Fiction, Fiction (Short)

The Last Job

We knew Trevor Cossak was going to catch up with us eventually. We knew it, but I had been hoping it would be somewhere other than in this remote and utterly godforsaken corner of the Badlands. At least there was cover. I gripped my pistol and twisted just enough to look over the top of the massive boulder Tanner and I were both currently hiding behind.

CRACK!

I swore and slammed back down. Lafayette wasn’t missing much by way of his aim. And I still wasn’t sure exactly where he was.

“Okay, now what?” I hissed the words, exchanging a glance with my brother. I was all out of ideas this time around.

Tanner just shook his head. So much for that.

The sky above was clear and blue. The world around us was silent—ominously so. If I popped my head up again there would be another rifle shot, and I had the impression that Cossak wasn’t firing warning shots. If he got a clear bead on us, it was game over. And seeing as half-second stolen glances weren’t giving us any idea where he was actually hiding, they weren’t worth the risk.

“Well, we can’t just sit here and wait,” I said.

“We can’t really do anything else,” said Tanner. “Unless you’re trying to make his job easier.”

His job, because in one sense, the man was just trying to fulfill an obligation. Cut out the part about that obligation being handed to him by a certain colony mob boss, and you almost sympathized with him.

Almost.

“His job’s going to be plenty easy if we just sit here and wait for him to work out how to get closer,” I said. But while that was true, I knew Tanner had a point. Which meant we needed another option.

I turned and looked at our surroundings for the eighth time. And for the eighth time, I came away with the same impression: this particular little pocket in the canyon wall, situated as it was behind a decently sized boulder, provided both lovely cover and no way out. There was at least a couple dozen yards of open ground surrounding us, which would give Cossak some trouble getting closer to us, but that was only the thinnest of silver linings.

At least it wasn’t going to get that much worse.

That was the last thought I had before I heard a clatter of rocks on the steep slope above us and looked up just in time to see a couple of armed gangmen taking aim at us from above.

“Tanner!”

We both turned and fired, and both gangmen came tumbling down with his own mortal wound opened up in his chest. But the damage was done. The seconds we spent dealing with them were enough for Cossak himself to break from his own hiding place and cross the precious yards of no-man’s land we had hoped would protect us.

By the time we turned back around he had already flanked us. I fired three shots, each one hitting dead on. Each one falling short against a personal shield device that I had, up until this point, thought was mostly fantasy. Tanner shot him too, but the only effect the rifle shot had was that it caused the shield to flicker. Slightly.

“Don’t suppose you’re going to let us surrender, are you?”

Cossak’s face split in a nasty grin. “Nah.”

And then he shot us both.

Musings

[Blog] Interesting

Funny how one can simultaneously wish for more interaction and less. Perhaps we all have a little of the cat in us– wanting in as soon as we’ve been let out and wanting out as soon as we’ve been let in. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, it’s hard not to feel a little stuck, as so many of us are. And my day job is considered essential, so I’m even getting out of the house.

It’s also funny to note that my day to day schedule hasn’t actually changed all that much, as I’m an introverted homebody by nature, so this whole “staying in” thing is pretty much business as normal. Apparently I just don’t like being told to do it.

… so that could be something I need to work on. At least I’ve got the time for it!

Musings

[Blog] A Couple Thoughts

Some crazy times we live in, no?

There’s a lot of good information out there from a lot of good sources (like https://www.nebraskamed.com/COVID/a-message-from-one-of-our-doctors-to-his-family-about-covid-19 and https://www.howardluksmd.com/sports-medicine/covid-19-update-3-14-2020-concerned-physicians-unite/), so I’m not going to go to try to rewrite what other people have already done better. Instead, I’m just going to share a couple of thoughts that I found interesting.

The first is that since we are creatures built for community, and that God often gives us the support we need in the form of each other, the social distancing thing is particularly painful. While in other times of crisis we can and often do spend more time in each other’s company, we can’t and shouldn’t be doing that right now. At least not physically.

Which brings us nicely to my second thought, which is this: We have never before been able to remain so connected while isolating ourselves. And that’s a huge mercy. We have video chats. We have Facebook. We have phones. We have multiplayer videogames. If anything, the irony in this is that in some ways, we feel more connected than we usually do. Thank God for the Internet, my friends.

Musings

[Blog] California Seasons

When I first moved down to Southern California, fresh from Idaho with its four very obvious seasons, I had a hard time believing that the Golden State had anything remotely similar. This place is, after all, a land of sun, sun, and more sun. (And also fire.) It’s not without its charm, but for someone who grew up with temperatures that could range from sub-zero to above a hundred over the course of the year, it was difficult to see.

I say “was” because I have since gotten to the point where I can recognize what passes for the different seasons down here. Winter sees nighttime temperatures occasionally drop down into the thirties. Springtime is warm, but not yet ridiculously hot. Summer is ridiculously hot. Fall oscillates between hot and cooler, with a slight crisp to the air and a different smell. It’s not the same, but I can appreciate it.

Even if I do still think that anything above seventy five is officially Too Hot.

(Also! Update on That Story That Was Supposed To Be Posted Last Week– it got into a fight with me. Or I got into a fight with it. Hence why it’s delayed. But! It’s halfway done and should go up this week. Thanks for sticking with me!)

Musings

[Blog] POV

Sometimes, I’ve noticed that certain stories demand a particular point of view in their telling. I can try to write them from a different viewpoint, but it doesn’t do any good; the words just won’t come. And it’s not just a matter of my being more comfortable with one over another, because despite the fact that I naturally tend to gravitate towards first-person-snarky, I’ve had an easy enough time writing stories in either first or third person. Some stories just need one or the other.

The example that most readily comes to mind is my modern urban (rural?) werewolf story that I’ve being toying around with to various degrees for years. I managed about 10,000 words on it, all in first person, but ended up getting stuck due to a lack of planning. So, I made it my NaNo project a few years back, but made the mistake of trying to switch it to third person. What followed was one of the most difficult NaNos of my life. The thing just would. not. write. To the point where I ended up burning out on the project, more or less.* Similarly, my rough draft fantasy novel from a few years ago, with its ensemble cast and epic stakes, was a better fit for a third person telling.

Now! Before someone goes for the torches and the pitchforks, let me state for the record that my saying that I can’t write a certain story from a certain point of view doesn’t mean that I think that it can’t be done. I have no doubt that someone can write a compelling epic fantasy from the first person (like The Black Company, for instance), I’m just not there myself. And besides, my epic fantasy is its own story, not the same one as The Black Company, so naturally, what works for one might not work for the other anyways. But that’s a subject for a different post.

It’s also interesting to note that, like its setting, a story’s point of view has a profound effect on the final story. Which explains why the wrong voice makes it so hard to write the story at all. The voice provides the overall atmosphere to the story, and if the atmosphere doesn’t match the content, the whole story is going to feel off. It’s like that scary recut of the Mary Poppins trailer (click here to see it); great for a one-off joke bit, but not an effective way to tell the original story.

Anyway! All that to say that I’ve found certain stories that I can’t tell with one point-of-view or another, and that it’s amazing how much easier it gets to write when you find the right voice for the tale. Which is why it’s so nice to write the Tanner and Miranda stories, because I know the voice that works for them, and I find it a fun one to use.

Speaking of, keep your eyes open for a new story (a Tanner and Miranda adventure!) going up tomorrow! Also, since I, heh, missed posting not one but two stories last month, you’ll get a couple of extras this month to make up for it. Until then, drop a comment below to share your own voice/writing related curiosities! **Edit: I lied! Not tomorrow– but check back on Saturday, March 7!

* Granted, there were other problems, too. Like the fact that I didn’t have a clear idea of the story I wanted to tell. You know, minor things.

Musings

[Blog] Wars vs. Trek

If you’ve spent any amount of time among nerds, then you’ve likely come across the Star Wars versus Star Trek debate, or perhaps even taken part in it yourself. Die-hard trekkies might bemoan the relative lack of philosophical speculation and/or scientific curiosity. Dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fans feel compelled to argue that their universe is more believable and compelling, as it doesn’t try to sell the idea of a fully functional utopia. (Also, light sabers!) And of course, there are those on either side who scoff at the idea that a single person can appreciate both universes.

Which is just silly. Why limit yourself to one galaxy to nerd out about when you can have two?

Granted, my parents probably gave me a head start on appreciating both. I couldn’t have been much older than six or seven when we watched A New Hope as a family for the first time, and it wasn’t many years later that we started working our way through old VHS recordings of The Next Generation and watching reruns of Voyager in the first few years after the series finale. Basically, both universes formed an integral part of my childhood.

I don’t mean to say that one doesn’t have strengths over the other. One would be hard pressed to argue that Star Wars is better on the hard science fiction front than any of the Star Treks– though even Star Trek takes plenty of liberties with the laws of physics (conservation of mass/energy and transporters, anyone?). But the lore of Star Wars has always seemed, to me, to go so much deeper, with all its many different worlds, species, and cultures that are developed fully in their own right and not as much to fill the needed philosophical niche for one episode or another. Or, put another way, Star Wars is less obviously didactic by nature.

Then again, sticking both into the same genre (science fiction) and calling it a day is over-simplifying things. As mentioned above, Star Trek is more truly science fiction than Star Wars: it’s a future universe that looks fundamentally different from our world today because of the introduction of the warp drive. Sure, you can make fun of the fact that (almost) all the different alien species are basically humans with different sorts of ridges on their foreheads, but what they might be missing in physiological differences is made up for in their wide variety of philosophies and histories. In particular, the Bajoran culture is fantastically fleshed out, which in turn adds a ton of depth to the Cardassians as well. The Klingons end up being, more or less, your standard warrior race, but that doesn’t mean they don’t provide the basis for some fascinating episodes. And the relentlessly capitalistic Ferengi are so ideologically opposed to the Federation that the conflicts between the two are often quite interesting as well.

On the other hand, Star Wars is more accurately described as space opera than straight science fiction. Its focus isn’t on science of any sort, but on the huge, epic conflicts that take place in its fictional galaxy. It has more in common with high fantasy tales like The Lord of the Rings than it does with sci-fi yarns like Niven’s Ringworld or Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. It sets the rules of its universe and sticks to them (especially if we don’t talk about the midi-chlorians), and so can focus more on what happens than why things happen.

So there you have it. Anyone trying to force you to choose either Star Trek or Star Wars over the other is selling you short. For me, my favorite tends to vary. Unless you’re asking about Stargate too. Because if you are, then Stargate wins. Every time. SG1 forever!

But what do you think? Are you more a Star Trek or a Star Wars fan? Did I hit the mark or am I way off? Tell me why in the comments below!

Musings

[Blog] Regionalism

Way back in high school, we had a unit where we studied American literary regionalism. (Click here for the Wikipedia article, if you’re curious!) I remember it being interesting, and our teacher tied it in with the idea that the setting of a story, when properly done, can be as much a character as any of the ones walking around on two legs. At the time, I thought it was a fascinating idea, but didn’t quite get it– certainly not enough to be able to articulate it all that well.

If I’m honest, that might still be true today, though I’m certainly closer than I was. At the very least, I’m close enough to start coming up with some theories of my own. In particular, considering how it relates to the ubiquitous advice to “write what you know”.

Now, as you can imagine, us science fiction and fantasy authors have a harder time applying that advice in its most boring sense. I’ve never been a freelancer on a distant planet, but that’s not stopping me from writing about a couple of siblings who do, so some folks might suggest that I’m not taking that advice to heart. That being said, I am one of several siblings, and I can guarantee that I’ve got the sibling banter thing down pat, so in that sense I am writing what I know.

Now, imagine you’ve got a locale you’re particularly familiar with. For me, that could be the Palouse area of Idaho and Washington: farming country, with lots of hills and fertile soil and not so many people. Next, add in the fantasy, magic, and adventure that I particularly enjoy writing about. Combine the two, and and you’re going to get a modern fantasy story set in the hills I grew up in. Probably involving werewolves.

Or, for those of you who watch Angel, you’ve got the same sort of thing with Los Angeles. It’s definitely set in LA… there’s just vampires and demons as well.

Basically, using a region that you’re familiar with is a fantastic way to write what you know– because as poor as that advice is when applied badly, you can’t get around the fact that it does have some truth to it. If you know something, you’re going to be able to write about it better. If, like me, you’re more the type who likes writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s probably going to look more like writing about relationships between friends and family than the the mundane adventures of a twenty-something-year-old. But it can also mean setting those same stories about the relationships you know in the places you know. Because it’ll make the story that much more real.

Musings

[Blog] (More) Musings on Spacestations

It’s entirely possible that working in an actual, honest-to-goodness city has gotten inside my head. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been spending sizeable portions of every week actually in Los Angeles for the better part of a year: I still stare up at the buildings like the country girl I apparently still am. In case there’s any question, yes, I’m completely okay with that.

Now, nerd that I am, staring at the seemingly never-ending stretch of buildings inevitably leaves me considering the logistics of space stations. Well. Some of the logistics. I don’t mean things like creating gravity and making sure life support works (okay, so maybe now I am, in a purely theoretical sense) but more what it would be like to have a city’s worth of people living suspended in space.

Assuming for a moment that the fictional civilization in question figured out how to build and maintain a structure that could support millions of people, what would it be like to live there? How would someone move between the different places they need to go? LA has its chaotic mess of tangled freeways, but it’s hard to imagine that this:

would translate well to this:

If only because it’s going to be hard to find a place to put all the cars (or their 25th century equivalents). It’s just not the most efficient use of space. Plus, in our modern day cities, you’ve got to deal with miles and miles between the places people live and the places they work. Or play. Or run errands. And part of that is because there’s a limit, either cultural or physical, to how much we want to build up as opposed to out, and because we do, to one extent or another, have the space to build out. That’s not going to be a luxury the fictional inhabitants of a massive space station are going to have.

On the one hand, that’s going to mean that anyone living in that kind of orbital city is going to feel more or less like a sardine. On the other, there’s a certain convenience to being within walking distance of anywhere you need to go. Add in a few snazzy, high-tech elevators that can bus you from floor to floor or from section to section at remarkably high speeds, and things might be a little more reasonable.

And maybe people will continue to be more and more able to work remotely, cutting down on even more of the need to scramble from one place to another. Or maybe some sort of complicated shift system would exist, which would preempt any overwhelming surge of people at a particular time of day. Imagine that… a world without rush hour! Even so, I suspect it would take a certain sort of person to be able to thrive in orbit.

It’s all speculation, of course. But then, isn’t that why so many of us enjoy the science fiction genre? Hard or soft, there’s something about such speculative fiction that keeps us excited, engaged, and curious. Something that keeps us wondering about what might come…

… in the 24th and a half century!

Musings

[Blog] Too Many Hobbies, Not Enough Time

As a kid, I didn’t recognize time as a limited resource. Sure, there was only so much reading, playing, writing, etc. one could do before it was time to go to bed, and sure, I recognized that there was a point which, if passed, meant I would not finish my homework on time, but that’s about it. The idea that I could possibly not have enough time to do everything I wanted to was completely foreign.

Oh, shush. You can stop laughing any time now.

Anyway. That, in and of itself, is hardly an earth-shattering revelation. Figuring that out is part of growing up, part of maturing. It’s good and necessary, but not a sign of any special insight.

All this to say, no one ever warned me that I was going to reach a point where I was going to have to choose what interests to pursue. Or if they did, I was too young and foolish to listen. That’s a distinct possibility. Either way, the fact remains that I’m at a point where I have to balance the amount of time I spent reading, writing, having a social life, playing video games… and the list goes on.

I know. Poor me. Perhaps a better way of putting it is to say that I get to make that choice. After all, it’s silly to complain too seriously about having too many good options.

Fiction, Fiction (Short)

The New Roommate

There’s nothing fun about looking for a new roommate. The whole process can go wrong more ways than it can go right, and the stakes for it going right are higher than most. You’re looking for someone to live with, after all—it would be nice to get along, nice to tolerate each other’s company, if not enjoy it. Yet all too often you have to consider yourself lucky to just not mind sharing space.

And all it takes is one bad experience to make you twitchy about the whole thing. Sure, the statistics say you’re unlikely to ever run into someone truly dangerous. And even if you do, you want to believe you’d notice that something was off before you invite them in to live between the same four walls as you. Problem is, statistics aren’t guarantees. And once you lose that gamble once, you’re bound to make extra sure about anyone responding to your craigslist ad.

Which was how Amanda found herself sitting at the corner table of a coffee shop a few blocks from her apartment, waiting for who she hoped would turn out to be as good a roommate in reality as she was on paper. She’d gotten there early, more by accident than design, though she hoped it would give her a chance to collect her thoughts and relax. It hadn’t worked; mostly, it had given her time to remember how optimistic she’d been about Lilith when she moved in.

It had been fine at first. Lilith was nice, if a little odd. She’d was a little pale, but she’d also only gone out after dark. She seemed to eat blood sausage with every meal, but everyone had their dietary quirks. That colony of bats had moved into the walls about a week after she had moved in, but that could hardly have been her fault. Just coincidence.

Until the Incident, everything weird was easy enough to explain away. But when your roommate tries to bite your neck and only fails because you happened to have the presence of mind to fling the jar of powdered garlic at her, you end up feeling a bit paranoid.

Amanda shuddered and tried not to think about it. She also touched her hand to the small silver cross at her neck, just to reassure her subconscious that it was still there. Fortunately, any further recollections were preempted by the arrival of her potential new roommate.

She was a small woman—barely five feet tall and slight of stature—with red hair in a pixie cut and pale grey eyes. She approached the table and greeted Amanda with the most musical voice she had ever heard.

“I’m so glad you had time to meet! It’s Amanda, right?”

Amanda smiled and nodded. “And you’re Morgana.”

“I am!” said Morgana, and she laughed.

After that, the two of them just talked for a while, asking all the simple, silly questions anyone does when trying to find the first pieces of common ground on which to build an acquaintance. It went well. So well, in fact, that Amanda found herself thinking and hoping that she had found that rare gem of a person who could be both friend and roommate.

Of course, she had hoped that of Lilith, too, and not without reason.

And maybe it was extenuating circumstances that had nixed that dream, but it’s once bitten, twice shy, and Amanda had no desire to get bitten a second time. Granted, the fact that they were meeting in the daylight was a good sign, but she’d be happier if she could confirm those results with a couple of other subtle tests.

“So, what about cooking? Do you like fiddling around in the kitchen?”

Morgana’s eyes lit up for at least the twentieth time. “I love cooking! And baking. And experimenting. All of it! Do you?”

Amanda grinned back. “Absolutely. I’ve got a few go-to recipes that I stick with for the most part, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that garlic makes almost everything better.”

“Ha! Me too,” said Morgana. “If this works out, we should absolutely cook dinner together every now and then. I always like it better when I get to cook for someone else.”

Test number two, passed with flying colors. Amanda felt some of her tension bleed out of her shoulders, and she allowed herself to feel almost hopeful. It seemed unlikely that Morgana was going to be the sort of roommate who might be tempted to suck her blood.

Just to be sure, of course, there were a few more questions, a few more tests. Amanda turned the conversation to their favorite books, and was pleased to see that her mention of Dracula left Morgana unfazed. Morgana complimented her necklace and touched it without flinching when Amanda held it out to her, apparently unworried by the fact that it was both silver and a cross. Casual mentions of both wolves and bats got no response. In fact, nothing gave Amanda any cause for concern, and she felt a little silly when she arranged for a small mirror to tumble from her bag in such a way that it allowed her to check for a reflection. It was there, of course.

After that, even her most paranoid instincts were content that Morgana was likely to be a top notch roommate. She would move in at the end of the month, and they would likely be in constant contact even before that. When they went their separate ways that afternoon after enjoying almost an hour more of friendly conversation, Amanda felt more relaxed than she had in months.

“Oh!” Morgana turned back a moment after she left the table. “Before I forget, I should let you know. I have the worst reaction to anything made of pure iron. I just touch the stuff and it makes me go cold and numb all over. Just so you know!”

It wasn’t until after Morgana signed the lease and moved in that Amanda remembered that an aversion to cold iron was a known characteristic of the fae folk. And when she did, a sharp thrill of panic ran down her spine. But only the one. She’d rather live with a fairy than a vampire any day.