” she yelled, even though she knew the little figure in the projection couldn’t hear her.


In lower parts of Hope Tower journalists, politicians, and civil servants of all kinds were greeted by huge clouds of yellow and red butterflies outside their offices. When people went to investigate, the insects led them along the corridors. In some cases the salarymen were curious enough to follow immediately, while some required more clues. But one by one, everyone who needed to move was led to safety. The last to respond finally decided to exit the building after the mayor’s aide spoke over the building’s PA system.

I was slightly delayed leaving the chronicle offices, because I paused to email myself a copy of all my notes so far. I didn’t know what was going on, but if Papillon was in the building that might mean there was a risk to my works computer, and I didn’t want to lose what I’d worked on. That delay proved convenient, because it allowed me to see the butterflies splitting up the Chronicle staff and taking them to two different elevators. The lights indicated that one went down as soon as the doors closed, but another stayed where it was.

I was directed to a third elevator, and was quite surprised when the little yellow creature fluttered in front of the button to send us up 6 levels. I pressed it anyway, trusting in Papillon’s judgement. I didn’t get to see why I was going there, though. Just before we stopped, there was a loud thud from the top of the chamber, and then the butterfly guided me to press the button to return to the lobby. I could only guess that there had been some reason for it.


In the Spine, the Flying Brick leapt from one car to another, using them as a staircase to ascend the Tower. He might not be able to reach the top in that way, but he had no intention of going all the way up. He just needed to get high enough.


One person who couldn’t evacuate the tower was Warren, down in the basement.  He was hurrying to load a modification into the software that controlled the Terminus lasers. Right now, he could see a complete row of red indicator lights to show that none of them could draw a clear path to the tracking devices in Captain Jones’s arms. When he got outdoors, they would change to yellow to indicate a possibly valid path. As he worked, he saw the indicator flash to indicate that the Captain was calling for his suit, but the system refused. It would only operate when the electronic map of the city showed no buildings between him and at least three of the accelerators.

“We got two minutes, Doc!” the Captain’s voice came over the system, “Is it going to work?”

“I don’t know. This is crazy, but the system’s rebooting now.” He crossed his fingers, knowing there was nothing else he could do. Ten seconds later, the map of the city reappeared on the screen in front of him. The Captain was in roughly the same place, a little higher, but now there were two green lights showing. Then three, as he rose above the surrounding tower blocks. The Terminus System extended from the boxes that contained it on rooftops around the city, and prepared to deploy the suit.

The system relied on air traffic control to inform it of any aircraft that might be in the path of the beams. It had been quite capable of slicing through giant vines, because it didn’t bother with sensors. It relied entirely on its map to tell it where obstructions might be. A map from which Hope Tower was now missing, an eerie impression of what the future cityscape might look like.


Clarke’s face creased in pain, and she gripped the arms of her throne so tightly that her knuckles went white. From this viewpoint they couldn’t see the devastation directly. The viewscreen had cut out, but they could see the streams of white fire coming across the rooftops from other buildings. Antique Blaze knew what that meant, and wondered if her former mentor did. Among other things, it meant that this probably wasn’t a rescue mission any more. They were prepared to sacrifice her to take out Clarke and save the city. She knew it was the right choice.

They could also see, down below, people swarming like ants out of the building. Rescue helicopters were circling at a safe distance, and for several seconds the whole scene had been lit by a ghostly white light. It was one blow that Clarke had never expected. She had her fingers in Hope One through her old political connections, and she would probably have never allowed them to build a weapon that could attack the tower. But the Terminus system wasn’t a weapon, and she’d never thought they might use it as one. That was the only way to defeat the genius strategist: using the one thing she didn’t expect.

It hadn’t worked, though. Against all odds, the tower had stood up to the barrage of exotic particles. The throne was glowing brightly, but that light was already starting to fade. The crystal conduits would distribute any offensive energy throughout the entire structure, she remembered. If the Tower and the Castle were interlinked, then that crystal lattice might bear the brunt even of the Terminus lasers by sending the energy everywhere underground. Could the crystals support the weight of this eyrie on their own, if the main structural elements of the tower were blasted away? Clarke was clearly in pain, putting her own mental energy into keeping the system stable, but it looked like she could.

“I don’t think this is a rescue mission,” Antique Blaze finally responded to Antique Angel’s last comment, “The Captain’s got no qualms doing whatever’s necessary to take down the bad guys. Maybe you’ve seen the news?” She sounded almost flippant, resigned to whatever might happen. It felt good to be the one with an ace up her sleeve, after just a few minutes of being so thoroughly outmaneuvered. “Maybe people will die, the collateral damage would be tremendous. But your plan would mean the end of the world. Maybe it’s worth it?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Angel regained her composure, “The crystals can take it. The throne amplifies my telekinetic abilities, adding to the already formidable strength of the Tower’s crystal infrastructure. See,” she pointed to one side with her thumb as a sound like a thunderclap shook the chamber, “That will be your Captain colliding with my force screen. Maybe he’ll survive, I don’t actually know, but nothing can hurt me here.”

Antique Blaze looked out of the window, and saw a flickering sphere of sparks surrounding them, and just flames where the tower below should have been. And to one side, peering down, there were still ripples in the sparks as if a stone had skipped across the surface of a pond. She couldn’t see Captain Ultimatum dropping out of sight, suit momentarily crippled again, but she could imagine his screams.

“Your worst quality, you were always so smug,” Antique Blaze took off her torc and slung it in the pouch at her belt, then fished around in the pocket as she stepped forward, right up to the edge of the dais. The look in her eyes could have been despair, desperation, or maybe she hoped she would seem cold and threatening. It didn’t matter, because Antique Angel was nonplussed.

“Changing powers, a bold move in the heat of battle, and a gesture our repeat enemies came to dread,” she mused, “But in this case, I can call your bluff. No Atlantean technology will work here save the Throne itself. Just admit that you’re…”

“I know,” Miranda interrupted, pulling out one thing that should never have been in her collection of Atlantean technologies: a present from Max, who always worried that she might be in danger. Antique Angel’s eyes went wide as she found herself looking down the muzzle of a Kimber Chekhov S-33. It wasn’t the most powerful handgun on the market, and it didn’t have any supernormal powers, but at this close range it would be good enough. For a fraction of a second the old woman gathered her powers, wondering how best to drive away this threat.

But Antique Blade wasn’t driven by pride, and didn’t need to prove herself. She didn’t want the former mayor to know how clever she was, she just wanted Hope City to be safe. She didn’t boast, and a fraction of a second was all the time it took to unlock the safety and steady her aim.


~ THE END ~___

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