Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Undead Reckoning Pt. 13

September 25, 2021

Supper continued without Talbot getting any more clues as to the agenda of Lord Blackrance. At least, nothing more than had been in the letter. There was a necromancer in the wasteland. A wasteland that the Dragonborn Rahj was familiar with as their guide and presumably their tracker. The Cleric Ana was obviously along for the ride to counter undead threats. Talbot assumed that he and Clarity had been invited as damage dealers to fight back whatever henchthings that the necromancer had. Of course, Talbot still had no intention of going anywhere closer to the wasteland. He was going to take his rifle back home and hang it over his mantle. Forever.

After a nip or two of Drown brandy, sent by the good Lord Blackrance himself, they all retired to bed. All of them except for Rahj who stayed up drinking heavily of the cheapest ale available. He took a keg out behind the inn so he could be with his pet, Sandor. They all left the dragonborn alone. Talbot paused outside of his door and looked at the door currently belonging to the mysterious Mr. Seneca. How did he fit into all of this? Talbot had a sudden urge to go over and knock on that door. Just beyond, a question could be answered. But trying to answer that question could raise a lot of hell. It was best to just wait until morning.

Thanks to the good meal and the brandy, Talbot was just about out when his head hit the pillow. He came to when the sun was up but it felt like just a moment later. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and got himself together. A change of clothes and he was ready to descend the stares once again. Luckily, the smell of good food once again wafted up from the kitchens. It made Talbot take the steps a little quicker. It would not hurt him to have one more good meal on Lord Blackrance’s coin before he went back home. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw three people in the sitting room. The halfling Titus Talbot already recognized but there was also a masked figure and a drow sitting there as well. The masked figure got up and walked past Talbot without a word.

“You must be Sergeant Hawkwing,” the drow said with a sly smile. “As you might have gathered, my name is Lord Blackrance. Have a seat, won’t you?” He gestured toward the fourth chair.

“I no longer go by my rank, Lord Blackrance” Talbot said bluntly but not unkindly. “You may call me Talbot if you wish.”

“Fair enough, Talbot,” Lord Blackrance said. “If you wish to dispense with formalities, then you may call me Callum.”

“That’s a little forward when dealing with the aristocracy,” Talbot said. “but sure.”

“I had a feeling that you would want to talk,” Blackrance said. “I’m glad you’ve come down before breakfast.”

“I have a feeling you’ve already divined what I want to talk about,” Talbot said. “I might as well get to it. I have no intention of going on your expedition. There are plenty of hired guns even around here that you could take with you.”

“But I singled you out, Talbot,” Blackrance said. “I assembled my team carefully as I have assembled all of my teams. Your record speaks volumes and you are uniquely suited for the mission ahead.”

“How am I uniquely suited for it?” Talbot asked, more than a little curious at that statement.

“I’m honestly not sure yet,” Blackrance said with a shrug.

Talbot was a bit shocked. “You don’t know?” he asked. “I thought you had all of this figured out?”

“I have an ace up my sleeve when planning a mission,” Blackrance said. “The secret to my success.” He gestured to a young girl sitting peacefully in the corner.

Talbot blinked in shock. It was the young woman from his dream on the train. What the hell was going on?

Undead Reckoning Pt. 12

September 18, 2021

Pepper and a young man that Talbot did not recognize started carrying a veritable feast into the room on platters. It all smelled very good and it was far finer food than Talbot had expected this far out in the frontier. There were several whole roasted chickens, steamed carrots, toasted mushrooms, brisket, and mashed potatoes. Rahj immediately reached out and palmed one of the chickens, whistled, and then threw the chicken out of an open window. Something very large and hairy jumped up in the window and snagged the chicken. There was a deep growling sound from beneath the window. Everybody stared at Rahj who shrugged.

“They won’t let me keep Sandor inside but he still must be fed,” the large Dragonborn said. He then set about devouring whatever food he could reach.

“Um,” Clarity started, seeming to be at a loss for words for once. “Is Sandor your dog?”

Rahj grinned and began to speak with food in his mouth. “Ha!,” he cried out, letting out a single barking laugh. “In the desert, we have pets far superior to your dogs. It’s an insult to call Sandor a dog.”

Clarity seemed to think about that, almost as if she was deciding which part of the statement she was most interested in. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Did you say ‘out in the desert’? Do you mean to tell us that you have lived out there? Is this a recent occurrence or have you lived out there when it was still dangerous?”

Rahj frowned and looked at Clarity as if he was deciding whether or not she was being ignorant or insulting. Talbot immediately realized Clarity’s mistake and he looked around and saw that Clarity was the only one not in the know. She had an innocent look on her face which must have convinced Rahj that she was merely ignorant.

“Your government has always hated my kind,” Rahj said, his voice a low growl that almost harmonized with the growl from Sandor outside. “They made it real hard to find land of our own. Our scales are resistant to magic and we went out into the desert to settle where other mortals were too scared to go.”

“That is impressive, Mr. Blackscale,” Clarity said. “I apologize for my ignorance, I had not known that the government had dealt you such a poor hand. It is shameful. I am sure that everybody in this room does not share in such prejudice.”

Rahj grunted. “Thanks,” he said. “We made it work out there but the government and all of the business types want back out there now that it’s safer. I’m sure they’ll take our land too.”

“I hope they don’t,” Talbot said. “I never did cotton to how that worked out. You all should get first dibs, of course.”

“Blackrance is going to go to the government about it,” Rahj said. “He understands what it’s like since he’s drow. It’s the only reason I agreed to guide all of you out there.”

“You’ve talked in person to our illustrious patron?” Clarity asked. “I have only communicated with him via correspondence myself since I was out of country.”

“He sent me a letter too,” Talbot said. “I haven’t met him.”

“He came out into the desert,” Rahj said. “Faced me like a man alongside that one.” He pointed at Titus who nodded.

“I accompany Lord Blackrance on most occasions,” Titus said softly. “This is a rare moment when I am not by his side.”

“He came to see me at church,” Ana said. “He vas very polite and convincing.”

“So only half of us have met him,” Talbot said. “Wait, that reminds me. What about the other one? The person across the hall from me? What is their deal?”

“Mr. Seneca has a complex situation so he and Lord Blackrance agreed that he would not meet you until Lord Blackrance could be present,” Titus said. “Everything is going according to plan.”

“You do realize how suspicious that is don’t you?” Talbot asked, his eyes narrowing.

“I am very aware,” Titus said with a smile. “I can only operate according to Lord Blackrance’s wishes unless there is an emergency.”

“A lot of rules go out the window in an emergency,” Talbot said with a sage nod. “I remember that.”

“I’m sure you do,” Titus said.

The Faceless

August 28, 2021
Photo Credit: @rn_murse on Twitter

Cat and Sparrow stood, barely hidden in a back alley. Cat was having a hard time keeping it together. Anxiety was clawing its way out of her and she had to fight to stay still. Meanwhile, Sparrow was standing as still as a statute, not a bead of sweat. The tall girl was very narrow but had long pretty pink hair. Cat always felt self-conscious about her own black hair which she kept extremely short. She tried to push such thoughts out of her head. They were on a mission. Besides, everybody else was walking around them without a care in the world. They were all smiling.

Of course, they were all smiling because that was their default setting. They were not actually present any more. As far as they could tell, something had invaded Earth two years earlier. Cat and Sparrow were part of the resistance, something that Cat had stumbled into completely by accident. As near as the resistance could tell, whatever was doing this was taking people and turning them into robots. Well, robots was not the correct term. They were still organic but nobody was home. The things that were no longer quite human walked around and remained productive but they were easy to spot. They just smiled way too much and had vacant stares. It was creepy. Otherwise, they looked untouched.

“Stay with me, Cat,” Sparrow said firmly in a whisper. “Stay present. We have a mission to complete.”

“Sorry,” Cat said with a slight nod. “I’m feeling very exposed out here.”

“If you don’t feel nervous in the field, you shouldn’t be in the field,” Sparrow said. “I wouldn’t have brought you with me if I didn’t think you were ready.”

“Why does everything still look the same as before the invasion?” Cat asked. “Like, why do they keep all of the signs illuminated? it seems pointless.”

“Well, it’s not exactly the same,” Sparrow said. “There are definitely little differences. Like that sign.” She pointed.

Cat looked where Sparrow as pointing. The sign read ‘You must wear a face’.

“That makes no sense,” Cat said.

“They haven’t quite mastered our language,” Sparrow said. “but I think it’s a reference to the facial recognition scanners.”

That had been part of several briefings before returning to the surface. The resistance had found and dismantled a few of these scanners for study. The most likely conclusion was that when citizens were taken, they were scanned and cataloged. The scanners in the wild would catch anybody who had yet to be cataloged and would sound the alarm. Reviewing this in her head did not make Cat any calmer.

“How safe are we out here?” Cat asked, her voice suddenly a little shaky.

“The lab rats whipped up these jammers for us and they are field-tested,” Sparrow said. “Visually, we are wearing our own lovely faces.” Cat turned away a little so she could blush at that. “Electronically, we present as drones already on file. We’re good. Though, we should probably limit our exposure out here to the mission and only the mission.”

Humanity’s resistance lived underground in isolated cells that communicated through dead drops and encrypted burst transmissions. They were structured so if one cell was taken, they would not be able to discover the others easily which would give the other cells time to scatter. They stole food and technology from the surface the best that they could. Luckily, they still had some engineers and scientists on their side. They were important for staying in front of the invaders’ efforts to hunt them. The countermeasures were holding for now. Their enclaves remained hidden for the time being.

“That makes sense,” Cat said. “We’re taking one of these brainwashed people to a safehouse for study, right? To see if their condition is reversible?”

“Yeah,” Sparrow said with determination and a faraway look. “I know the perfect person too.”

Undead Reckoning Pt. 11

August 21, 2021

Clarity thought about that statement as they started down the stairs. “Very interesting,” she said. “I suppose if the stories are true and the gods were destroyed, all of that energy would have to go somewhere. There is no way to destroy energy like that and the Riders were at least semi-mortal and they could not absorb that much energy. What vessels are the gods in now? Maybe they have no vessels. Maybe that means they are more powerful than ever.”

Ana shrugged with a small, unbothered smile. “I have not given it much thought,” she said. “It is enough zat I have faith, no? I am more focused on doing good in the vorld.”

“Now that’s an attitude I can get behind,” Talbot said. “You’ve just got to leave the world better than you found it.” He could guess that Clarity’s intellectual curiosity was not satiated but then again how did she expect to test any theories when it came to deities from the beyond?

“Vat do you do for ze vorld, Talbot?” Ana asked with a curious smile. “How do you make it better?”

“I’m a carpenter,” Talbot said. “I share a shop with two partners back home.”

“A noble profession,” Ana said. “Vhat brings a carpenter all ze vay out here for zis endeavor?”

All three of them stopped outside of the dining room as Talbot turned toward Ana. He was not about to get into it with a complete stranger even if Ana was a woman of the cloth. His past was painful and he still did not know why he had discussed it with Clarity. Something about her inquisitive eyes, maybe.

“I wasn’t always a carpenter,” Talbot said. “I’ll leave it at that for now. Lord Blackrance wanted me to come out of retirement but we have a difference of opinion. I came to tell him no face to face.”

“I tried to change his mind,” Clarity said. “It didn’t take.” She shrugged and shot a mischievous smile at Talbot. The look irked him for a heartbeat.

Ana’s smile was more beatific and kind. “I respect that you are a man who has left violence behind,” she said. “A man of peace. However, peace is not alvays the answer.”

“It’s my answer,” Talbot said. “I’ve already lost enough to battle. I support the mission, of course, but I don’t have the heart to join in.”

“Perhaps your heart may yet change,” Ana said with a smile. “Only you can decide your path.”

“Maybe,” Talbot said. “Anything is possible but I just don’t see it. You’ll just have to take care of this without me.”

The door to the dining room burst open and Titus was standing there looking frustrated and a bit desperate. “Could you come in to eat?” he asked. “He’s getting impatient and I really don’t want to piss him off anymore.”

“Who?” Talbot asked. As soon as he asked he knew it was a stupid question. It had to be the Dragonborn from earlier.

“You’ll see,” Titus said. “Quickly, please.” He held open the door and the three all looked at each other and then entered the dining room. Seated at the head of the table was the giant Dragonborn who practically glared at them.

“Finally!” he yelled. “They said they would not serve the food until you came. Sit down.”

“Such manners!” Clarity said. “We were having a lively discussion. We apologize if we kept you and Mr. Mapleburrow waiting.” The four of them moved to seats around the table. Talbot made sure to sit closest to the angry dragon man. He was sure Clarity would disagree but he did not want either lady to be harmed if it came to a fight. He had a feeling it would not and that the Dragonborn was more bark than bite.

As they all sat down at the table, the Dragonborn slammed his fist on the table. “Food now!” Titus flinched a bit at the sound and Ana got very still. Neither Clarity nor Talbot reacted and Talbot fought the urge to roll his eyes. No need to rile the guy up any further. There was definitely movement in the kitchen.

“What do we call you, sir?” Clarity asked. “We haven’t been formally introduced yet.” Titus was not about to make any introductions in that moment. He was rattled.

“The name’s Rahj,” the Dragonborn said gruffly and when Clarity arched an eyebrow at him he looked remorseful for a moment. “Rahj Blackscale.”

Undead Reckoning Pt. 10

August 7, 2021

Talbot set his bag down on the dresser and laid the rifle on a little desk near the window. He eyed the bed and contemplated getting a little shut-eye before dinner. However, he instead sat down at the desk and carefully unwrapped the rifle. He started to fully examine the rifle, something he had initially been reluctant to do. He turned it over and over and studied all of the markings. The feel of it was still so familiar after all of these years. There was the stamp of the Callan Army on the walnut stock, slightly worn from use. He had personally filled in his own engraved initials with paste and then revarnished over it before selling the rifle.

Somebody had obviously cared greatly for the rifle as it was in great condition. Of course, Blackrance may have had the thing refurbished and cleaned before having it mailed. Everything was shiny. The stock had been oiled and wiped down and the iron and steel had been similarly oiled. It looked exactly the same as when Talbot had been issued the weapon after boot camp. Touching it definitely conjured up a lot of bad memories but there was also security there. He remembered falling asleep in the camps of the battlefields with the rifle firmly in his hand. A soldier could not be caught without their weapon, especially when the fighting got more bitter and bloody. The rules started flying out the window.

Talbot laid the rifle back on the cloth and wrapped it up again. He moved over to the bed and removed his boots before laying down. He stared at the ceiling for a while and did not remember falling asleep. He had intended only to rest his eyes but he was out like a light. He did not dream exactly but instead had a vague feeling of anxiety. It was the feeling he always had on the morning that a battle was to begin. He had no intentions of joining any battles but the dream on the train had already unsettled him. He should not have touched the rifle. It awakened something in him that was dying slowly on its own.

He woke up at the sounding of a bell from below which he guessed was the signal for the evening meal. He slowly sat up and rubbed his eyes before slipping on and tying his boots. He rose from the bed and entered the hallway. He turned slowly and locked the door and then looked at the door opposite his. He waited to see if Mr. Seneca would open the door and head down to dinner but the door did not move. He made his way down the narrow steps on his own but had to stop and make way for an enormous Dragonborn who grunted and kept moving. As soon as he passed, Clarity’s door opened and she caught sight of the large gentleman and she shared a look with Talbot. This was evidently the guy who had been arguing with the staff earlier.

Talbot spoke softly after a moment. “Black scales?” he said more as a statement, barely a question. “Watch yourself. The chromatics have bad reputations. He’s huge too.”

Clarity pointed at the horns sprouting from her head with a flat look. “Careful how quickly you judge by appearances, Mr. Hawkwing,” she said. “You’ll embarrass yourself.”

Talbot did feel embarrassed. “Thank you for setting me straight,” he said. “I apologize. I should know better.”

“I’ll forgive you this once,” Clarity said. “If you keep an open mind, we won’t have this problem again. I also told you I can take care of myself.”

“You did,” Talbot said. “I guess my machismo is showing.”

“Your gallantry and chivalry are appreciated but not needed at the moment,” Clarity said.

The conversation was suddenly interrupted when another door in the hallway opened and a slight blonde human woman stepped out. She looked at Talbot and Clarity and smiled a thin-lipped smile. She was wearing a plain and simple dress and a heavy chain around her neck. Something was hanging from the chain but it was tucked into her dress. “Good evening,” she said and her Ganarastavan accent was immediately apparent. “Are vee going down to dinner now?”

“That’s the general idea,” Talbot said. “We were just about to go down if you want to join us.”

Clarity cleared her throat. “My name is Clarity Havenwood and this is Talbot Hawkwing,” she said. Her breeding definitely included more refined manners.

“My name is Ana Koryana,” the woman said. “It is nice to be meeting you.”

“It’s nice to meet you as well,” Clarity said. “That’s an interesting necklace.”

“Thank you but it is not necklace exactly,” Ana said. She pulled out what was evidently a symbol of The Defender. “It is holy symbol.”

“Weren’t all of the gods killed years ago?” Talbot asked.

“I still believe,” Ana said. “and my belief is rewarded with power. The gods are still out there somehow.”

Starfleet Adventures: Dragons of the Deep Pt. 1

July 24, 2021

(I had this idea as part of the backstory for my Star Trek character for a pulp series of Starfleet Adventures. The idea is that a somewhat underground publisher would take advantage of hunger for adventure stories and would create fictional accounts of Starfleet ships sort of like pulp novels or cheaply made procedural shows)

Captain L’ara, sat in her ready room and looked out over the vastness of space and she was bored. Space was mostly boring. As a Federation Captain, it was her job to find the interesting parts. The exciting parts. The crew of the USS Forrestal had just been through a harrowing adventure against a Tholian threat but L’ara was already itching for more. She knew that she was not alone in that. She picked up and started to brush her fur absent-mindedly. She sipped her coffee and felt the sip buzz through her and her tail swished from side to side. She hit a button on her desk.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 2270,” L’ara said. “The Tholians are definitely not as tough as advertised. After some repairs, the Forrestal is back on mission. Starfleet contacted us to check in on the Adora IV colony in the Atrea sector. Apparently, they have failed to respond to any communication for days. We’re the closest ship fit to check on them. Rumor is that they had some difficulty with Klingons a while back. I anticipate a fight. I’m ready. We’re ready.”

There was a beeping noise from the ship’s internal communication system and L’ara quickly stopped the recording. She would get back to posterity later.

“Bridge to Captain L’ara,” Lieutenant Yolen said over the comm system. Yolen was a rather dispassionate Denobulan but was a good pilot and he was cool in the face of certain danger. There was nobody else that L’ara could want flying her ship.

“L’ara here,” she responded. “How can I help you, Lieutenant?” She sipped more of her coffee. She had a hunch she knew why she was being contacted but it was more fun to ask.

“We are approaching the colony,” the Lieutenant said. “We will be entering orbit of the planet soon.”

“Acknowledged,” L’ara said, barely keeping the purr out of her voice. Something was happening and the boredom was over. “I’m on my way to the bridge.”

A few moments later, L’ara walked on to the bridge. Everybody stood up when she entered and that still gave her a thrill. She waited a bit before she let them sit down again. She looked around the bridge and noted that Commander Sakazaki was not present. That was a bit strange as L’ara had left him in charge of the bridge before heading off to her ready room. He was supposed to be there and in charge in her absence but he was not there. She guessed that was why Yolen had contacted her.

“Ensign Statlander,” L’ara said, glancing at the young and beautiful Yutan communications officer. “Hail the colony.”

There was a pause as Statlander attempted communication, pressing buttons and speaking into her headset.

“No response, Captain,” Statlander said. “I’m not reading any broadcasts on any frequencies at all.”

“They should be transmitting a navigation beacon, right?” L’ara asked. She knew she was right but, once again, it was more fun to ask.

“You’re right, Captain,” Statlander said. “There is no reason that the beacon should be off.”

At that point, Sakazaki walked onto the bridge. “Sorry I’m late, Captain,” he said. “I had a lingering injury that needed tending to in Sick Bay.”

“More like a nurse that needed tending to,” L’ara said with a smirk. “You’re my second, Commander. You’re supposed to be here when I’m not.” L’ara knew for a fact that Sakazaki had his eye on Nurse Cassidy. Everybody on the ship probably knew it.

The easygoing Sakazaki suddenly looked nervous. “I can only apologize, Captain,” he said. “It won’t happen again.” Sakazaki was a lot like L’ara. He was always up for fun and adventure. Still, Sakazaki was a Starfleet officer and his Captain was bearing down on him.

L’ara laughed. “I’m just teasing, Commander,” she said. “You’re just in time. Grab a phaser, we’re going down to see who we need to shoot to get this colony back on its feet.”

“It’s been a while since I mixed it up with Klingons,” Sakazaki said with excitement. “I’m ready.”

Undead Reckoning Pt. 9

July 17, 2021

Talbot and Clarity followed Titus through the dusty yet bustling town of Fallshield. Apparently, a mining company was in the midst of shipping some new workers through the town out to the desert. A new mine was opening up in the southern area and therefore a lot of equipment and personnel needed to get out there before the families followed. Thankfully, the hotel that Lord Blackrance had selected seemed to be away from all of that. It was suddenly a lot quieter as they approached the hotel.

“Lord Blackrance had me acquire all of the rooms at this particular hotel to avoid any conflict or disruption with the miners,” Titus said. “Otherwise, rooms would have been difficult to come by.”

“Lucky for Lord Blackrance,” Talbot said. “It seems like he thought of everything.” He tried to make that sound sarcastic but was not sure he had pulled it off.

“Lord Blackrance has a way of being several steps ahead,” Titus said. “You’ll see.”

“I’m sure I will,” Talbot said. “I aim to have several words with Lord Blackrance when he arrives. Until then, I suppose I’ll look at whatever room he has provided. I’ll take my leave with your permission, Miss Havenwood.”

Before Clarity could answer, there was a loud thumping that shook the room slightly and some dust drifted down from the ceiling. It was obviously somebody or something big moving around in the room above the lobby. Shouting could be heard from above between two people and then some weird scratching sounds. Talbot could not make out any words but there was definitely a conflict happening.

“Sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” a young woman almost shouted. “A little disagreement with a guest about the rules against keeping pets in the hotel. We’ll have it sorted soon.”

“I could go help them handle it, miss” Talbot offered. “The guest sounds pretty big.”

“Nothing to worry about,” the woman said. “Welcome to the Lonely Bell. My name is Agatha but you can call me Pepper. Seeing as how you’re here with Mr. Mapleburrow, I assume that you are guests of Lord Blackrance.”

“You are correct, Miss Pepper,” Clarity said. “Clarity Havenwood. A pleasure to meet you, of course. Have my boxes arrived?” Talbot’s eyebrow rose a bit on the mention of boxes. Had she had things shipped ahead to this small town? It looked like she had packed light but maybe Talbot had misread the situation. He certainly thought it was impolite to ask her about it now.

“They certainly have, Miss Havenwood,” Pepper said. “I have taken the liberty of placing them in your room for your inspection. There are quite a few.”

“Well, one has to be prepared for anything,” Clarity said. “May I have my key, Pepper? I must freshen up before meeting Lord Blackrance.”

“Of course, Miss Havenwood,” Pepper said and pulled out an iron key with a ribbon tied to it and handed it over. “First on the left. Mr. Mapleburrow knows where it is.” She gestured vaguely toward the large staircase which she obviously had no intention of climbing while the argument was happening upstairs. Smart girl.

“I suppose you must have a key for me,” Talbot said. “Talbot Hawkwing is my name. Nice to meet you, Pepper.” He tried his best smile. Since leaving the military, he had had to work at being personable again and he knew that he could come off as formal and stern. He had also spent a train ride talking to Clarity Havenwood whose formal language was practically infectious.

“Ah yes,” Pepper rifled through her collection of keys. “Sergeant Hawkwing. You have the other room at the top, across from Mr. Seneca.” Talbot got the feeling that Pepper was fighting the urge to salute. He would have brought up once again that he was no longer in the military or a sergeant but he decided to let it slide. That was really a conversation better had with Lord Blackrance.

“Mr. Seneca?” Talbot asked instead. “Who is that?”

“One of our party,” Titus said, cutting off Pepper which was instantly a bit of a red flag in Talbot’s eyes. “You’ll meet him soon enough but don’t worry about it for now. He asked to not be disturbed and I am inclined to respect that.”

“I have never wanted to disturb anybody,” Talbot said. “So I am inclined to agree with you. I wouldn’t mind shutting my eyes for a bit to clear my head.”

“Follow me, then,” Titus said. “Lord Blackrance should arrive by dawn. However, dinner will be soon. Listen for the bell.”

“We will,” Clarity said, ending her polite silence. “Neither of us would dream of being so rude to be late to dinner. Isn’t that right, Mr. Hawkwing?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Miss Havenwood,” Talbot said. “Lead the way Mr. Mapleburrow.”

Titus nodded and started to lead the way up the stairs. As they reached the second floor, Clarity muttered some words and made a gesture at the noise coming from behind the door at the end of the hall and there was silence in the hallway. Clarity smiled proudly and then unlocked her room and slipped inside before shutting the door firmly.

A Second Chance Pt. 2

May 15, 2021

Kane Thalek held the pool cue in his hand more like a club than an actual tool. “It just pisses me off,” he said. “I never asked my dad to pull any strings for me. In fact, I asked him not to after I got kicked out of here. It’s not my fault that he’s an Admiral.” Kane liked to think he got in and back into Starfleet Academy on his own merits. He might have gotten in the first time on his own but it was increasingly doubtful that he was readmitted legitimately. The thought made him feel kind of sick and not only because his instructors and fellow classmates were not being subtle about shoving it in his face.

“Could you not brandish that like a club?” Soske Treji said. “This is a classy game. I wanted to teach it to you to make you breathe and focus. Calm down.” Treji was pretty much the only instructor who seemed to empathize with Kane’s position. This was a typical after-hours one on one lesson. Treji liked to play games and knew that Kane liked competing.

“Sorry,” Kane said and took a deep breath. He rolled his neck to get the tension out and then leaned over the table to aim his shot. “They say it enough times and it drills into my skull.”

“Who cares how you got here,” Treji said. “We both know that you’re qualified. It’s what you do with it that matters. What do you want to do with it?”

Kane took his shot and barely managed to sink one of his balls into a corner pocket. “I want to get back out there,” he said. “When I was fighting on Coridan, I knew there were ships up there trying to protect us. I wanted to be on one of those ships. Badly. There will be other planets out there in the same spot. They need defending.” He missed his next shot.

“What would your ideal posting be?” Treji asked, starting to size up his next shot.

“Something in a Saber-class,” Kane said. “I don’t need or want anything cushy or comfortable.”

“You’re definitely not the normal Admiral’s kid,” Treji said. “Take a lesson from this.” He took his shot and sank three balls. “Take your time and wait for your shot. You’ll do great. You might not get what you want but you just have to make the most of what comes your way.”

“I guess,” Kane said. “I just want to serve. I don’t want a boring post on some big ship.”

“No Enterprise for you then?” Treji asked. “You don’t want to work your way up to senior staff on the ship of ships? Maybe some Galaxy-class ship?”

“I’d just keep hearing all of the stuff about my dad pulling strings,” Kane said. “I’ll pass. Send me to the front lines somewhere. Put me in the action.”

“For glory seeking?” Treji asked, goading the young man a little.

“No,” Kane said. “You know that’s not it.” He took a breath and smiled, realizing what his teacher was doing. Leaving to fight against the Dominion had been impulsive and he did not regret it. He had accepted the consequences even though it had led to years of punishment even with him returning to the Academy. He had started to learn to be less impulsive and he was going to have to follow the rules if he was going to get anywhere. This was his second and last chance.

“I think you’ve learned my lessons fairly well,” Treji said. “Do you want to play a round of Springball before calling it a night?”

“I’m tempted,” Kane said. “I still owe you from last time but I have to get some studying in tonight now that I’ve calmed down.”

“Tomorrow night maybe,” Treji said.

“Maybe,” Kane said with a smile.

The Kids of Barrie Park Pt. 1

May 8, 2021

Liam flicked his lit cigarette into the dirt and brooded. The funeral had ended about twenty minutes prior but Liam had hardly noticed it start and end. Sure he grieved for the deceased, John and Tereza Ganton, but he had really come out of a sense of obligation. He had known the two of them since he was a small child. There was shared history there but especially shared tragedy. Being there and watching them get lowered into the ground made it all so real and it set his mind racing. Everybody just faded away while he thought about the implications. Maybe it was just a coincidence but maybe it meant something.

“Pick that cigarette butt up,” a woman’s voice said from behind him. It shook Liam from his fog but it did not make him jump. He turned to face Chantal. Even though it had been over two years since they had spoken directly, he still remembered her voice.

“Sorry, Chant,” Liam said and bent down to pick up the now cool butt. “I wasn’t thinking. Maybe I was thinking too much. Forget it.”

“None of that’s too uncommon at a funeral,” Chantal said. “Do you want to talk about it?” She reached out to comfort Liam but he moved away without really meaning to. He had the grace to look apologetic and Chantal let it go.

“You have to know what I’m thinking,” Liam said. “You were there that night.” He looked into her eyes with purpose. He spotted the scar across her left eyebrow that would never allow it to grow back again. She had gotten off light. Liam ran a hand over his own arm where a scar ran nearly from shoulder to wrist although it was covered by his cheap suit.

“I get it. They’re dead, Liam, and we had a connection to them,” Chantal said. “It hurts. It’s big but it is just a part of life.”

“It’s not just normal funeral stuff. Besides, you know that it doesn’t really hurt,” Liam said. “You know that both of us didn’t actually talk to them much. Most of us do not talk to each other. It’s weird.”

“And yet you and I both attended their wedding,” Chantal said with a sad smile. “We didn’t really know them but we were connected to them.” Chantal had a kind heart, it could be inspiring but it could also be annoying.

“We were connected,” Liam said, nodding in agreement. “We are still connected. That’s what I worry about. That connection. I’m worried this means something.” Liam knew he had that look in his eyes. That crazy look. He could see it in Chantal’s reaction. He was used to that reaction. As a freelance researcher in journalism, he was used to getting that reaction when he had a wild theory. The problem was, he was usually right.

“It means that the Gantons died, it’s sad, and nothing more,” Chantal said. “Now buy me dinner before you blow town again.” She took his hand and started pulling him toward the cars. Everybody else had pretty much cleared out except for the grounds crew of the cemetery. Liam went with her, walking toward his rental begrudgingly.

“We drove separately,” Liam said. “We’ll have to drive separate again. I don’t want to have to come back here, do you?”

“Hell no,” Chantal said. “I would never come back here if I had my way.”

“I think we’re agreed there,” Liam said with a nod. He almost reached for another cigarette but thought better of it. His fingers made a frustrated kind of motion as if they were disappointed at his change of heart. He shoved his hands in his pockets and shuffled toward his car.

“We’ll meet at Dona Habana,” Chantal called out. “No arguments.” She gave him her version of The Look which was meant to shut down any conversation for the moment.

“You know I hate Dona Habana,” Liam said. “I really hate Dona Habana.” It was an Afro-Cuban fusion place that Liam knew that Chantal loved. It was noisy and bright and the food disagreed with Liam’s stomach.

“I know you do,” Chantal called out with a big shit-eating grin. “That’s where I want to go and I said no arguments.”

“Fine,” Liam said. He stopped before getting into his car and watched Chantal drive off. He sighed and thought about that cigarette again when he thought he spotted something move in the distance. He narrowed his eyes in the gathering dusk and tried to decide if he had seen what he thought he did. What he thought he saw was a very tall person. He rubbed his eyes and decided that either way it was time to leave the cemetery. He needed food in his stomach and he needed to explain himself to Chantal.

Summers in Neptune Pt. 2

May 1, 2021

When Buffy and Veronica pushed open the doors to the Library, they immediately spotted the two Queens of the Library. Willow Rosenberg sat on the floor with a circle of old books around her. Occasionally, the books would float into the air and travel to the shelves only to be replaced by another floating book. It was trippy. Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie was similarly surrounded by computer monitors although none of them ever floated. The two of them had immediately gotten along and worked together pretty much seamlessly. They had a fairly similar energy even if they came from different backgrounds.

“Hey Willow, hey Mac,” Buffy said. “How’s it going?” Even though she was literally battle-hardened, Buffy ended up being a bit sunnier than Veronica. Veronica found that a bit more amusing than Buffy did. Maybe it was sad.

“Any information to report?” Veronica asked. “It’s still pretty nasty out there and that needs to stop so we can go back to shoveling 09ers shit.”

Mac turned from her screens. “Language, Veronica,” but she said it smirking. “When will you put your claws away?”

“We have friends where claws are literally a thing,” Willow said. “It’s a lot to adjust to.”

“I can only imagine,” Mac said with a shudder.

“I don’t think we’ll have to with this Hellmouth,” Veronica said. “Sooner or later we’ll meet every monster that ever was. We need to solve this thing.”

“It’s not quite like one of your detective cases,” Buffy said. “We can’t just tie it in a neat bow right away.”

“I know,” Veronica said. “but for the record, my longest case took years to solve. Any problem can be solved.”

“Let’s not rehash the painful past,” Mac said and it was beyond true. “We should confront the painful present. Let’s move on.”

“I’ll go first,” Willow said, standing up. “I’ve been studying this new Hellmouth with my research assistants. Dawn and Wallace have been working so hard that I gave them the afternoon off. They’re getting ice cream.”

“What have you found out?” Veronica asked. Straight to the point, that was Veronica Mars. When she had a problem to solve, she was like a dog with a bone.

“Well,” Willow said, shrugging a little bit. “I’ve read a lot of the local lore, I’ve monitored the ley lines, and I’ve consulted the local fey folk.”

“Neptune has fey folk?” Veronica asked, interrupting but the phrase had been to ridiculous to let pass. She had grown up with Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tinkerbell. It had been a long time since she had clapped.

“Plenty,” Willow said. “I’ll tell them you said ‘hi’. Actually, I won’t. They’re really dangerous to get to know and the less exposure you have, the better. Anyway, I have a few leads. More like linchpins. Demons and other nasties that, if we take them out, the Hellmouth could asplode.”

“Asplode, huh?” Buffy asked. “Sounds good to me and yes I heard the word ‘could’. Come find us when you have some specific targets to stake.”

“We’ll rustle up Logan. Kennedy, and Xander and get out there and take care of business for you,” Veronica said.

“Sounds good,” Willow said. “I’ll even join you if only to protect my lovely wife.”

“Well, that makes sense to me,” Veronica said. “I’ve got to protect my boyfriend.”

“I guess I’ll protect Xander,” Buffy said. “Hmm. Any word from Angel and Spike’s crew?”

Willow fought not to smirk and almost managed it. “We’ve tried every method I know of between technology and magic and there’s nothing,” she said. “They are not on this plane of existence.”

“What does that mean?” Buffy asked, clearly worried.

“It means that we’ll have to wait for them to explain it when they get back,” Willow said. “I’m sure it will be an amazing story.”

“You’re sure they’ll come back?” Buffy asked.

“Angel and Spike have both returned from death several times,” Willow said. “I don’t think I can ever count them out again. Not for sure.”

“True,” Buffy said. “I guess we should move on with the briefing.”


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