Stolen Moments

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He didn’t want to be conspicuous, but Kelwin still glanced back at his wife as he strolled closer to the administration building.  His grip on their son’s hand tightened as he spied her perusing the variety of meats offered at one of the market stands.

As he expected, Norah betrayed nothing about fulfilling the role of lookout.

The underground systems of Eda were surprisingly comfortable for not only the indigenous Martimu, but Humans as well.  Artificial lighting reflected off the ivory-colored walls of the predominant stone, casting a glittering luminescence throughout the broad, chiseled caverns.  It was quite probable that being forced to live underground, due to the inhospitable surface, had contributed to their proclivity for designing and building interstellar ships.

And that was why he’d dared to come here.

Their son, seven years old by Earth standards, pulled on his hand and spoke in Olde English because it was indecipherable to any translator.

“Can we go to the Grendelette Pools after this?”

Kelwin drew a deep breath, wishing yet again he could say yes, even in an archaic language.  “You know that all depends.”

Colmac’s lips pursed.  As a youth so accustomed to disappointment, he’d developed a stoic cynicism already.  Kelwin had given up on cursing the prophecy that had abstracted his son’s childhood.  That achieved nothing.  Their focus was better served at ensuring the Voratene never succeeded in … executing … him.

So Kelwin spent much time teaching his son how to survive.

A new ship had started appearing in the ports.  Before the Voratene threatened his family, Kelwin serviced and repaired all kinds of craft.  Their years of living as fugitives dictated consistent travel across space, and his familiarity with the vessels proved useful.

But he wasn’t going to set foot on one of those new contraptions until he knew how it was constructed.  He needed to know all the ways of escape, first.  And quite possibly the Voratene forced the Martimu to design snares within it.

There was only one way to view the abstract.

Although no flashing light or electronic beep betrayed they were being scanned, he knew their entrance into the administration building was recorded.  Norah had programmed false identities for all three of them even though there was no plan for her to enter the facility.  But plans had a way of getting changed in an instant….

This invasive monitoring didn’t exist until the Voratene established their domain and decided all their subjects needed to be supervised.  Luckily, keeping track of races on eleven different planets scattered many light years apart made their surveillance system sluggish.

“Why aren’t there any drafts on the syncosphere?”  Colmac pulled his hand free as they entered the library room.  Several dozen stations, in an assortment of sizes to accommodate various races, created a bit of a maze.  Each was outfitted with a screen and buttons, knobs, and levers to manipulate the devices.

“Because our toads control what’s on it.”  Since there was no Olde English word for Voratene, they employed some code to further stymie any eavesdropping translators.  “They keep off anything that’s genuinely useful.”

There were only a few other patrons, mostly quadrupedal Martimu, in the library.  He had no difficulty locating a station they could access, and showed his son how to go about bringing up the information they sought.

Kelwin’s heart fell as he studied the schematics.  His wife’s suspicion had been right, and he offered thanks for her suggestion they should investigate how these new ships were constructed.

“Look.”  He tapped a finger on different parts of the screen.  “What do you see?”

“Air-locks?”  Colmac frowned.  “Those are standard.”

“Compare them.  Do you notice a difference?”

His son leaned forward, chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds, and then looked up at his face.  “Some are missing escape hatches?”

Kelwin nodded.  “So that means?”

“Trap.”  There was no mistaking the disappointment in his voice as his gaze returned the screen.

As he watched the child stare at the diagram, Kelwin wrestled with his own competing emotions.  That Colmac was a swift learner stirred a bit of pride … but like how the Martimu were brilliant engineers because of the bright and barren surface, he had to be.

He had to adapt and think and confront all sorts of situations a youngster shouldn’t have to face.  Declared guilty of a crime he’d never committed, he was hunted to guarantee that he never would.  Even by staying alive, he had to sacrifice his childhood.

Life wasn’t fair, but more so for his son….

Colmac looked up again.  “What about the Grendelette Pools?”

He started to calculate how long they’d been here, what the odds were that sentries would try to track them down because their fake identities might be discovered by now.  At least Norah hadn’t alerted them of any troops approaching their location.

The sensation that pulsed through him brought those calculations to a halt.

Of course his son wanted to visit the pools.  The grendelettes, fish-type creatures, were so domestic they would frolic with any swimmers who entered those waters.  The youth of all the races who visited there found them quite enchanting.

By God, he wasn’t going to allow the Voratene to dash his son’s hopes yet again.

Kelwin smirked as he switched the station off.  “We’re going.  But before we do, we do need a plan of escape in case any sentries track us there.”

Colmac nodded, his beaming smile making worthwhile any complications they might run across.  And then his words prompted that mixture of emotions again.

“I have an idea.”

###

So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this round is Abstract.  It took me a while to get around to drafting this one, so I decided to milk it.  And don’t miss checking out the other submissions!

Father’s Day is nearly here in my part of the world, which might have had some influence on the theme in this story.  So happy Father’s Day to all you dads!

Greatest of These

Hin

“Of course you can decline at any time … even now.”

Rejali stared at the prioress for a few seconds before she strolled to the nearby window.  Her motion seemed automatic, as though she were sleepwalking.  Indeed, the proposal Mother Juthfride just informed her about seemed like an event in a dream, something preposterous.

She placed a hand on the smooth wood of the sill and gazed at the rugged mountains standing sentry over the valley her community thrived in.  Directly outside the window a few members labored in the garden, cultivating a mixture of crops from both Earth and the native soil of Hin.  The sight of the garden struck a chord of longing in her heart….

She didn’t want to leave.

“Why me?”  Even as she spoke to the window pane, Rejali already surmised what the answer would be.

“Besides the obvious fact you’re a young woman, your standing as a Disciple is exemplary.  You possess both the physical skill and spiritual girding someone in that position would need.”  Juthfride’s tone was both calm and conciliatory.

“Why not assign somebody to just be a bodyguard?”

“That option is still on the table.  In fact, if this supplicant had been a woman, you would be their choice.”

Rejali frowned at the pale reflection of herself in the pane.  Ever since she undertook training in the Discipline, she’d wanted to serve in the fullness of her capacity.  But what the curia asked of her now seemed a call beyond that of duty.

“And this … deliverer … is sanguine with this arrangement?”

“He is open to it.  I wasn’t informed of any of the particulars in that regard.”  Juthfride’s lips hinted at a curt smile as she folded her arms.  “And of course if he decides he doesn’t like you, he is also free to decline.”

The deliverer … was for real.  For as long as she could remember, even if only once in long while, Rejali heard whispers of this individual.  His existence was something of a worst-kept secret, a rumor, a possible lie that humanity harbored someone who would break the absolutism of the Voratene empire.

And now she was being asked to consider the possibility of becoming his wife?

“There is one detail that makes me poorly qualified for this assignment.”

“None of us are perfect.”  Her mouth retained its shape.  “I presume you’re alluding to the fact you’ve engaged little in space travel?”

“I … was never very interested in that.”  Frankly, the thought was a bit terrifying, but she hadn’t spoken of it since childhood.  Her family figured she’d outgrown it.

“If you agree to this arrangement, you will grow accustomed to it.  He is, obviously, very experienced in that regard.”  Juthfride unfolded her arms.  “It is true that by Earth calculation he’s around a year younger than you, but flight has been his entire life.”

“He’s … younger?”  She’d always thought he’d be a little older, but considering how relative age was among the various alien races, it was understandable such a detail would be blurred.  “So, why did he come to us now for protection?”

“I don’t have all the details, but several years ago, when his father was killed, his mother made the request that if she also died, we would provide a companion to help him evade the troops.”

“When was she … killed?”

“Nearly a year ago.  He managed on his own for much of that time, but in the last month a … heated … encounter crossed his path with a Disciple who offered help.  When this deliverer discovered he was a family man, he tried to slip away.  But the Disciple convinced him to give the curia a chance to assign him a more suitable advocate.”

“And I was their first choice … but because of the obvious, I can only carry out this duty if we’re married.”

“Don’t make it sound like they’ve dismissed matrimony as a convenience.  It is precisely because of its sanctity that the two of you have complete control over what you decide to do with the situation.”

Naturally.  If this supplicant had been a woman, Rejali would have simply received her marching orders and taken on the task despite any trepidation about space travel.  But this matter was more delicate.  She had the option to decline.

And she could decline right now.  She could say no and be done with it and keep working in the gardens and refine her training with the Discipline.  She wouldn’t have to worry about being exposed to space … at least not for a while … depending on what assignment might come up later….

The curia must have decided their top-rated Disciple, despite her youth, was necessary for the charity of defending a fugitive who’d demolished nothing and yet was still on the Voratene’s most-wanted list.  But there were plenty of other adherents they could choose from.  Her refusal wouldn’t leave them in a void….

No … she hadn’t become a Disciple to avoid her fears.  God had given her a gift, not only of life but also of miraculous healing.  When Rejali chose to join the Discipline as a mere child, it was because it was the most significant way to show her gratitude.  She wanted to serve in the fullness of her capacity … she’d just hoped to do so on Hin, or at least get to reside on another planet.

She thought of the quip attributed to Saint Teresa of Calcutta, how God would never give one any challenge that couldn’t be handled – she just wished He didn’t know she could handle so much.

Every cell in her body seemed to shudder before the words that emerged from her mouth.  “Since this agreement must be mutual, I suppose there is no harm in taking that first step.  When do I meet him?”

“Your transport can be arranged anytime, so you might as well take a day to spend with your family and get yourself packed.”

Her heart fluttered.  “No chance of his coming here?”

Juthfride shrugged.  “He claims that wherever he goes, devastation often follows in his wake.  It is for the safety of this community you must meet at his current location.”

Rejali drew a deep breath and managed to nod.  “Then I’ll get ready to leave.”

She strolled out the door and into the hallway, her heart pounding against her chest.  The light breeze that bushed her face upon stepping outside the chancery was also welcomed for another deep breath, and her attention drew again to the garden.

When she wasn’t training, there was little more soothing to her than working in the soil, of tending to the crops that the ground provided.  It was such a basic and primal activity, harkening back to the origin of humanity.  These days could soon become only memory, and she wondered if she’d ever return to the garden.  And then a realization dawned on her.

Was she really more afraid of traveling in space than deciding if a complete stranger would make a suitable husband?

###

So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this time was Proposal.  There are a couple of ways to define that one, so I just thought I’d try to work both of them in.  And don’t miss checking out the other entries this month!

Baby Rabbits, Fluffy Goslings, and Killer Chickens

It’s time for a farm story….

Clearing, planting, and weeding started in earnest several weeks ago, and this is also the time of year animal numbers start spiking.  Both livestock and the natives are producing young … although the natives tend to drop surprises on me.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was weeding the asparagus patch (the dead of winter is about the only time weeds don’t grow).  I noticed a patch of gray fur near the fence, and when I picked it up, the mulching underneath twitched.  So I pulled that back and discovered a rabbit had decided the garden would be perfect for her nursery.

It will be of no surprise I don’t want rabbits in the garden, but the kits’ eyes were still closed and of course they’re wretchedly cute.  I decided to give them the chance to reach weaning age before I kick them out so they can roam free with all their relatives.

 

As much as I enjoy gardening, weeding will always be a chore, so I figured I should employ some help with that duty.  Geese are natural lawnmowers that relish young weeds, but I specifically wanted the Pilgrim breed – they’re docile, and it’s easy to tell the geese from the ganders as soon as they hatch.

They’re also a rare breed, so it took some effort and traveling on my part to obtain four goslings that are of course wretchedly cute.  That’s two males and two females to start the flock, and they were able to move right into the brooder already vacated by the older chicks.

Upon returning from the trip to get the goslings, Hubby and I saw something a little new….

 

Although everything likes to eat chicken, chickens are not on the bottom of the food chain.  They definitely control the bug population around the house, and I’ve seen them running around (usually chasing each other) with hapless lizards and even mice they snatched out of the weeds.

This was the first time we’d seen one eating a snake.  Hubby snapped this picture and we’ve shared it with family and friends.  There’s a majority of opinion in the responses:  Of course it’s not cute, although it might be wretched….

A Very Brief Announcement

All the ducks are finally lined up for the publication of my novella, Tossing Dice.  Eighteen of the chapters were posted online, but the free e-book contains a bonus chapter that delves more deeply into the story line.  A $4 (US) paperback is available at Amazon for those who like the feel of a book in their hands.

Here are a few more links for your clicking convenience:

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

tossing-dice-3

Whew!  It’s nice to check off that task and move on to the next one….

Hootenanny

“It is silent and deadly.”

“I’m glad you used the conjunction and.”  Rhys peered into the inky darkness of the cavernous arena before them.  “It’s those silent but deadly attacks that give me cause for alarm.”

The examiner, a willowy woman whose white hair was more pronounced than the lines in her face, narrowed her eyes.  “Mr. Cadwalader, your irreverent levity contributes nothing toward this assessment of your capability.”

Every time she addressed him by his surname, he suspected Val was on the cusp of striking him from the Tracker program.  Although he saw nothing wrong with a little jocularity to ease any tension, Rhys figured he’d better remove any and all complaints she might use against him.  He was, after all, not a typical candidate, which was why she scrutinized him so closely.

“My apologies.”

Her brow remained furrowed.  “The Owl may seem a mundane descriptor for this simulation, but two-thirds of the applicants fail to neutralize their quarry on the first trial.  And remember, despite your … proclivity, you must rely on the techniques that were outlined in the introduction.  Do I make myself clear?”

“Absolutely.”  Truth be told, he was hanging on her every word.  He was about to enter a test that would challenge his prowess, but even with his physical advantage, anybody with an IQ higher than a rooster that got hit in the head understood knowledge was the real key to overcoming an opponent.

The fact Val reminded him to stick to the techniques did cause him to wonder if she wasn’t as eager to eject him from the program as she usually appeared.  Maybe his quips amused her more than she wanted to admit….

“Then you may proceed.”

That was all the clues she was going to give him?  As unwilling to divulge his agitation as much as she might be to admitting amusement, Rhys responded with a smirk and a shrug.

Ball pistol in hand, but loaded with digital blanks, he took one step into the ancient chamber.  With peripheral vision, he noticed she already started jotting notes on her modern, technological clipboard.

Or maybe she was manipulating the Owl.

 He took another step into the cool yet dry sub terrane.  Dug out millennia ago with hand tools and lined with stone throughout, this vault had been witness to countless training sessions.  It also adapted readily to advances in technology, so was currently outfitted with holographic projectors hidden within the chiseled columns supporting the arched ceiling.

The Owl was only a simulation, so it was guaranteed to strike as silently as Val claimed, but its lethalness was confined to the readouts fed back to her clipboard.  Still, only a third of the Tracker candidates succeeded at their objective on the first attempt, and Rhys was determined to number among them.  After all, he should be very good at this.

He skulked to the nearest column and peered deeper into the chamber.  Sparse flickers of light, the only illumination, teased his imagination with the image of some snickering sprite hurling a swarm of fireflies into this lair to taunt its hunter.

Except the only sprite here represented an abomination, a technological rendering of the result when corrupted flesh bound itself to a beast—

The blow across his shoulder blades sent Rhys somersaulting to the neighboring column.  Part of his response had been evasive maneuver, but this mere simulation legitimately struck him with enough force to shove him forward.

He righted himself at a crouch, this time shoving his back against the lithoid pillar.

No Owl loomed before him.  And this was no time to kick himself for allowing his guard to drop.  That whack had probably been delivered to remind him of exactly that.  If there was any trait abominations and examiners shared, it was tormenting their subjects….

Heck, yeah, this thing was silent, and Rhys remembered his rudimental lucidity, usually triggered by someone’s approach, was incapable of alerting him to a non-living simulation.  He was as “blind” as any other man to its approach … and maybe that had something to do with Val’s instruction to rely on the techniques—

It whirled from behind the column he crouched against.  From the corner of his right eye, he caught a flash of rainbow colors swirling together.

Rhys ducked and rolled to the next support, and heard a whump against the pillar where he’d just been.

These columns offered little protection.  He sprang to his feet and performed a whirling routine of his own as he fired ball blanks into the darkness.  When he hit the closest wall, he pressed his back against it and surveyed the arena.

Exactly what beastie had the trainers created for this little exercise?  Despite his in-depth knowledge of the Nephilim, he didn’t recognize it.  But there was one trait these creatures all had in common, and that was a weakness specific to their kin.

Like fending off a vampire with a crucifix or felling a werewolf with a silver bullet, this Owl had to be susceptible to something—

It unfurled from behind the pillar nearest him.  In two seconds that felt more like two minutes, the beast reared before him, suspended for an instant in its full glory.  In an intimidating way, it was one of the most beautiful things he’d seen.  What first appeared to be multicolored feathers were in reality spiky scales.  It didn’t just pummel.  It could slice.

And could do so silently….

Most other quarry would have frozen at the spectacle, but Rhys leaped aside as he squeezed off another shot.  The Owl’s wings swooped toward him, but struck the wall at the level of his neck.  Another whump was the only noise it generated.

It silently swung toward him as he backed away at a quick clip.

Silence … of course!  The Owl had to be susceptible to noise.  But it would have to be a considerable clamor, or the screams of its victims would be a disadvantage to it—

It lunged toward him, talons and wings outstretched.

Rhys hurtled to the next column.  With his free hand he wrested a digital pad from his belt.  With pure muscle memory his fingers tapped against the keypad and screen.

The Owl swerved and brushed past him as he ducked around the column.  He was pretty sure that pass scored some more injury points for his opponent.

It twisted around and lunged again as he sprang back – but thrust the pad before him.

The cacophony of bagpipes that erupted from the pad was jolting enough, but the fife and drum accompanying them underscored the formidable acoustics of this chamber.

If the Owl screeched, it was drowned out by Scotland the Brave.  It did halt its advance, but began twisting and contorting in a macabre dance, as though thrown into a vat of acid.  It remained suspended, its method of flight not dependent on the aerodynamics of lift.

Rhys took no chances.  He fired digital blanks into its head, chest, and belly.

One or all of those balls made it finally crumple to the floor.  For a couple more seconds he watched its form, confirmed it wouldn’t rise again, and turned off the music player on his pad.  Silence didn’t entirely reestablish itself, however.  There was a slight ringing in his ears.

With a final glance at the Owl, he strode back where he’d left Val.  She hadn’t moved, except this time she was poking at her right ear with her pinky, and her left eye was squinted.

Rhys grinned as he approached.  “I’d say I passed that trial with flying colors!”

She opened her eye to look at him.  “What?”

Repeating the jest would only sap the life from it, so he stood directly in front of her before speaking about the next topic.  “That Owl isn’t real, is it?”

Val’s gaze remained locked on his, and she spoke slowly and distinctly.  “It is a simulation.”

Sometimes he wondered if she really did have a sense of humor, it was just extremely dry.  “The lot of you made up something I wouldn’t recognize, didn’t you?  You purposefully tailored the trial to be more challenging for me.”

“Considering your heritage, working as a Tracker will be more challenging for you.”

She had a point.  It was the same point that hounded him ever since he declared he wanted to be a Tracker.  But did it really make sense to challenge him with trials that directly confronted his … proclivities?

“I still call it cheating in reverse.”

Her gaze locked with his again.  “Nephilim will always cheat.”

He returned the stare.  Val never wavered, her demeanor cool and steely.  During the prime of her life, before he was born, she had waged battles against creatures like the Owl … and others like him.  She had every reason to doubt his sincerity….

His response was not a challenge, but an assertion.  “There are those who were known to play fair.”

Her expression didn’t change for the first few seconds.  And then one corner of her mouth curved upward.

“Which is why you must learn how to cheat.”

Wow, that was the most encouraging thing she’d ever said to him.  “One thing’s sure, if you keep the training this hard for my benefit, actually working in the field will seem easy.”

Her smile deepened.  “And that, son of Cadwalader, is the wisest observation you’ve made in weeks.”

###

Here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the prompt word this round was a bit challenging, if I do say so myself:  Owl.  That’s owl, not ow, although that was my first response when I tried to figure out what to do with it….

So be sure to check out the other submissions, and see how creative the other writers got!

Book Trailers on a Budget

If you’re in the camp that believes book trailers are useful for promotion, this post is for you.  If you just enjoy watching trailers, keep going, there’s one coming up….

There are plenty of other tips on the interweb about how to put a trailer together, so I won’t repeat advice about keeping it short or suggest different formats to consider.  Other pages will also recommend sites you can go to for purchasing royalty-free images/video and music.  But when you add all those ingredients up, the total can get a bit pricey, so our focus here is on how to cut costs.

I’ll keep this simple and just prattle about how the trailer for Tossing Dice came together.  Since the e-book is available for free, I decided to keep this on the cheap.

Images and Video:  Yes, you can make your own pictures and video, but for a sci-fi story involving futuristic warfare and cyborgs, I found such elements difficult to capture on camera.  Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed I rely on Pixabay quite a bit for images, and they also have free video.  Unlike with Creative Commons you don’t have to be as scrupulous about attributing licensing, but they do appreciate any credit.

If you do seek out other sources for free material, just verify they’re safe – watch out for the psychos out there who get their jollies sneaking malware onto people by enticing them with free offers.

Music:  There’s something universal about a melody.  Many of you might be familiar with Free Music Archive.  Watch out for the licensing agreements because they vary with each selection, but there’s definite gold to be found.  YouTube also offers free music for video creations.  Give credit to the musician by listing the song title and artist.

Editing:  It’s up to you if you want to use free software or buy something more advanced, but if you’re lucky (and as technologically inept as I am) you’ll have at least one offspring you can bribe/threaten into crafting all the elements together.

That’s it in a nutshell.  The following trailer cost nothing to assemble except for the bribing part.  I hope it offers some inspiration….

Update on Tossing Dice

Because those pesky publishing ducks don’t line up very well – and I realized I forgot to mention the title of the novella when I wrapped up the serialization – you might as well get an update on the progress of Tossing Dice (yup, that’s the title).  In one word: Slow.

The good news is that it’s available for free on Smashwords, and if you’re a member you can get it here.  It needs to complete the review process before getting distributed to other e-book retailers, but I’ll make the announcement when the time comes.

It’s also available on Amazon Kindle – except right now they won’t let me offer it for less than $0.99.  It has to be distributed to those other e-book retailers before they’ll let me negotiate the price down to free.  Patience is a virtue I’ve been getting lots of practice in lately….

There will be a paperback edition available (cheap – can’t do that for free), but that creation is still in progress.

And if you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, I’ve spent the last year and a half serializing stories into an arc as part of my Blog Battle participation.  They’ve been consolidated into a novella (Did I mention for free?), and a 4000 word bonus chapter is included in that publication.  As I’ve been telling folks, I saved the heart of the storyline for the bonus chapter.

Okay, that should tide us over for a little while….

Parting the Waters

All was darkness.  And it was empty … so very empty.  Deuce expected that, and the sensation of floating added to his disorientation.  Darkness and emptiness was all that space had to offer, except for the occasional colliding asteroid or lethal radiation … wait a minute.  He was breathing.  That shouldn’t be possible.

In fact, the last he recalled, breathing had required effort….

No, he wasn’t floating.  He was lying on a bed.  And he was becoming aware of funny but familiar smells.  Ah yes, a medical ward.  And then his memory flooded with images of the battle where he was wounded.

They could still be in danger–

His eyes snapped open, and the light, although soft, caused him to squint.  He started raising one hand to shade them – except he couldn’t.

“At ease, soldier.”  A familiar male voice he hadn’t heard in weeks offered more consolation than the words.  “Kyla said you might wake up ready to fight.”

The speaker leaned into his field of vision, and Zeke’s gray-streaked beard didn’t conceal his grin.

“Where…?”  Deuce’s voice came out in a squeak, which seemed to make him more conscious of the sore tightness in his chest.

“You’re safely onboard the Ascension.  And you’ve been here for three days.  Kyla kept you sedated all this time so your lungs would have more time to heal before she took you off the respirator.  Yet again, your genetic engineering helped you survive something that would’ve killed anybody else.”

He appreciated Zeke’s thoroughness, but then his memory dredged up a crackling voice transmitted from the com patch he wore in battle.  A ship had gone down during launch.

“Ita?”  He wished his voice didn’t sound so pathetic.  “Which ship?”

“Oh, you don’t have to go far to find Ita.”  Zeke started removing the restraints from his wrists.  “She’s here on the Ascension.  Good thing, too.  Told us about the bomb that needed to be removed from your chest while Kyla was patching your lungs.  Imagine the fracas that would’ve caused if we’d just stumbled upon it!”

Ita was safe.  There was no more implanted bomb.  But his relief was transitory.

“Rest of the fleet?”

Zeke’s demeanor grew somber.  “We lost two ships.  One was taken down during takeoff, and the other was destroyed by a hunter satellite before our drones could take them out.”

Deuce closed his eyes again.  Thousands of lives lost on the cusp of freedom.  That did leave them with ten interstellar ships and over thirty thousand persons … a mere fragment of humanity.  And most of them found out only three or four days ago they would be spending the rest of their lives in space.

Them … and generations after them.

“I regret I’ve got another bit of bad news.”

His eyes opened, and Zeke continued.

“Oswald passed away.”

That statement was like a bolt from the blue, and Deuce stared at him.  Oswald was quite elderly, but the last he’d heard, his other mentor had been doing well.  “How?”

“Old age, it would seem.  Right as the evacuation was beginning.  Ita managed to arrange being with him, so that’s been a comfort for her.  But I figured it would be good for you to know before she swings by to check up on you.”

“When?”

“She should be getting off duty in a couple of hours.”

“I see you’ve turned him loose already.”  Kyla stepped beside her husband and locked her gaze on Deuce.  “But how do you feel?”

He tapped his chest.  “Achy.”

“That’s all?”  She smirked.  “Having you for a patient makes me look like a blessed genius.  You know, once you’re recovered, we might ask for a closer look at your DNA.”

Between Zeke filling him in on more details and Kyla updating his medical condition, he lost all track of time.  When Ita walked into the ward, he was sitting up on the edge of the bed, and the smile that sprang to his lips was too spontaneous to suppress.

He did manage to keep from cracking a grin when she smiled back as she approached.  “Well, I see our peace and quiet has come to an end.”

“You have an odd definition of peace and quiet.”  His voice was slightly stronger, although Kyla had warned him not to push anything that involved breathing … which meant everything.

“I see Zeke has informed you of what’s transpired since evacuation.”

He nodded as his smile evaporated.  “He also told me about your grandfather.  I’m sorry.”

She shrugged, although a glimmer flashed in her green eyes.  “Thank you.  I at least got to be with him when he passed, and his last words will stay with me forever.  He was at peace.  He even smiled as he said, ‘Don’t be afraid.  We are surrounded by light.’”

Those words seemed to soak themselves into his psyche as well, determined to become as permanent for him as for her.  “I suppose I’d expect him to say something like that.”

“He asked about you.”

“How so?”

“He wondered if I’d blasted you yet.”  She tilted her head slightly.  “I told him that was no longer on my to-do list.  So, Kyla says you can walk around as long as you keep it to a saunter.  Want to see a little more of the ship?”

“Might as well start learning my way around.”

“Most people are still learning their way.”  She grasped his arm to help keep him steady as he stood.  “You can imagine the culture shock going on right now.  And not everybody’s thrilled about taking up permanent residence on a spaceship.”

Although he didn’t need her assistance, Deuce was glad she continued to offer it.  “That’s perfectly understandable, considering you’re looking at one of them.”

“You’re still nervous about space?  After all you’ve been through?”

“Colliding asteroids.  Lethal radiation.”

Ita smiled and squeezed on his arm as they strolled to the ward’s exit.  “I suspect you’ll get over it.”

As long as she was around, he was sure he would….

They discussed the challenges ahead for the ragtag remnant as they passed through the conduit-lined hallways.  Other pedestrians were sparse but representative of the occupants, ranging from singles to whole families.  She led him to a narrow, dim room that was little more than a corridor itself, but its oval windows caused his heart to flutter.

“Storage and observatory,” she announced.  “One of the few places you can see the stars for real, instead of on a view screen.  This seems like a good first step to getting you acclimated.”

He stood at one window and she at the one beside it, and the clarity of the constellations scattered around them did strike him with a sense of awe.  He glanced toward Ita and noted the slight part in her lips as she gazed into the depths of the universe.

His attention drew back to the stars that pierced through what seemed eternal night.  Each was a point of light, and each shined on, defying the empty darkness that couldn’t overcome them.  He wondered if Ita was also thinking of Oswald’s last words.

No matter what lay in store, no matter how much darkness overshadowed them, there was no need to fear.  They would always be surrounded by light.

THE END

###

Woo-hoo!  Final installment!  This month the prompt word for #BlogBattle was Fragment, and the stories are rolling in.  Check out the other entries because you sure don’t want to miss out!

If you just discovered this novella, you can find the whole serialization HERE, although there is one caveat:  An e-book will be available for free once I get it formatted, and it will include a bonus chapter.  This chapter is longer than the others (around 4000 words) and contains what I call the heart of the story.  The print version on Amazon will be as cheap as I can get it.  When will it be ready?  Hopefully, soon:  I promise to keep you updated.

How Less Can You Care?

Long ago as a slip of a girl, I embarked on my first backpacking trip.  This was a family affair, of course, and during our drive to the wilderness we began cracking jokes about bears.  This carried on for some time, prompting me to gush “I have bear on the brain!”

One of my kin seized the opportunity to retort “You bearly have a brain!”

That might be when my affection for puns began….

Despite its Germanic roots, English has freely borrowed from other languages over the course of its development.  This makes it a bit of a bear to speak, sometimes even for those of us who were born into it.  And as idiom rich as we are, there is plenty of opportunity to mishear things and render them later incorrectly.

Let me be the first to confess I’ve committed my share of grammatical sins over the course of my life, so some mistaken usages are less offensive.  For instance, why in English is it correct to say “on purpose” but it is only by accident that folks say “on accident”?

Contractions have also been culprits in contributing to misunderstanding.  “Could have” and “should have” are often spoken as “could’ve” and “should’ve”, which can then get processed as “could of” and “should of”, which are wrong.

Homophones can also cause trouble.  While it still sounds the same when something piques your interest, writing that it peaked your interest is a no-no. 

One misusage that can get my eyelid to start twitching, however, is when I hear the statement “I could care less.”  Maybe it’s a sign of apathy, but the speakers have obviously not examined the meaning those words are supposed to convey.  If they’re capable of caring less, then the object of that statement is not as low as you can go.

Well, it’s probably a good time to nip this monologue in the butt (bud).  But if you think there aren’t more pitfalls to watch out for, you got another thing (think) coming.  For all intensive (intents and) purposes, beware of incorrect usage that might raise accusations one bearly has a brain….

MIA and Other Acronyms

Yes, I know I’ve been Missing in Action lately, but instead of explaining the reasons why, this seems like a good time to discuss acronyms.

They can be a ticklish element to use in writing.  There are some acronyms that are pretty universally known, like ASAP or OK.  We even have words some people might not realize are acronyms, like scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).  And when texting started getting a foothold in how folks communicated, other word groupings became “abbreviated” to make that process faster.

(Note:  I’m old enough to remember when LOL meant Lots of Love.  When it morphed into Laughing Out Loud, I went through a period of confusion.  This can present one of the pitfalls of acronyms.)

But the difference between writing and texting is kind of like the difference between a chicken and a chickadee.  One of them takes a lot more work and investment than the other.

It’s best to save the well-known usages for dialogue if that’s how the characters are going to speak.  If they’re military personnel, who have a tendency to speak in Acronyese, you’re going to have to find ways to explain what those darn letters stand for.

In general you can get away with using an acronym once without an introduction, but you’d better plan on explaining it by the very next paragraph.  It’s more common to introduce the whole word series, like Intellectual Militant Prototype, and soon thereafter render it as IMP so that readers don’t lose track of what that’s supposed to mean.

And that leads me to another little pitfall I’ve noticed:  Even if you purposefully have an acronym spell out another word, there is no 100% guarantee everybody will read it that way.  In my End of an Age series, I wanted the future version of a cell phone to be called something else, and since it would be necessary for Personal Identification and Transaction, it was referred to as a PIT phone.

The word pit was also meant to be metaphorical, but occasionally I would hear somebody call it a P-I-T phone.  The same goes for IMP (imp is also meant to be metaphorical) mentioned above.  Maybe it takes more letters, like in scuba, for some folks to want to say it as a word, but it’s not a detail worth ruffling one’s feathers about….

That should be sufficient for now.  Despite the SNAFU I encountered over the last few weeks that made me go AWOL, I figured the next post should get out PDQ before the FBI put out an APB….  LOL!