Flash: Tank

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copyright 2006-2013 foolishbunny

“Fuck.”

 

Startled, Neville immediately went on full alert. Anything to set Younger cursing could not be good. Neon lights blazed over the gas station, making an oasis of light and cement in the black night. Nearly seven hundred miles from their stomping grounds, the needle pegged empty and they had to stop for gas. Ramps had been closed the last fifty miles because of flooding. This was their only chance before the fumes ran out.

 

Neville leaned forward in the passenger seat to access his gun tucked into a back holster. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I hate using stolen cars. I never know what side the gas tank is on.”

 

(words 108– first published 10/2/2013; republished in new blog format on 8/06/2017)

Flash: Grass

Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The walks surrounding the Inter-species Conference Enclave campus meandered through immaculate lawns, stopping occasionally to admire rose bushes, day lilies, statuary, and other areas of interest with a widening of the brickwork and a bench here and there in their travels. Azza followed the paths with her human counterpart at her side. Arching a fur-feather eyebrow, she asked the much taller black male, “Why do you dedicate so much land to non-food?”

The use of the “her” pronoun was problematic for both Azza and Sefu, since the Spican species had only one gender. But because of the average height of the Spican, their high voices, and their offspring liquid gland locations match human female norm, the pronoun had been applied to all Spican members since the humans had found the first Conference planet. Sefu, one of Earth’s polygots chosen to learn the interstellar tongues, was still struggling with the Conference tongue, a constructed language used by most spacegoers, and Spicese, a complicated language constantly expanded by the natural linguists of Azza’s planet for play and professional reasons. As a result, most of Azza’s and Sefu’s conversations fell back to the gender-driven English language of the country where the campus had been located. He tried not to limit his view of Azza with the pronoun, but thinking in a language always limits some concepts. Kenya would have been a better the host nation with the genderless Swahili to communicate in, in his unasked for opinion.

“Well, umm, if we put all the land to food usage it will exhaust the ground.” Sefu struggled in his answer. “It would require constant fertilization and work.”

Azza nodded like a human. “So, you rotate this … grass … with other crops?” Her species specialization as linguists made Sefu jealous; in three handful of months she mastered the complicated English language complete with the non-verbal cues. The specialization was spectacular even among the Conference members, therefore Spican’s always were the Speaker for the first Enclave sent to newly discovered civilizations. She had already sent the full report of English and Mandarin back to the Conference Core so those languages could be added to the translators. The present language assignment for the Enclave was Spanish and they were already making arrangements for Hindi. They would continue down the line until they reach languages of less than a million speakers. Azza and the six other Spican on the Enclave were having a ball; most species only have one, maybe two languages when they reach interstellar space.

On the human side, they had the basic grammar and over 1,000 root words for the Conference’s Every-Speak, and the computers had recorded nearly 89,000 words of Spicese with no end in sight for the intonation, non-verbal, and grammatical-vocabulary-modification nightmare making up the linguists native tongue, a language so complex they could easily pick up any other language in the galaxy. With approval of all forty members of the Enclave, recording instruments had been installed throughout the campus and gave them a good grasp of Pegasian, Ursate, and Virgrril, though Mensate baffled the biological and computer translators as much as Spicese so far. The one Lucian of the Enclave, with its light-based communication, was beyond their abilities, at the moment; the Conference translator would be working overtime for it as soon as the new programming became available. A Lucian colony was the human’s closest neighbors and their first market and both the humans and Lucian were chomping at the bit to start, but the Speaker declared, as was traditional, no trade talks translations were allowed by her team during the first generation of contact. The inexact translation by machine would have to do for the businessmen once it became available in another eight years. The major hold up was just travel time for the language assessments to get to programmers.

“No. We use it for aesthetic purposes. It is decorative.” Feeling slightly less provincial since the alien had searched for the word grass, Sefu paused in his walk to watch her non-verbal cues more closely.

Azza swiveled her head slightly further than humanly possible, taking in the landscape. “It is very green.”

“Yes.” The Earthling born on the African continent agreed.

“Does the grass ever fruit?”

Each of the visiting species had shown pictures of their homeworlds as part of the linguistic and cultural exchange required before full Conference membership approval. Azza’s home commune was a riot of color from food-bearing tree and bushes.

Shaking his head, Sefu explained, “We cut it before it goes to seed, that makes the root system stronger.”

Azza’s face wrinkled in consideration. “Is any other maintenance required?”

“Other than mowing every one week or two?” Azza’s eyes widened. Sefu understood from the monitors they had been allowed to install the Spican applied a defoliator and bleach to remove stripes which normally ran across their face so the humans could better read the non-verbal cues they were mimicking. Internally, he looked forward to the day they trusted the humans enough to stop doing that. It would mean they were considered equals. “Yes. The landscapers have to lay in weed killer and bug killer and fertilize every fall and spring. Plus reseed regularly.”

“So the grass requires as much work as food crop.” Azza looked out at the lawns again. A sweet smell similar to honeysuckle drifted on the breeze, a scent Sefu noticed whenever Azza was figuring something out. He made a mental note to see if the odorific monitors had been installed; part of the Spicese non-verbal language had to include scent.

Turning his tone a little dry, knowing sarcasm did not translate well with any of the Conference members but the Ursians, Sefu commented, “More, actually. Crops only need to be cut once.”

The honeysuckle scent grew stronger. “Wasting land and effort like this is not logical.” She waved her hand at the acreage surrounding the sprawling buildings.

“Humans are not logical.”

“You keep saying that.” Azza looked him in the eye. “And I keep seeing evidence of truth.”

Sefu shrugged.

“It’s amazing you ever made it into space.” Her face mimicked exasperation, and her scent changed to sour green apples. Or more accurately zefs, one of the few things already transferred in the cultural exchange. Zefs, a quick-growing berry, had dozen of variations made suitable for zero-g growth; the four space stations already integrated them into the crop cycle. The campus greenhouses grew some of the gravity varieties for the visitors, after Earth and Conference scientists confirmed the variations were mules in every of Earth’s environments, so Enclave members had a taste of home, and Sefu had eaten some during the meal visits.

Those were landmine filled occasions as each of the six visiting species had different customs related to eating before even taking into account the cultures of the nineteen Earth polygots drawn from six different continents. Each meal centered around a different species’ tradition with five days of instruction beforehand; fourteen times they had been through the rotation since Sefu joined the team and they still had nine more of the Virg causal meals to go before they started on the formal variations.

He looked forward to the Lucian weeks as they only ate socially during mating mergers, what humans call weddings. Otherwise consumption could be done during any activity such as playing games. Falling-Wavelength-552-to-577 turned its meals into game nights, the primary social activity for its species, many of the games had human equivalents. It had fallen in love with Chess when Judit used the human game to explain K-band-frenquency-19 to the rest of the team. The Lucian meal nights left the Pegasian and Mensate on the outside, but then most meals left the Lucian sitting alone.

“Getting into space only requires determination, not logic.”

“For your species.” Azza blew out her breath, then started walking again. A little faster than before, so Sefu needed to stroll instead of saunter, to match her short steps. “Your ships make as little sense as you.”

Thinking about the very functional, nearly universal stick and globe assemblages passing for spaceships among the Conference members, with only minor variation for environmental difference, compared to the sleek human ships, Sefu bragged, “They look great.”

“Ships do not need to look great,” Azza spun on him, her hand flung sideways while the calluses rotated into thorn-spine positions in her species version of frustration, while the skin under where the stripes would be if they hadn’t been bleached swelled slightly. “They need to function well.”

“They function fine.” Sefu felt amusement at the cute anger shown by the Spican. Quickly he cut off that emotional reaction. This was not an American or Australian female getting riled up, but an alien species and head of the Enclave. Damn English thoughts; he really wanted to switch to his native Swahili. “They got us to a Conference planet before you guys found us.” The colonial swagger-laden words tripped out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“True statement.” The white and gray skinned alien, topped by black feather-fur dappled with blue and red highlights, brought her arm back to a more human stance and the nearly human facial features, which caused the polygots no end of grief because they made it too easy to forget the Spican were aliens, returned to resting levels. A mimicked half-smile touched Azza’s lips. “By practically exploding the engine room every activation of the DM drive.”

Sefu gulped internally. Was the anger and frustration real or this half-tease? Was Azza here just to teach language and culture, or did a darker imperative drive the cultural exchange? The humans weren’t the only species to create a Dark Matter drive, but, according to the Conference, less than 10% of new species even had worked out the theory before crossing paths with a Conference outpost. Earthlings were one of seven species to invent the drive completely on their own. Being in the back-end of nowhere, at the edge of a spiral arm, contributed to the Humans developing the theories and ships independently. That backwater location combined with a jump from electronic communication having bleedoff past the local atmosphere to interstellar flight in less than three hundred years, when the average for most species is closer to two thousand years, prevented any of the Conference cultural surveillance drones from spotting them before humans blinked out of DM warp in their sleek, rotating hub and spear shape ship into the Alpheratz system and its three inhabited planets.

Licking his lips, Sefu decided to poke to see which way Azza jumped. “Ah, but the results of the controlled explosions are cool. What is it? Four times faster than any other DM ship out there?” And that was very fast indeed, since DM speed was measured exponentially due to energy-state transfers within warp, which means a Conference spaceship from the Lucian outpost in the Cervantes system, 50-light years away, takes nineteen weeks with their fastest ship. A human DM drive ship takes six days, including the sub-light maneuvers.

The skin raised again, but Azza’s face remained neutral. “The human interpretation of DM theory is intuitive rather than deductive, at best, making your drives irrational disasters. The Earth ships already have the worst safety record of any Conference ship, but you only care about how fast and …cool… they look?”

Sefu forced himself to imagine her saying the words through gritted teeth instead of with the calm almost indulgent mimicked expression on her face. His gut told him he was right about the anger. He stepped sideways so the nearby monitor could have an unobstructed view of her. Deciding against overtly flagging the conversation for closer review since this was Azza and all her conversations were dissected, Sefu poked her again. “Humans are not logical.” And, obviously, the Conference could not reverse engineer the human version of DM drives and they were applying pressure to the Enclave to get results.

“No, humans grow grass which has no purpose other than be green.” She blew out air, and the scent of burnt starch, like plantain slices fried too long, made Sefu’s nose burn. He never had noticed that scent before.

Arranging a careful smile on his face to match her false one, Sefu said, “Exactly. You are beginning to understand us Speaker.”

“I hope not. I really hope not.” The alien and human resumed their walk, a pseudo-companionship silence falling on their travel.

Privately, and against the fiber of his communication-oriented polygot soul, Sefu agreed.

(words 2,083 – first published 7/30/2017)

Flash: Waves Against the Pier

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The following post was written June 5, 2013.

ConCarolinas 2013 – On Sunday I attended a writer’s workshop. The panelists were:

Moderator – Joe Naff (http://www.moonwingmedia.com/) – Writes fantasy and supernatural thriller with strong female lead characters. (Eternal Forest; The Chronicles of Shyra (Series); The Gospel of the Font)

Panelist – Catherine McLean (http://www.catherineemclean.com/) – Write space opera. (Karma and Mayhem; Jewels of the Sky)

Panelist – Winfield Strock III (http://adventures-above-the-aether.blogspot.com/) – Writes steampunk. (Adventures Above the Aether, Aether Legion)

With this eclectic group of speculative fiction authors overseeing the workshop, we were instructed to write “A scene where the scene expresses the emotion of what is happening.” for fifteen minutes. Okay, I can do that. Below is what was written word for word; no time for editing.

***

Waves crashed around the pier, throwing a fog of salt water around Clyde. Angry tears trickled down his face, leaving tracks in the sea-mist sweat. Life wasn’t fair, he thought.

A scream escaped his wounded heart and was torn away by the unforgiving wind. Soon he would need to leave. The blood-red sunset promised a storm, no matter what the weatherman had said. He looked forward to spending the night in the creaky beachcomber shack he rented, fighting leaks and rattling panes.

She shouldn’t have left him. He had done everything right. From the first spell of summon to the last spell of binding, his high school sweetheart should have stayed with him until death parted them.

What had gone wrong?

An incoming wave driven by tide and storm pushed him back a step. His sopping jeans cling to his skinning legs like lichen. His bare feet slipped a bit on the slimy mold.

He couldn’t even summon her back. The last binding spell made her immune to hearing siren energy. She should have held steady.

(Words 176)

 

We did a round robin with the participants reading their pieces and giving feedback. Then we got the kicker for the second hour of the workshop. Write the same scene but with an opposite or strongly different emotion. Characters may be changed, but the location/scene needed to remain the same. Oh, boy. … I think I can do that. …. Ummm, okay …

***

Waves dashed in ahead of the storm, hurtling towards safety in the sand. Clyde remained on the mossy pier, digging his bare feet through the slimy green coating for firmer footing. He waited impatiently through the ruby sunset for full dark. The storm promised big ones to curl, dare and ride. Wind ripped at his pony-tail, lashing at his back and check.

Should he do this without backup? His partner had left him, refusing to even set foot in the rickety shack they rented each year, after they fought all the way from the city. Hell, Clyde didn’t even know how he was going to get back after the weekend. His high school buddy had left in a spray of sand and gravel.

An incoming wave rushed the aging pier, diving him back a step with its force. His wetsuit prevented him from felling the icy touch, but salt clung to his lips, wetting his appetite for adventure.

Soon, soon. The midnight ride through white crests and driving water would be his world. Centering him as nothing else did. Only in the blue, with water under and over him, when Neptune tried to bury him and he could laugh at the gods did he feel alive.

Unable to wait longer, he checked the tie on his ankle. He picked up the board and ran screaming off the end of the pier and started paddling into the failing light.

(words 238)

 

I really like the parallel I was able to pull. The screaming by the main character and the loss of a special friend. The timing of the second wave pushing him back. The mold/slime on the ancient pier and the existence of the shack to live in. The exercise was fun, and also showed I really need to work on adding more description to my writing. Flash needs most of it stripped, and my long-form writing has suffered because of my concentration on flash writing. I am really glad I attended the workshop.

(post initially published 6/5/2013; republished in new blog format on 7/2/2017)

Flash: Political Suicide

Corridor stock art

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The staffer ran after the Republican state senator as she approached the legislature floor still arguing his case in urgent whispered tones. “Please don’t do this ma’am, it’s political suicide.”

“Brett, shhh.” Grabbing his arm, Senator Evans stepped into one of the many side room surrounding the main floor and pulled her chief of staff after her, a man who represented her entire staff located in the capital office. She had two other loyal people operating out of her offices in the county seat and the largest city within her district.

Brett, Margaret, and Corrine had been with her since she first ran for office after her husband died. Twenty-one years later they still were with her; their careers and hers were indistinguishable. What she was about to do might mean they were all unemployed in three years. She hoped the window was enough to prove her right, but some members of the party would never forgive her for crossing the line. It was practically guaranteed someone would run against her in the primary if she did move forward with presenting the bill; just how big a someone and how much they are supported by “grass-roots” and backed by money would depend on how angry the state party was.

“We’ve been over this.” Rebecca hissed quietly adjusting her briefcase strap.

Brett raked his hand through his thinning blonde hair. “We talked about it Friday in general terms, but now you are going full steam with it.”

“I talked to a lot of people this weekend Brett, when I went home.” Rebecca gripped Brett’s shoulders. “It needs to be done.”

“Were the constituents for or against it?” Brett asked, knowing Rebecca didn’t always talk to the same people he did.

Rebecca shook her head then met his eyes. “I didn’t talk to any of the constituents, per say. I did my research. It’s what people pay their representative to do; research things they don’t have time to investigate.”

He deflated and dropped his eyes, knowing nothing would change her mind. “We need to explain to people, get the word out, before you support the bill with Senator Wilson.”

“It’s more important to stand united with the world now than to wait for the news to trickle to our people.”

“Even if it means going against the stated policy of our President?” Brett lifted his eyes a moment, bringing the Big Elephant into the room.

“Yes, yes it does,” she dropped her hands.

Brett repeated, “It’s political suicide.”

The senator gave a half-smile. “Good thing I am not a politician then.”

Brett blinked. “Ma’am, you’ve been in politics for over two decades.”

“Let me let you in on a secret, Brett.” Rebecca leaned forward for a moment. “I may be in politics, but I am not a politician.”

Brett ran his hand through his hair again. He had been an intern helping with her first campaign, just a freshman in college trying to grab some extra credit working for an old lady of twenty-five burning for justice after her husband died in combat. He had watched her raise three children alone while serving in the State Senate. He supported her, fought with her, cried with her; he knew her. He waited for the other shoe to drop.

“You see a politician worries about his job first, being elected the next time and the time after that. To me politics is only a tool.” She shrugged. “If I lose the tool, I will be disappointed, because I can do a lot with the tool but in the end what is being built with the tool is more important than the tool itself. This …” she patted her briefcase “… needs to be built.”

She continued, “What is the point of all this if I am too scared to act?”

The man nodded his capitulation. This is why he had followed her for twenty years instead of breaking off for his own political career. He watched her rush out of the room because of the delay he caused, hurrying to make the session before it started.

He followed a statesman, not a politician, and that terrified him as much as made him proud.

(words 699, first published 6/18/2017)

Flash: Three to the Chest

Clip Art Gun

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Fuck, fuck, fuck … out of bullets.” Neville cursed as his gun clicked empty. The laboratory cabinet continued to shake as he ducked behind it. His opponents did not have the same ammunition limitations. Fortunately the metal cabinet had been built to handle exploding experiments.

The altercation had turned the laboratory into a war-zone, toppling even the heavy marble tables. One of which Younger was curled behind. “Damn it, Neville. You’re a vampire. Just stand up, take three to the chest and reload.”

Looking at his unarmed human companion wincing as a ricochet chipped the marble beside his face, Neville deadpanned, “Wrong caliber.” He tucked his favorite piece back into the ankle holster. “How about you … can’t you do whatever the fuck it is you do?”

“Thought you wanted some of the coven to still be alive, or at least undead, at the end. Quinn can’t be head vamp without followers.”

“Like you are that powerful,” Neville sneered. “The two fucks over there with their thralls are over four hundred years.” Neville looked around for better cover. He could hear some of the bullets pinging the inside of the cabinet now. They had pierced the front doors.

“If you are sure…” Younger commented.

The cabinet exploded in a rain of chemicals and glass as Neville dashed between several thin metal desks to join Younger under cover. Someone had broken out a shotgun with amour piercing rounds. “Fuck, yeah I’m sure. Just do it!” he screamed.

…. When the smoke cleared, Neville stared at Younger. He tried to remember the last few minutes, but fragments of icy fire and hungry darkness wouldn’t form into coherent thought. It was like someone had obscured his memory after a feeding; something not possible while he was the coven’s enforcer for Quinn.

“Okay, I stand corrected.” He stepped between the rapidly decaying bodies of the ancients they had been fighting, approaching his suddenly scary mortal ally. At least Neville hoped he was an ally. “Fucking powerful. How the Hell…?”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell, and don’t repeat, my friend.” Younger smiled enigmatically.

Sirens could be heard between the rubble resettling and liquid drips. “Riiiight.” Neville shook his head. “Well, Quinn owes you one and so do I.”

“Think you can cover this?” The scourge waved his hand at the wreckage.

Neville pulled his cell phone out of his back pocket, a quick glance at the time indicated it was only four AM. Dawn was still a ways off. “If I can’t, I got people who can.”

“Okay, I’ll be going then. Just remember next time to ask the bad guys to provide the same caliber bullets.”

Laughing Neville agreed, “I’ll do that.”

(words 447 – first published 5/22/2013; republished in new blog format on 6/04/2017)