World’s Eye View – 26

I think we’re in trouble. The station wouldn’t ring like some bell from just a panel hit, would it? We might have lost something. Once the decision had been made, he called Roels and Salila over to man the cameras, and cycle through them to look for other possilbe damage. “I’ll help them button up”, He told the two. He took a look at Salila, then jerked his eyes away as his body had started to respond. God I gotta keep it under control. I couldn’t live with myself. He hurried away from the two and down to the airlock to help Ingers, and Kim.

The EVA inspection was thorough, and the information was bad. The main body had been clipped by something, and while there wasn’t a leak yet, the irregular dent would weaken the welds under the constant and extreme temeperature changes as the station passed from sunlight to darkness four times a day. Kim sat everyone down to discuss the options. “As it is currently, we are in no immediate danger. But as Ingers has pointed out, the uneven expansion and contraction will eventually pop the welds open, unless it is fixed immediately.”

Thompson was in his own thoughts as Kim talked. Should I or shouldn’t I tell Ingers and Kim? After all this time how do they no t know about the capsule? Vyhovsky never talked to them, o anyone about trying to get the Xian-Xi freed from the docking rings. Why is that? What made it so important to him that we didn’t know? I can’t figure that out. So, why haven’t I said anything? Because I’m paranoid that’s why. It’s a secret, and for whatever stupid reason, I’ve kept it a secret. He was pulled out of his self-examination by Kim’s next words. “Ingers looked over the Xian-Xi capsules during his EVA, as have I. It appears that comrade Vyhovsky, was trying to sabotage the capsules.” Roels and Salila stared at Kim like he’d grown a second head, Thompson felt himself go pale, and cold. “Sabotage?! What the fuck, Kim?!”, a voice yelled. Thompson looked around and then realized it was his own. What the hell? Sabotage? Where’s Kim going with this?

Yes, fiend David, I’m sorry, but ‘friend Eugeni’”, Kim almost spat the name, “has partially dismantled the docking rings. In the apparent hope of marooning us permanently. The rings have small boxes inside the exposed areas that appear to be some kind of small, disabling charge, according to Ingers’ inspection.” “Are you certain of that, Kim? Ingers, are you certain?”, Roels sputtered. “Explosive charges? Why? This is a science station, not an orbital missile battery.” Kim nodded. “In truth that is all the station is supposed to be. But who knows what Russia’s ideas for the station were with ‘worst-case’ scenarios? This place would be ideal as a missile defense item. The base’s orbit is four times around the earth in a twenty four hour period. The orbit is more pole to pole, than geosynchronous, or equatorial. One might wonder why, if one was of a paranoic disposition.”

Thompson stared at Kim, slack-jawed. You’re kidding, right? How is a station that barely has enough room for us, and in a particular orbit suddenly become part of a Russian military conspiracy? This is nuts. “H-how do you figure this? Have you gon all X-files on us Kim? That’s just, crazy”, Thompson finished. He looked at the others, and could see Roels and Salila leaning against each other, and talking in quite whispers. Ingers scowled at Roels, which Salila caught and shrank back against Benoit. Roels didn’t seem to see the look, but he hunched down as Salila clutched at his arm. He’s still terrified of Ingers. So am I. I don’t get how he can be so Ingers one minute an d so psycho the next.

He put the thoughts aside and listened as the others talked. Roels argued that there was no way Vyhovsky could have brought charges like that up with him without them being discovered. There seemed to be too many and to precisely placed for one man to get them all into the ring without his efforts being discovered. Salila said nothing and stayed close to Roels, and away from Ingers, who had begun to stare blankly at her, once more. Kim looked over at Ingers, who ducked his head and turned away. “So, what if it was put in place by the Chinese when they made this part of the station? I wouldn’t put it past them, or any country, to build in a few ‘safeguards’ in case some kind of conflict arises. Look at Russia with the Missile platforms they tried to disguise as nuclear communications. You don’t need a big bosster if the warhead’s in orbit, just a push at the right time.”

Kim glared at Thompson for a moment, then said with a sigh, “Yes, it could easily be that the devices were in place as part of the Chinese designed section.” He strightened up and projected his voice. “What it all means is we work together, and see if there’s a way to defuse the devices safely.” Thompson took a deep breath. Maybe it’s way past time to let the cat out of the bag, and fix this. “I think that was what Vyhovsky was trying to do. He’d uncovered the devices. Maybe that was why he’d kept the radio signal a secret.” Everyone turned to Thompson, listening. “How does one link to the other, friend David? Do you have a theory?”, Kim demanded. “Yeah I do”, Thompson replied. “Think about it. What if we did know about people surviving down there. The first thing we’d be doing is thinking about going home. We were in a debris orbit. IF we didn’t move the station, we’d have been perforated most likely. Look outside. It happened. We have no idea how high up we are except a computer’s best guess, since there’s no telemetry. We’re gonna burn up when the station finally drops to the edge of the atmosphere. I think he was trying to free the capsules by taking the rings apart. The bombs were a complication he hadn’t figured out.”

A way to get a handle on characters

Every character has a story that they are the star of.  It doesn’t matter if they’re just window dressing or faceless thugs, they all have a story if you think about it.  I don’t always recommend going so far as to chart out each and every one, but I’m sure there are some authors that do.  As a way of getting a handle on characters, I’m offering up a quick four question psychology test that can help give you a little depth and insight into what makes a character tick.

It’s very simple to do, just four questions.  For each question put yourself in the character and answer how they would, or think that they would.  What each question means will be at the end.

Question 1 – What is your favorite color?  Think of three words or short phrases on how this color makes you feel.  (Write them down on a card or piece of paper)

Question 2 – What is your favorite animal?  Think of three words or phrases on how this animal makes you feel?  (Write them down on a card or piece of paper)

Question 3 – You are in a white room with no doors, windows, or way to exit.  Think of three words or phrases on how this situation makes you feel. (Write them down on a card or piece of paper)

Question 4 – You are standing on an open plain and can see as far as you want in any direction.  Think of three words or phrases on how this makes you feel.  (Write them down on a card or piece of paper.

Now before I reveal what each answer means, I’ll give you my example of a character.  This is Charlie ‘Skid’ Moore from the short story ‘Skid Style’.

Question 1 – Blue – open, breezy, mellow

Question 2 – Cheetah – fast, focused, no one can outrun me!

Question 3 – white room – lonely, I hate this place!, Let me go!

Question 4 – Open plain – I can run!, so much to explore, gotta pace myself

Now you can see Charlie’s answers to each.  Now let’s look at what each question is supposed to represent

Question 1 – This is supposedly how others view you.  So in Charlie’s case people seem to see him as a laid-back easy going guy.

Question 2 – This is supposedly how you see yourself.  Charlie is proud of his speed, and is focused on his goal.

Question 3 – This supposedly is about what your attitude is towards death.  Hmm, well…, Charlie hates it.  ’nuff said.

Question 4 – This is supposedly about what your attitude towards life is. Another interesting response here.  Charlie loves to run, and sees life as a constant exploration, but he also understands the need to maintain a steady pace through life.

 

That’s the test in a nutshell, and with it we can see Skid’s motivation, a little about his personality, and how he approaches life, and reacts to death.  How does your character(s) answer these questions?  They may surprise you.

World’s Eye View – 25

The menace surrounded Ingers like a palpable aura. Even at his most contrite and gentle, Inges radiated violence. Barely caged violence. At the same time, Kim used Ingers as much as possible, banking on that intimidation to make his ‘democracy’ work. Thompson still hadn’t said anything about the docking ring and the Xian-Xi spacecraft. He was certain, somehow, that mentioning a way home would tip the fragile balance they had, and visions of Vyhovsky floating dead also kept him cautious and secretive. For whatever reason, he just could not get himself to reveal that.

Thompson floated back towards his room, and looked in on the communications station. Salila was there, along with a very attentive Ingers. Each movement she made, he almost mirrored exactly. It was a disturbing feeling Thompson had watching the unconscious dance. She kept shifting away, he kept closing the distance ever so subtly. A shift of motion as he floated, a slight twitch of a leg to change his facing. She was being subtly cornered at the station. “Hey Ingers?”, Thompson said, surprising himself. Ingers snapped out of whatever trance he’d been in, and gazed at Thompson with an almost thankful look. “He should be either taking a quick shower, or in bed”, Ingers answered quietly. Thompson nodded. “Okay. Think you’ll be ready to check the panel attitude systems tonight? We’ve missed that check a few times now.” Ingers eyes further cleared as he put his mind to the problem. Thompson thought he was losing himself again as he didn’t answer for nearly a minute. Salila, shifted back to the far side of him, and started checking the system as she’d been shown while Ingers floated in the center of the room, anchored by one hand. “Yes, I can do that”, He finally said.

Good, I’ll help you button up for EVA. Think around nineteen hundred hours?” Ingers nodded, and it seemed the old Ingers peeked out from his eyes. “Yes, that will work.” “Good”, Thompson said again. “I’ll see you at the airlock then.” He started to turn, then turned back. “Salila, Ms Shukla? Could you look in on Roels and re-bind those ribs of his? I’d do it but after six hours EVA I don’t want to take a chance on screwing it up.” Slalila looked up with thanks in her eyes as she launched past both Ingers and Thompson, through the hatch, and was gone up the tube towards Roels cube. Ingers looked as if he was going to follow, when Thompson spoke up. “Want me to help you with the channel search? It’s been a while since I’ve pulled duty here, the refresher course would do me good.” Ingers nodded, and then begain talking Thompson through the system.

Four hours later, Tbhompson had just gone to bed when there was a sharp vibration that set the station groaning from stress. Thompson was out of his netting, and scrambled to the camera station, flipping through the cameras one at a time to try and find the source of the sound. The fifth cameera showed the cause. The last three panels on the section they’d just shut down were torn away, the wreckage that impacted the panels, and the panels themselves were nowhere to be seen. Ingers bounced into him from behind. “What’s happened?”, he asked anxiously. “Panels got hit. Maybe a metorite, maybe space junk”, Thompson replied. He felt his shoulders tense as the camera displayed the damage.

We have good news and bad news”, he said. “The good news is that panel was the one we just shut down, so it’s empty of ammonia. We didn’t lose anything.” He paused taking a breath. “The bad news, look at how the panel’s damage is. I think the station itself may have gotten tagged. We need to EVA and check it out. There isn’t a camera that can check that edge.” He looked back to Ingers, who for the moment, seemed totally focused. “I’ll go. I can run the camera and snap some images. We can make plans. I want to check the antenna also. All the data inside says it’s normal, I want to check it outside and be certain.” Thompson shrugged, then said to Ingers, “You have my proxy for ‘vote’. Let’s get you buttoned up.” Kim, Roels, and Salila showed as the two started for the hatchway.

What happened?”, Kim asked them. Thompson listened to Ingers sketch out the situation. He sounds so normal fright now. What’s going on in his head? Thompson listened as Kim polled a quick vote from the others, and got a unanimous decision. Nothing like catastrophe to make us all pull together. Geez, what a world. His attention came up as something in Ingers speech started alarm bells. “Maybe I should take friend Benoit with me to look check for damage.” Benoit looked surprised by the request, and looked over to Thompson. No buddy, don’t go. Tell’em your ribs aren’t healed. Thompson shook his head minutely, hoping Roels caught his concern. Roels turned to look at Salila, who was hanging back from the knot of men, clearly staying well away from Ingers.

I think I have to decline”, Roels told Kim and Ingers. “It still hurts to twist and breathe. I don’t feel ready for an EVA.” He looked to Kim, who nodded slightly, then to Ingers, whose brows had furrowed down. He looked suddenly like a preadator whose prey had wisely moved out of range. Oh crap, what was he going to do? Ingers, what the hell are you thinking? “I will go with you, friend Ingers”, Kim said. “We all must, ‘step up’, as our friends say. Only in full cooperation can we survive.” Thompson’s teeth clenched at the blatantly political tone. Vyhovsky said the same thing, you ass. He focused, relaxing his features, and damping his anger before he looked up at the others. “That sounds like a plan to me”, he agreed.

Ordinary writing? NOT!

As a perennially amateur writer, I dream of writing a story that will entertain billions of people.  That brings me to today’s point.

All authors didn’t take up writing to be ordinary at it.  We all chose this medium as a chance to create something larger than ourselves and gift it to the world.  We’ve all told ourselves that if we enjoy the story, that’s all that matters.  This is true.  Sometimes the best stories are the ones we write for ourselves and no one else.  But there’s that little voice saying how great it would be to have our efforts, and skill at writing, recognized far beyond our own word processor.

We didn’t start writing to be ordinary at it.  We chose this as a way to be EXTRAORDINARY.  To leave a legacy.  How far that legacy goes has a lot to do with luck as much as skill.  That may be discouraging, but realize the only way to know is to keep writing.

World’s Eye View – 24

They could see Ingers shadow float to the edge of the hatch, and hover. Thompson and Roels looked to each other, then Roels nodded, and floated to the hatchway. He poked his head out the hatch and turned to look at Ingers. “Koll, how are you? Is there something I can help you with?”, Thompson heard Roels say.

I”, Ingers started. “I would like to apologize to Salila.”

“Ingers. Koll”, Roels replied. He started to say something else, then shut his mouth. He looked back at Salila, who shook her head.

“Say it from the doorway”, came her shaky reply. Roels nodded and backed up, wincing as his broken ribs shifted. Ingers bulk filled the hatchway. His eyes were haunted.

“I am s…sorry for my actions”, he said slowly, then he turned and floated back down the tube, towards the galley. Thompson looked over to Salila, who was pale. Her hands shook. She hugged herself to make the shaking stop. Roels moved to her and she clung to him like a drowning sailor clings to a life preserver. Roels looked to Thompson. He nodded and moved to the hatch, and gazed down the tubes left and right, checking to see if Ingers had decided to hover just around the corner. The corner mirrors showed clear corridors both ways. Thompson turned back to Roels. “He’s gone for now. I need to go to. I’m going to draft Kim to help me out, for maintenance until those ribs heal. Then you and I will start work on the docking ring.”

Roels looked at Salila, nestled in his arms, then to Thompson.

“Why didn’t you tell Kim about the docking rings?”

“I don’t know”, Thompson answered. “I think I was worried what Ingers would do if I mentioned it.”

Roels shivered. “I don’t see why, it might snap him out of what’s going on. Kim’s brainwashed him. I think you’d want him to hear it. Jar his mind. Maybe knock Kim’s control loose.”

“I don’t know if Kim’s really to blame”, Thompson said thoughtfully. “Did you look at him when Ingers started to line up on me? It was like he was scared of what might happen too.” Thompson stopped =, then started talking again. “It reminds me of a story my dad told me about some neighbors. The family had a Doberman. Beautiful dog, dad said, but spooky. It wouldn’t bark, it just stared at things. Always watching. One night a kid tried to break in and steal the TV while they were gone. The dog killed the kid. The neighbors came home, and found the kid all over the living room. They called the cops, then took the dog and got it euthanized. When my dad asked why, the guy told him that the dog looked at him like he was next on the list. So he took the dog and got it put down.”

Roels said nothing, and just stared vacantly. “That’s a messed-up story, David. If you wanted to scare me, you just did.” Roels hugged Salila tighter, and winced as her arms snuck around his waist, shifting his broken ribs. He paled and gasped, then hugged Salila tighter as she moved, keeping her tight against him. “Give me two days to rest, and I’ll start pulling shifts again. Just wrap my ribs tight before you try to stuff me in that suit. Getting in that thing is going to hurt, I’m certain.” Thompson nodded, then floated back to the hatch again. He looked once more at the corner mirrors for the intersections, and floated out into the tube, then propelled himslef down the corridor handhold by handhold. Why didn’t I tell Kim? That is a really good question. If Ingers went nuts, then there would be two of us to try and take him. God, if you’re watching, and you have some time, do you think you could bless us with a little luck? We’re gonna need some soon, I think.

Kim held the fitting in place as Thompson finished tightening down the blocking plate. With the Ammonia becoming less available, Kim, and Ingers had decided to cut back the ammonia flow to one hundred five percent of needed use. The idea was to limit the active panels and block the flow of the ammonia so that a reserve for emergencies could be maintained. The plates were easily jury rigged in the shop, pieces of metal being cut and drilled in a few hours. Seals made from a silicone completed the project, and now, they’d finished up the last of the three plugs. Through it all, both Thompson and Kim had worked in silence, talking only when needing to issue directions or ask questions.

Move the cap right, there”, Thompson said, then wtached as Kim gave the cap a half turn with the extension wrench.

“I felt the lands squeeze. It’s in place”, Kim gasped.

“Good”, was Thompson’s only reply. The two men carefully stowed all their tools in carrying nets, and clips on their suits. The walk back to the airlock was silent as each man scanned the panels for any damage they might have missed going out. Ingers was waiting at the airlock. Thompson thought he might not have moved at all since they left for the job. Ingers pulled Kim in first and helped him divest of the suit. Thompson slowly pulled his helmet off, then stowed it back in the storage netting. Once Ingers had Kim unsuited to the waist, he turned his attention to Thompson’s carrying belt, moving tools to a magnetic strip. Once empty the belt and harness came off, then the suit was slowly unzipped, and hung, ready for use. The internal cooling suit was stripped off, then moved to a sonic water shower, to clean out the salts and oils from the inside of the suit.

After cleaning, it was hung and the airlock closed, and the air pumped out of the airlock to boil off any excess liquid from the wash. Kim tapped Ingers on the shoulder.

“Go rest and help Ms Salila cycle through the channels again. See if she has found any other signals.” Ingers nodded, then propelled himself down the corridor. Kim sighed. “There is so much magnetic interference. I think many of the staellites NASA used for communication have been disabled. Salila gets occasional ‘blips’ of radio, but nothing solid. I am wondering if the antenna is worse off than we thought.” Thompson nodded, but didn’t answer. He didn’t trust himself to. He realized that whether or not Kim had intended to control Ingers, Ingers was more a bomb, than a gun. Kim was increasingly polite and even-voiced around Ingers. The feeling was of something building up, just like before Ingers and Vyhovsky fought.

World’s Eye View – 23

The screaming started and he was out the hatch, and caroming off the wall towards it. A few quick turns and he arrived at Roels cube. The screaming had faded to wracking sobs as he grabbed the handhold at the hatchway, prepared to launch himself at Ingers. He pulled up short as he saw Roels, clutching a shivering, naked, woman against him. As Salila clutched at his shoulders, Roels looked up, and saw him. “Roels? Is she…”, he swallowed drily as his eyes followed Salila’s supple curves. He shook his head. Get it out of your head, asshole. She’s been raped! “Is she all right?”, he finished lamely. “Better than I”, Roels said. I think I have broken ribs. It hurts to take a breath.”

How are we gonna keep maintenance up? I don’t trust Kim, and Ingers is great at it, but he’s not Ingers, he’s something seriously messed up.” Thompson watched Roels haunted look harden with anger as he discussed maintenance. “After this, travesty, should we even care about maintenance? I think maybe we should just let things fall apart. This is hell, and there is no way out.” Thompson looked at Roels. Everyone’s talking about how there’s no way off the station, but Vyhovsky figured out the docking ring. I gotta take a chance. It ought to pull us together. Oh slag that, David you idiot. The wound’s too deep. Still, it might be the only way off the hamster cage. I gotta ask though, why did Vyhovsky keep it from us? It doesn’t make sense. That would have brought us all together on a common goal. We’d be out of here and home.

Roels, there is a way off”, he said quietly. Roels blinked, and stared at him. “A way off. Why do you tell me now?”, Roels asked, suspicion thick in his voice. “Vyhovsky figured it out. He told me about it just before he died”, Thompson said quietly. “The docking ring has the Xian-Xi locked in place, and a software virus locked the ring closed. Vyhovsky was taking the ring apart a little at a time. Once the ring’s disassembled, the craft will float free, and it can be powered up to go home.”

Roels looked at Salila, and closed his eyes, holding her close against him. She struggled a moment, then sobbed harder as she clutched at Roels shoulders. Roels arms went protectively around her as he gazed up at Thompson. “You’re not just saying this to trick us? Disassembling the docking ring will work? What about traps?” Thompson grimaced. “I’m guessing there aren’t any. Even the most paranoid engineer has to draw the line between function, and blowing you sky-high.” Roels gave a bitter chuckle, and wrapped his arms tighter around Salila. Salila sobbing slowed as she was held, and her head came up. “I would rather they were trapped. I could die then, and escape my shame.” The bitterness and hatred poured out in the words, making Thompson shiver. “Get healthy Roels, I have to go, vote. Kim’s wanting to set priorities.”

Set priorities? Help me get there, and we’ll all vote. I’ve had enough of this travesty. We need to work on the Xian-Xi and the docking collars. I have had enough of this place.” Thompson nodded. “We all have.”

**

Thompson floated in the galley at the far side, as Kim, and Ingers conducted the meeting. Kim frowned at Roels making it to the meeting. Thompson thought he could see Kim trying to figure out the best way to control the meeting. Ingers, staring vacant-eyed at Salila, moved to sit beside her. Roels sat close, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. Ingers reached a hand in her direction, then lowered it back to his side.

Now, let me bring this first full complement meeting to order. We have a number of things to discuss, and prioritize. First, there is the regular maintenance, then temperature control, and finally, consumables.” Thompson mentally muted out Kim’s voice as he studied Ingers. The big Swede seemed lost in himself. Thompson couldn’t decide if this was due to being close to Salila, or guilt from previous actions. Is the real Ingers still in there? He said it was like things were flipping on and off, and he didn’t have control. Did Kim screw with his mind somehow while he took care of him? If he did , what and how did he do it? Can it be fixed? Who’s gonna fix it? Kim never would. I don’t know how, and Roels, I don’t know about Roels. Whatever this situation is, our job is to get home now that we’re on the same page.

Thompson raised his hand. Kim stopped his talk to stare directly at him. “What is it David?”, he said, sounding like a schoolteacher lecturing a troublesome student. “There’s another priority. Getting home. We need to get home and off this station. Put that in the list.” When Kim hesitated, Thompson raised his voice. “Put it on, and let’s vote on our priorities.” Ingers eyes flicked to Thompson as he spoke, and flexed his hands, clenching and unclenching them. Oh shit. Did I push my luck too much? He watched Ingers float over to the left of Kim, giving him a clear line of travel to Thompson. “I do agree that we should arrange our priorities, friend David”, Kim said quietly, his own eyes on Ingers movements. Thompson noted that Kim seemed to pale, as if he too, feared Ingers unpredictable reactions. What if Kim didn’t do anything? What if the whole thing is Ingers? Thompson tried to turn the thought over, but the vote was called for. Kim set two priority lists. Maintenance came up on ‘what needed to be done immediately’, and going home went to the top of the ‘overall priority’ list.

Roels watched Thompson with increasing agitation as Kim droned on, arguing ranks in the priorities. Finally, when Kim finished, he nodded with his head for Thompson to follow him. Ingers was staring hard at Salila, who sandwiched herself between the two men. They reached Roels’ cube, where all three spread out in the room, staring at the one entry hatch.

Grimaulkin Tales – A Review

Grimaulkin Tales is about the main character in Grimaulkin, Mike LeBonte.  It’s also about those characters that appear peripherally within the series also.  Through their experiences we see some of the costs of magic, repercussions, triumphs, and tragedies that come with being a witch.

The Demon’s Tale – This is a story of revenge; it is also one of tolerance, and a cautionary tale. The protagonist is the victim of constant bullying in and out of school. When the temptation to use power to stop the bullying happens, he immediately succumbs to the quick fix, only to find that all he accomplished was to change whom he was bullied by. The use of power amounted to a temporary fix. The story is dark, but also interesting, as we get to see the formative situations for the main character of the “Grimaulkin” series. And what causes him to eventually be thrown in magical prison.

The Origin Tale – This short tale gives the reader the signal moment that created Mike LeBonte’s new life, and the consequences that follow him into the first book of the series. It’s a classic example of ‘going postal’ that you read about, only with a different method of ‘revenge’.

The Tale of the Eight Deaths – We seldom see the results of actions we set in motion, but in this vignette of short tales we are able to experience the full result of Mike’s actions in ‘The Origin Tale’. These tales encompass revenge and tragedy in equal measures, show also how temptation in the form of carrot and stick can take a person over the moral line they’ve toed to this point.

The Knight’s Tale – “The Knight’s Tale” poses an interesting question of what constitutes being saved. Is it for simply saving a life … or saving a life for something else?

The Inmate’s Tale – This tale is an interesting look at the inside of a prison. How relationships are made, how your life is molded by the choices you make in an instant that change the direction of your life.

The Jailer’s Tale – “The Jailer’s Tale” is somewhat of a misnomer but it was the best fit with the characters and place. This is a tale of more a second chance than about a Jailer, though the Jailer is the main character. There’s more about mercy, and acceptance than jail.

The Prodigal’s Tale – This tale is somewhat like the Knight’s, but is a bit different. It deals with a person more suited to back alleys than a confrontation, but does end up being ‘called’ as a knight. One might see ‘The Scene’, the life outside of the church, as a chance to experience the difference between the secular world, and the place he grew up in.

The Squire’s Tale – The Squire’s Tale is about finding family secrets — and in a surprising way. In a sense, it’s also about a child ‘coming of age’ in an unusual manner.

The Tale of the Unicorn – This story is a sidelight of sorts, being more about how magic can be used to build rather than tear down. The effect of magic is muted here, and we can infer that magic may be working, but the situation is just vague enough to question the use of magic in the situation.

The Rogue’s Tale – This is a bit of a misnomer considering the subject. I suppose that with magic involved, if you want to be rid of a person, you do the job yourself, or have irrefutable proof that they are gone. Otherwise things tend to bite you at the most inopportune moments.

The Tale of the Two Rings – “The Tale of the Two Rings” is about prejudice, overcoming it, love, and some of those things a person in love does … and how sometimes it all works out into a happy ending.

The Family’s Tale – “The Family’s Tale” is one about Family, obviously, and acceptance. It’s also about finding your place in the world and avenues that need to be explored to more fully understand one’s part in it. It’s also about magic, the family kind, and the kind that allows the scientifically impossible to happen. Family is the greatest place of joy, and can be the deepest place of unhappiness, horror, and hatred. There is a little of everything to go around in this tale.  I like this story the best of the series.

The Apprentice’s Tale – This is a tale that becomes intensely personal for Mike, and his new apprentice. It begins with a request from a Police station in Portsmouth, New Hampshire involving a young child, and a satanic cult. The writing is compelling and could easily be turned into a much longer and more involved story.

World’s Eye View – 22

Do what about temperature control?”,Thompson asked. “It needs to be changed”, Kim answered him gravely. “Currently, it is too warm, we do not have the luxury of having it kept heated. We must save energy to extend our time here. We need time to find out how to leave.” “We don’t have that luxury either”, Thompson countered. “Any colder and we start needing more calories to stay warm. More cloaries needed means the food runs out faster. And of the two, energy or food, we have a LOT less food than energy.” Kim’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t like being outmanueverd in a logic match. Thompson knew it was goin to come to another ‘vote’, and the temperature was going to be lowered, but he hoped that something o the argument would get to Kim. We need to think of both sides of the equation, Kim. Come on, please, follow the logic, figure it out.

Kim motioned to Thompson, and Ingers quietly floated away down the corridor after securing Thompson’s boots on the magnetic pad. “Friend David, You hold me responsible for what happened to Vyhovskey. I know this. It’s obvious if one pays attention to your reactions and manner of speech.” He grabbed a handhold, re-directing his travel slightly to avoid bumping Thompson. “When They started fighting, I was shocked. I never thought Ingers capable of such violence. And Vyhovsky breaking his neck on the edge of the table. A tragic accident. I wanted all of us to have a say in what happened to us. We deserve that right up here. We did then, and we do now. Moreso after the tragedy. We have to get things pulled together, friend David. If we stand apart, we will fall apart. We must be all focused of purpose, we must be all striving towards….”, Kim stopped.

David watched Kim as the man pulled his emotions back into check. “Everyone must work together”, he said, his voice returning to it’s more solemn tones. “What about Salila? Does she get a say? She of all of us is the one really out of place. What about her?”, Thompson challenged. “She has a say, and is serving in the best capacity her stature allows”, Kim replied evenly. “It doesn’t matter the type of job, so long as you serve the greater good.” Thompson just stared at Kim. How can you say that? He fought the urge to punch Kim in the face, fearful that if Ingers was nearby, the punch would set him off again. “You’re out of your tree, Kim. I heard from Roels what happened!” He threw his hands out, gesturing angrily, and started spinning slowly from the motion.

How could you do that to her!”, He yelled. “How could you?!” Kim seemed to measure the difference between him, and Thompson, then delivered a sudden slap to Thompson’s face. Thompson spun with the force of the blow, and hit the wall corner down and away from Kim. “Because it is the only way!”, he yelled back. “It is the only effective way we have to reduce stress!” Thompson snorted at the absurdity, and saw Ingers, float into view behind Kim. Ingers seemed wholly focused on him, so Thompson didn’t move, other than to hook a hand thorugh a holdfast. “Have you even read how sex is a natural relaxant?! The intimacy literally calms the fires in a man’s soul! It’s why rapists attack women. Power and control. They control their emotions through the act! Whatever other depravity there is, it is still a method of emotional control!” Kim’s words made Thompson sick to his stomach with revulsion. What the hell are you, Kim?! Who justifies rape as a method of relaxation?!

Our passions were tearing us apart! There needed to be some displacement of them before a tragedy happened. And look around you! Where’s Vyhovsky?! He’s dead! DEAD! Killed because all of us are unbalanced from all this stress of survival! Lost with no way to go home! Where is the release! Where is the control?! It’s her! She is the control, and the release. She can keep us all sane! That is her function here.” Ingers floated forward towards Thompson, and held out a hand. “Let me go with you to your cube, friend David”, Ingers offered quietly. “We’re all stressed and damaged inside. Frined Kim has shown me that. I don’t want to hurt a friend.”

I don’t want to be hurt either, Ingers”, Thompson replied. Ingers eyes had a haunted look, as if he knew all of his crimes, and knew there was no salvation no matter how he tried to find it. It tore at Thompson’s chest to see him like that. Vyhovsky called you the best of us. God dammit Koll, what flipped you over the edge so bad there’s no coming back? Vyhovsky lost his family too, and he kept it together. Why not you?

Thompson shook his head and ignored Ingers hand. “I’m fine Koll, you better get on maintenance. Right now there’s just three of us to do it.” “We still need to vote, friend David”, Kim reminded him. Thompson ground his teeth, and keeping his face away from Kim, he nodded , and said, “Okay.” He pulled himself into motion and floated down the corridors to his cube, where he closed the sliding screen. He hooked his legs into a ergo chair, and stared at the small computer screen on his desk. He popped open his mail, and watched the last video his fiance’ had sent him. When the video finished, he started it again, and again, as he tried to lose the sense of horror that whispered in the back of his mind.

Rat Race Part 2 of 2

(  Here’s the second half.  You’ll note that the changes are more about removal than wholesale rewrites .  That being said, the changes are most notable at the end.  )

 

It took him weeks to explore the campus, and finally he found a clue. There was a hole in security. Five different routes overlapped along the edges of an unpatrolled section above the manufacturing floor. No one entered the area, but with all the overlap, it was impossible to hunt for where the JOB, as Cam called it, might be. The unpatrolled location was a break area

So far, all the doors had been locked. His time between security sweeps was up. He hurried back to the small snack alcove and slid in-between the two vending machines. The machines had been set up back to back, rather than side to side. Why this was Cameron didn’t question. It was a hiding place, and he was in dire need of one.

He’d just finished squeezing into the space when heavy booted footsteps announced the latest round by security. He squeezed all the way back, shutting his eyes and holding his breath, hoping that this would not be the time security got diligent and searched the gap between the two machines. The guard stood to the left of where Cam was hiding. Cam heard the familiar ‘clunk’ of the Guard’s key check, then there were two heavy steps closer. Cam’s heart thundered in his chest when the footsteps stopped. He closed his eyes and tried to will himself deeper into the dubious shadows when he heard a series of coins falling into the machine. Another, louder ‘clunk’ followed . Then the hiss of a can being opened. He heard the guard swallow, then continue on his route without looking back.

This mystery job had to be something important. It had to be! All this searching and puzzle work to figure out where it might be had to be right. If it wasn’t he’d be isolated for a whole night. No one to chat with, no game to make credits to pay bills or get groceries, much less any fun time. Everything ran through the MMO’s. Everything. From shopping to conversation to barters, sales, purchases, anything and everything was for sale on the MMO. All you needed to do was play. But to play you had to get a job.

The job got you credits to open up your account. Your account was created for you when you were born. The whole system worked through the MMOs. Farming MMO, hunting MMO, combat, sports, puzzles, they all made resources for consumption. Everything done in them produced credits, and items for sale or personal use. in a hunting sim, if you shoot a wild pig, then pork was delivered to your door, or you could sell some of it for other credits. Not enough to be independent of the system, you always had to go get a job for usage credits. You had to have a job to earn time online.

He was betting his future on this. Get behind a few times and things got more expensive. The simple jobs to get weren’t enough and when you got far enough behind it was a death spiral. He was so close to that now. A lot of lousy jobs that didn’t pay well and barely making do, he was at the edge where death spirals began. He wanted ahead of the death spiral, and he had to know what the mystery job was. The curiosity had blown into a full-on obsession.

Њ ᄥ 㓲  Ф

The obsession is what caught Blondell’s attention when he’d been at the security jobs for a month. Blondell had been working security too, and was much more aggressive about finding slackers and giving them the boot off the grounds. He got a bonus for each one he caught and escorted out. All security did. But most didn’t care one way or the other about the Water Cooler Slackers. They were there trying to fill a job if one became available due to illness or someone getting fired.

Blondell had noticed Cam’s activity, and spotted him scratching out patrols on a piece of paper. That he used paper was unusual enough to remember. Most everything can be downloaded to goggles and displayed as overlays, or diagrams, or whatever the user wants. It had to be something important. Cameron was keeping it off the System. He wanted to know why.

Good morning HKI employees, to day is a wonderful day for business. There are three emergency openings in manufacturing, one unfilled opening in security, one unfilled opening.”

He did some searching of his own, and found Cameron’s last five jobs. They were all security. Each job was in a different part of the building. Of the eleven, there were only seven that overlapped. Blondell figured after spotting this trend he ought to get ahead of him, and see what he was after. After days of following him around, Blondell discovered it; blank empty space. Cameron was searching all the routes and charting the areas covered. The only area without any patrols going through it.

Blondell looked at the patrol routes. None in a thirty meter diameter. He rubbed his cheek in curiosity. Was Cameron looking for a place to hide something? Something dangerous? Something valuable? Blondell’s mind whirled with possibilities. It was important clearly. What was it? Why not check online? Everything was online. Money, food, entertainment. Why use paper? Hardly anyone bothered to use it. finally, he decided it was unimportant. Beating Cameron to the prize was. He just had to figure it out first.

That figuring came when he noticed the wall midway along the south edge of Cameron’s open area. The color was slightly off to his eyes, being a tan-yellow rather than the usual bright and cheery canary yellow at the other break areas. As he pondered the reason for the different color, he noticed a series of smudges that were lighter in color than the rest. Curiosity brought him closer, and he could make out under the paint a series of letters: “AUTHORI D PERS NLY” Someone had painted over a door!

Blondell grinned in triumph. This had to be what Cameron was looking for! Feverishly he worked at the edges of the door Blondell dug in his pocket for the little universal multi-tool and drew it out. frantic scraping revealed the seams of the doorway. At waist level was another lighter off-color section that looked like a long vertical rectangle. Blondell recognized it as a push plate. He put his hand on the plate and shoved with all his considerable bulk. The Door flexed, then opened with a sticky cracking sound and swung open. Blondell eagerly slipped inside and the door closed silently behind him.

Њ ᄥ 㓲  Ф

Cameron moved slowly along the catwalk over the work floor. Below workers scurried back and forth, running the printers, fitting parts, building items that had been ordered online. The factory floor was not dedicated to producing one thing, such as an automobile. Instead it was a series of inter-related 3-D printers that produced parts for automobiles, planes, engines, and anything that needed manufacturing capacity. Once the parts were finished, they were moved according to etched tags to assembly areas, where the actual building of the car, plane, or toaster occurred. Then off to shipping it went, and the printer was assigned another part. Workers scurried around the printers like ants, moving finished parts, checking resource levels, sweeping the floor, rushing to claim an empty printer for use. Foremen, armed with tablets, kept track of their teams and item output, and guarding their team against Water Cooler Slackers trying to hijack a job from an employed worker.

All the noise and activity actually made it easier to sneak along the catwalk. Everyone was preoccupied with their own jobs, allowing Cameron to saunter over to the restricted door and pull it open. He stepped in as the PA system announced, “Two new job openings in maintenance, one job opening in IT, one job opening.” The last was the one he wanted. It was always announced throughout the day at hourly intervals. He hadn’t seen Blondell since he’d barely escaped earlier, but was certain that the huge man was still hunting him.

Blondell and he had a history. Literally. They shared history classes, math classes, science and programming in school. They both vied for the top grades in the classes, as both men enjoyed learning, and were fiercely competitive. The AI used that competitiveness to enrich the classes by offering rewards to the best performers that week. This turned their potential friendship into a vicious animosity for each other which carried over into their work life.

Blondell would win, and rub it in Cameron’s face, only to have it thrown back in his by Cameron on the next test or job hunt. Cameron knew Blondell was trying to figure out what he, Cameron was looking for. The job was to get there first.

Good afternoon HKI employees, it is a wonderful day for business. There are two emergency jobs in programming unfilled, one security job unfilled.”

The announcement surprised Cameron. The one mystery job hadn’t been announced! Sick with fear, Cameron forgot about stealth and charged forward, taking the direct route to the unpatrolled area. What if Blondell had got there first?! He could challenge him for the position, but knew that would be futile. Blondell was larger and heavier. Unless Cameron surprised him, there was no way to win. But the job was his! He did the study! He did the research! Did Blondell!? NO! He was just the parasite that tried to steal the job from him. That job was HIS!

Cameron stormed into the break area, spoiling for a fight. It was empty, clean even. The walls glistened with fresh yellow paint that was already starting to let the covered paint bleed through.

Cameron frantically scanned the area, looking for any clue that might tell him the job was here. There! on the floor against the left wall. Bits of brown and yellow sprinkled the floor. Cameron dropped to his hands and knees to peer at his discovery. On the ground were small flakes of yellowish-tan paint. He looked up at the freshly coated wall, studying it intently. He spotted an area where the paint dimpled in. Following the minute depression in the paint, a rectangle revealed itself. His heart beat faster as he realized that the rectangle was a door.

The wet paint puzzled Cameron, but not enough to curb his burning desire to open the door and claim the job inside. He scanned the rectangle for any clue hoe to open it. There were no depressions or bubbles that might be a hidden latch on the door, but a small rectangle at waist height was barely visible under the fresh paint. Cameron recognized the push plate immediately.

He started to lean back to kick at it, then stopped. Noise could draw security. He had to be quiet and alert. Five different routes intersected at the edges for the patrols. He had a window right now, and there was no time. Gritting his teeth he aimed a clumsy kick at the push plate. To his surprise the door flew open with a squishing thud of wet paint and sticky lintel. Inside was a series of screens to rival the security hub for the HKI campus.

The dark wood desk in front of him was semi-circular with a similar cut-out at it’s center for a luxurious brown-leather chair. From one side of the desk to the other were monitors, stacked six-high, each one showing a different picture with the camera number and location at the bottom of the screens. On the far right was a large refrigerator sunk into the wall.

Good afternoon sir, you have found the ultimate job on campus. From here your merest whim will be turned to reality by the A.I. Please sit, and take the job.” The voice was sultry and soothing, just like the Gamebox voice “Lexi”. Cameron absently noticed the door closing silently behind him, and immediately stepped to the chair and pulled it out. He’d done it! The ultimate job was his!.

Cameron sat down in the chair. Needles in the seat and the back plunged into him, releasing poison. Cameron arched as the poison hit him, then slumped in the seat. The seat then turned towards the refrigerator, and rolled forward. The door swung open and the chair stopped. Cameron’s body slid forward off the chair onto a slanting chute. The chair then returned to its position at the desk.

The danger was averted. Employees who were ambitious were threats to the stability of the company. The solution: cull these unusual individuals and make certain they did not pollute the working stock. The chair glided back to it’s position at the front of the console and the system waited for the next ambitious employee.

Good afternoon HKI employees, it is a wonderful day to be here. There are four emergency manufactuing jobs unfilled, one security job unfilled, one job unfilled”

Rat Race part 1 of 2

I decided this week to put up the alternate (and original) ending of ‘Rat Race’, a story that was accepted for the ‘Corporate Catharsis’ anthology by Paper Angel Press.  This story is much darker and dystopian than the accepted version.

The guards were at the gated entry. the two men in brown and black looked out over the restless swarm of business suits and blue jeans. Each person there in the misty morning carried a briefcase with The bright silver letters ‘HKI’ stenciled on both sides. What HKI stood for was cause of a constant debate online after work, as no one professed to know what exactly the letters represented.

Cameron Farver was there, two rows back. Cameron, or Cam for short, was inches below six feet, pounds over being considered slim, and with less hair than considered attractive. His bulldog-like face belied his gentle demeanor and polite method of speech. He was at once the epitome of the classic squat, sharp-eyed con-man or pawn shop operator, and an elegant refined maitre-de at the most posh and expensive restaurants.

This morning, despite the mist, Cameron had forgone his usual business attire of brown jacket and pants with a white shirt, for the more practical pair of dockers and a button collar blue shirt with black running shoes. He looked at his watch. Five minutes before gygthe gates opened. Because of his height, he couldn’t see higher than most people’s shoulders, so he didn’t know how large the crowd was. He could guess however, because of the way the crowd was pushing forward, squeezing against the gate. His heart sped up. There’d been times people had been trampled when the gate opened. He didn’t want to be one of them, and began using his elbows to open space around him. The quick jabs opened breathing room and calmed the unease he always got during the crush just before the gates opened.

Open they did with a blare of air horns. The gate dropped away as the workers charged ahead like racehorses leaping from the gates. Cameron was carried through by the initial surge. He managed to keep his feet under him as he was pushed through the gate and onto the HKI campus. People began to spread out, racing towards different locations.

Good morning employees, it is a wonderful day at HKI. At this moment there are fourteen thousand, eight hundred forty three jobs available in all departments.” The bright, cheerful voice blared over the loudspeakers as the swarm spread out. Cameron looked around him at the familiar surroundings.

The large hangars were to the south of the gate, maintenance and transport to the southwest. To the west were security and software, while northeast was research, production, and HKI headquarters. A few ran towards maintenance. This was the easiest job to get, with bare minimum pay and a lot of time running around cleaning up after the water cooler drones, who spilled drinks and dropped food while they hovered around the dispenser. Transport was an okay job. You got to drive small golf carts all over the place delivering parts to research and production. The trouble here was that there were a lot of golf carts and a lot of people walking around. Bump any one of them with a cart and you were back with the Cooler drones for the rest of the day.

Down at the hangars were where jobs like welders, riveters, and other assembly personnel resided. These were hard jobs with a lot of lifting and carrying, plus a lot of work holding tools to help build a product. They were part of production, but didn’t do anything more than get pieces and put them together.

Some sprinted off towards security, where you could get a good job, with decent credit pay for walking around and making sure nothing was getting stolen or broken during use. Software was another fairly easy job, with a lot of console typing and fixing software puzzles. That job Cameron hated. He’d done it once and found he had no aptitude for wither typing in a foreign language, nor solving conundrums in software.

Research was one of the primo jobs on the campus. A chance to do research to create new products, and develop these ideas into a product. The workers who were assigned to the winning project got a salary bonus for its creation and a ten second head start at a random auxiliary gate. literally, Research was the best place to get ahead. 4Cameron liked having ten seconds no one else had. It was THE chance to get a lead. There was a lot to choose from with that kind of time.

Another option was production, turning a design from research into a real thing for sale. This involved problem solving on how you’d get an object from an idea to a finished object. It was here people solved puzzles fitting pieces together to make a whole. Like research, a finished product garnered a salary bonus and a three second head start the next day. Not as exciting as ten seconds, but any early start was welcome.

Most of the crowd, which included Cameron, scrambled to the Northeast, towards headquarters. The cushiest jobs were there. An executive job wasn’t Cameron’s choice this time. Too many tried for them, and ended up water-cooler slackers for the rest of the day. Cam wanted a good job this time, one that would pay for the water, electric, and PlayStation charges that Andrea, the home help program said he was behind on. It was really hard for Cam to concentrate without his PlayBox. He felt his body getting twitchy and his mind was always more and more aching for the sonic high that the PlayBox emitted when he played online.

Good morning HKI employees, it is a wonderful productive day at HKI. There are seven hundred fifty-five jobs available in all departments. All director positions have been filled. There will be another job update in five minutes.”

Gaming was his life. He had to have more time. It was so hard to concentrate if he didn’t get time. He pushed his squat body faster, angling off from a gaggle of people running towards the second-tier jobs in management. Cameron was gasping for air by the time he’d gotten to the door. It was a brown rectangle in a featureless ivory wall. The door had stenciled in bright white lettering; ‘Employees Only beyond this point.’ Cameron gripped his briefcase tighter, twisting the doorknob and pulling the door open.

The door had no stop, and banged hard against the painted cinder block, adding more scrapes and streaked color to it. If he remembered right, this would shortcut into the research area, coming in opposite the main doorway that led to the job cubicles. The only trouble was he was currently trying to hack up a lung, and his legs were shaking. It was three floors up to research, and one huge production floor west from the exit. This was a secure area. He wasn’t supposed to be here. It was, however, the best shortcut to where he wanted to go.

The trick was to avoid security. The previous shift hadn’t finished yet. They would be relieved by the newcomers in a few minutes. It was a fortunate window he could use if he was careful. Cameron walked quickly and as silently as he could in his hard-soled shoes. The faint tapping of his shoes sounded like gunshots as he moved along the gray and yellow corridor.

A sudden bang startled him. He looked over his shoulder and gasped out a curse. It wasn’t security, it was Blondell Jasper. Blondell spotted Cameron at the same instant, and tucked his chin down against his pale rotund chest and pushed his massive body into a waddling charge towards Cam. Unlike Cameron, he was dressed code-monkey casual; bluejeans, a red t-shirt, and sneakers. Both the pants and shirt were a trifle undersized for his bulk. But Blondell was a full head taller, and much wider.

Cam didn’t wait, tucking his own head down and running as fast as he could. If security showed up, it was better to be in front and closest to the exit. He’d done a job in security, and they always, always walked the same route day in and day out. Deviating from the path or missing a checkpoint got you demoted to Slacker, and your paycheck revoked.

No money meant no PlayBox. No PlayBox meant no way to game, order food, clothing, pay energy bills, socialize, or game. It was solitary confinement until the next day and a new chance for a job. Cameron had been through a number of days like that as he had reached the age of job-holding. There was no breaking in period. You got in line, and ran for a job. It took a few tries to get an idea where to run. The jobs weren’t just for crossing the finish line, you had to FIND it. Jobs like the golf cart delivery were easy. Collect the right key and put it in the right lock, and the job was yours.

Security jobs required you find a clean uniform, put it on and then find a security guard whose shift was up. There was a little red light on top of their caps to help identify those who needed relief.

Just as Cam reached the yellow door on the yellow wall, with Blondell only twenty steps behind him, the door behind Blondell banged open a third time with security yelling ‘Halt!’ at his retreating back. Cam, threw the door open, stepped through and pulled it closed behind him in one smooth motion. He turned the lock just as Blondell started trying to pull the door open. Another shouted ‘Halt!’ vibrated through the metal door, and Cam heard Blondell curse. The heavy footsteps receded, followed by multiple footsteps rushing past the door. Cam heaved a sigh of relief. With Blondell occupied he could get on with his mission to find his job.

After listening for any footsteps, he turned his back to the door and faced the stairs. Listening for any noise, he slowly started up, ready to bolt if he was discovered. This was part of the test for this job. You had to get past the obstacles to claim the job. Risk versus reward. Cam didn’t know of any job like this one. He’d found it totally by accident, after he’d done seven straight shifts for security. “Good morning HKI employees, it is a wonderful morning. There are five unfilled management positions, eleven unfilled security positions, six unfilled manufacturing positions, fourteen unfilled maintenance positions, two unfilled research positions, one unfilled position…”

The Public System would announce the number of unfound jobs, and what department they were in. All except one. Every day there was always ‘one job unfilled’. Just that. No location. No other information. At first he thought it was just to keep the Water Cooler Slackers stirred up. It didn’t. No one seemed to care about the job, apparently because no one had ever found it. It was a small mystery that the Public System never explained. Most concluded it was just a glitch. Cameron wasn’t so certain. There wouldn’t be a fake unfilled job would there? The Public System was perfect after all. So the job had to be real, didn’t it?

Cam’s curiosity had gotten the better of him during the last day he tried for a security posting. He walked the halls diligently, making every check-in location on time. But, for all their diligence in covering the security stations, something seemed off. Cam began charting the circuits. There was one area that the circuits avoided. It was a nondescript location, far away from any of the secure rooms and manufacturing floor. The closest thing of any consequence were three vending machines and a small square table on the Northern edge of the area in question. There were doors, with the usual admonition of ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ in white block letters on brown doors set in ivory-yellow walls.