Category Archives: abandoned writing

Recovered Tales– The Black Tooth Gang

Today I was examining some old 3.5″ floppy drives, with an eye to recovering old writing files, when I came across this story.  I wrote it in 1994, which corresponds to the Jurassic period of my writing (I have Permian and Devonian periods, as well, about which the less said, the better).  It’s kinda silly and maudlin, and was part of that great mass of scribbling I produced decades ago that never saw daylight.  But it has some moments, and I thought I’d fling it out here just for fun.

I’ve previously posted old abandoned writing fragments, but I may just start posting a few more complete stories I find in my archives, assuming they’re not too embarrassing.

Copyright 1994 (whew, I feel old) Douglas Daniel

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“Keep your goddamn hands where I can see them,” the fairy said.

I did as I was told. The little creep had me dead to rights. The piece he leveled at me was a flechette-gun; tiny, like all fairy weapons, but also very high velocity and high rate of fire. It wouldn’t penetrate deep, but enough sustained hits could be unpleasant. And more of the little jamokes, hundreds of them, all armed and in a bad mood, were pouring out of the rafters of the old warehouse at the guard-fairy’s shout. They were an ill-favored crew– black leather, tattoos, and earrings. It looked like a fairy remake of The Wild One.

“What’cha got, Kekero, what’cha got?” they were all saying at once. Their voices were less like rainwater tinkling into forest pools than fingernails on a blackboard. The whole squadron circled me, exuding far more menace than fairy-dust.

“Got us a meat-mountain snooping around,” said the guard-fairy. “Gweezle, you and Slow-fizz search him. The rest of you joes, watch him.”

I kept very still while two of the fairies peeled off and started to search me. I’d been frisked by fairies before, but I had never gotten used it. Every search by fairies is a skin search.

The one called Gweezle came out the bottom of my trouser leg. “He’s clean, Kekero. Not even a pocketknife.” He looked up at me. “You should more talc, fella.”

The other one pulled out my wallet, opened it with the assistance of three others. Their wings hummed with the effort to keep the weight of the billfold aloft. “Hey, this guy’s a private dick.”

The guard-fairy buzzed closer to my face. He jammed the muzzle of the flechette-gun up my right nostril. “What are you doing here, human? You should know your kind ain’t welcome on this part of the waterfront.”

“I’m here to see your boss,” I said.

“You got an appointment?” Gweezle said. The whole, swirling, dancing bunch laughed; and if you’ve never heard gang-fairies laugh, count yourself lucky.

“What makes you think the big boss will want to see you, meat-mountain?” asked Kekero. The barrel of the flechette-gun went a little further up my nose.

“I have a message for him.” I stared the little punk down. “From the Seattle High Fairy Council.”

That persuaded them. Kekero put a heavy guard on the door I came in, and led me back into the depths of the warehouse. It was dusty, broken-down place; a lot of the freight that passed through Seattle had gone from ship to zeppelin-carried years before, and the surface trade wasn’t enough to keep all of Harbor Island busy. Large sections of the waterfront had gone to seed, and had been taken over by squatters, human, fairy, and otherwise. This warehouse was fairly typical. Broken crates littered the floor. Several shipping containers, rusting and empty, were scattered like some giant child’s forgotten toys. The place was built in the shape of a T– main storage area here, work space and loading docks in the back, through an archway large enough to squeeze three Russian dragons through. Sunlight shone dimly through the dirty encrusted window that penetrated the walls, high up close to the ceiling.

The fairies led me up a creaking flight of stairs that threatened to collapse under my weight at any moment. The dust lay thick on the steps. Kicking it up made me sneeze, which gave the tiny creeps something to laugh at.

Their headquarters was in one of the old warehouse offices, in a half-floor over the work-space. The only human piece of furniture left was an ancient mahogany desk. The rest of the office done up in Fairy Provincial. The floor was littered with bones, rat and other kinds I didn’t want to think about, an old, worn-out Playboy, and dust-balls.

I saw at once why these low-lives called their leader `the big boss’– he was eight inches tall and as burly as a fairy got. Uko the Pummeler, chief of the Black Tooth Gang, reclined on a throne carved from a single hunk of redwood, covered with the pelts of cats and festooned with the skulls of past enemies, set in the middle of that mahogany desk. Nymph-fairies dawdled about his booted feet. He smiled confidently as his boys brought me in. His golden eyes were touched with sardonic humor. Definitely too much Frazetta, I decided.

“My good fairies tell me you have a message from our worthy adversaries,” he said. For such a little guy, his voice sure carried. “Concerning what, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I think we both know, oh mighty Uko.” I went into the pitch, just as I had practiced over and over. I found I had to work to stay focused. Uko had something I hadn’t counted on– charisma. Buckets more than most of the humans I knew.  In one of the Faerie Folk that sort of thing can be overwhelming, even when the package reads “individual serving”. I had to bite my cheek to stay on task.

“The High Fairy Council of Seattle wishes to inform you that it is ready to bargain for the release of your hostage. They are anxious to get her back.”

“I’m sure they are,” said Uko, smiling. Around the office his gang laughed, sending shivers racing down my spine and back. Several of the little thugs buzzed about my head, chortling, poking my hair with the muzzles of their weapons.  “Although it took them long enough to respond to our summons.”  He peered more closely at me.  “How did the High Council settle on a human to do its dirty work?”

I shrugged. “I’m a disinterested party. I get a commission however this turns out.”

Uko lounged back in his throne, stretched languidly. “So tell me– what inducements am I offered to surrender the best hostage we Black Tooths have had a couple of centuries?” he asked. “We won her fair and square, by the rules of feud that have governed the Faerie Folk since before you humans were knocking each other on the head with rocks. Holding the Queen means I hold the whole West Coast Fiefdom by their tiny, luminescent balls.” He leaned forward. “And I haven’t even begun to squeeze yet.”

“Let me be plain, sir.” I paused, waiting, then lifted my hand as if to emphasize a point. One of the little jamokes harassing me, making about his fifth orbit, smacked hard into the back of my hand. He moaned and spiraled to the littered floor. His compatriots, far from taking offense, thought it a great joke; there was much twittering and tittering. “I am very sorry. As I was about to say, I must be honest with you. It is true, that in the short run, you can cause a great deal of trouble. It is also true, sir, that a prolonged hostage situation will only exacerbate the feud between you and the Fiefdom, a heightened state of conflict which– I have to be honest with you– you cannot win.”

Uko cocked his head at me. “Can’t win? Did I hear you right? Did you hear what he said, boys?” The gang laughed, and if I shivered before, this group guffaw practically put icicles on my privates.

Uko stood. He rose up on wings a foot long each, until he was eye-level with me. “Do you think those pansy West Coast simps are any match for us, meat-mountain?”

At the moment I rather doubted it, but I merely shrugged my shoulders. “It’s not my place to judge such issues. My comment was prompted only the obvious fact that the Fiefdom outnumbers you considerably.”

He snorted with contempt. “Let’ em all come. We’ll kick their asses, like we always have. Right, boys?” The fairies cheered and brandished their weapons. It was like listening to a horde of combat-ready chipmunks. “We even got other hideouts. You found us here once, meat-mountain, but you won’t on a return visit.”

“Yet no hiding place is secure forever,” I said. It was hard, playing the voice of cool reason, with these little punks buzzing about and yelling. And the script wasn’t going quite to plan. “In the end you will be brought to battle.”

“Then we’ll cut her throat,” said the chief. “Tell the almighty Fiefdom that.”

I held up a hand again. Three of the bastards did evasive maneuvers. This was not going well. “Before I return to the Council, I must give you the whole message which they charged me to deliver. For the safe return of their Queen, they are prepared to offer the sum of one hundred thousand.”

Uko sneered. “Dollars? You’ve got to be joking.”

I shook my head. “Not Federal greenbacks. Damarzi scrip.”

The whole crowd fell silent, except for some character who let go a long whistle. The Dwarvish scrip was legal tender only in their stores and Caverns, but it traded as one scrip note to ten U.S. dollars on the black market. Uko stared at me, a gleam of calculation in his eye. No one said anything for a long moment.

Then a grin grew over Uko’s face. “Hell, if she’s worth that much now, she’ll be worth even more later. Sure, the High Council can give us the money. As a down payment!” He laughed, and the whole crew laughed with him. My heart shrank to a burnt nubbin. “You go tell the Council that, meat-mountain. You tell them send money, and keep it coming. And you tell them that if they try anything funny, we’ll kill their precious Queen and throw her stinking corpse into Elliot Bay.”

I kept control of myself. Everything we had been working for, the weeks of planning, was going down the toilet. The Fiefdom had been in an uproar for a month and more since the Black Tooths snatched their queen. This would go over like a lit match in a powder magazine.

“I’ll tell them, but…” was as far as I got.

The explosion shook the whole warehouse. I nearly lost my footing; the floor bucked and heaved like a carnival ride. The fairies around me wailed in fear and rage. Glass broke somewhere. There were shouts and gunfire.

“You double-dealing bastard!” Uko yelled. “You tricked us. Kill him!”

I didn’t try to reason with the little jerk. Even as he yelled I moved.

Two long steps, a leap up on the desk. One of the gang didn’t get out of the way fast enough; he squashed with a satisfying pop! under my shoe. The back wall of the old office was glass, dim with dirt and cobwebs. I covered my eyes and jumped.

Glass crashed around me as I landed in the corridor beyond, fetching up hard against the far wall. I scrambled up, ignoring the assorted new cuts and bruises I’d acquired. I jerked the heel off my right shoe, and flung it under the shattered window. In the room the beyond the gang was still milling in bright confusion. One of the punks got off a burst that splintered the wall over my head as the shoe-heel began to smoke. Blood agent, specific to fairies– most it would give me was the runs. Anybody who goes into a gang-fairy hideout completely unarmed deserves what they get.

Two of the jamokes tried to fly through the rapidly spreading cloud to get at me. They screamed and dropped to the floor, convulsing. I could hear Uko ordering a retreat. The sounds of gunfire downstairs swelled; another explosion rocked the walls.

I jerked the heel off my other shoe. It was now a low-yield grenade, would explode on contact once I threw it. I took off down the hall.

The corridor was lined with office doors. I checked each one, kicking down doors where I had to. I cursed the whole way. Someone had jumped the gun. The strike team was supposed to lie low and wait for me to come out. If the Black Tooths accepted the ransom, everything was on track to pay it and bring the Queen out. In any event, the Fiefdom forces were supposed to wait for me to come out. Some junior commander had gotten overeager.

All we had now was Plan B, which stood for bungle, and probably bollix and blunder, as well.  The real problem with Plan B, though, was who had the starring role.  Myself, of course, meat-mountain or sacrificial lamb, depending on your point of view.

I forced myself to focus.  The Queen was somewhere in this dump; that much we were certain of. I had to find her before Uko got to her first. I’d lied to him about one detail– if the Queen died as a result of this operation, I’d get no commission.

I kicked doors, shattered glass, and found nothing but dust and broken furniture. The sounds of fighting were louder. A thin layer of smoke permeated the corridor, making my eyes sting. I could hear shouted orders, those of the strike team amplified and resonating through the warehouse.

A burst of fire chewed the wood of the wall next to me. Three Black Tooths were buzzing at the head of the far stairs from the warehouse floor. They fired again. I felt pain rip through my left cheek and arm. Grunting with the hurt, I tossed the heel and dropped.

The explosion shattered all the remaining glass in the hallway. The shock wave crushed me against the floor and was gone. I looked up. Smoke rolled thick through the corridor, but no one was shooting at me.

I staggered up, wiped blood from my upper lip, and groped my way through the smoke. The remaining doors were all sprung from the blast; at the second one I heard, “In here!”

I battered the door aside and went in. High up, hanging from a hook in the ceiling, was an old bird-cage. Its bars were freshly painted gold. Those Black Tooths were some very sick customers.

As carefully as my wounds allowed, I stretched up and took down the bird-cage. Within– how do you describe beauty beyond the understanding of men? The Queen of the Western Fairies danced a dance of joy within the confines of her prison. Her wings shed light about the smoky, dirty room like a blessing; she was bright and glorious, exquisitely beautiful, golden and delicate. For a moment, I regretted being born a lumpish human– I could have wished to have been a fairy, if just to follow this wonderful creature.

“Thank you for coming for me,” she sang. It was like sweet chimes rung at midnight. “But hurry! You’re in grave danger.”

“That’s for damn sure.”

Uko hovered in the doorway, as his bully-boys, chortling and smirking, filtered into the space around him on buzzing wings, weapons ready. “You almost pulled it off, meat-mountain. Almost. Too bad we don’t give out prizes for second place.”

I wrapped my arms around the bird-cage and charged. If I could get through the cloud of creeps and make it to the stairs, I might be able to reach a Fiefdom strike team. I bellowed and ran.

Fairies squalled and tried to get out of my way. I ran two or three down– they crunched like bugs against the floor. Others battered into me as I ran, like moths against a windshield. Some of them tried to fire, but by then I was in the middle of them, and mostly they hit each other. Fairy screams rang in my ears. But the volume of fire was such that I took hits all over, including a burst that stitched me along the curve of my right butt-cheek.

Angry, contorted fairy-faces flashed before me and I was in the hall. All I had to do was turn right, go a few feet, down the stairs, and I’d be home free. Behind me the Black Tooths were yelling for my blood.

That’s when one of those coincidences happened that convince me that, not only is there a God, but He has an incredible sense of timing. As I turned, another explosion ripped through the warehouse. Maybe my hand-grenade had weakened the floor, maybe not; in any case, under this new insult the floorboards gave way with groaning shriek and collapsed.

I fell. It was twenty or so feet to the floor of the warehouse and I fell hard. I bounced off a pile of rotten burlap sacking, which probably saved my life, rolled and hit the concrete floor.

It knocked the wind out of me. I lay flat on my back for a long time, trying to re-establish comm links between brain and lungs, while all around me the battle raged. It didn’t help when I realized I had lost my grip on the bird-cage sometime during my misadventure. I glimpsed flame, smoke, and flitting forms; both Black Tooth and Fiefdom troops were zipping about, engaged in a flying firefight that surged back and forth. Flechettes sang through the air, chipping concrete and slicing tiny bodies.

My lungs caught with a wheeze. Breathing hard, I sat up. Nothing seemed to be broken, but I was sure going to have one hellacious bruise.

I glanced around. The bird-cage lay on its side ten or so feet away, rocking gently on the concrete. Gasping with pain, I crawled toward it.

The buzz of wings stopped me. Black Tooths swarmed down from the busted ceiling, like a cloud of well-armed hornets, and settled between me and the cage. Most of the itty-bitty bastards covered me, while others lifted the cage. The Queen was still alive, apparently unhurt– she gave a cry of distress that stabbed me.

Behind his gang came Uko. He hovered above me and smiled. “It’s just not your day, is it, meat-mountain? Look on the bright side; you won’t have to worry about how to spend that commission.” He nodded to his flunkies. “Kill him.”

Uko turned in mid-air. The back loading dock doors had been burst inward by explosions; October sunlight poured through. He headed for the open sky, followed by a gaggle of Black Tooths, who between them managed to get the cage airborne.

The fairies covering me closed in, charging their weapons. This time they couldn’t miss. I backed up, trying to see a weak spot in the crowd. There was none. I wouldn’t be running out of this spot. What I needed was a shotgun with birdshot, or a flamethrower.

As if in answer to a prayer I hadn’t spoken, a jet of flame shot from my left and washed over the Black Tooths. Screams reverberated. The flame was so close I had to shield my face. Tiny corpses, crispy black, rained out of the air, pattering on the concrete. The flame cut off; none of the Black Tooths had escaped.

A winged form the size of a horse came around the pile of burlap. Wicked claws scratched the cement; leather wings arched ten feet.

“That,” said the dragon, “will teach you to pick on somebody your own size.”

“Roscoe!” I said, overjoyed. “You scaly son-of-a-bitch! You saved my hide.”

“As usual, boss.” My junior partner examined the toasted evidence of his handiwork. “Looks like it’s a good thing I didn’t dawdle.”

“No argument here. Wait.” The joy went leaking out. I struggled to my feet. “They’re getting away.” Roscoe helped me up, a gentle, taloned claw pulling me to my feet. I hobbled to one of the loading dock doors. The steel doors had been blasted aside.

High over the rooftops of Harbor Island, I glimpsed a flash of gold in the sunshine.

“There! They’ve got the Queen. Lift me, Roscoe. We got to get after them.”

Roscoe looked mournful. “Boss, I ain’t wholly recovered from the hernia I got the last time.”

“Just do it!”

Roscoe moaned as he lifted me over the warehouses and docks and turned in pursuit of the Black Tooths. They were headed southwest, toward West Seattle, rather than north over the Sound as I expected. “Faster!” I said.

“I’m about to split a gut now!” Roscoe yelled back. But his wingbeats increased in frequency.

Fairies, at their fastest, hardly outpace the common housefly. Even loaded with me Roscoe could do twenty to thirty miles an hour. We steadily whittled away at the Black Tooths’ lead. The Duwamish Waterway passed underneath, with straggly trees and old houses behind the port terminals along its banks. We were close behind the bastards when they suddenly spiraled down toward a landing on the municipal golf course.

“Land, land!”

“I don’t like it, Boss.”

“I didn’t ask your opinion; just do it!”

Roscoe obeyed. He set me down a few yards from the Black Tooths, close by the ninth green. A party of golfers stared open-mouthed at the interruption, then betook themselves rapidly elsewhere.

I swayed to my feet as Uko screamed, “Get them!” His remaining gangsters charged us, wings whirring.

“Boss!” Roscoe tossed something to me; I recognized it in mid-air, caught it fair, and blessed the dragon. It was a revolver, one of my specials. Where Roscoe had had it hidden on him, I couldn’t tell, and at the moment I didn’t care.

The Black Tooths charged, firing; flechettes tore up the ground around us. Roscoe flamed three or four. I pointed at a cloud of the twerps and fired. The round burst in front of the barrel; a clouds of pellets scythed through the Black Tooths. It was a shaped-charge, set for muzzle-action and propelling a clouds of tiny balls– a miniature, airborne claymore round. I fire once, twice more, and there were no more Black Tooths flying.

I advanced on Uko. He had the Queen out of the cage; he was holding a knife, fairy-sized, but quite sharp, to her throat. “Stop right there!”

I did. There was maybe twenty feet between us. I calculated distance, speeds and trajectories and didn’t like the answer. “Let her go, Uko,” I called. “It’s over.”

“Bullshit!” The guy held the knife tighter against her throat. Even at this distance I could make out the Queen’s eyes. They were calm and ready, full of meaning. “I can still hurt this piece of baggage. So you and your pet iguana better back off.”

Iguana!?” Roscoe said. “You little…”

“Watch your language!” said Uko. “Nasty words can hurt.” He stared us down.

“Back away, Roscoe,” I said, waving a hand. Roscoe muttered but did as he was told.

“You, too,” said Uko.

I shook my head. “Not before I tell you something.”

He stared at me with suspicion in his golden eyes. He hesitated, but finally said, “What?”

“I just wanted to tell you that I lied. I’m not a disinterested party.” I said the words slowly, clearly, thinking them up as I went, hoping I had read this guy right, hoping I understood what the Queen was trying to silently tell me. “I took this job because I wanted the chance to kill fairies.”

“What?” said Uko.

“I like killing fairies. I like it when they go crunch and pop.” I sounded like some Humanity First street thug; it was their kind of rhetoric, and part of the reason gangs like the Black Tooths existed. “They squeal so nice. I think I killed several today. I’ll be glad when they’re all wiped out.”

“You shit meat-mountain!” yelled Uko. He glared at me, and his attention on his prisoner wavered. The pressure of his knife on her throat lessened.

The Queen writhed about in his grip and bit him on the face. Fairy teeth are sharp, even to other fairies. She bit hard, and Uko screamed and let go of her.

She dropped to the ground and huddled in a ball as I raised the revolver and fired. I aimed high, so most of the pellet-cloud would miss. Even so, three or four struck the chief. He toppled end-for-end, spraying blood on the green grass.

 

They drove the aid car right up on the green to tend to me, while a whole crowd of golfers stood by and complained about the interruption in their game. The Fiefdom troops came and hustled the Queen away under heavy guard; I hardly had a chance to say goodbye before she was a fading dot in the sky.

The paramedic checked me over. “You’re going to need to go to the hospital to get those fragments removed. Still, looks like you were pretty lucky. Nothing vital got hit. Sit quiet while we get ready.”

So I sat on the bumper of the aid car and just worked on catching my breath. Roscoe came and sat by me. He said nothing. He didn’t have to.

So it was he was around when General Hekuro, High Commander of the Fiefdom’s forces, came by with his retinue. He hovered, incandescent in the sun, and cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank you, Mr. Parker,” he said in formal tones, “for your efforts today. If not for you, we might have had more difficulty recovering the Queen safely.”

I glared at the pompous little pimple. “You wouldn’t have had any trouble if one of your boys hadn’t jumped the gun. Which one was it? I’ve got some very choice words for him.”  Not to mention a nice thump on the noggin.

The General cleared his throat again. “No one, as you put it, `jumped the gun’. I ordered the assault.”

I guess I gaped. “You? You’re the butter-brained twit who nearly got me scragged?”

“We had to move. We had a high-gain mike on you, Mr. Parker, and heard most of your…ur, interview with Uko. We determined that her Highness was in grave danger, and that we had to move immediately.”

“You almost got her killed anyway,” I pointed out. I sighed and leaned back against the aid-car. My side and butt were singing harmony to the counterpoint of the most of the rest of my body. “All right, General, I don’t need your thanks. Just make sure my payment gets deposited as agreed.”

The General coughed discretely. “Well, yes, we need to speak about that. When I made those commitments, Mr. Parker, I did it in advance of formal approval from the Fiefdom’s Budget Oversight Committee. I’m afraid the matter will have to go to them first. I have to tell you that they may not authorize the full amount.”

I growled– an actual growl, from deep in my throat. “Oh, no, you little stuffed shirt. You’re going to pay me the money you promised or I’ll put you in a bird cage.”

Hekuro drew himself up. “You have no right to speak to me so. I’m the Queen’s first adviser, I’m General-in-Chief, I’m…”

His recitation was interrupted by a small burst of flame. Not much, by dragon standards– about the equivalent of a human sneeze. But it was enough to set the General’s golden hair smoking. He bounced around the sky for some seconds, yelping and yoodling, while his aides tried to pat his tonsure out.

“Sorry,” Roscoe said, wiping his snout.

I sat back against the aid-car’s door, feeling content. “Thanks, Roz. That’s another one I owe you.”

He waved a dismissive paw. “All in a day’s work, boss.  All in a day’s work.”

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Abandoned Fragment #11- The Chase

Chuck Wendig threw down a flash fiction challenge today in honor of the new Mad Max movie. The challenge is to write a car chase. Everybody loves a car chase, right?

Unfortunately, I am a lazy scum-sucking low-life cheater from Cheatville. Instead of writing a new piece, I remembered a car chase embedded in one of my abandoned novels, an alternate history story, and thought it might work. I plead the excuse that I have been backing away from doing flash fiction in general the last couple of weeks, as I am trying (really, I am) to focus on Princess of Fire, and so don’t have the energy to spare to write a new piece. Feel free to resent me; I understand.

Please note this is an excerpt, not a complete story; because of that, the end is a little abrupt.

It is incumbent on me to post the following warning–

DO NOT READ THIS PIECE IF GRAPHIC VIOLENCE AND BLOODSHED OFFEND YOU!

Really, it even icks me out in places.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
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The tunnel went down, a slight but noticeable slope. Roberts floored the accelerator and the walls of the tunnel shot past. The vehicle’s headlights were an ever-retreating patch of light in front of them.

Nathan dropped the windscreen. If there was gun-play ahead it would keep shards of glass out of their teeth. He locked the screen down and the wind buffeted them.

Nathan checked the shotgun and tried to calculate the geometries of the chase. Surely the Delhites had no more than a few minutes lead; the fight had not taken long. On the other hand, they could be counted on to be moving at the best speed their vehicles could make, and Nathan and Roberts had no advantage. Nathan prayed that the tunnel would open out onto a single road; if the Delhites turned off before the Americans caught up to them they would get away for sure. Even if they did catch up, there were two enemy cars between Nathan and the one carrying Halima. And Raneesh?— was the thin man dragging Halima the Maharaja of Delhi? He hoped to find out.

The tunnel leveled out, then began to climb. Roberts downshifted once; the car hardly slowed. They shot up the incline, and the walls of the tunnel became rougher, as if the closer to the exit the less trouble the Delhites had taken to make their work clean. Nathan‘his hands gripped the shotgun tight.

The car’s headlights flashed on something ahead. Nathan peered ahead. “Slow, slow,” he shouted; but Roberts was already braking.

At two hundred yards the headlights barely gleamed off the dull brown metal of the cars; but Nathan could see well enough the Delhites scrambling around the vehicles. In front of the machines a patch of red daylight and purple sky was growing; Nathan glimpsed silhouettes of men against the sunset, shoving the doors open.

“They had to stop to open the door!” he yelled to Roberts.

The door was open, a rectangle of ocher. The officers scrambled back aboard their cars. Nathan threw himself into the back seat of their car, as Roberts downshifted and braked again. The cars blocked the exit; they were suddenly very close. The headlights shone on the enemy. Nathan saw one of the Delhites look back at them with wide, terrified eyes as he tried to climb aboard the last car.

The first vehicle shot out the tunnel’s mouth on to the dirt track that lay beyond. The second followed, and then the third, its rear wheels fishtailing. Nathan held on to the seat in front of him and Roberts floored the gas again; the car streaked out of the tunnel into the sunset air, into the enemy’s dust.

The car jounced and slewed. Roberts worked the wheel and the accelerator and the gear-shift as if he directing a concert. Nathan, blinded by the dust cloud, wondered how Roberts could see where he was going. He knew a sudden fear they would lose the Delhites.

The car broke out of the dust-cloud. Roberts slewed the wheel, and the car turned hard right on to a tarred road, so sharp it came up off its right wheels. Nathan held on to the front seat with one hand, the shotgun with the other, and yelled in triumph; the last Delhite car was fifty feet in front of them.

“Get them!” he yelled.

Roberts worked the gear-shift and the gas; somehow, beyond all of Nathan’s expectations, the car accelerated. The air whistled around them. The last car grew big. Nathan braced himself.

The bumper of their car slammed into the rear of the enemy vehicle. The Delhite car slewed back and forth on the road, the driver fighting to control it. Roberts tried to ram again, but the Delhite driver jerked his wheel hard and the car slid rightward. One of the passengers in the back seat twisted around to face them. Nathan saw the pistol in the man’s hand as a black blur. He slid down in the seat, Roberts bent low over the steering wheel and slewed the car leftward; the officer’s shot went over their heads.

The bumper of their car hit the Delhite’s fender. Metal screeched and ground; the car shuddered, then jerked leftward again. Nathan found himself staring at the back seat of the other car, the two vehicles racing side-by-side. The officer, left hand braced against the back of his seat, was standing up, trying to get a bead on Nathan.

Nathan leveled the shotgun one-handed and fired. The recoil nearly knocked him out of the car; he barely held on to the seat in front of him and the shotgun both. His helmet flew off, bounced off the car’s boot, disappeared. The blast ripped the side of the other car and converted the Delhite officer from a man to a ruin of blood and red meat. The two men in the back seat with him screamed, peppered with pellets and bone fragments. The corpse toppled backward out of the car and disappeared in the grass along the road.

Nathan worked the lever of the shotgun, ejecting the smoking, empty shell. He braced himself and aimed at the back of the driver’s head. He hesitated; the man was helpless, unarmed, his back turned. It suddenly felt like murder. Nathan cursed, and pointed the muzzle of the shotgun at the Delhite’s left front tire. The flash of the blast was bright in the twilight, against the dark-surfaced road. The tire shredded; the driver cried out and struggled with the wheel.

“Shove ’em off!” Nathan yelled. Roberts, grinning, tweaked the wheel hard. The car slammed sideways into the Delhite. The driver’s cry changed to a scream as the car careened rightward, off the road and down the embankment. Nathan looked back, as it flipped and rolled. Bodies flew. He wondered if a quick blast would not have been more merciful.

Roberts stomped on the accelerator; the car zoomed toward the next Delhite. This driver knew what was happening; he weaved back and forth, denying Roberts the chance to slip alongside. The batman swerved, trying to see a way past. The right front fender of the car clipped the Delhite’s bumper; the headlight shattered with an ironically musical sound over the roar of the engines. The Delhite vehicle shuddered; the two cars locked bumpers. Metal crumpled and screeched. Roberts cursed, fought the wheel.

The car jerked loose suddenly, as the Delhite car’s bumper gave way and bounced on the roadway, sending up a cascade of sparks. Their car skidded hard left; Roberts yelled in fear. Nathan grabbed hold of the seat, fighting to stay in. The vehicle kissed the edge of the blacktop, hung there for a perilous moment, then shot back.

Nathan lost his balance, slammed into the floor of the car. He pulled himself up. They were now even with the Delhite car. Roberts jerked the wheel; the two vehicles slammed together with a song of bending metal. Nathan found himself staring into the faces of a pair of Delhite officers in the back seat.

He leveled the shotgun, pulled the trigger. Nothing happened– the hammer clicked. “Dammit!” Nathan said. He jerked the lever. The chamber was empty. The bandolier of shells trembled on the floor beside him; he reached for it.

A weight landed on his back. A sudden memory– a summer’s day when he was sixteen, the Carter family’s barn where he had hired out for a day’s work, the smell of the dust of the barn’s floor, mingling with the scent of the hay-bale that had fallen on him. Nathan slammed hard into the floor of the car. His face hit the floorboards, skidded on the metal, the bandolier under him. He returned to the present, and smelled starched cloth and sweat. One of the Delhites had jumped into the car on top of him.

Nathan twisted under the Delhite. The man had fallen part way over the seat, off balance, but he scrabbled for Nathan’s neck. He kneed Nathan in the gut, his dark face fierce.

Nathan swung the shotgun. He had no room for a windup, but the barrel connected with a sharp smack against the man’s jaw. The officer grunted, fell back against the door. Nathan pushed himself up. The Delhite swung hard and slammed his fist into Nathan’s face.

The man was big; it was like being slammed with an oak board. Nathan saw black, swimming spots, skidded back and hit the other door. His head made an odd, hollow, coconut sound as it hit the door’s paneling. The Delhite leapt after him. They grappled, as the cars tore apart.

The officer got his hands on Nathan’s throat. His grip was a steel band on Nathan’s windpipe. Nathan knew at once he would never pry the man’s fingers off his throat; instead he slammed the heel of his hand into the Delhite’s face, over and over. The third blow broke the officer’s nose. Blood flowed, spewing with each breath the man took. Nathan followed with a knee to his groin, as blackness closed in on the edges of his vision.

The car slewed left. The officer fell backward; his hold on Nathan broke. Nathan, coughing, shoved himself to his knees. He grabbed a handful of the Delhite’s dress shirt; he noticed, with odd irrelevance, that the blood was wilting the man’s starched creases. Nathan slammed his fist again and again into the fellow’s face, concentrating on his nose. The flesh pulped under his hand. Nathan head-butted the man, then hauled him up with rage-enhanced strength. The officer clawed at him, but he was having trouble breathing; his face was a mask of red. Nathan pulled him up and pushed him out and over the lip of the door. The Delhite cried out once, fell between the cars and hit the black-top. The body rolled fifty feet, limp as a doll, before it stopped.

Nathan hardly noticed. He picked up the shotgun and the bandolier. He shoved shells into the gun, as the cars ground together again. This enemy driver was giving as good as he got; Nathan’s car slid sideways several feet before Roberts got it under control. No hesitation this time; Nathan jacked a shell into the shotgun’s chamber, stood and blew the enemy driver’s head off. Blood and brain blew through the other car’s shattered windscreen. The headless corpse still clutching the wheel, the car veered and sailed off the road.

The last car was a hundred feet ahead, its taillights a beacon in the growing night. “Go, go,” Nathan told Roberts, as he loaded more shells into the shotgun. He wiped the officer’s blood off his hands onto his battlesmock.

The taillights veered off the road. To Nathan it was as if they had vanished. He blinked, then saw the car jouncing along a track, toward a village in the middle distance. “Follow them,” he said to Roberts.

“Do we have to?” Roberts said back; but he turned the wheel and the car trundled off the road.

Nathan sat down to keep from being thrown out of the car. He finished reloading the shotgun. His hands were shaking. There were a dozen spots on his body sending warning signals that tomorrow they would be in agony. Nathan ignored them, kept shoving shells into the gun. This isn’t finished.

The last enemy car disappeared among the white-washed houses of the village. Nathan could see where the track, which passed through the hamlet, where it came out beyond and twisted away into the distance. He watched; the car did not appear. “They’ve stopped,” he hollered to Roberts, leaning forward. “They’re going to be laying for us. Pull up and stop outside the village.” Roberts nodded, looking grim.

The track led them, rattling, over a dry stream-bed. The palm trees loomed large over the houses. The car climbed the track. Roberts braked; the car stopped in the shadow of the outermost house.

Another bit on exposition– Abandoned fragment # 10– Uncle Zedekiah’s Bible.

I haven’t done one of these for a while. This is another snippet from my abandoned series of alternative history novels, an alternate beginning I never completed. In it I attempted a bit of incluing. It seems clumsy now, but I think it works as an example of how you can go about it. The main purpose of the scene, though, is to establish the relationship between Nathan Cooper and his grandmother, and to show what Nathan is leaving behind. The incluing is in the background, as it should be.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
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It was surprising how little twenty years amounted to.

The recruiting officer had told Nathan he was allowed only one bag. The only bag the family had that he could reasonably carry in one hand was an old carpetbag that had been up in the attic for at least thirty years. He took it down and knocked the dust and cobwebs out of it, run a moist towel over the interior and then set it out in the sun all day, until finally it no longer smelled like an old carpetbag that had been in the attic for thirty years. Or, at least, not as much.

Now it came down to what he would take with him. Nathan laid his belongings out on his bed by the yellow light of his room-lamp. One change of shirt and pants, two of underwear and socks, a towel with his shaving kit and toothbrush rolled up in it— and there he stuck. In desperation he added an old pullover. He doubted he would need it in New Albion, but it was better to be prepared. There were mornings here in the Washita that turned cool, even in June. He would also be wearing his duster, although that was mostly for the train ride south. He wouldn’t need more than one pair of shoes, he figured, and he would be wearing those.

Even with the addition of the pullover, there was still a lot of empty space in the bag. Nathan was tempted to add more clothes. The recruiter, however, had made it clear that he shouldn’t burden himself with too many civilian clothes he would have to either mail back home or give away to charity. He looked around his room. The desk with its own lamp was obviously staying. The rug on the polished floor served no military function. The bookcase wouldn’t fit into the carpetbag.

He hesitated. My books. The product of years of scrimping, doing odd jobs, carrying golf clubs for Banker Nugent and Mr. Pinter who owned the feed store, doing carpentry and hauling trash and doing without a noon-day meal sometimes—he was going to have to leave them behind. Somehow that had not sunk in until this moment.

He ran his hand along the spines. Hermann’s History of the Confederation, Georges’ Works and Ways of the Native Fathers. Rabelais and Montaigne and two or three of the permitted Shakespeares. Cassidy and Simonides, Livy and Plutarch, Josephus, and Clark’s Tales of the Americas, which he had almost worn out through years of reading and re-reading. Modern historical novels and the speculative fiction that earned so much of Gran’s scorn. The complete set of Everett’s histories– The Wars of Faith, The Fall of England, and The First Fleet. Ickes’ Principles of Science, and the math and Latin texts that had once been the bane of his existence and with which now he didn’t want to part. A crowd of friends he was leaving forever.

Nathan sat down on the bed. He felt homesick already, and he was still at home. He hadn’t expected it to hit him this hard. His anger had carried him a long way, and his resentment even further. Now, he wasn’t sure anymore.

A floorboard creaked. It was Gran, come to stand in the doorway. She stood straight, but with her arms folded in that way of hers that told Nathan she was perplexed or upset. Perhaps both, this time around.

“I am trying to understand,” she said. It was a continuation of their argument before dinner.

“That puts you ahead of Anna and Cee,” Nathan said. “They’ve locked me out of their hearts already.”

Gran didn’t respond to that. “I know you’re disappointed….”

“It’s beyond disappointment, Gran.” Nathan sighed. “It’s just the last of a long series of insults.” He hesitated. “What do you think there is for me here?”

Gran did not answer at once. “I supposed,” she said finally, “that you could follow in your father’s footsteps…in mine. Help with the school…perhaps restart the gazette….”

“The gazette?” Nathan snapped. “And what good would that do? What good did it do Father? It’s not worth it if you can’t tell the truth in it. And the school— Gran, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I have no desire to spend the rest of my days trying to scratch out a living teaching snotty kids who’d rather be gigging frogs down by the river. You know I wanted more.”

“I know,” Gran said. “And your Uncle Richard has been very cruel. I do not excuse what he did. To give you every indication that he was about to help you, when he knew how badly you wanted to attend university, and then….”

“Don’t say it.” Nathan couldn’t bear to have it all rehashed again. The useless acceptance letter lay in one of his desk drawers. It had briefly made him the happiest young man in Garrison. The illusion had lasted two whole days. The apogee of my life.

“I do understand,” Gran persisted. “What I don’t understand is why you think going for a soldier is an answer.”

Nathan gave a short laugh. It was an unhappy sound. “Bare minimum, it’ll get me out of this town. Right now that looks really good all by itself.”

Gran sighed. “That’s not a sufficient reason throw away everything you have….”

“What do I have?” Nathan said, his voice rising.

“Do not raise your voice to me, young man,” Gran said back, glaring.

“No, Gran—I honestly want to know what you think I have.” Nathan knew his face was ugly with resentment, but he didn’t care. “Do I have a future here? To work at the family school, under Anna’s sharp tongue? To do odd jobs trying to make ends meet for the rest of my life? And you know there’s always the chance that I’ll get taken in a levy anyway. Better to go as a volunteer than be dragged. What other choice do I have, Gran? Please tell me.”

His grandmother met his look. “Child, I am not going to play your game. I hear your disappointment, but I also hear a good deal about yourself and your wants. God is not in the business of giving us what we want, least of all when we throw tantrums over it. If this is a trial, the Lord wants you to meet it with humility and faith.”

“It’s a little late to be bringing God into it, Gran,” Nathan said. “If you wanted to tell me that it was my God-given duty to endure and stay put, you should have mentioned it before I took the King’s coin and signed the paper. Unless you want another Cooper spending time in a royal prison.”

Gran said nothing for a long moment. “So that’s that.”

“Yes,” Nathan said, “pretty much.”

Gran hesitated, then said, “Wait here,” as if he were about to jump up and run away. She turned and left.

Nathan had just enough time to wonder where she was going before she was back. In her hands was a small Bible. Nathan recognized it as one of the old Bibles she kept on a shelf over her writing desk. Gran held it out. “This was your great-uncle Zedekiah’s Bible. He carried it with him when they took him in the levy for the Patagonian War. The one thing I know they allow you in the Army is a Bible. Take it.”

Nathan stared at it. “Gran, I can’t. It’s an heirloom.”

“It’s the only Bible we have of its size,” Gran answered. “You surely can’t take one of the study editions. It will make me feel better knowing you have it. So long as you promise to actually read it.”

Nathan, hesitating, reached out and took the Bible. The leather of its cover was worn; he could barely make out the lettering spelling out Holy Bible on its front; the former gold gilt was nearly all worn away. “Thank you, Gran.”

Abandoned fragment # 8 – The hunter-killers

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

— Jabberwocky

Yes, the taxes done and filed, praise God. Jabberwocky came to mind when I clicked on the last OK button on Turbotax, although I’m not sure how you go galumphing back with a computer.

I have resumed work on Princess of Fire, although from the first couple of nights’ efforts it appears it may take me a while to get back up to battle speed. Progress reports will follow.

I’ve been rooting around for another abandoned fragment to post. The effort reminded me, once again, that I have a lot of bad writing in my archives. I mean, bad writing. All of you should be paying me not to publish this stuff.

I considered posting the ending of the only tale of Lovecraftian horror I ever attempted, but I decided it simply proved I don’t have a horror gene. I thought about posting another two thousand words from the alternate history I’ve posted two fragments from before, but out of context it would be a confusing welter of fields of fire, weapon types, and not very exciting preparations for battle.

Then I came across this piece, which is the beginning of a story I got about 7500 words into and then dropped. It’s unusual for me in two ways. First, I rarely write in the first person. Second, it involves vampires.

I generally don’t like vampire stories, although I had my Buffy the Vampire Slayer period. The real problem at the moment, though, is that the field is swamped, in large part by imitations of Twilight— and, if not Twilight, then Anne Rice. Basically the genre has been run into the ground.

This story dates from years and years back (far enough for me to see some pretty staggering infelicities in my then-style, some of which I’ve tried to correct here and now), and was conceived as something of a reaction to the whole genre– the heroes are Knights-Templar, serving a unified Church in suppressing the vampire menace. If I had gone on with this story, the team-leader in this piece would have had his assumptions and prejudices challenged by a female vampire desperately seeking a way back into God’s grace. However, I lost the impetus for the story when I had trouble making the larger world make sense. If I ever revisit the tale– probably unlikely– I would have to figure that piece out first.

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Copyright 2014 Douglas Daniel

I leaned out the chopper door to study the roof below. The wind was a hot breath on my face. The summer heat lay like a vise on the city, the sun brazen and fat. The distant skyscrapers were hazed with smog, like some dingy dream. Wearing black was nearly insanity on a day like today, but there was even less sense hunting our enemy in pastels and cottons.

In one way, though, the weather was a blessing, despite the sweat trickling steadily down my back. The enemy would be buried deep today. Far down in the cool and dark, sleeping soundly.

Ground elements in position,” my earpiece crackled. “Reserve team on standby.”

“Acknowledged,” I said into my microphone. I didn’t take my eyes off the roof. It was five hundred feet below the hovering chopper. I wanted every detail in my mind, although I had studied it a hundred times in the hours since we had found out that this was the lair. You never know what little detail might reveal itself at the last minute, a detail that might be victory or death.

The chopper’s blades whispered overhead, like sibilant music you hear more in your bones than in your ears. The machine was running in mute mode, its rotor noise inaudible to the human ear from more than fifty feet away. The specification never gave me much comfort; our quarry were not human. If they heard us coming they could escape, or make our welcome interesting.

It was time. I keyed the all-units net. “Fox Gear Ten to all units; execute Plan Green. Repeat, execute Plan Green.” I switched to the chopper intercom. “Take us down,” I told the pilot.

The blades overhead angled. The chopper dropped like a thistledown. My stomach lurched, as it always did. I unhooked my safety line, disconnected my hard-link to the chopper’s processor. I charged my weapon. God, I go with thee. I crossed myself.

I looked back at the team. They were ready, waiting, expectant. They were probably sweating as badly as I was, between black uniforms, fiberglass helmets and heavy equipment, but there was not a murmur. They watched and waited for me to tell them what to do. I felt a flush of pride in the men. Of course they were the best; I had picked them myself.

The roof came up quickly. I signaled to the team to standby. The chopper turned and hovered, five feet off the asphalt layering the roof. I clenched my fist, and jumped.

I landed, went to one knee. Nothing moved on the roof, but I held my weapon ready. It was layered over with asphalt; the heat had turned it sticky. It clung to my boots and the knee of my uniform pants, and made tacky noises as I pulled away.

The team-members came after me. No matter how many time we did this, I always got the impression of black beetles falling out of a box. The moment the last of the knights were out the chopper turned and raced away in a blast of heated wind.

I dashed for the roof access, and knelt beside the door. The rest of the team spread themselves out into security positions or covered the door; all except Terrera. The tech ran forward. He swept the frame of the door with his hand-sensor. The lights on the instrument’s panel flashed green; Terrera signaled, Clear.

I tried the handle. The door was locked. Terrera moved in again, this time with his decoupler in hand. There was a tiny click as the door unlocked. I begrudged the noise; I would much rather have given up a pint of blood.

I swung the door open. Within was a tiny landing and a steep set of stairs. A gust of air, cold by comparison with the summer day outside, blew up past my face. It smelled of mildew, rusting metal, and moldering wood.

I signaled the team follow me, and went down into the darkness.

Very quickly we left the sunlight behind, as the stairs spiraled downward. I dropped the infrared snoopers over my eyes, signaled the team to do the same. The stairwell was transformed from a dark abstraction into a green-hued reality. My team shone like silver effigies with their body heat. The stairs were worn and broken, the paint on the wall beside it peeling in strips. We went down.

The stairs wound back and forth as they led downward. We covered each other as we descended. It was unlikely the enemy would be lurking this far up, but I had trained my men to never take chances. The enemy was as cunning as they were inhuman and cruel.

The stairs exited on to a gallery that overlooked the warehouse floor. Bakke and Rhodes took up overwatch position to either side of the stairs, scanning the surroundings. Two more staircases led from the gallery to the main floor of the warehouse. Across the warehouse was another gallery, lined with offices, the picture windows all broken out, the interiors dark. In fact, the whole cavern of the warehouse was dark; I realized that the few windows had been painted or covered over. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to keep the sunlight out.

Search by twos, I signaled. Hudson and Clark, Terera and Wilson, Bakke and Rhodes. That left me with Atwell, the novice. I couldn’t see the youngster’s eyes behind his infared goggles, but I could sense him trembling as he knelt beside me. As the other pairs split off, I patted Atwell on the shoulder. Follow me. We took the stairs down to the warehouse floor.

It was hard moving across the floor without making noise; the concrete was littered with broken glass, rusting scraps of metal, rotting stacks of plywood. Atwell and I picked our way along, placing our feet carefully, stopping to listen every few feet. The warehouse was dead silent; I was pleased that I couldn’t hear the other pairs as they scoured its perimeter, looking for below-ground entrances and clearing the rooms that led off the main floor. Atwell and I didn’t scan for tunnel entrances. We were aiming for the offices on the other side.

The stairs up to the other gallery were even more rickety than the first; we had to go slowly, to keep from snapping one or another of the treads. I worried seriously for a few moments that the stairs would collapse under our weight; then we were at the top.

Atwell and I cleared the offices. The interior sheet-rock walls had been mostly knocked down or cut through, making the space a warren. Inside the offices were broken chairs, collapsed desks, rusting filing cabinets. We worked our way from office to office, sometimes going through the holes in the interior walls, sometimes out on the gallery. There was a stench of moldering paper. But no enemy.

We reached the end of the gallery, stood in the manager’s office. The green-lit space was empty. I was beginning to feel a tickle of doubt.

We pulled back to the gallery rail. Atwell spoke for the first time, in a hoarse whisper, “It’s clear, sir. Shall we go downstairs?”

The vampire dropped like death itself. It had to have been in the rafters of the warehouse, waiting. The creature slammed into Atwell and sent him sprawling. Its body struck me a glancing blow and made me stagger backward.

That may have saved my life, and Atwell’s; those two or three steps gave me room. I lifted my shotgun and blew the vampire off the novice. I hit the unholy– to the eye, a pale youth in tattered jeans and sweat-shirt– in the upper chest. The thing screamed and tumbled backwards over the gallery rail.

Contact, contact, contact,” my earpiece crackled, in time to an eruption of gunfire. The warehouse blossomed with bluish light, flickering; someone had set off a UV grenade. Atwell was still down, either hurt or smart. I stepped over him and looked over the rail. Twenty feet below the vampire was struggling to get to its feet, despite the wet, gaping wound the shotgun had given it. The thing was nearly blown in half, but it was trying to get up.

I yanked a grenade from my belt, pulled the pin, and dropped it. It ignited halfway down. Molten fire cascaded down on the vampire. It screamed, shrieking as flame bathed it.

I shouted into my mike, “This is Oscar Executive, report”.

Hostile contact, Class One,” Rhodes said. “Two vamps down, another’s gone down a tunnel. Orders?”

I reached down and hauled Atwell to his feet by his web-harness. The kid was pale, but unhurt. “Proceed inside,” I told Rhodes. “Prevent an escape, but watch for an ambush. Procedure M.”

Acknowledged.” Rhodes clicked off.

“Sorry, sir,” Atwell said. He looked embarrassed, as if I had caught him smoking on duty.

“It caught me by surprise, too, novice,” I told him. I glanced over the rail. The vamp on the concrete below was not moving; he was just a prostrate blur within a blazing bonfire that would not stop until he was ashes. The heat was blistering; it made me step far back. Three accounted for. “Let’s go.”

The tunnel mouth was a dark hole in the warehouse floor, cut through the concrete and a layer of brick into the ground. Raw earth crumbled from its edges. Terrera and Bakke covered it with their weapons. The UV grenade had gone out; two withered forms lay close by. It always struck me how much a vampire’s destroyed husk looked like some abstract artist’s work.

“Rhodes and others just went down, sir,” Terrera said.

“Good. Atwell, stay with Terrera. I’m going after them.”

“Let me come with you, sir,” Atwell said.

The kid was eager to make up from getting caught unawares. I could sympathize. But I didn’t need a novice bumbling around in a vamp tunnel. “It’s all right. Stay with Terrera and cover the exit. We’ll stay in touch.”

I jumped down before the kid could give me any more argument. It wasn’t a long drop, maybe seven feet. I shoved my back against the tunnel wall and scanned ahead on infared. I caught the gleams of the team’s lights ahead of me, around a bend, but that was nearly it; the tunnel was very cool, very dark. It ran in one direction, eastward, toward the bay.

“Oscar Delegate, this is Oscar Executive,” I said into my mike, “I’m in the tunnel and coming up behind you. Report.”

This is Oscar Delegate,” Rhodes said. “We’re about fifty yards down the tunnel. No vamp in sight, no chamber. Continuing with Procedure M.

“Acknowledged,” I said, “coming up behind you now. I should join you in a few moments. Out.” I set off down the tunnel.

I hadn’t got fifteen feet when firing erupted again. “Contact!” my earpiece screamed. There was an unearthly shriek, such as no human throat ever uttered. I ran.

The tunnel open abruptly into a large chamber. There were beds and carpets on a rough floor of boards laid down on the raw earth, a scattering of debris, discarded clothes and trash, and a stench of blood and the bitter stink of vampires living in a confined space. In the middle of the room a vamp, at bay, turned and snarled at the team as the knights surrounded the unclean. It was already wounded, a gaping hole blown in its side. As I came in Rhodes got a clear shot and blew one of its legs off. It went down.

“No fire!” I yelled. I wanted the chamber intact.

Bakke danced in even as I spoke the words. He shoved a staker against the thing’s chest and pulled the trigger. The vamp howled, clawing at Bakke. Then it withered, as if the moisture were being sucked out of it, the howl dwindling away into a fading whisper. By the time Bakke had backed away and holstered his weapon, the vampire was a desiccated husk.

“Medic!” someone yelled– Clark. He was bending over a figure tied to one of the beds. “We’ve got a prisoner, he’s bad.”

It was a youth, perhaps seventeen, tied half-naked on the bed. He was alive, but his eyes stared and wandered. He didn’t respond to our questions or Clark’s examination of his wounds. There were punctures about his throat, lacerations on his chest, and bad rope burns on his wrists and ankles. I switched to the command circuit as Clark pulled out a kit, talking to the youth in a soothing voice. “Medic inside,” I told the op center. “We have a civilian casualty.”

Roger, he’s on his way,” the liaison said back.

“The rest of you, make sure this place is secure; check for other exits.” The team scattered, all except Clark and I. I fumbled in the pouch on my web-belt, pulled out a test packet. Opening it, I leaned over and washed the kid’s forehead with it, one quick swipe. I waited, counting under my breath.

Fifteen seconds passed. There was no reaction to the holy water. The kid had been a vamp-meal for God knew how long; but he had not been converted. “Thanks be to God,” I said, relieved.

“Secure, sir,” Rhodes said. “There’s no other exit.”

I relaxed. “Very well.” I looked at the kid. The youth was now hanging on to Clark’s arm and starting to cry. “Good work.”

Abandoned fragment #7- Northern Lights

As I dig deeper and deeper into my files for lost fragments, the more I find the awkward and the amateur. I have hundred of thousands of words– complete books and short stories– that I am not inflicting on my readers, either here or on Amazon, because they are just not fit for public consumption. Some people have urged writers to pull out their trunk novels and publish them online. I will not go there– not only would these stories be an affront to the English language, they would quite possibly ruin what little reputation I have with readers.

This fragment comes from an abortive historical novel I started, long ago, around the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900. It died very quickly because I realized that I did not have nearly a good enough handle on the Chinese perspective to make a decent job of it. This opening is not bad (I think) but it illustrates how awkward I was in that period when I was not writing sci-fi or fantasy.

Copyright 2013 Douglas Daniel.

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Jason stepped into the barroom, closing the heavy doors behind him against the chill of the October night. Out-of-tune piano music washed over him, along with the stink of cigar smoke, spilled beer, and man-sweat. Only a low murmur of talk carried to him under the music. It was mid-week, and most of the miners in Moose Crossing were two days away from having enough money to afford the Borealis Club. The Club seemed almost untenanted; there were several empty tables dotted like desert islands around the saw-dusted floor. A couple of whores drifted about like sad galleons with tattered rigging, but none of the poker players or the serious drinkers who did occupy the tables paid them any attention. Jason appreciated the quiet.

The bouncer, a beefy little man with a bowler hat and eyes like the dots left by a sharp pencil point, flicked Jason one look, and decided to let him live. “Evening, Mr. Welch,” the man said from the high stool on which he perched. It constantly amazed Jason how the fellow remembered his name; he didn’t come in here that often. Still, Jason reflected, Moose Crossing was a small town, rail-head or no. “How have you been, sir?”

“Fair to middlin’,” Jason answered, not really interested in talking to the man. The bouncer’s name was Rudd, and his chief interest in life was the maintenance of peace and order in the bar while he was on the job. Everything, including casual conversation, served that end. As long as he stood and talked to Rudd, Jason knew he was in some sense merely a target.

“Glad to hear it, sir.” The bouncer’s eyes swung off Jason as the door opened again, and Jason stepped forward, out of the locus of danger.

Jason crossed the floor to the bar. The nearest bartender– there were two, neither looking overworked at the moment– eyed him as if he were a dirty snowball someone had rolled up against the clean wood of his bar. “Beer,” Jason said shortly, feeling about as conversational with the bartender as he had with Rudd. He took his spectacles off, wiped off the slight dew of condensation that had formed on the lenses with his shirtsleeve.

“Pabst?” the bartender asked, just as short.

“Yeah.” Jason reflected that it was a bad sign when Rudd was the most talkative man in the house.

The bartender drew the beer down into a smudged glass, plopped it down in front of Jason. Jason dropped a nickel on the bar and it disappeared with a sweep of the barkeeper’s fat hand. Jason sipped the foam and let his thoughts roam as he stared without seeing at the bar.

One of the whores wandered over—Jessie. Her yellow air was unhappily curled; Jason reckoned that it was naturally as straight as straw when it wasn’t messed with. She leaned against the bar beside him.

“You lonely tonight, Jason?” she asked languidly. She was trying to look sultry. In her case it was like a turnip trying to look like a porterhouse steak.

“Not especially,” Jason said. He sipped.

Jessie pouted. “You say that every time I talk to you. What’s the matter, don’t you like girls?”

“I like girls fine,” Jason said back. Brown skin as smooth as silk. He forced the image out of his head.

“Well, you never show any sign of it. Jesus, in the six months you’ve been working for the mine I haven’t seen you go upstairs once with any of the girls. You must have a powerful head of steam built up.”

If you only knew, he thought. “Might be dangerous for you to be on the receiving end.”

Jessie smiled. For a moment she was almost pretty. “I could take my chances.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Oh, come on. I’m bored. I might even sweet-talk Mrs. McCarthy into giving you a discount.”

“Oh, as if that’s likely,” the bartender interjected, from where he was wiping a glass.

“You dry up, Mr. Davis. You got your cut out of him; I’m just trying to get mine.” She returned her attention to Jason. “What do you say?”

“You’re very persuasive, Jessie.” Jason looked at her over the rims of his spectacles. “But, no. Sorry.”

Jessie huffed. “Are all you Yankees so stubborn?”

Jason clenched his teeth. “Never call somebody from Texas a Yankee, Jessie—you could get hurt.”

“All of you look alike to me,” she said back. She pushed away from the bar. “Suit yourself. Just don’t sprain a wrist relieving yourself later.” She moved away.

“That one’s got a mouth on her that’ll land her in trouble someday, eh?” the barkeeper said.

“Most likely.” There were all kinds of ways of getting in trouble, Jason reflected.

He drank his beer slowly, warming up in the close air of the bar. The piano player finished whatever song he had been hammering at and wandered off for a moment. One of the card games got noisy for a few moments, until a misunderstanding was straightened out about whether deuces were wild. No fists flew– by Borealis Club standards it wasn’t even an argument. Even Rudd spared it only a passing glance.

The doors swung open. It was Mr. Grieg. The manager of the mine workshop and telegraph office exchanged nods with Rudd, came toward the bar. Jason regretted not having finished his beer more quickly with each step the man took, because he was coming straight toward him.

“Welch, good,” Grieg said. He had a slight accent, but spoke better English than a lot of the Norwegians who worked the mine. He leaned against the bar, hunched over beside Jason. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Jason put the glass down, wiped a bit of foam off his lip. “Yes, sir?”

“We got a message down at the telegraph from Winnipeg,” Grieg said. He waved the barkeep away when the man came near, looking expectant; Davis shrugged and ambled off. “It was for the Mounted Police Station.”

Chill winds shot through Jason’s guts. “Yes, sir?” was the only thing he trusted himself to say.

“I’ve sent Randolph down to check the line,” Grieg said. “The message seemed garbled somehow. I may need you to check the electrical connections on our end.”

“All right, Mr. Grieg,” Jason said, “right now?”

Grieg waved him back down as he started to rise. “No rush, no rush. Randolph will be an hour or so checking the line. I actually think it was the operator on the other end that caused the error. I just want to make sure of the message before we pass it on to the Mounties.”

Jason swallowed, trying to maintain a facade of calm. “What was wrong with it?”

Grieg shrugged. “It seemed strange– they were sending a message to the station saying they should detain a man named Walker. Supposedly an American who works for the mine. But I personally know there are no Americans named Walker here. Once we’ve checked the line and equipment I’m going to have the message resent.”

“I see, sir,” Jason said. He was sweating now, a thin trickle down the center of his back.

“So finish your beer,” Grieg said. “Then do a thorough check. Once you’re done– oh, say in two hours– we’ll request the Winnipeg operator to resend. All right?”

“Very well, Mr. Grieg.”

The manager nodded, pushed himself away from the bar. Jason hesitated, then said, “Mr. Grieg?” He couldn’t let it go at just that.

Grieg stopped. “Yes?”

“Thank you,” Jason said.

Grieg paused, then nodded again. He didn’t say another word; he turned and left.

Jason forced himself to finish the beer. The piano player resumed his assault on the keys; some of poker players cashed out and were replaced by new players. After about fifteen minutes the beer was finally a residue of suds in the bottom of the glass. “Good night, Mr. Davis,” Jason said as he stood.

“Not another?” the barkeeper asked.

Jason shook his head. “You heard Mr. Grieg– I got work to do.”

Davis shook his head. “And I think I have a hard job. Good night, Mr. Welch.”

Jason went back out into the night. He pulled his coat close around himself as he struck off down the street toward the telegraph office. The mud in the ruts of the road was frozen, forcing him to watch where he was putting his feet. The moon was out, so it wasn’t hard, and there was light from the other establishments he passed– the Hoopla, the Bear’s Den, Mother Yancey’s. Tinny music echoed from most, but the street was almost deserted. The sky was clear, though the air smelled of snow.

Jason made himself walk. He wanted to run. But he had to go right past the Mountie station to get to the telegraph office, and the last thing he wanted to do was attract the attention of the trooper on duty. Grieg had given him a frame of time in which to act. The first thing to do was play the role of the dutiful employee going about a dull task.

He reached the telegraph office. The place was dark– there was no sign of Grieg or Randolph, the lineman. Jason regretted the fact that he would never see the manager again. He was a decent man to work for.

He went upstairs to his room. He grabbed a blanket and worked quickly to make a bedroll. Spare spectacles in their case, a Bible, shaving gear, clothes, a box of ammunition, socks– he’d have to leave his second-best boots, no room. He rolled it all together and tied the ends. He grabbed a canteen, stuffed a box of crackers into a bag with an apple he had on the nightstand. From inside the mattress he pulled his money– almost fifty pounds sterling in those big British notes with Victoria on them, twenty dollars in American silver eagles, and a tiny bag of gold dust he won the one time he’d been tempted into a poker game. Jason smiled at that memory. That was his father’s fault, the same man who had taught him how to make up a bedroll. The best Baptist preacher in Bejar County, Texas, as well as a first-class card sharp.

The money went into a wallet, which Jason hung by a chain around his neck, next to his skin. Back on with the coat; he’d need it tonight. He slipped the bedroll over his shoulder, settled it into place. He didn’t strap on the gun-belt, nor the shoulder-holster– that would be too conspicuous, too likely to raise a shout if he were seen. Instead he made sure both pistols were loaded and that there were bullets in all the loops. He didn’t want to have to shoot his way out of town, most especially and critically he didn’t want to shoot any Mounties, but the possibility existed. He slung the gun-belt and harness with the pistols over his shoulder, picked up the bag.

He stopped, wondering if he had forgotten anything he needed. Looking around the room he had a moment of regret. He had begun to think he was going to be able to settle here, to stop running. He should have known better.

He left. There was still no sign of anyone downstairs. Jason cut quickly out the back and into the trees behind the office. There was a path that led down into and out of the ravine that separated the main street from the rail yard. Jason took it, picking his way carefully– a broken leg right now would be a major inconvenience. He reached the bottom of the gully, which was almost as pitch-black as the middle of a coal-heap, and started up the other side.

He paused under the lip of the ravine on the far side, peered over. The rail yard was a flat expanse of about five or so acres, five tracks feeding from the loading area at the north end, where the coal was brought down and dumped from the mine trolley. There were, as usual, several large fires burning around the area, to give light and some warmth to the workers. The mine kept the loading going day and night– this seam was huge, he heard, equal to anything in Kentucky or the Pennsylvania hills, and the owners were determined to extract everything they could, as quickly as they could. Once it was played out, Jason reckoned, the mine would be abandoned, and quite probably Moose Crossing would be given back to the forest, but meanwhile it was two shifts around the clock.

As he watched a trolley rumbled in, shuddered to a stop with groaning brakes, and began to dump its load. By the loading platform was a train with coal cars waiting to receive the ore. Workers on the platform, so be-smudged with coal dust they were hardly more than shadows in the flickering light, shoveled the ore into the cars.

It was the other train in the yard that interested Jason, however. It was a freight, its boxcars unloaded, ready to deadhead back to Vancouver. It stood halfway across the yard, the engine at its head puffing steam as it took on water. That was his ride out of Moose Crossing. The problem lay in getting to it.

There was no one between him and the train in a direct line, but there were workers scattered around the yard, either going about on errands or pausing to warm themselves at one or another of the bonfires. If he dashed for the train he would surely draw attention to himself. Amble out, and avoid the fires. That was it.

Jason, wrapping himself with casual like a cloak, climbed up out of the ravine and strode into the yard. Cinders and bit of coal crunched beneath his boots; the place smelled of wood smoke, coal smoke, and steam. He forced himself to go slowly, to take his time as if he were a worker tired from eight hours in the cold and still facing another four. He moved in a careful arc that stayed well out of the circle of light cast by one of the bonfires. A few men stood around it, but none of them seemed to notice him. He stepped carefully; it would be very bad to trip over a rail right now.

He was within a few yards of the train when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Two men were walking down along the train, looking in the cars, talking. Jason recognized one as a yard worker, an Englishman; the other one was Franklin, a Mountie corporal. The two of them were maybe fifty yards away. Jason held the urge to run away at arm’s length. There were some crates stacked close by, covered by a tarpaulin. He angled his walk into their lee, for lack of anything better.

On that side Jason saw that there were actually two stacks of crates under the canvas, with a narrow gap between. He quickly wedged himself into it, shoving back as far as he could to squat on his heels. He was sure he could not be seen by any casual observer– to find him someone would have to come right up to the gap and shine a light into the space. He waited.

The voices of the two men gradually drifted to his ear as they came closer. “…you say this Yank has been working here for five months?” It was the yard worker, a man Jason did not know.

“Six,” said Franklin. “At least, if it’s the man we’re thinking it is. Worked in the telegraph office and the machine shop. Wanted for murder down south.”

Jason closed his mouth on a curse. Grieg’s attempt to withhold the contents of the telegram had failed somewhere.

“I think I’ve seen the fellow you’re talking about. Weedy sort, with spectacles?”

“The very one.”

“Well, who’d have thought? He didn’t look like a killer.”

You’d be surprised.

“You never can tell– had a Indian last year who looked like to be too young to piss by himself, and he went and cut up two men over a game of cards.” Jason smiled at Franklin’s tone of mature knowledge; the man was a year younger than he was. “This Walker fellow killed four men, they say.”

They were directly opposite the crates, now, and Jason tried to still his breathing. The yard worker was saying, “S’truth? Should we be looking for him alone, then?” The man’s Cockney accent was suddenly a good deal stronger.

“You’re not alone– I’m here.”

The two men now emerged into the narrow field of vision afforded by the gap in front of Jason. Their backs to him, they were lifting the lantern and peering into boxcars. Jason watched as they reached the end of the train. A figure, one of the train crew, emerged from the caboose and spoke with them for a moment. A wave of hands and the two came back the way they had come.

Jason held himself absolutely still– except for the hand that slipped one pistol from a holster. Surely he wouldn’t have to use it; neither of them would be able to see him unless they came right up and shined their light into the space. Still, sweat pooled in the small of his back as he crouched.

And then, as if out of some nightmare, he heard Franklin say, “What about those crates?” and saw him turn toward the stack. Jason gripped the pistol tighter, but resisted the urge to lift it and fire now. Surely this wasn’t going to happen. Jason wondered if he could kill Franklin. He teetered between the thought of stark murder and the certainty of hanging if he surrendered.

“We just stacked those this afternoon,” the yard worker said.

“So Walker couldn’t have wedged himself in here?” Franklin replied.

No, he didn’t, I’m not here, Jason thought at the Mountie.

Franklin closed in and brought the lantern up. Jason raised his pistol. In this position the recoil would bid fair to break his wrist. Franklin would have to bend down to shine the light in; that would be the moment to fire. The Mountie was three paces away.

A shrill, piercing whistle sounded from the other side of the yard, three urgent bursts. Franklin jerked upright as if stabbed from behind. Jason recognized the signal– the Mounties’ own call for assistance.

“They must have caught him!” Franklin exclaimed. “Come on.” He was gone.

Jason lowered his pistol, trying to hear the fading footsteps of the two men over his own thudding heart. Then another whistle sounded– the freight’s whistle, two good blasts. Jason heard the train start forward and the slack go out of the string of cars with a crash that went down the train like a string of firecrackers going off.

“Damn it,” Jason snapped. He plunged out of the gap into the night air, and saw that the train was already moving. He dashed for the nearest car. By the time he reached it the train was already rolling at better than walking speed; Jason had to trot alongside the car, praying that he didn’t trip on a tie or turn an ankle on the roadside gravel. Thankfully the car’s doors were open; he tossed in his bedroll, had to leap a switch, then his guns and the extra bag. Now the train was moving as fast as he could run. It was now or never. He leapt up, just as he and his brothers had done many a day when they were younger, jumping on and off the Texas and Mobile freights that lumbered through town. He jumped up and grabbed the door-handle, lifted his feet clear of the ground, and swung himself inside. He was thankful he was on the wiry side; some of his beefier cousins were never able to do that.

Jason quickly gathered his possessions and dragged it all into the forward end of the car. There he found a good-sized pile of straw, more welcome than a set of satin sheets. He piled the sweet-smelling stuff around him as he hunkered down in a corner. The train, going a good clip now, left the yard and passed into the forest beyond.

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I would like to revisit this story in one way or another in the future, especially as it involves a period of history (the turn of the Twentieth Century) and a region (the Far East) that fascinate me. In my original idea these stories would have run right through the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War to World War I. But, as with most of these abandoned stories, their priority is far to the rear of more current projects. And I have only so much time left in this life.

Maybe if I stopped playing Halo….

Later.

Abandoned fragment # 6- the slaves.

The last day or so I have had a terrible time with posts. I wrote and posted a long piece on self-publishing marketing strategies. I read through it again, realized I was being a bloviating jerk (I do that sometimes), and removed it. This morning I decided to post an abandoned fragment, prematurely hit publish, removed it, then realized I didn’t want to publish that fragment, I wanted to publish this fragment. Just goes to show that a master’s degree isn’t a guarantee that you know what you’re doing.

This fragment is from a fantasy novel from years and years (and years) ago. After 30,000 words the novel petered out, probably because I was trying to do something too ambitious for my level of skill at the time. The protagonist, a young outcast barbarian, has been stolen away as a slave and is on a slaver’s barge headed downriver. In this piece, he decides to do something about it. I find it interesting I first achieved a small degree of competence, and confidence, in writing action scenes. It was characters and creating believable lives for them that I found really hard.

Reading the following passage will probably not cause your skin to break out, nor interrupt the smooth functioning of your endocrine system, but scientific studies have not completely ruled out the possibility. Copyrighted by me, 2013.

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Sometime after the slaves had been fed the third time, the ship dropped anchor. There were calls and orders back and forth above, including the one Karagam now recognized as turn in, the ship’s secure. There was a distinct quieting down up above.

“This is probably our last stop,” the Kuiritan whispered. “Probably reach the mines’ landing tomorrow.”

As horrible as this voyage had been, Karagam didn’t want to think about what that meant. Even in Sa-sania, mining had been the work of slaves and condemned men, and few lived long. Whatever kind of mining it was—and the Kuiritan had been vague about that—it wasn’t something you did for your health.

What’s to be done?. Unless they could figure out some way to melt iron without a fire, there was no escape for any of them. Even then, there would be a bad fight getting out of this hold and off the ship against the whips and swords of the slavers.

Nothing will be gained by not trying. Karagam looked around. How could he see this space, this entryway into the land of the dead, differently?

He looked at the ring bolt to which the chain that connected the slave’s collars was shackled. It was firmly embedded into the ship’s timbers. It was not loose and Karagam had no chance of ripping it out by force. The chain itself was cunningly looped through iron staples driven into the wood of the benches, to prevent the slaves from all pulling on it together. Karagam reckoned that if he had a few months he could possibly work the ring bolt loose, a little at a time. But he had only hours.

The lock fastening the end of the chain to the ring-bolt was strong and cunningly worked. It was far better made than any lock Karagam had seen in the north. There was no chance, he decided, of popping it open by force.

Locks need keys. And the keys the slavers carried for all the shackles and collars were obviously the true answer to that riddle. Just as obviously they were exactly the items most jealously guarded by the slavers—only the head driver and the man on watch had copies.

The watch. The driver on watch carried his keys on a ring on his belt. Karagam twisted his head around to look down the dim hold to the companionway at its end. The driver on duty was seated at the head of the steps, just out of sight. The ship was quieting down; quite possibly no one was still awake by now except the deck watch and the slaver here. Perhaps not even them. Karagam’s hands were unshackled, like all the slaves. It would be the work of a moment to snap a man’s neck. Karagam had never done it, but his uncle had taught him how. How to get the driver within reach?

Many years before, Karagam had taught himself the trick of rolling his eyes up in his head, so that only whites showed. It had been something to scare his older brothers with, until one day his father had grown tired of the tomfoolery and beaten him. But Karagam could still do it at need.

“Kuiritan,” he whispered.

“Hmm?” The man sounded irritable, as if he had been on the verge of sleep.

“I’m going to try something. When I start shaking, yell for the guard.”

“What? What’s that? You want the guard?”

“Just yell for him when I start.”

“I don’t know, barbarian, start what…?”

Karagam ignored the Kuiritan’s questions. He lay flat on his back and gathered his breath. Back went his eyes; it was not as easy as it used to be, but he could tell the effect was working from the muffled oath the Kuiritan uttered at the sight. Sucking up spit, Karagam made it froth behind his teeth and pushed it out his mouth.

He began to shake. He tried to make it look like the convulsions he’d seen a beggar at Haramsford go into one day years before. He made his feet drum on the wooden bench. He forced his hands to spasm and his shoulders to rock. He moaned as if in pain—not wholly feigned, since the motion was hard on his ulcerated back and shoulders.

“Gods,” the Kuiritan said, as if he thought this was real. Perhaps he did. “Guard!” he yelled.

Some of the other slaves, either joining in the trick or because they had suddenly been awakened by the noise, joined in yelling for the guard. There was a snort and the thump of something dropped on the companionway, and here came the guard stumbling down the steps. He had a lamp in one hand and a club in the other; and, yes, the keys were dangling on their hoop from his belt. Karagam redoubled his spasms.

“He’s having some sort of attack,” said the Kuiritan, sounding convincingly alarmed.

The guard came down the hold, skirting the Dwarf, and lifted his lamp to see. Karagam put his whole heart into his playacting. Come on, just a little closer. He had to be sure of his grab—a miss and he’d be shoved over the side with a stone tied to his ankles.

The guard stopped and stared at Karagam. He was just out of range. “Hifa and Juras,” the man swore. “He’s got something, that’s for sure.” He started to back away, obviously afraid of some sort of contagion. Karagam wailed inside, No.

The guard backed up another step. It was a mistake. Instead of retracing his steps he had crossed the centerline of the hold. The Dwarf, behind him now, pulled himself up by the chains on his wrists. Karagam thought that if the Dwarf’s feet had been unbound he would have wrapped his legs around the driver’s neck and done the job himself. As it was, the Damarzi drove his knees into the driver’s back. The man stumbled forward. The lamp went flying and smashed into the bulkhead. Flaming oil spattered across it.

The driver stumbled and fell into Karagam’s arms. Karagam smelled the man’s sweat and the rankness of his leather kilt and jacket. By the light of the spreading fire he glimpsed the startled look on the man’s face; then Karagam had his hands on the sides of the man’s head. Like that, and there was the sharp sound of snapping bone. The guard spasmed, tried to get a breath past the point of destruction in his neck, and died.

The other slaves were yelling, screaming; the flames were already roaring up the side of the hold. Karagam made himself ignore them all. He hauled the corpse up beside him by main force. The ring of keys was cool in his fingers. He ripped it off the dead man’s belt. He made himself try one, then another key, as the hairs on the backs of his arms began to singe. It was the fourth key; the padlock opened with a ting. Karagam almost lost a finger as the other slaves jerked the suddenly freed chain out of his hand. He unlocked the foot chain and it disappeared, too. He slid out of the bench and forced himself to stand. It was an odd feeling to have his feet under him after three days.

“Get out, get out,” the Kuiritan was yelling. Men were scrambling for the companionway even as he did; Karagam could trace the progress of the chains as they made their way around the hold and men surged free.

Someone bellowed, cutting above the din. The Damarzi was swinging on his chains, trying to get away from the fire, which was very close. Karagam bent down and unshackled the Dwarf’s foot manacles, and then—it was like forcing himself forward against a wind, so strong was the heat—he reached up and unlocked the wrist chains. The Dwarf dropped to the deck, but scrambled up at once. He shoved past Karagam for the stairs. Karagam followed, retreating from the fire, which was licking across the overhead, threatening to cut him off, rolling smoke up the companionway. He clambered up the steps, toward the stars and clean air.

He reached the deck. The larger moon was up, and there was plenty of light to see the milling chaos that surged across the weather deck. Slaves ran in every direction; drivers and crewmen, some naked from sleep, shouted and lashed out at dodging men. One came at Karagam with a boarding pike. Karagam managed to dance away; the riverman drive the point of the pike into the wooden bulwark behind, where it stuck. All the training his mother’s-brother had given Karagam over the years seemed to come together at that moment. He slapped the man aside, pulled the pike out, and stabbed him with it. He gripped the weapon tight. It felt good in his hand.

He dodged around knots of struggling men, trying to reach the side of the ship he thought might be closest to shore. It was hard to tell, despite the moonlight; the river seemed very wide on either hand, but Karagam’s glimpse of shoreline off the far side of the vessel drew him in that direction.

The ship suddenly lurched; it was moving, drifting with the current. Karagam wondered if this was a tactic of the rivermen, or if one of the slaves had accidentally or intentionally cut loose the anchor cable. In either case, it made it more difficult to reach his goal. The ship was turning, spinning out of control in the stream, its stern coming around so that it was going backwards. Shouts of dismay from the rear of the ship, from the tiller, told him what the crew thought of this development.

He fetched up against one of the masts. The fighting surged around him. Something sang through the air. Crossbow bolts—a knot of crewmen near the bow were shooting down the length of the ship, trying to quell the riot, willing to risk hitting friends to do so. One of the bolts buried itself in the mast not far above Karagam’s head; the others ripped through the slaves near him. One of them was the Kuiritan. Karagam saw him fold over with a bolt in his belly and a surprised look on his face.

Someone bellowed like a bull aurochs. It was the Dwarf. He was swinging a length of chain. He charged the crossbowmen, who had foolishly shot all their bolts at once and now were frantically re-cocking their weapons. A crowd of slaves followed the Damarzi. He piled into the crewmen, using the chain as a weapon. He dashed out the brains of one man; on the back swing he wrapped the chain around the neck of another and broke it more neatly than Karagam had the guard’s. The slaves who’d followed him bowled over the other crewmen and drove them down with fists and feet.

Flames roared out the hatch from which the slaves had escaped. Karagam decided he had lingered long enough. Never mind deciding which bank was closer; he had to get off the ship. Thanks to the Damarzi and his impromptu battalion the slaves held the deck at the moment; but other crewmen were shoving their way up from below through several hatchways, so that dominance might be short-lived. It was past time to go.

Karagam shoved himself away from the mast, made for the rail. As he did the ship lurched with a violent motion. Timbers shrieked, and a shudder ran through the vessel; the ship had hit something.

The collision—whether with rock or snag—threw him right off his feet. The ship listed at once to one side. Karagam slid along the deck. He tried to get to his feet, but the ship was already sinking, going down on her side. Men were pitched headlong into the water, tumbling past Karagam. Others tried to scramble back up the tilting deck. In the space of a few heartbeats the fighting stopped as everyone, crewman, driver and slave, fought to stay on the ship, above the water already lapping over the low-side rail.

No point in fighting it. Karagam gathered his feet and pushed himself into an awkward dive. At the last moment he wondered if he would land clear of rock or wreckage, or perhaps impale himself on an underwater snag. Then the water closed in dark over him, and he was free.

He kicked himself to the surface after a few yards. He stroked hard away from the ship. He glanced back. It was indeed a rock, a sharp spire that glittered wet in the moonlight. It had ripped a huge wound in the side of the ship, as high as Karagam himself above the water and reaching as far as two men could stretch their arms on either side; small wonder she had started to go over at once. Karagam saw men scrambling into the rigging, obviously hoping to stay above the water when the ship finally settled. Good luck, he thought, not caring who he was wishing well of.

Something thrashed the water close by. Someone—the Damarzi. The blunt little man obviously had not the least idea how to swim—he flailed and tried to paddle with his hands, but his head kept going under. Karagam glimpsed wild terror in the Dwarf’s eyes.

Two strokes brought Karagam to the Damarzi’s side. The Dwarf clutched at him with incredible strength. “Relax, or we’ll both go under!” Karagam shouted at him. He doubted the Dwarf understood his words, but something in Karagam’s tone must have reached him. He stopped flailing long enough for Karagam to get his arm under the Damarzi’s chin. Towing the Dwarf, he struck for shore. Behind them the flames of the river-runner burned higher even as the ship sank.

It seemed to take a very long time for Karagam to feel the muck of the river bottom beneath his feet. He staggered upright and waded toward the shore. The Damarzi struggled loose from his grip and found his own feet. He rushed toward solid land as if it was his mother. Karagam followed. Hills loomed ahead. There was enough moonlight, he reckoned, to reach them before day.

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The basic premise of the story– an outcast making his way in a foreign land– still intrigues me, but the concept, as far as I executed it, would need significant re-working, and about 70,000 more words, before it could see daylight. Unfortunately, therefore, it’s not priority at the moment.

Later.

Abandoned fragment #5- Love and rockets

I’m doing better today, and making some progress on the line-edit for Shadows. If I can stay focused I probably have no more than four days or so of work left to do. The operative word in that sentence is, however, most definitely if.

I’ve got another abandoned fragment, and this time it is definitely a fragment, and almost certainly abandoned. For a brief time I had a delusional concept for, of all things, a romance novel set in England during World War II, during the V-2 campaign in late 1944. I don’t read romance novels, so I have no idea where this came from. I now doubt most extremely that I’ll ever write the thing; but since I tend to doodle the really dramatic scenes of my concepts first, I wrote this down, which would have been the emotional payoff for the entire story. Sometimes my writing process is just…odd.

One WAAF officer + one US Army Air Force tech sergeant + one V-2 rocket – one fancy radar set = this scene.

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Copyright 2013 Douglas Daniel

The cellar shook as if it had been hit by a giant’s hammer, together with a roar that left Anne’s ears ringing. She went to her knees from the concussion. The overhead light flickered and went out. Anne felt dust cascade down on them.

The roar ended and the room steadied. Someone was praying, loudly, sobbing every other word. “Shut up!” Anne yelled. “Somebody find a torch.”

“Here, Annie.” A light clicked on. It was a torch in the hands of one of the girls– Steffie. The Scotswoman’s hands shook; her hat was askew, and dust coated her face. The torch’s beam swung around, a solid shaft of light in the swirling dust. Isaacs was picking herself up off the floor; Bradford was the one praying, on her knees in a corner; Cooper sat in the middle of the floor, looking dumbfounded.

“Is anyone hurt?” Anne called, getting to her feet.

“No…I’m all right….Lord Jesus, help!” The chorus of voices told Anne everything she needed to know.

“Come on, Steffie,” she said. “Help me get the door open.”

“Is that wise?” Steffie said.

“Don’t ask questions– come on!”

Anne unlatched the cellar door, but it took both of them to shove it open. It finally swung up and open; timbers had been lying across it. Filtered sunlight flooded the cellar. Anne crawled out and stood.

There was smoke and the stink of burning things; but the first thing she saw was the manse. The roof of the old house was gone, along with the eastern wall. The three remaining walls cupped only broken masonry, splintered wood and a cloud of dust.

“Thomas!” she yelled. She ran toward the manse.

She clambered atop the pile of debris. For a moment she couldn’t comprehend what was where– the interior walls were smashed, as well, and everything was a welter of broken junk. Then she saw the chintz curtains, tattered and bedraggled under a layer of brick. She bent and began throwing bricks aside. “Thomas!”

Steffie climbed up on the wreckage beside her. “Annie, don’t,” she said. “It’s…he’s probably….”

“Shut up and help me, damn you!” Anne snapped. Panic choked her. “Thomas!”

She heard a cough. She stopped, listening. Another cough. And then, “Ah, crap.”

A pile of broken timbers to her left slithered and fell, and there was that stupid, bloody, beautiful mahogany table, nicked and battered, but still intact. And out from under it crawled Thomas.

Anne clambered across the wreckage toward him. Why was she crying now? She nearly impaled herself on a splintered wood beam, and then she was there. “Are you all right?” she asked, relieved and frightened at the same time. She reached down to help him up.

“I’ve been worse,” Thomas said. He coughed again and stood up. His glasses were gone. Pulverized brick dust sluiced off his uniform. He had lost his cap and dust covered his face. Anne saw that one sleeve of his uniform blouse was ripped from shoulder to cuff. More alarmingly, a trickle of blood ran down the side of his face. Thomas seemed wholly unaware of it.

“You need to go to hospital,” Anne said.

“Maybe—gotta clean up first.” Thomas turned, rather unsteadily, and then stopped. “Jesus Christ!” he said. Anne turned to see what he was staring at, and then wondered how she could miss so large and dramatic a tableau.

Between the manse and the radar unit was a huge crater– thirty feet across and half that deep, raw earth sending up tendrils of smoke. On the other side of the crater the transport truck lay on its side, burning. The radar unit itself had fallen off the trailer and lay on the ground. The housing was riddled with shrapnel holes; the dish was shredded. Over the smell of concrete dust and burning petrol Anne could definitely detect the ozone stink of fried electronics.

Thomas raised his hands, in rage and despair. “Look what those Nazi bastards did to my radar!”

It was too much. Anne grabbed Thomas by the lapels and shook him with all her might. “Damn you! I don’t care about the bloody Nazis, and I don’t care about your bloody radar! You were nearly killed, you stupid sod! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Whoa, stop the roller-coaster,” Thomas said, grabbing hold of Anne’s hands in an attempt to damp out the oscillations. She stopped shaking him and they stood there for a long moment, panting, face-to-face. Without his glasses, Anne realized, Thomas’ eyes were brilliant blue.

Dust be damned. Anne raised herself up on tip-toe and kissed Thomas right on the lips. The sergeant’s eyebrows went up, but he kissed her back. For a moment she hung off his neck and he lifted her up off her feet, and they were just there.

They finally broke the kiss. Thomas set Anne back down. He stared into her face, wondering and confused. Anne stepped back and slapped him, hard enough to make dust fly. She stalked off.

Group Captain Carter came running from the direction of the bunker. He had to step out of Anne’s way. He looked at her retreating figure, then at Thomas. “Are you quite all right, sergeant?”

Thomas rubbed his face. “Beats the hell out of me, sir. And the day started out so normal.”

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You can probably see why I don’t write romance novels.

Later.