Past Imperfect: 5 Reasons 2020 Wasn’t All Bad

Although plenty of folks are eager to pitch this year into the ash heap, nothing magical is going to happen on January first.  And that doesn’t mean I’m predicting 2021 will be a lousy year, but you can’t expect it to be entirely rosy.  Yet despite all the challenges of 2020, this rotation around the sun wasn’t entirely bad.

Yeah, I know, I need to back up that statement….

On a personal note, 2020 began with the funeral and burial of my mom.  Toward the end of January I was already thinking about how the year was beginning so rough, it could only get better from here.

Yeah, I know, these rank as famous last words….

Yet despite the landing of COVID-19 and the other problems it seemed to exacerbate, some good did arise from all this turmoil.  That’s life – you get good with the bad and vice versa.  Let’s not overlook these nuggets of sunshine:

5: People rediscovered preparedness.

By the time March rolled around, there was a saying floating about that “Everybody is a prepper now.”  Even the panic buyers who went about it all wrong were part of the throng of people who realized they needed to be able to take care of themselves.  Self-sufficiency and independence are good things when you know who you can trust (see #1).

4: People rediscovered food basics.

Even though there was plenty of bread still on the shelves, yeast became hard to find.  Whether it was because folks figured “I’m stuck at home – might as well bake” or they wanted to be able to bake should the bread disappear, it was one example of how home cooking gained in popularity.

But you can take that a step further.  Seeds went flying off the shelves as more people planted gardens.  And I can personally vouch that hatcheries sold chicks as fast they cracked out of their shells.  The work and care involved in such endeavors get folks to better understand that stores are just the middleman.  Food comes from creation, and that leads to our next category.

3: People rediscovered the outdoors.

Although binge-watching programs and unconditional surrender to video games initially took hold, more people began venturing outdoors as the weather improved.  Hiking and fishing and hunting get folks in touch with nature in a way that helps ground them to reality.  And being outside more helps you absorb that vitamin D which bolsters your immune system.

2: People rediscovered their families.

Stories of abuse will always be around, but there are many reports of parents learning new things about their kids, and spouses learning new appreciation for each other (and their kids’ teachers!).  Our families benefited from a little more family time instead of running off in a dozen directions at once.

1: People rediscovered their faith.

Sadly, the rates of depression and suicide have shot up, but there is one group of people who actually reported their emotional health improved over the past year.  Those who regularly attended church services benefited from both social and divine contact.  And for those who were unable to attend in person, worshipping at home has gained in popularity.

So there you have it.  There’s a saying that life imitates art, and in the realm of writing, one can see some truth in that.  The best way to build up characters in a story is subjecting them to hard times.  And although we may not like it, it’s also true hard times help build character.

Yeah, I know, 2020 was an interesting year … but what a story it will be to tell your grandchildren….

Are You Feeling It?

One Christmas Eve a Jewish family decided to eat out, and the only restaurant open that night was a Chinese food joint.  Toward the end of their meal, their waiter gave them little ornaments shaped like angels and mangers.  As they looked them over, one of the older children pointed out how they were stamped Made in India.

The family found the discrepancy amusing – until they looked over and saw Grandpa, who had immigrated from the old country, sitting silently with a tear rolling down his cheek.

“Grandpa, what’s wrong?” they asked with concern.

“Oh, nothing at all.”  He smiled at them.  “I was just marveling at how in America, a Buddhist can give a Jew a Christmas present made by a Hindu.”

Part of that “Show, don’t tell” advice for writing manifests in many ways.  One arena that illustrates this is when emotions come into play.

The anecdote above offers very modest examples.  In the name of brevity it tells us about some of the emotions being experienced:  The family was amused before they became concerned about Grandpa.

But a couple of small illustrations are also thrown in:  The tear silently rolls down his cheek before he smiles.

The trickling tear might be considered a bit clichéd, but one could argue it works here because it denotes joy instead of sorrow.  But if you have a character who gets scared a lot, how many ways could you convey that without resorting to making his knees knock together?

Trembling or choking back a scream or wetting his pants can provide a few options, but it might take a little research on that behavior to remind you that a racing heart or rapid breathing or an overactive imagination can also signal that emotion.

So get in touch with your feelings and write it down.  Emotion is one of those aspects all genres have in common.

An overactive imagination, huh?  I didn’t realize all this writing scares me that much….

Cover Story

News flash:  Books get judged by their covers.

The design on a cover helps to convey information beyond the title.  If the words Bug Out is emblazoned across the page, the imagery can help determine what it’s about.  Are military forces pictured?  Must have something to do with troops relocating.  Do we see shivering insects?  Must have something to do with pest control.

But the design on a cover can also capture a reader’s attention.  If a book entitled Full Moon Tonight only shows – you guessed it – a full moon, a potential reader may pass it over.  If a snarling werewolf is pictured, people looking for that kind of story will be drawn in.  And if we see a werewolf’s derriere, then you can figure the story will be … ahem … quirky….

Getting a good cover designer is important.  And for tightwads like me, getting a good cover at a good price is … priceless.

Lo and behold, the designer I’ve enjoyed working with is running a 20% off sale until December 28.  Her prices are great to begin with, so the sale makes getting a cover even more affordable.  If you’re in the market to get a cover designed, check out her portfolio at VilaDesign, and mention you heard about the sale.

Let me be transparent here:  I’m not getting any special kickbacks for mentioning this.  My only benefit is it gave me a topic to ramble about this week….

Writer or reader or both, think about what covers popped out at you.  It is an art form to be appreciated, even adding to reading enjoyment.

Now on to other stories….

Standing on the Shore

Ita strode into the medical ward.  Choking back tightness in her throat only seemed to push it down to her chest, and the sight of half a dozen terminal patients lying in beds on either side of the room increased the sensation.  Most were accompanied by monitoring equipment.

The only other person present was an elderly nun in a light blue habit.  She looked up from an emaciated girl whose hand she grasped, then murmured something to the patient before stepping toward Ita.

“How may I help you?”  Her voice was thin yet warm, like a shawl offering comfort on a cool summer evening.

“I’ve come to see Oswald Taggart.”  As her eyes swept across the room, Ita spied her grandfather on a bed near the far wall.

The nun nodded as her gaze matched.  “He’s weak, but coherent.  The priest has already been here.  Unless there’s something you’ll need, I’ll leave you be so you can visit.”

“Thank you.”  The significance of the nun’s presence flashed into her conscience.  Mere hours ago the evacuation to the space ships began.  People all over the world discovered there was an escape plan, a last-ditch effort to elude once and for all the enemy that had hounded them for decades.

But the plan also had to address the reality there would be individuals too weak to embark upon such a journey.  Volunteers stepped up to minister to the dying, and to remain behind to ultimately die with them.

Why now?

No sooner had the evacuation begun than Ita received word her grandfather had collapsed.  Leaving her own duties in capable hands, she sped across a quarter of the globe to reach him.  It was probable none of her aunts, uncles, and cousins had time to visit Oswald in his final hours.  They had to escape quickly … before the enemy Elite caught up.

The blankets failed to disguise how he looked thinner than the last time she saw him around three months ago.  Work on this project, a job he’d handed over to her, had kept her away for too long.  If only she had been better about staying in touch….

“What brings you here?”  His eyes opened upon her approach, and he smiled.

Only then did she notice the audio sensor attached near his ear.  Oswald had been deaf for over a decade, but he must have consented to using this device in order to artificially hear what others needed to say to him.

Ita sat on the bed’s edge and grasped his hand.  “I came as soon as I found out, Grandpa.”

“It seems our journeys will be separate now.”  His voice was weaker, but his speaking still had the flat tone that developed after he became deaf.

“No, we’re supposed to travel into space together.”  Ita leaned closer to him.  As the youngest child of his youngest child, she always remembered him with gray hair, but until now he’d always been strong.  It was difficult to see him this way now.

But the glint of oil on his forehead suggested the priest had been here more recently than she’d assumed, offering an incomprehensible consolation.  Its shimmer was subtle, a reminder that humility was a potent charm and strength surged far beneath the surface.

“I always wanted to see the stars in their own element.”  Oswald closed his eyes, but his smile deepened.  “Though it seems I have other business to attend to.  And where I hope to head now will be even more spectacular.”  His eyes opened.  “When we see each other again, which I pray we will, you can tell me all about it.”

Her own eyes burned as she squeezed his hand.  “It won’t be the same without you.”

“Just pretend that Deuce is me.”  His gaze locked on her face, and his smile grew crooked.  “You have refrained from shooting him, haven’t you?”

She couldn’t resist smiling back.  “I nearly did, once.  But since then….”  She hesitated.  Oswald didn’t know about the bomb Deuce insisted be implanted in his chest.  The Elite had gotten wind of their evacuation plans, and in order to keep the project protected, he had to insure they never captured him and discover information that would bring ruin to everyone.

The willingness to sacrifice himself began altering Ita’s perception of him.  He once numbered among their enemy, and she considered him to be only a cold-blooded killer.  But lately she started admitting he exhibited appealing qualities, like discipline and humility, she’d hitherto ignored.  In fact, if he didn’t have his hands full with overseeing security to encourage success in launching the ships, he’d be here with her.

She decided to not worry Oswald about Deuce’s predicament.  “I forgave him.”

“And that right there is proof that miracles do happen.”  His eyes closed again, and his next breath staggered a bit.  When he spoke again, his voice was hoarse.  “Ita.”

“I’m still here, Grandpa.”

His eyes opened, and she could have sworn they blazed with the wonder of a child on Christmas morning.  His smile matched, and the decades seemed to slough off as though he were a young man again, the fullness of life ahead of him.

“Don’t be afraid … we are surrounded by light.”

She was so focused on his smile that she didn’t notice the radiance of his eyes dim until realizing his hand no longer clasped hers.  Ita felt her own breath shudder as her eyes began burning again.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”  The nun’s warm voice must have come from behind her, but it seemed to travel from every corner of the room.  “I’m aware of your grandfather’s work, how it will save all these people.  He’s brought great blessing to us all.”

Ita glanced at the woman destined to die with this remnant, and nodded.  As her attention returned to him, she appreciated his peaceful expression, and noticed again the oil on his forehead.

The chrism continued to shine.


So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this round was Charm.  With a word like that, there’s bound to be some delightful stories, so be sure to check them out!

If you’re new to this serialization of short stories I’m compiling in a novella, you can find the previous installments on my Blog Battle Short Stories page.

Charm … such a nice word to end an interesting year on…

Euphemistically Saying

Once upon a time within the last couple of years, the extended family was sitting by a poolside and chatting.  Somehow the topic came up that any word beginning with the letter “B” and ending with “itch” could never be good.  Our older son asked, point-blank, “What about belonavitch?”

I know, it’s one of those things you had to be there and hear his tone of voice, but the word cracked up our group.

Don’t belittle the euphemism.  It can soften a blow, such as saying “The dog went to that squirrel-filled park in the sky” instead of blurting “Puddles died.”  It can also be slyly humorous if instead of stating “These leftovers went bad” you announce “I found another science experiment.”

There are, of course, different levels of evil that euphemisms can take (does the Orwellian term doublespeak ring a bell?), coming into play when they say resettlement instead of death camps, or speak of unity when they really mean submission.

While writing as a whole should be direct and concise, it’s subtleties like this which give it a different level of flavor, like adding a teaspoon of curry to potato soup.  And because I always try to be “family-friendly,” euphemisms work well when bluntness wants to be an instrument of mass destruction.  Words like heck, shoot, and darn get lots of mileage.

Speaking of mileage….

Shortly after we discovered a new word at the poolside, Hubby got a new smartphone.  He decided to try out the GPS function on it (I’ll admit there have been many times I looked up from the map just in time to say “We need to turn – on that road we just passed.”), and quickly confirmed what we already knew:  Don’t trust those things.

Oh sure, they can be helpful with finding locations in cities, but in the country they often turn out to be garbage (I’m being euphemistic).  They do things like take you on dusty gravel roads when there’s a more direct route on blacktop, or send you to a golf course instead of the home you’re trying to locate.

It didn’t take me long to assign a name (you know, like Siri or Alexa) to the GPS program on Hubby’s phone.  You guessed it:  He knows what I mean when I speak of Belonavitch.

Yes, you heard me, Belonavitch.  The paper map in our car won’t become a science experiment anytime soon….

Distractions, Distractions

The other day I glanced out the window overlooking the shed where we store the animal feed.  Our younger cat was crouched at the bottom of the steps, and a bulbous form with a long tail was protruding from the end of his muzzle.

Good, the next-to-last thing I want is mice eating up food meant for livestock and pets (the last thing I want is them moving into the house with us).

As the cat proceeded to play with his fresh snack for the day, he repeatedly looked away as though he heard something or wondered if anybody was watching (which I was, but not where he could see me).  Although he appeared easily distracted, his tasty tidbit never succeeded at escaping.  The activity reminded me of my own predicament with writing.

Coming up with ideas for the next book has never been a problem.  What is a problem, however, is the next book has a tendency to intrude while I’m writing the current one.

While working on the four-part End of an Age series, this was actually a bit useful.  Knowing what was coming next helped with setting up scenes in the current book.  But now that I’m drafting part four, the next novel (totally unrelated) keeps creeping into my thoughts when I’d rather stay focused on the present tale.

And the fact I’m serializing a “prologue” to the next book doesn’t help.  I’m feeling easily distracted….

This is also the month of NaNoWriMo, when many writers are trying to meet the challenge of spitting out 50,000 words in a readable context.  And plenty of them are also trying to cope with distractions.

We could take a lesson from the cat:  No matter how many times we look away from our work, it’s never out of mind.  No matter how many times it may appear our projects will escape, we always jump back on them.  Persistence, persistence….

Okay, it’s time to stop distracting you and get back to that writing project.  I’ll bribe myself with enjoying a savory treat when it’s finished … although I prefer mine well-done….

The Red Sea

“So why didn’t you call it Noah’s Ark?”  The awe and marvel over all the structural and technical engineering surrounding them subsided enough for Deuce to ask a long-standing question.

He watched Ita’s frown from the corner of his eye since he knew better than to make any direct contact with her.  She had finally brought him on board one of the spaceships scattered, hidden, around the globe, a spectacular behemoth that offered hope for everyone … but very few knew about their existence.

“For one thing, Noah had it easy.”  She never looked toward him.  “All he had to worry about was his own family and two of each animal and one boat.  Our mess is more like what Moses had to contend with.  We’ve got multiple nations and all their livestock and rootstock, and have to keep them alive on several ships in the desert of space for multiple generations.”

He nodded.  “Recreating a miniature facsimile of the world and condensing it to a dozen interstellar ships still sounds like an enormous risk.  Space is a vacuum that’s otherwise sprinkled with colliding asteroids and lethal radiation.”

“No more risky than having the Elite attack us relentlessly, where they either annihilate us or we have to annihilate them.”

“You’ll remember Pharaoh’s army got drowned in the Red Sea.”

She almost cast a sidelong glance toward him.  “Pharaoh’s army, not the whole of Egypt.  And drowning the army is your job.”

Yes, figuratively speaking, that had been the focus of his assistance over the last few months.  Once the exodus began, the Elite would do anything to stop them, even shooting the ships out of the sky as they launched.  He had been coordinating defensive measures around the Earth, and each location had different parameters around which to devise strategy.

But less than two days ago he learned of a detail which dictated there was another part of his plan he would have to implement if they were to succeed.

“I apologize to prevail upon you with a request.”  Deuce knew to get to the point, but this entreaty needed some prefacing.  “But there’s a matter, concerning that job, I need your help with.”

The furrow in her brow deepened.  “This had better be good.”

“I need to have a bomb implanted, preferably in my chest.”

Ita stared at a display panel on the wall behind him, and didn’t respond for a few seconds.  “Why?”

“Standing orders have always been to kill on sight any IMP like me that defected.  Instead, they tried to capture me at the last raid.  It’s a miracle the Red Sea stayed secret all these years, but that action can only mean the Elite have begun to suspect you have a project like this.”  He drew a deep breath before continuing.  “If they capture me, they will find out about it.  I can’t defend my knowledge from the central data core.  So … I must ensure they never make that capture.”

Her frown remained, but there was something pensive in how her lips pressed together.  “You would really blow yourself up?”

Odd, he’d expected a more positive reaction from her, like a quip “Consider it done.”  Ever since the first day they met, Ita made it clear she despised him for killing her father.

Deuce wasn’t sure whether to bless or curse the fact he couldn’t remember the man.  On the one hand it was nice not to look at her and recall the final few seconds in the life of a defender performing above the call of duty.  On the other, he would have liked to acknowledge the eminence of such a person, perhaps even confirming her father’s bravery.

“The blast must be sufficient to shatter my remains beyond reparation.  I’ll need it set up where only I can detonate it, and I must have several options to do so should any avenue become inaccessible to me.  And since this procedure must remain as secret as the Red Sea is, we need as few people as possible involved to insert the implant.”

Ita continued gazing at the wall as though she spied an instrument that didn’t belong.  “You need me to contact the right people?”

“We’ll also need to override the security protocols that would detect the implant.”

She studied the panel for several more seconds before responding, her words proceeding slowly.  “An ion bomb is small enough to do the trick, but as far as the programming … I know a woman who could probably help.”

Her statement didn’t surprise him.  With every able-bodied man needed for combat, the supportive fields of medicine, technology, and engineering were heavily populated by women.  Ita’s role in the Red Sea kept her in touch with the most pioneering individuals.

“We need the procedure to be completed promptly.”  A surreal sensation pulsed through him as the reality of what they were discussing began to solidify.  His entire life he’d been conditioned to accept the possibility of death on the battlefield, but to personally sacrifice himself carried weightier implications.

“I’ll stress its urgency.”  For a couple of seconds her gaze darted to his face, and then she turned aside and muttered, “You always have to keep us on our toes with surprises.”

“What do you mean?”

Ita hesitated and glanced back at him.  Her eyes met his for another couple of seconds, and her impassive expression continued to puzzle him.  She turned aside again and began walking away.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

Too bad, Deuce thought.  That would have qualified as the nicest thing she ever said to him.


So here’s the next installment of my serialization for #BlogBattle this month.  The word this time is Miniature, which kind of like abbreviation seems like a pretty big word for a small thing….  Be sure to check out their website for other stories submitted this month.

If you’re new to this novella in progress and want to catch up, you can find the previous stories on my Blog Battle Short Stories page.  Have a prosperous November!

Heading My Way?

Ah, heck, Halloween’s coming.  I think I’ll toss out a ghost story and call it good….

In the neck of the woods where I grew up is a hill known as Breakneck.  In the horse-and-wagon days it earned that name because the road carved into its steep slope could be treacherous.  A tomato-canning factory operated at the bottom, and it was said the horses sometimes fell and broke their necks when laden wagons pushed too hard on them.

Places where trouble (and maybe tomatoes) tends to brew will inspire a few stories … none of them particularly pleasant.  Even after the factory shut down and automobiles began replacing equestrian roving, Breakneck’s reputation didn’t fade.

One night a fellow drove his Model T Ford (or its equivalent) down Breakneck hill.  Well, almost….

His horseless carriage got a flat tire.  Now this was on a dirt road in the early 1900s, but dirt is an imprecise description.  The Ozark hills are eroded mountains, so we’ve got plenty of rocks, one of which might have been the culprit that caused the flat.

And in those days you didn’t just swap the flat tire out with a spare.  You removed the inner tube from the outer tread of the damaged tire, aired up a new tube with a manual pump, and put the whole caboodle back together again.

Our hapless motorist was in the middle of pumping air into the tube when another gentleman walked past him.  This in itself was a bit startling, since he thought he was all alone.  As he looked up, the gentleman calmly told him, “Good evening.”

But there was something very wrong with this gentleman.

He was holding his head in his hands.  No, his hands weren’t raised to cradle his cranium.  Instead, he was toting his noggin at waist level, much like carrying the biggest tomato you ever saw.

The gentleman continued trudging past and disappeared into the night….

I was never told the details about what speed our traveler employed, but he proceeded to pack the tube, the pump, the tire and the jack back into his car.  He then drove home on the rim. Not the scariest ghost story you’ve ever read, but odds are the next time you get a flat tire during the night on some quiet back road, this gentleman, or a tomato, just might come rolling out from the back of your memory … so Happy Halloween!

Going Nuts

No, this isn’t an autobiography, although it would be a good title for one.  And many would say that’s sort of the state we’re in right now….

’Tis nut-gathering season in my little corner of the world.  Some of the native species that contribute to the harvest include pecans, certain hickories, and hazelnuts.  But the moneymaker is the black walnut.

In my unemployed youth, black walnuts literally provided the money I needed to buy Christmas presents.  Every fall there would be at least one day that I’d rise before dawn, dress in layers, and pack myself, a jug of water, and a sandwich into the old pickup truck.

I’d then drive out to our stands of walnut trees to begin picking up nuts from the ground just as it began getting light enough to see (it’s nice to be able to tell the difference between a nut and a rock before you pick it up).  I would do this all day long, shedding layers as the temperatures grew warmer, and not quit until I ran out of either nuts or daylight.

The activities of the day included climbing trees that some nuts were still attached to in order to shake them off (I include this in my long list of Things I Survived from My Childhood).  Five-gallon bucketful by five-gallon bucketful, I’d dump walnuts into the bed of that pickup truck until it was (hopefully) heaping full.

Within a day or two afterwards, I’d enlist the aid of a licensed driver to take that pickup to the feed mill where the huller was set up every year.  I’d shovel nuts into the trays of a conveyer belt that dumped them into a masher to remove the green(ish) hulls and deposit those to one side.  The nuts, their shells blackened from the squishy hulls (thus the name) dribbled into mesh bags that got weighed.

And then I was paid my hard-earned money.

These days my nut gathering is confined to home use, but a trip down memory lane prompts one to contemplate the present.  In a nutshell it would appear that 2020 is the year of going nuts.  Travail hit us early, we’ve been shaken from our complacency, and it looks like there’s still a long haul ahead.

Good news, folks, we’ve weathered storms like this before.

Our youth may add the year 2020 to the long list of Things I Survived from My Childhood, but this blotch within history-in-the making should eventually pass like all the others.  We just have to keep hauling those nuts by the bucketful until the day comes we get “paid our hard-earned money.”

After all, every mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground….

Deuces Wild

As explosions and crackling erupted in every direction of the underground habitation, the com patch near Deuce’s left ear rarely fell silent.  Reports from all fronts kept streaming in, and if he wasn’t so busy evading IMP2 while trying to help with the evacuation, he could have appreciated pride in his troops.

The men he’d trained were already battle-hardened veterans; Deuce only polished some skills and introduced others, and the new weapons also proved effective.  The original ranks he’d led from the city had managed to regroup, keeping the invading cyborg armies from swarming the area and hold them to a manageable standoff.

But his success at keeping ahead of IMP2 caused concern.

Standing orders had always been to kill a deserter like him on sight.  And it wasn’t luck that allowed him to consistently escape or terminate troops that tried to close in on him.  The enemy was trying to capture him, which made their job harder….

“We’ve got one group left!” A distraught voice rang from the com patch.  “But a hatch near the western exit is inoperative and they’re caught behind it!”

Deuce was close enough to that location – and just finished mowing down a platoon of cyborgs with his improved breaker-blaster – to limp that direction to provide assistance.  The charred wound on his right calf afflicted gait but not speed, and within a minute he reached the dozen soldiers leaning against a round, studded metal door that rotated from below.

With a bark of orders to allow him access, Deuce positioned himself at the crux point on the opposite end of the barrier.  Bracing his good leg against the terminal wall, he pushed downward with the other men to force the door open enough so the remaining evacuees could escape.

Strength was one of his genetic enhancements, but the door was designed to resist such effort.  When it budged, he heard cheers from behind it, and realized the evacuees were also pushing from their side, and the door hadn’t been designed against that.

Surely he didn’t recognize one of those voices…?

He pushed even harder, and as the barrier slowly rotated into the floor, the top of the portal cleared first.  From the corner of his eye he noticed upswept auburn hair on the other side.

It never occurred to him Ita would stay behind to help evacuate, and she was pushing on the door, opposite from him.

The impulse to chastise her for taking this risk was easy to suppress – Deuce needed to focus his energy on pushing the door, and he knew better than to challenge her on anything.  But the project he had been assisting her with was the last chance of survival for her people, and her role was too important to gamble her life like this.

She also realized who was opposite of her.  As the gaze of the woman who knew he’d killed her father locked on his face, her eyes flickered like emeralds reflecting firelight.

Her attention shifted to the top of his head as she reached down.  When Deuce realized she snatched the blaster that became a permanent fixture on her hip when he began working with her, he had to suppress the impulse to duck.

He knew she despised him for what he’d done, but he’d also been impressed by how much restraint she always showed.  Surely Ita wouldn’t choose now as an opportunity to claim revenge–

The zap from the blaster rang in the same ear that felt the heat of the charge hurtle past.

Immediate commotion thirty meters to the other side of him provoked Deuce to glance that direction.  In the midst of a cyborg platoon that had been advancing toward them, IMP2 tumbled backward as sparks flew from his head.

Ita’s shot had struck the technological augmentation that covered half his face.  But she had only a standard blaster, not an exotic model like Deuce’s, so he knew the commander was only wounded.

Soldiers not as crucial for door-duty fired a volley into the cyborg troops that swept around IMP2 to cover him.  Some of the charges fired back struck the door and a couple of men, but purposefully missed Deuce.  He leaned against the barrier even harder, and it spiraled down enough for people of all ages to scramble over and gallop to the pod that would jettison them to safety.

Ita was the last one out, and Deuce suppressed yet another impulse.  Instead of remaining to fight with his men, he decided it would be wiser to join the evacuees.  What was left of the cyborg ranks might withdraw if he vacated the premises, especially with IMP2 temporarily out of commission.  And he would also be on hand to defend the last pod should it come under attack.

He stayed near Ita – while keeping respectful distance – and guarded the rear of their group, getting off a few more shots of his own to thin the diminishing cyborg ranks.  The group bustled into the escape pod, which then bolted into the network of tunnels.

He sat across from Ita, who kept her focus on the rest of the evacuees.  Admiration intertwined with trepidation as he contemplated how great her shooting had been.

“Thank you.”  He knew it was best to keep his interaction with her brief.

“You be quiet!” she snapped, and then grumbled, “I’m still not convinced I shot the right IMP.”

He gazed out the back of the pod, but could only discern ripples on black as it plunged away from their enemy.  Why had they tried to capture him?  Had they gotten wind of the project?  Did they suspect he was involved?

And if they did capture him, he wouldn’t be able to hide what he knew from their central data core.  They would learn about the project.  They would then destroy it, and ultimately, destroy all these people.

Deuce stared into the darkness behind them and also began to question if Ita shot the right IMP….


So here is my contribution this month for #BlogBattle and the prompt word this time was Exotic. Although I consider the whole location and premise of this story arc to be exotic, I decided the new weapons best fit the definition: “strikingly or excitingly different or unusual.” Be sure to check out the other stories because they’re bound to be exotic, too!

If you’re new to this little novella in progress and want to catch up, go to my Blog Battle Short Stories page. Stay happy and healthy!