Category Archives: fiction

Lucky is a Lady – Chapter One

Helenica “Lucky” Goldenstein stared out of the armored glass window and into the eternal night that only the deep dark could offer. A lesser women would have been fuming at her predicaent. She’d been everything from a bounty hunter to a high paid security officer on a deep space exploration vehicle though and and didn’t get as far as she had with a short temper or without a sense of humor. Part of the reason she was sitting her in a little four person space hopper instead of lounging on a beach somewhere was her own fault. Her ship, at least the ship she had been responsible for on the security end had been captured by the Vregonian Security Forces in their territory with an illicit cargo. Illicit that was in Vregonian space. The shipment of five thousand of the bipedal amphibioids’ “tadpoles” was something that you just didn’t haul around without the proper authorizations. Naturally the ”Ghidorah”, the long haul freighter she had been on, didn’t even have them on the manifest much less have the right paper work.

The choice had been put to her. Either she shipped out with one of the Vregonian’s special agents to find out the origin of the shipment, or they cash in on the “Dead or Alive” warrant she had on her head. Naturally they would take her in to the sector that had a beef with her in the former state. She didn’t much care for that option so her she was, sitting within arm’s reach of one Martyn Noire. That wasn’t his real name. Their language sounded roughly like a sink that was backing up on too much oatmeal. Their names weren’t easy on a human’s soft palate. So as a concession most of them adopted human names. They were often a bit odd since most Vregonians didn’t understand human culture any better than humans understood theirs. Trade was making that change very gradually, but there were a number of fundamental differences that kept the process slow going. That was true of all four of the non-human species that humans had encountered in the last hundred and fifty years.

That’s where beings like Martyn came into play. He had been schooled in human culture before he could even breathe air by an organization known to humans at least as the Non-Human Sapient Collective. From their brief time together Lucky could say one thing, it hadn’t helped anything much other than his language. He had as many stereotypical outdated notions about what it meant to be human as she likely did about what it meant to be Vregonian. At least they were both willing to admit that early on. Neither of them had an ego when it came to that at least.

The Collective was a loose organization that served to try and integrate humans in to the wider universe’s already busy culture. They also served to investigate those cases where humans were “interfering” in business that they just didn’t understand. Apparently she and her people were still in some probationary period. The only ones that really held it over their head though were the Vregonians. A lot of humans complained, especially those in the sectors closer to the amphibioids’ territory, about ill treatment at the hands of NHSC agents. Little was ever done about it though, thanks to a history of trade embargoes against perceived whiners.

She changed from looking out the expansive viewport above them and turned to look at what would be her near constant companion. He was about one meter four tall and all of his visible skin was nearly as black as the void. Light seemed to be sucked into its surface, only the moisture ruining the illusion. He wore a khaki one piece suit that covered everything but his hands, feet, and head. It kept moisture in without wicking any of it away. The suit had a variety of pockets and pouches that she had seen produce food, a weapon, and both the spray foam restraint and the dissolving agent that he used to remove it.

Looking one of his species in the face was a challenge thanks to the wide spaced eyes and nearly invisible irises and pupils. She was still trying to learn where exactly to look and not seem to be staring. It seemed she still had much to learn, because he turned his head.

“Yes Lucky?” The lips such as they were didn’t curl and the bony, gum covered ridge didn’t look anything like a smile. The tone seemed light enough.

“Oh I was just thinking about the little gift your people gave me.” She gestured one one long delicate finger at her ankles. The gift in question was a little insurance policy that had been taken out against her running. Implants fed her current coordinates and vitals back to a node on Martyn’s person. If he didn’t like what he saw there he had three options. The push of one button would detonate the small anti-matter charge in either of the two limbs. He could also release a sleeping agent into her bloodstream that would render her unconscious for twenty four hours. The final option, very final indeed, was a neurotoxin that would kill her painfully in less than ten seconds. At least, that was what they told her. She had no reason to disbelieve them, since it wasn’t an uncommon practice or difficult technology to get. At least there was no visible indication that she had been “hobbled”. Tattooing was a common way of letting people know that you were a prisoner. Given the under cover nature of their mission, they saw fit to leave her unmarred.

Martyn nodded. “Yes, I can understand that it would be upsetting.” He twitched his head back, the nearest thing Lucky knew to a shrug that they had. “It’s nothing personal.”

Lucky returned the gesture. “I know. I mean, I’m as upset about this whole situation as you guys are. I know your bosses back there didn’t seem to believe me, but this whole business is a bit of a black mark against me professionally. If you let me go I’d track them down personally and deal with them thoroughly.” Her left hand chopped the arm of her lounge, light brown skin contrasting against the gray synthetic material. Her tone stayed neutral, but even for someone who didn’t know anything about her or humanity, the solid thwack indicated how thorough she would be.

He nodded again, the gesture drilled into him by countless hours of body language classes no doubt. “I don’t think any of my superiors doubted your passion or desire to get to the bottom of this matter.” His stilted, formal speech helped him form the syllable properly in an almost parody of an accent ancient by Lucky’s standards. Martyn had apparently fancied videos from what had once been known as the British Isles for his speech practice. “They just want to ensure that their own financial interests are looked after.”

That truth irritated Lucky more than just a little. The Vregonians really didn’t care that their people were being sold to the highest bidder. Slavery, at least how the humans defined it, wasn’t at all uncommon among them. They were more upset that whoever was doing it hadn’t cut them in on a piece of the action. There were a lot of credits on the line and she couldn’t certainly understand that and they had gotten their embryos back, but the principal of the matter had nothing to do with lives.

She sighed, wanting to try and understand that. “Look Martyn, help me with something. Vregonians buy and sell their own like any other commodity. Slavery was something my people outlawed over a thousand years ago.” She gestured at the ship around them, high tech stuff by her standards. “How can a race as,” she chose her words carefully, not really believing them, “advanced as yours still sell their own people?”

Martyn hit a few keys on the readout in front of him and waved the holographic screen into invisibility. He swung his legs off of the long low couch, identical to the one she occupied , and sat up in one liquid motion.

The quick movement didn’t have the aggressive markings of an opening to combat, so she kept her place, seeming to recline comfortably. In actuality, she could be up and ready to fight in less than an eye blink. Even that wasn’t quick enough against a trained Vregonian warrior, though perhaps Martyn wasn’t quite that well trained and modified. She was in no hurry to find out.

He grunted. “Lucy, we don’t sell our own people. We are only selling,” he seemed to be searching for a word, “non-people.” He grunted again. “Those that we sell have not been imprinted, augmented, or in most cases even hatched.” He came to his feet and moved about the humid cabin’s tight quarters. “It’s not quite the same as slavery you see. These beings have no purpose and no thoughts. Once they are in the care of their new masters…” He shook his head, apparently dissatisfied with the word. “No, it’s not quite like that, but neither is ‘keeper’. Once they are where they belong, it is little different from what would happen if they were hatched on one of our home worlds.”

The caste system, something that wasn’t unheard of even now among some human cultures, was still a thing she didn’t quite understand. Free will was as vital to her as air, water. She shook her own head, dark brown bangs brushing her forehead. “But it is different. You sell these eggs to other species. They come out to live on a world so hostile that they might not even live a decade.” She had seen that herself on a few colonies. She sat up slowly and placed her feet firmly against the deck, shoulder width apart. Pins and needles shot through them, circulation suffering from being hung over the edge of a too short acceleration couch.

Martyn’s head twitched backwards again. “That is true and such decisions lie in the hands of leaders far wiser than I am. Were it up to me?” He swung around to look at her. “Perhaps I would make the same decision, perhaps not. Lucky, you don’t understand everything about me and I don’t understand everything about you, but surely you can see that going against our traditions and our laws without our permission, near our own home sectors is wrong.” There was no hint of a question there.

She nodded. “I can. I just wish you would trust me. I have a good reputation.”

He cut her short. “Among humans.” A great deal of emphasis was put on the last word. “With my people complete trust is something that may take a century or more to earn, if you ever do. You won’t live that long at the speed you are going.”

He didn’t seem to be threatening her, but she wasn’t sure. What he was saying certainly made sense. She didn’t trust quickly either and in her line of work he was right, living a century or more wasn’t likely. A hundred and fifty or two hundred years was common enough among the well to do and most folks got their six score if they just kept their heads down, ate right, and exercised. Not so soldiers, cops, and security for hire. At fifty and with twenty five years of good hard work under her belt, not to mention that which had earned her her nickname, she was a curious mix of young and old. What did catch her by surprise was the realization, or reminder really, that she was dealing with an alien culture.

Most of her life Lucky had only been among her own kind. Even on the fringes of human space, there weren’t a great deal of aliens. Even the word had lost most of its real meaning. Out in the deep dark, they weren’t exactly natives. That word was hard coded into most human’s vocabulary though. The subconscious notion that they were the center of everything, not just known space, still made it hard to get along with others. She chuckled at the thought. Even with five hundred years of relative peace among their own kind they still didn’t get along very well with each other on an individual basis, much less with the other known sentients.

That much needed wake up call received, she tried to change the subject. “So, how much longer ‘til we get to Bifrost?” She wasn’t even entirely sure how long they had been in transit. Her captors had made sure she was good and unconscious before loading her on to Martyn’s ship.

A sweep of his fingers brought the readout up, hovering in midair. After a brief consultation, he looked at her through the nearly transparent grid. “Just about another eighteen standard hours.”

That answer was far short than she expected. The surprise registered clearly on her face. Either she had been out a lot longer than she thought or this vessel was at least twice as fast as anything its size had a right to be. She threw pride out the porthole. “How long have we been traveling?”

The look on his face had to be the Vregonian equivalent of smug. “About four days.” He gestured at the wall. “We only steal the best.”

“Four days?” She paused. “Steal?” Lucky really hated being caught flat footed. The fastest light frigates she knew of couldn’t make this run in less than nine. Even some of the trim military vessels would take at least eight. And what was that about ‘we’ and ‘stealing’?

“Our cover story. Now that you’re awake and alert enough I think it’s time we go over our story.” He sat back on the couch and looked at her. They were almost on eye level even though she was a good three decameters taller than he was. She was mostly leg though.

A cover story, that made sense. If she was to stand any chance of finding out who was behind all of this then she would have to have a good reason why she was returning without cargo, ship, or crew. Right now she didn’t even know exactly where any of those things were. A few crew had died when the “Ghidorah” had been taken, but she had been able to see the Captain and what crew remained before they knocked her out. They all pled ignorance to the cargo and that was the last she spoke to them. Her company and their means of transportation would also be of interest to a number of her associates. It would all mean that her mission had failed and the aforementioned black mark would make finding work on the orbiting space station Bifrost or anywhere else in the nicer parts of human controlled space difficult to say the least.

She nodded. “Sounds like a great idea. I’d like to know what to tell folks when they ask where in space my ship is at.”

“Well naturally you won’t be giving them coordinates to either. We have kept it simple for you.”

Lucky bit back a short reply. He’d likely miss the sarcasm, though then again maybe he wouldn’t given his choice of vocal coaching. It wouldn’t help her case either way.
He cocked his head and one of the nictating membranes rewet his left eye. “No offense intended Lucky. It is just that easier stories are by their nature easier to keep track of. You and the ship were captured by the Vregonian government. You managed to escape with my help and we stole this vessel. If anyone checks they will see warrants out on both of us, only applicable in Vregonian space.”

She nodded. So far so good. Whatever crime they were likely to have been charged with extradition, was still a rare thing between the different cultures’ home worlds. Gray space, not really settled by anyone, and the very sort of place occupied by Bifrost was by no means lawless. The human Marshals ‘patrolled’ huge swaths of gray space keeping their ears out for any major doings, but she and Martyn would have needed to commit something just sort of genocide to earn their attention. There was a local ‘peace keeping force’ on every station and settlement depending on the nature of the place, but most of them only had real jurisdiction on the planet or station of origin. That was part of the reason that Lucky kept a home base on Bifrost. There were a couple of places she wasn’t expressly welcome and a few more that would like to take a significant number of years or credits from her. So far she had avoided angering anyone at the mining operation.

“None taken. Go on.”

“We need to find out who was responsible for the shipment that you were guarding. None of the crew or the ship’s records indicated who was behind the ill gotten goods.”
Lucky didn’t know whether to laugh or be shocked at his word choice. Alien culture. She reminded herself.

“So your job will be to find that out and to see if they are going to try and make another shipment in the near future. You must sign on to guard it. This time you will be successful and we will discover who is on each end.”

It took no small amount of self control not to laugh like a mad woman. He made it all sound so easy. Just get a job doing the same thing you got busted for in the first place, working for the same people, and ‘find out who is behind it’. The assurance that this time she was going to be successful also rankled just a little. The only reason she hadn’t been successful the last time had more to do with the unknown cargo and and under manned, under gunned, under powered transport. She had recommended that Aces, her liaison, get a different hauler for the job, but cost was an issue as was timing. The cargo was hot, in more than one way it turned out, and it needed to go out as soon as possible. Warning bells had nearly blown her head off, but she had taken it more as a favor to Aces. They would settle up when she got home. She was certain he knew something.
Though not easy, what he proposed wasn’t impossible. Lucky had plenty of connections and more than a few favors owed to her. It would take calling some of those favors in certainly, but wasn’t that worth her life? It was also a challenge and she was a woman that relished a challenge.

“I reckon that story will hold up. I don’t think that what you suggest is outside the realm of possibility either, but it’s going to take time and money.” She traced her jaw with her right index finger and her eyes rolled up to look into the vast darkness. “How much of either do we have?”

Martyn reclined again and ran short fingers over the left arm of the couch. A nearby panel opened and he picked a mossy green square from a platter inside. He popped it in his mouth and slurped and chewed for a full minute. “Our access to any financial resources will be limited. In fitting with our cover. We may be able to sell this ship, but I see that as a last resort. In any case my superiors have given me one standard month from time of departure to get this resolved. At that point I am to return if it is not.”

She didn’t miss the import of the singular pronoun. One month to get the job done. No, she stopped herself. That would be down to less than twenty-six days by the time they got to Bifrost. That wasn’t a great deal of time. If the people behind this had already found another hauler, or if they pulled out of the system… Any number of ifs or buts could ease a descent into functional immobility. She would have to deal with the facts on the ground. A few things were in her favor.

Money wasn’t a big issue, really. She hated to use her own, but she wasn’t hurting for cash or equipment. Information was the real commodity in this case, as in most, and that took time to get. Accurate intelligence often carried a high price in man hours. Weighed in the balance, that was still better than dying back on that swamp planet. “That should be plenty of time.”

“You are a confident person. That is quite good, quite good. My superiors and my own sources make me think that you will live through this. It will be a true pleasure to work beside you.” He took another mossy square and offered it to her.

She took it without hesitation. Her stomach rumbled eagerly, though her nose told her that she wasn’t going to relish what happened next. She popped it into her mouth and bit down. There were crunchy bits that reminded her of going through fried shrimp shell. Something popped in it and warm thick fluid oozed between her teeth. The flavor was truly awful, reminiscent of rotting garbage mixed with a metallic tang. She got it all down though.

She felt something slither down her left shoulder and nearly twitched away from it. It turned out to be a clear supple tube. She put it in her mouth and sucked, clear, blessedly cool water filled her mouth. She swished and swallowed twice. Her stomach thought about rebelling, but her will was strong. Whatever it was couldn’t be poisonous. They wanted her to live. Maybe it was a test or maybe the cultural divide made him as blind to her taste preference as she was to his facial expressions. Either way, she was hungry and once the water was down, the growling abated.

The temptation to compliment the chef was strong, just to be nice, but Lucky was no liar. “That was awful.” Still the hunger wasn’t gone entirely.

Martyn laughed, a gurgling thing, and gestured. A panel opened near her arm. “I hope you find this nearer your liking.”

The smell was reminiscent of the good fried squash that hear mother made. Her mouth watered. It was still a mossy green square, but the taste and texture were identical to the battered yellow summer vegetable. Looks like she passed the test. With two down the hatch, she nodded. “Very much.”

There were many more questions to be asked and details to be worked out. She needed to make sure that her new partner was up to speed on everything Bifrost had to offer. It was possible that his own ‘sources’ had already clued him in on a few things, but she had lived on the station off and on for eight years. There was no replacement for long experience. A more detailed game plan was in order and with over half a day transit time left, they could get a good start.

She rubbed her palms together. “Well Martyn I can’t tell you how much I hate the way all this has worked out. I don’t like having a ‘keeper’, but so long as you give me a fair amount of rope to do what I need to do and follow my lead, we’ll come out of this just fine. You can tell you bosses that will have this whole thing wrapped in three weeks.” This was a job like any other. So long as she looked at it that way and could ignore the twin bombs in her legs or the potential for being poisoned and the fact that he life in general hung by a thread finer than one of her leg hairs everything would be just fine. She allowed herself a little laugh that might have had just a touch of madness about it, but it was a madness that anyone who knew her was familiar with. The game was on and it was time to lock and load.

Lucky and Company

These are the characters that will appear in Lucky’s story.

Helenica “Lucky” Goldenstein – Security expert extraordinaire. Human, 1.7m, lightly built, dark brown hair, light brown skin, well trained in a variety of weapon and non-weapon combat arts, good reputation for protecting “sketchy” cargo both personally and as the head of a security team

Meredith Matthews – AI that controls the intraspace communications network. “Mer” is more than a little mad. She fancies herself a human soul implanted in the ‘net. She’s able to handle the data transfer for the known “settled” galaxy though and no one’s found a way to get her out…yet.

Dave Avila – Captain of the freight hauler “Pugnacious” Human, 1.6m, stocky, short cropped steel gray hair, ex-space marine, built his ship into a successful business that handles high risk cargo

Richard Asplund Jr. – In charge of the station police unit on Bifrost, an orbital in the Upsilon Andromedae System, Human, 1.9m, Long blond hair, pale, pure law dawg with a soft spot for Lucky

Brand Gamblyn – Engineer on the freight hauler “Pugnacious”, Theonid (a gaseous life form, able to interact thanks to a sort of reverse scuba gear, excellent techs especially on FTL class ships), 1.8m in suit, intelligent, worked on Marine class ships with Capt. Avila and joined his crew upon retirement

Martyn Noire – 1.4m, Vregonian (amphibioid), looks roughly like a humanoid black newt, Agent for the NHSC (Non-Human Sapient Collective, not their name for it but the closest translation) a sort of reverse “Indian Agent” trained to interact in and investigate human affairs for the NHSC

Dave “Aces” Minkus – Human, 1.45m, black hair, gray eyes, vaguely Asian features A fixer/loan shark/font of information on Bifrost, Lucky frequently uses him to get jobs

Jeanette Marsh – Ofc. Asplund’s deputy, 1.3m, red hair, rail thin, crack shot

Mae Breakall – Human, 2m, Pink hair, milk white skin (not albino), Owner of Mae’s Chop house restaurant, bar, and brothel

Jen Avila – Human, 1.4m, Brown curly hair, green eyes, astrogater/first officer on the “Pugnacious” and the Captain’s wife

Estevene – The ship’s AI for the “Pugnacious” prone to breaking out in song (usually Spike Jones) at a moment’s notice, but otherwise very functional, Capt. Avila is constantly threatening to reprogram him, but never will

John Wilkerson – Human, 1.7m, Close cut brown hair shot trough with gray, hazel eyes, This Sector’s martial

Justin Lowmaster – Vregonain 2.2m, greenish, heavily mottled skin, consul on Bifrost, an older member of their warrior class, has a reputation for being a bit of a drunk and cultivates that, but very canny

Taylor Kent – Human, 1.7m portly, bald, vat grown eyes solid silver, Dock master for Bifrost , Takes no BS and knows everything that goes through the port.

Alison Day – Human, 1.45m, shoulder length white hair (though not from age), blue eyes The primary physician on the Bifrost, though there are robotic doctors, people still want that “human touch” so she performs primarily a human interface function and occasionally actual medical procedures

Mike Plested – Human, 1.75m, swept back graying hair, marathon runner’s build, a bit obsessed with appearance/health, The on site representative for the Decagon Mining Corporation, he’s part mayor, part CEO, part used car salesman. Mike is very upbeat and has a reputation for being a really nice guy, almost too nice.

Jeff Hite – Human, 1.8m Black, shoulder length hair, blue eyes, prominent scar on rt jawline, well built, Hired gun/bodyguard for Mr. Plested. Doesn’t care much for Lucky as they’ve crossed paths more than once.

Sid Faiwu – Vregonian, 1.1m, Bright red with black spots, Sid is the closest thing that Vregonians have for a holy man/shaman. They don’t worship a god per se but believe in a collective unconcious among their people and they are more in touch with that. Things that go against their philosophy are said to mar the collective and that’s the closest thing to a sin. Since most Vregonians don’t believe that other races are as evolved as they are there is nothing that you could do to them that would be marring. This belief system is on the wane.

John Payne

Ben Wassink

William Paul

Suspension of Disbelief

According to my thirty seconds of research (thanks Wikipedia!) the phrase “a willing suspension of disbelief” was coined by Coleridge.

It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith

Apparently fiction that involved the supernatural had fallen out of favor (thanks secular humanism!) to a degree and he was intent on bringing it back. As such his audience needed to set aside their rationalism and approach the story as though it’s fantastic elements were plausible, but he realized that they could only do that (provided I’m parsing this sentence right) if he granted his characters a certain “semblance of truth”.

Since then, and it’s been a long strange two hundred year trip, that three word phrase “suspension of disbelief” has been a burden placed on authors who seem unable or unwilling to paint their characters as realistically human in spite of fangs, fire breathing, or incanting. If we don’t enjoy a B-movie or a cult favorite it’s not because the writing wasn’t good or the characters were so thin you could see through them. It’s because we didn’t “suspend our disbelief”.

This is akin to movies were I am told I must “turn my brain off” to enjoy them. Believe me, I know that sometimes that helps. There are certainly plenty of books/movies that “over-thinking” will destroy utterly. And you know what? Part of me doesn’t mind that, but another part of me objects when entertainment asks me to be too dumb.

So this raises some questions to both the readers and writers out there. How much of a burden should be on the writer vs. the reader? Is it true that the farther/zanier you go with the plot, the more human you must make the characters (or vice versa)? How far can you (or the author) go before that’s just not possible or before the fiction becomes so implausible that you just can’t finish? How much will you as a readers forgive in terms of the absence of a semblance of truth before the shadows fade away? How dumb is too dumb?

And a bonus question. What have you read and enjoyed that everyone around you thinks is complete drivel? I won’t call that a guilty pleasure since I don’t think you should feel guilty, but that’s what it’s commonly known as.

Changes

So this week at News From Poughkeepsie is all about Werewolves and will be focusing on character rather than plot.

Day 126 is Werewolves I have known…

Zach says he doesn’t mind the change much anymore. Says he’s come to terms. We’ve all got our rows to hoe, he says, his isn’t any different. Old Roger Gilbert mutters something about his destroyed rabbit hutch and my he has to pay for Zach’s hoeing, but no ones pays him any mind.

Zach says he’s a changed man, but he didn’t need to say it. We can all see the return of Zach’s beard. He shaved it off right after he got bit, and it’s good to see it back. Zack said he didn’t want hair on his face, not while human. Good to see human nature–and probably a bit of sloth–win out.

“I’m okay,” he said, ordering another beer. “I’m a werewolf.”

“Naturally,” said the bartender. “You and everyone else in this town…”

He slid a frosty mug to the young man. “Now the question ya gotta ask yerself is what yer gonna do with it.”

Zach’s thick brows knit together in confusion. “What do ya mean Joe?”

It was my turn to put my two bits in. “What he means Zach, is that while you’ve come to terms with what you are, at least part of the time, you barely knew what you were all of the time, before the change.” Zach had only been eighteen when the bite happened. I’d say that was a shame, but that would be admitting that being a lycanthrope was somehow a bad thing. It’s not. “Now you need to rediscover what it is to be yourself.”

Zach now had a monobrow, his face was so squinched. “You talk too durn much Doc.”

I sighed and sipped my beer. “You denied your wolf half after the attack. That’s natural. Now you’re embracing it. But there is a whole that is greater than the sum…” No that was going to be too much. “You’re not just a man and you’re not just a wolf, you can be the best or the worst of both. What’s it going to be?”

Understanding dawned on his face like the moon breaking through the clouds on a crisp October evening. “I gotcha Doc. Pa used to say somethin’ like that about him and Ma. I got her looks and his brains, instead of the other way around.”

More’s the pity. Zach was a handsome enough boy, if rough around the edges. I nodded. “More or less. If you ever want to talk about it then you just need to come by my office any time.”

I made that offer more than once over the many years I’d been a doctor in the territory. After all everyone who lives here is here because they had “the curse” and were shipped off by the human world as a “humane” solution to our problem. Really it was their problem since while here, we were still what we were, and they are still bigots. So, as one of the few outcasts with real medical experience, I became physician, counselor, even alienist. I was able to help some of our people deal with the change and integrate into our society.

That night was not the first or the last time I’d made the offer to Zach either. Unfortunately he didn’t take me up on it. A month later I was in my office, consulting a few tomes on human and lupine physiognomy. There is no widely accepted scholarly work that tells us much about our form and I was determined to write the first. I had written extensively on the affects of wolfsbane on our change and examined the properties of silver and why it might be so toxic to us, but those were relatively speaking minor and there were larger fish to fry.

The loud knock on my door startled me out of my reverie and I went to answer. Lo and behold it was Sheriff Jeremiah with a body slung over one shoulder. I could smell the gunpowder clinging to them both and the unfortunate tang of silver underneath it all. Protocol and wisdom demanded that Jeremiah’s gun be loaded with the deadly metal. Thankfully over the years we determined how much of it was necessary to merely incapacitate, rather than kill.

I saw, to my chagrin, that he carried Zach. “Set the boy down over there.” I pointed to the table on one wall of my consulting chamber. The words weren’t needed since this was hardly our first time through this waltz.

He nodded and did as he was asked. “Caught him in the Miller’s sheep fold. He had too much ta drink earlier today and decided ta help himself.” He lowered the body to the table and strapped him down. The restraint system would do the trick, it always did. There was one wound in his right shoulder. He had also been beaten pretty badly. I held nothing against the sheriff for that. He had done what he had to do and the boy was still alive after all.

I took my bag and removed a scalpel, using it to cut away the shirt, already ripped in places due to the bulk put on by the change. Unconsciousness returned him to his God given form though and my cuts revealed pink skin. Silently I plied the tools of my trade and with little effort removed the offending slug. Thankfully it was in one piece. I dropped it in a steel tray, making sure to leave my instruments with it so they could be decontaminated.

A few stitches, fewer than a pure human would need, held the wound closed. It would be fully healed in a day or so. The silver contamination, which I refused to flush out in cases like this, would leave a scar. Hopefully it would serve as a reminder.

With the offending bullet removed, our amazing body’s ability to heal itself went to work. The external injuries would fade within hours. He began regaining consciousness in mere minutes. Eyelids fluttered open and the last actions that the body was undertaking were remembered first. He struggled against the bonds, but they were tested against the largest of our men in full transformation.

After a few minutes he remembered himself and lay still. His look went from angry to confused to sheepish. “Hey Doc.” The whiskey smell mixed with the sheep’s blood on his breath nearly gagged me. Separately the two odors were pleasing enough, but not so much when co-mingled.

“Hello Zach.” I nodded down at him. “If I let you out there will be no more foolishness?”

He shook his head, hair tossed with enthusiasm. “No sir.”

I unbuckled the restraints, aware of Jeremiah’s presence behind me. “Sheriff I’ll return him to you, when we’re done if that’s okay?”

“Sure Doc. I’ll be down at tha jail.” I heard the door open and close behind me.

Satisfied that we were alone, I stepped back and gestured for him to get off the table. “Have a seat young man. This talk is long overdue.”

Zach climbed down, trying to arrange his ripped shirt to cover himself. “Thanks Doc, all the same to you I want to go home.” He climbed down and started to follow the law man.

My growl surprised even me. It’s not often I give voice to my lupine half. When I do it’s been said to cause some grown human men to faint.

He had the common sense to stop, though I could see the small hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

“Sit down young man.” My voice was firm rather than angry. This time he sat, picking the smaller of the two chairs in the space reserved for my counseling sessions.

“What do you want Doc?” His cheeks reddened and he was actually able to meet my eyes. He was angry, though at whom I couldn’t say.

I sat in my chair, keeping his gaze. “I want you to think about the talk we had in the bar. You are embracing the worst of our natures instead of the best. We don’t attack the animals that belong to others. We don’t drink more than we can handle and let that cause us to be foolish. It’s bad enough that we have to be here, we don’t have to give them the satisfaction of knowing that they’re right.” I nodded east in the general direction of what passed for civilizaiton.

The anger turned to petulance. “Yer tha one denyin’ who ya are Doc. Tha wolf takes what it wants and so do real men.”

I took a deep breath. It wasn’t the first time I had heard this sort of talk. Plenty of our young men were angry. They came here without family, without any resources, and banded together, teaching each other the ways of life. “Is that right? Tell me Zach, would your father approve of this?” I gestured encompassing his appearance.

“Ah Doc you know I didn’t know my father.” He looked at the clean pine floor.

“So instead of coming to me, you listen to a lot of useless whelps and drink too much and stir up trouble. Is that what you want to be? A drunken rabble rouser?” My words were colored by the anger I now felt coming on strong. I was in control though, always in control.

Not so much the boy across from me. “You don’t understand Doc.” His words became mushy as teeth crowded his jaw and his voice deepened. “You don’t know…” His eyes flashed red.

Before he could leave the chair my hand moved and gathered the silver headed cane that leaned against my reading table. I kept it there, head down, just in case. The weighted end came out and struck him in the jaw. Bone cracked and the smell of scorched hair and flesh filled the air. I was surprised to see that my own thick white pelt covered the skin of my hand. I hadn’t felt the change happen. My own anger had almost gotten the best of me. I willed the hair back in and saw it recede.

I placed the cane back on the floor and stood, looking at Zach. While he lay there, once again looking for all the world like a man, clutching his jaw and moaning I swiftly unbuttoned my shirt. “Oh I understand.” Even as a man I was uncommonly hirsute. White hair covered my chest and belly, except for the long double scar. They went from shoulder to hip crossing over my sternum. “My own father gave me this and left me to die in the woods. He rejected me. My wife rejected me. My life became nothing. I lost more than you can understand.”

I held out a hand to him, letting my shirt hang open. He took it and stood. “Sorry Doc.”

“I didn’t tell you that so you’d be sorry for me.” I clapped him on his shoulder. “And I don’t want you to waste time feeling sorry for yourself either. You are a wonderful creation. Luna loves you. I love you. I want to be a father to you, if you want me to.”

There was still a coal of anger in Zack’s eyes. Some of it was likely at me, but I knew that most of it was directed at himself. He hated what he was. We all did at first, unless we were unhinged. That anger changed to resolve as we stood looking at each other. I’m not a mind reader, but I could see familiar gears turning. He was probably thinking about those young men he had been associating with. I hoped he found their quality wanting.

He held out his hand. I took it. “Thanks Doc. I do.”

I nodded. “Good. First you need to go down to the jail. Then you need to do whatever Jeremiah tells you. The Millers are good people and you did them wrong. When you’ve done that, you can come back here and we’ll talk about what it means to truly change.”

He pulled himself into my arm and hugged me fiercely. We held the embrace for a moment and then he backed away and dropped his hands to his side. The place where I had clubbed him looked bad and it too would scar up. He needed those scars as I needed mine. We needed to know our weaknesses, earn our badges, before we could really be different.

Without another word he left. I buttoned my shirt and turned to the sideboard. There were the pictures of the boys and even a few girls that I had been a surrogate father to over the years. Jeremiah’s picture was there. Others hadn’t made the change and together I and my pack had to put them down. I had a good feeling about this one though. Zack could do it. It wouldn’t be easy, but with the good ones it never was.

A Liquid Diet

Jared is all over vampires this week. This prompt has been the only one I could connect with so far.

Vampires work like this…

“It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s simple lifestyle choice, a dietary system, and one that has considerable benefits.”

That how Dr. Max Shreck starts his book “The Health Secrets Of A Hematopathic Doctor” (1967). In it, he described how his health had not much improved by becoming a vegetarian and how this led him to try a completely liquid food regime, consisting entirely of blood. He said:

“The results were electrifying, within a few days I felt much stronger with a return of my former enthusiasm. Many of my patients whom I had been able to convert to this new diet also reported similar results.”

Unsurprisingly, with the health benefits presented so, Dr. Shreck had started movement that took the country by storm…

Seth’s stomach rumbled. He hadn’t had a decent meal in days, having to subsist on the ‘canned’ stuff that he picked up at the package store. Ever since the Diet really caught on and the government started regulating the supply, quality had gone into the crapper. He could always go to one of the clubs where folks who enjoyed being bled met the needs of ones brave enough to tap a real vein, but disease was a real concern and as rich as uncut blood was it wasn’t worth the risk. At least not in his mind.

He preferred the hunt anyway. It was illegal as hell, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That was a risk worth taking though. Cops you could avoid. Hell, he had taken a cop or three in his time and that was even better even if it was only a psychosomatic rush.

Tonight was the night. He needed the real deal. Breakfast had been what the kids these days referred to as a slurpee, the bag of red stuff ‘genetically engineered from real human stock’ and sold to those eager to experience a pallid imitation of the real effects that drinking human blood brought to those fortunate enough to be able to truly digest it.

Anyone could live off of slurpees or even the real deal if you took a few supplements. Not everyone could stomach it, most preferring to eat the way humans had for millions of years. A few, a very blessed few, could not only live off of it, their bodies could truly metabolize the life force. It was this that Dr. Shreck spoke of in his book. He mistakenly thought that everyone was like him. Research indicated that the good doctor was one of the one one-hundredth of one percent that fell in this category. So was Seth.

He flung open the windows to the balcony that overlooked the city, breathed in a double lungful of the cool night air and laughed it out. He thought of the creatures that filled the horrific tales and nightmares, all fangs and moodiness. No, people like him were just as alive as anyone else. They breathed and fucked and showed up in the mirror. If he strained though, he could flip a Towncar one handed. Jumping from building to building was a piece of cake. The best part though was what it did to his senses.

Even this long after taking in the true manna, he could hear a rat’s heart beat at thirty paces if he focused. He could track an individual by scent. His dark gray eyes were like a cat’s, taking in all the available light. This was more than simply ‘good health’. This was godhood. Right after a feed it seemed regular humans moved like they were swimming in treacle and his brain buzzed with a luminosity that was not to be believed. Tonight he would experience that again.

Once outside, he checked to make sure that his switchblade was tucked away in its sheath up his right sleeve. Having fangs would certainly have made the whole process easier, but the knife served its purpose and the look on almost anyone’s face when it flicked out was priceless. Dark chestnut hair was bound back from his face. Women loved to run their fingers through it, but on the hunt it just got in his way.

His black Egyptian cotton shirt, long sleeved with onyx buttons, was tucked in to a pair of pants made of the same material. The pants brushed the tops of his equally dark running shoes. His outfit was equal parts theatrics and pragmatism. Looking the part was a thrill for him and it didn’t hurt to be able to blend into the shadows when you had to. His last lover said that he was like some vampire ninja from Hell. He chuckled at the thought.

With a nod and another growl from his stomach, reminding him to get with the program, he put a foot on the wrought iron railing and flung his body into the air, landing on the roof across the way. Roof to roof and down a fire escape and a few blocks later Seth was on the prowl, looking for his next fix.

Part Two

Lucky is a Lady

Day 116 is Western…in space I know, I’m doing them a little out of order, but that’s okay.

Lucky Goldstein thought this run would be easy. Protect a cargo ship through Vregonian space, collect payment on Halo, and spend a weekend or twelve with her toes in the sand. Probably wouldn’t even have to use her gun.

But when an asteroid plowed into the ship, leaving most of the senior crew dead or injured, things started to get difficult. And when the cargo was found out to be frozen Vregonians, packaged for slavery, well, that certainly didn’t make things any easier.

If Lucky’s going to make it to Halo, she better live up to her name real fast…

Lucky made herself comfortable, at least as comfortable as she could given the fact that her cot wasn’t exactly designed for the human frame. At one meter seven she was a little longer than the one meter five pad. Add to that that it was hard and square and at a slight incline and all of that made sleeping difficult.

She chuckled to herself. There was no reason to expect that her “hosts” would have done anything to make her comfortable. The cell that the Vregonians put her in wouldn’t have even been comfortable to a Vregonian. The relative humidity was lower and the temperature higher than the norm for this planet. The amphibioid race wasn’t known for their sentient rights policies. That made her presence here all the more frustrating.

Being busted for slave trading by a bunch of bipedal salamanders whose press gangs were legendary stung more than just a little. Not the least because it wasn’t true. Sure, the ship she was one held a dozen hatchlings in suspended animation. Sure, she was in charge of security. She couldn’t help it that she hadn’t double checked the manifest against the actual contents of the hold. For all she knew the folks piloting the ship were just as ignorant as she was. They were all dead now though.

Shaking her head, which caused her chocolate bangs to bounce, she blew softly into the electronic mouth harp. Sad notes filled the air. All of the excuses for her sloppiness or derision for her captors that she could muster couldn’t change the fact that she was here and wasn’t going to see the beaches of Maynor VII unless she got off this swamp world and back out into warp space.

A triple note from the door clashed with her own music. She tucked the e-harp into a slit pocket of her grey ship suit and stood quickly. Her black boots, tips pointed and steel reinforced, slapped the deck hard. The fact that they hadn’t confiscated those either meant they probably were that afraid of the petite human female’s ability to kick much butt.

When the two meter plus tall guard stepped through the open door, she had to admit that she could see why not. The Vregonian guard class were monsters. They reminded her more of the Komodo Dragons she had seen in a history vid. Their flesh wasn’t any less clammy and rubbery than their smaller overlords, but the ridged plasteel armor they wore and the long blades that they carried inspired a deep respect.

“Come with us, prisoner.” Their Standard was decent, though oddly accented. The wet, rumbling was just as intimidating as their appearance.

Lucky didn’t let it get to her though. She took her place between the two guards and held her hands behind her back to let them apply the spray foam hand restraints. Nasty thing about the ‘cuffs was the local anesthetic that the foam contained. She’s lose most of the feeling in her hands until they had been off of her for at least a half hour.

They walked out cool, damp hallway and she almost tittered when she thought about being from marched by actual amphibians. It may be horribly speciesist, but she didn’t care. Finding the humor in situations like this would keep her sane. She just wanted ten seconds with these guys and Sally, her favorite blaster.

The walk was mercifully short and ended in what passed for a magistrate’s office. They ushered her through the door, this one an iris and she stepped into two inches of muck. The smell of rotting vegetation filled the air. The fat, slimy representative of what passed for law on this planet eyeballed her. His flame red skin was mottled with green. Every square inch of it was visible, as he sat naked on a slightly raised platform.

A holographic image floated in the air to his right. She wasn’t fluent in their writing and naturally it wasn’t in Standard. Her picture was plainly visible. It was the one that graced a few “Wanted” notices that she had seen before. That wasn’t good.

“Greeting Ms. Goldstein. I do have the pleasure of addressing miss Helenica “Lucky” Goldenstein, so I not?” His Standard was flawless though it sounded a bit like sewage backing up into a drain. His breath smelled like it too, even at four meters.

She hadn’t been traveling under her birth name. Riding shotgun on a freighter often meant a fairly close scrutiny of your background, even if the company in question isn’t’ the most reputable. Sometimes it meant that the scrutiny was even closer. Even taking precautions like DNA blockers and facial applications to subtly change her appearance was no guarantee, but so far it had worked. Until now.

Denying it would do little good. They had her. She nodded. “You do. And you’d do well to call me Lucky. No one calls me Helenica or Ms. Goldstein.” A glint of metal caught her eye. Sally was hanging from a brace of hooks behind a stasis field just over the magistrate’s shoulder.

He looked pleased. “Excellent. So now you can tell me what you can do for me that will keep us from turning your corpse in to this sector’s marshal so that we can collect the reward.”

She cocked an eyebrow. She wasn’t aware that she had any “Dead or Alive” bounties on her head. It was certainly possible. There had been a job or two she’d done recently that had involved her working on the opposite side of security and a number of sentients were decidedly unhappy with her continued breathing. “Do you… have anything in mind?” She wasn’t eager to her the answer, since if he didn’t then she’d be dead already and if he did it wasn’t likely to be pleasant.

“Of course.” He nodded eagerly. “If you will help us find the person or persons responsible for the illicit cargo you were carrying then we would be glad to let you walk.” A long black tongue flipped out of his mouth and licked one eyeball.

Lucky shuddered a little. “Like I told the heavy that brought me in, I didn’t even know our cargo contained your people. I admire you for trying to find out who’s kidnapping your people and stop them, but I can’t help you.”

His chuckle disturbed her more than the eye thing. “We don’t want to stop them. We want to make sure it’s not one of our own suppliers double crossing us.” He nodded sharply and she felt a blade’s edge at the back of her neck. “If you can’t help us then I can’t help you.”

Playground Showdown

The latest News From Poughkeepsie prompt is “Western…on the schoolyard“:

Big Lucy’s Black Hats were the terror of recess. No snack cake was spared their greed, no shin spared their wrath. The teachers were useless. The Black Hats were the queens and kings of Tombstone Elementary, and they knew no one could challenge them.

No one, that is, until the new girl arrived. Her name was Marshal, and she wore a white hat…

Marshal Dillan, yes her parents were well aware of the pain that bearing such a name might cause, moved to town in the middle of the school year. Her Dad got a new job as an English professor at the local university that he just couldn’t turn down and though she would miss her friends, she was always up for an adventure.

She would remember the first day that she sat foot, clad in a size eight white Converse, on the dusty playground at Tombstone Elementary for the rest of her life. The wind whipped up grit into her face, nearly blowing the white Yankees ball cap off of her head. A present from her Grandma, she clutched at it with her left hand and eyed the level playing field through squinted blue eyes.

A group of what looked to be three fifth graders, judging by their size and attitude, were ganging up on a a smaller kid by the swings. She spotted a few others here and there, all wearing similar black hats and all taking part in what Dad would call “dubious behaviors”. A few of them were just looking out for teachers to ensure that their friends wouldn’t get caught and no one was turning them in.

Satisfied that her cap would stay in place over her tomboy-cut, auburn hair, she lowered her hands to her hips and set her jaw. There wasn’t anything she hated more in this world than unfairness.

The Lessons of the Gun

Inspired by News From Poughkeepsie – Day 117

Bobby Joe believed in The Gun. He had met other Marshals, men and women who appeared pious, but who threw aside the Lessons of The Gun as it suited them. To them, wielding the gun was about power. To Bobby Joe, however, it was about salvation. Out here in the Wild, it had to be.

Bobby Joe said a prayer for every bullet as he loaded his weapon. He thought about about the two marauder gangs outside his door, ready for war. He though about the town they were about to tear apart as scratched at each other. And he thought about the Lessons of The Gun.

“This about salvation,” he said, walking into the streets. “This is about salvation…”

Preacher looked out the window of the Constantinople and swore under his breath. That fool kid was going to mess with the wrong people one day and get his head shot clean off. Today wouldn’t be the day if he had anything to say about it though. His fingers checked to ensure that all of the Elements were present.

The hardware was all old so he still carried percussion caps, loose powder, and lead balls. While he didn’t hold with some of his brethren that the new cartridges and double action revolvers were sacrilege there was something to be said for the old ways. Loading the gun was meditative and allowed him to recite the Prayer.

“The Gun is is my Protector, I shall not Fear. It makes the crooked path straight and levels the field. It rights wrongs and commands respect. Yeah though I walk through the valley of darkness I will not quaver. Its metal and its fire will save me. I shall not use The Gun to wrong others and will protect and avenge those wronged. Surely Justice and Respect will follow us so long as we keep to these. And may I dwell not as the cowards do. Amen.”

His weathered hands settled on the ivory butts of the two six shooters and he moved through the bat wing doors. A broad brimmed hat, as much a part of his uniform as the rust colored serape, kept the sun out of his eyes. Down the windblown street he could see Bobby Joe step into the Circle. He was actually going to call someone out.

A barely used double action hung heavy from the ginger haired lad’s belt. The new leather and shiny metal cartridge casings shone in the sun. His jaw was set with determination and Preacher could see his lips moving even from here. The man was old, but his eyesight was the envy of eagles. He had trained Bobby Jo Morales in the Way only after two years of begging. Finally he relented after realizing that the boy might go on ahead and teach himself. That way lay certain death.

Unfortunately, Bobby Jo turned out to be something of a zealot. There was a place for that, certainly. Zeal needed to be tempered with some good sense though and there was a shortage of that in these parts. The zeal bore skill though. Bobby was fast, damn fast. His hands danced and his aim was true as any acolyte could ask for. His brain soaked up all the knowledge of the workings of the Gun and all of the traditions. There was talk that he would be going out further into the Wild next year. Most of that talk came from Bobby Jo.

Now the Wild had come to them in the form of the the Cowboys and the Oklahombres. The two groups controlled most of the territory for a month’s ride in any given direction. They were here to see if combining their resources could expand their power base. A treaty between the two gangs would be bad news indeed and no one official would stop them. The Marshals in these parts were every bit as corrupt as Bobby Jo believed and had done and would do nothing about it.

Preacher felt no small amount of shame at the state of the Marshals. As a Ranger it was his job to train new recruits and feed the machine that the Order had become. All of that guilt needed to be left behind for now though. Arkansas Tom and John Ringo broke off from their groups and began the slow amble towards the Circle and that was Bobby Jo’s death warrant. Either man by himself was enough, but the two together represented a challenge that only the most talented and experienced could face.

“Well, well, let’s see what we have here.” Ringo drawled. “Looks like this boy wants somethin’.” The tall man walked with crossed arms. His fingers weren’t far from the sawed off shotgun on his left hip or the horse pistol on his right. Either one could be out an blazing death in a heartbeat. The red sash of the Cowboys seemed to almost connect the two weapons across his narrow waist.

Arkansas Tom nodded, his long dirty dishwater hair moving as a mass. Preacher could see that his forty-five hogleg was in a swivel holster. The gun didn’t even need to come out to be used. Dirty trick. “Looks like. You issuing a formal challenge boy? Or you just drawing water?” He jutted his chin towards the well behind Bobby Jo.

Bobby Jo stood his ground. “I hereby challenge the leaders of the Cowboys and the Oklahombres to a draw down. Losers goes to Boot Hill, winner gets control of the two gangs.” His voice was rock solid, though barely into its adult register.

Preacher nodded. That would be the only way. That was if there were any chance in Hell of the leaders of the two gangs honoring such an agreement, assuming they accepted it and assuming Bobby Jo won.

Evan the Gentleman Otter

Just using this as an exercise to get my brain in full on writing mode. This will certainly happen from time to time.

Evan preened his whiskers and checked to make sure that his emerald waistcoat was straight and that his rapier hung such that it would neither bump his leg nor risk prodding anyone else on the street. A gentleman, regardless of his shape, should always ensure that he appeared as clean and well put together as the situation allowed.

The fact that the gentleman in question was a four foot tall otter who happened to stand on his hind legs and wear a monocle due to an unfortunate weakness in his left eye was not unusual in the least in his neck of the woods. Perhaps the only oddity was that he was a gentleman at all, since most otters tended to be a bit more rough around the edges.

Satisfied that all was in place, he left the room he had been renting at this particular inn for the last two weeks. Moving like quicksilver through the common room downstairs, he avoided any contact with the inn keeper. Evan was a bit… behind in his payments. The work he had lined up today should take care of that and he didn’t like starting the day with harsh words. While a gentleman should also stay current on all of his expenses, once again one could only do what one could do with what one had.

In the light of day the waistcoat was revealed to be threadbare and the gold band around the monocle looked more like brass. He was an otter of manners that had seen better days. The only thing on his person that wasn’t somewhat shabby was the sword. It was a well balanced and maintained weapon as beautiful as it was sharp.

He walked into the sunshine and out on to the crowded city street with head held high and sloped shoulders held back, thrusting out what chest he had. The throng of creatures didn’t part for him, but that didn’t hurt his pride in the slightest. He made his way through and around groups as though he were in the waters where he spent most of his youth.

Soon a merry tune left his lips as he whistled melodiously and before long he stood before the house of his new employer. It was almost palatial when compared to the houses around it, as befitting a retired noble.

Spicy Genius

This post was inspired by Great Hites hundred word story prompt “Spicy Mustard” and the latest News From Poughkeepsie prompt “The Continuing Adventures of Clemens and Tesla”.   It’s short and silly, but then so are most of you.

Sam Clemens took a pull on his cigar, the coal lighting the otherwise dim library.  “The devil you say.  Is it that simple?”

Tesla nodded his head.  “Yes my friend, yes.  That’s the beauty of it. And think, unlimited energy from such a simple, clean source.”  The excitement brought his native accent to the fore, as it always did.

No one would believe them.  They rarely did when genius brought them discovery like this.  Not, that was, that this sort of genius or discovery was in any way common.  He stirred the grainy contents of the jar and marveled.


The audio version of this will be published as a bonus Great Hites episode and I will link it when it’s up.