Tag Archives: flash fiction

A flash fiction challenge– “Long Term Investments”

Wow, two weeks in a row– I haven’t done this in a while.

Below is my response to this week’s flash-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig– 1000 words on the subject of real estate, of all things.  And for some twisted reason, this one slotted right in behind the piece I wrote last week— same universe, same space opera sensibility.  Only…I think this one is all too likely, if we ever do create an interstellar society.  Which makes me kinda queasy when I think about it….

Copyright 2018 Douglas Daniel

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The sun sparkled beautifully off the waters of the bay.  Juarez took in the vista, with purple headlands shadowing the horizon across the water, and boats, pleasure craft and working vessels, dotting the blue of the water.  The sun was warm, but the breeze off the bay was cool and refreshing after days in a ship getting here.

“And this is the result of, what?” he asked Harkess.  “Two hundred years of terraforming?”

“To bring it to its current state of perfection, yes,” Harkess said.  “But Pequod was comfortably inhabitable within thirty years of our first landings.  And many of the prospects in our portfolio would require even less work than that– in fact, some are step off the ship, plant a seed, and you’re done.”

“Doubtless those go for a higher premium,” Juarez said.

Harkess conceded the point with a nod.  “Of course, as with any other piece of real estate, the asking price of any of our worlds is predicated on ‘move-in readiness’, among many other factors.”  He smiled. “To be honest, it is a balancing act most investors have to make. Savings in initial costs for a less human-friendly world will usually be invested in the subsequent terraforming as a matter-of-course.”

“Yes,” Juarez said, “The investors I represent have been studying the market for some time.  They understand the basic points of planetary investment.” He shifted in his seat. “But as a middle-rank association, we must be careful where we finally decide to put our money.  We’re not a conglomerate; still less are we Shareholders. One false step and we could all be penniless.”

“Of course,” Harkess said.  “And Advanced System Opportunities has assisted many groups in your situation, Citizen Juarez.  The New Way Chosen, for instance, came to us when they wanted to find a world for themselves. So did the Purified.  We have a great deal of experience helping investors of modest means become Proprietors on their own planet.”

A servant came out on to the terrace, bearing a tray with a bottle of wine and two glasses.  He placed the tray on the table between the two men, poured wine into the glasses, bowed and left.  Juarez thought the man bore unmistakable signs of being a mod, but said nothing.

“Please, Citizen Juarez,” Harkess said, indicating the glass before the representative.

Juarez lifted the glass, inhaled the bouquet, and then took a respectful sip.  “A local vintage?”

“Yes,” Harkess said.  “We’re quite proud of it.”

“It is truly excellent.”  Juarez took another sip. “I understand that ASO has a relationship with the Voronovs.”

Harkess nodded.  “Quite a long and fruitful one, to be honest.  Historically, and in the present, they have been a tremendous help.  And, of course, we keep all our licensures and permits with the Consortium itself in order.”  He paused. “May I ask what your investors’ intentions might be?”

Juarez looked at Harkess over the rim of his glass.  “My investors are committed to making whatever world we chose into a place fit for extensive human habitation– but precisely because our resources are not unlimited, we need to see some early profits.  To help us bear the cost of development.”

“Naturally,” Harkess said.  “That would mean some easily exploited mineral assets, or some of the higher yield cash crops, such as coca or makatinte.  Considering the resources of your group, I would assume that we are not talking about mining gas giants or any other such larger scale operations.”

“No, you’re quite correct,” Juarez said.  

“Yes– I think you will find, citizen, that we have several opportunities in our portfolio right now that might meet your specifications.”  Harkess smiled. “And if not, well, there’s hardly a week that passes without one of our survey ships jumping far beyond the Perimeter, discovering new worlds.  I am sure we will be able to find something that will please your investors.”

“That’s all very well and good, Citizen Harkess,” Juarez said, hesitating, “but I’m afraid I must ask about… infestations.”

“Ah,” Harkess said.  “You needn’t trouble yourself, Citizen Juarez.  ASO has extensive experience handling infestations.  In the five hundred standard years we have been in business, we have dealt with more than one hundred.”  He smiled. “In my operations days, I handled five myself.”

“Really?” Juarez said.  “Are they…difficult?”

“Generally, speaking, no,” Harkess said.  “Every world has its particular vulnerabilities.  Our techs and operations people are quite skilled at crafting solutions peculiar to each situation, one that is guaranteed to do no permanent harm to the planetary biosphere.  Naturally, we don’t beat our own drum about it, but we’ve never had a failure, nor a complaint.”

“I see,” Juarez said.  “Unfortunately, that’s not quite what I was asking.  Do you ever…face opposition?”

“Ah– no, we never have.  None of the species we’ve confronted have ever had a technology more sophisticated than bronze axes.   Primitives like that are quite easy to deal with– one tailored bio-plague, a couple of neutron weapons, and it’s generally over before they know it’s begun.”

“What about the Hegeri?” Juarez asked.

Harkess’ studied, pleasant facade seemed to harden, just a little.  “The Hegeri…the Hegeri are a unique case. They were taught their technology by a human renegade.  It is not…native to their culture.” He smiled again. “Besides, they are on the other side of the Volume.  The Consortium fleet has them well in hand. Nothing to concern us.”

“Well, that reassures me,” Juarez said.

“As it should, citizen,” Harkess said, beaming now.  “Besides, if it should turn out the planet you choose does have an infestation, it’s always possible that they will leave some picturesque ruins.  We’ve found that sort of thing is generally a boon to the tourist trade on any given world.”

Now Juarez smiled.  “Citizen Harkess,” he said, lifting his glass, “I think your firm and my investors are going to have a very profitable relationship.”

Harkess lifted his glass, too.  “I hope so, citizen,” he said, as they clinked glasses.  

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FLASH FICTION– “A MATTER OF DISCRETION”

My response to a flash-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig, to write 1500 words of space opera in honor of May the Fourth.  It so happens I love space opera, although I’ve seen very few good examples of the genre lately (I have been dodging The Last Jedi like a healthy man dodges plague victims).  My little piece below is based on an (as yet) unpublished space opera universe I’ve had rolling around in my head for decades.  If I ever get the Divine Lotus series finished (and that is a long, sad tale) I might just turn to the universe of the Consortium, Shareholders, and the Perimeter.

Copyright 2018 Douglas Daniel

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“Damn Shareholder,” Rong muttered.  He leaned against a tree trunk and wiped sweat from his face.  

“Shut your mouth,” Teal told him.  He was drenched in sweat, as well; this world reminded him strongly of Novo Brasil.  “He hired us, he gets to set the agenda.”

“Indeed, Citizen Xiang,” the Shareholder said, from twenty meters away.  He spoke without turning around or looking up from the ruined wall he was examining with a sensordoc.  “I beg your patience—this will not take long.”

Teal gave Rong a sidelong glance.  “Enhanced genetics, tooler. Don’t forget it.”  Rong glowered, but clamped his lips tight.

Maria appeared over the rise beyond the wall, pushing aside vines and creepers.  “Shareholder Mann, there’s more ruins on the other side.”

“No matter,” Mann said.  He snapped the sensordoc shut.  “I’m picking up no ipinsotic traces at all.  Nothing. This location’s a waste of time.”

Teal resisted the urge to calculate the cost of the fuel they had burned getting here.  “Your orders, sir?”

“We go on to Mackason IV,” Mann said at once, with asperity.  “The reports can’t all be wrong.”  He seemed as if he were about to say more, but he stopped himself.  “I want to lift as quickly as possible.”

“We’ll be in the air five minutes after we close the hatches, Shareholder,” Teal said.

 

It wasn’t until they were well on trajectory for the jump radius that Mann sought Teal out.  They were alone in the Pleasant Virgin’s cockpit, with holographic readouts flickering around them.  Mann settled himself into the chair at the astrogator’s station and regarded Teal.  “All in order, Captain Xiang?” he said.

“We’re fifteen hours to jump,” Teal said, “and the ship is operating normally.”

“Good,” Mann said.  His regard of Teal sharpened.  “But not all of your crew appear to be happy.”

“Well, Shareholder,” Teal said, “with all due respect, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about human nature.  We’ve hit eighteen worlds in fifteen systems in the last month, and so far every one of them has been a dry hole.  For whatever it is you’re looking for. Frustration’s bound to show itself in this sort of situation.”

Mann said nothing for a moment.  “You knew that the exact nature of this mission would remain confidential, captain.”

“Indeed, Shareholder, it was made very clear to me,” Teal said.

“And we Purcells hired you and your crew precisely because you have a reputation for keeping secrets.”

“It’s a point of pride with us,” Teal said.

“Well, then, captain, I would appreciate it if you had a word with your people,” Mann said.  “The House of Purcell needs your discretion, and your very fast ship, to complete a task of some urgency.  To help us complete that task, we are paying you a handsome sum. Surely enough to quell any ennui you and your people may feel.”

“Yes, Shareholder,” Teal said.  “I will speak to them.”

 

“Pilkin’ bastard,” Maria said, running a hand over Teal’s bare chest.  “Never was a Shareholder worth the skin holding ‘em together.”

“That may be,” Teal said.  He enjoyed her touch; their lovemaking always put him into drowsy contentment.  “But he is paying the bills, and without this job we might be scratching for a commission.  Things are hard at the moment.”

“In this quadrant,” Maria said.  “T’other side of the Volume, there’s plenty of opportunities.”

“I’ve heard it all already, pretty puss,” Teal said.  “And maybe once our coffers are full, we’ll head that way.  But we have to finish this job first.”

Maria raised herself up on her hands, looked down on Teal.  “D’you have any idea what he’s looking for?”

“No,” Teal said, fim, “and I don’t want to know.  It is not our business. We were hired to haul him about and keep our mouths shut.  As long as I’m captain, that’s what we’ll do.”

Maria stared at him, solemn.  “So be it, then,” she said.  

 

Mackason IV, from a descent trajectory, looked much like many another Earth-type world—ocean blues overlayed with white clouds, green-brown landmasses here and there.  A cyclonic storm occupied a quadrant of the main ocean, but it was too far away to affect their chosen landing site. Teal took the Virgin in fast, not caring if they left a prominent re-entry trail.

They landed on a rocky plain, in a level area between jagged hills.  Even coming in they could see the ruins that covered the land between the high ground; as they landed Teal saw broad roads and the bases of broken towers.  Mann, leaning over his shoulder to stare at the displays, gave off a palpable air of excitement. “This is more extensive than anything I have ever seen before,” he said, transfixed.

They all hit dirt, Rong, Maria, Chris, Mann and Teal.  Mann had his sensordoc out at once. Even from several feet away, Teal could tell the readout was exploding with data.  

“This is incredible!” Mann exclaimed.  “The readings are off the scale! This is what we’ve been looking for!”

“Rong, Maria, fetch the containment vessel,” Teal said.  The two of them hurried back into the ship.

Mann led Chris and Teal through a broken archway, and down a flight of steps.  At the bottom was a sort of small amphitheater; scattered in the dust that coated the amphitheater’s floor were scattered lumps and shapes, most of which were hard to make out.

At the foot of one pillar, however, something glowed ochre.  Mann approached it; it glowed more brightly, while the sensordoc’s readout became even more fevered.

“There!” Mann cried, pointing.  “An active device! It’s what I’ve been looking for.”

“Doesn’t seem much,” Chris said.  The femman knelt down, extend a hand.

“Don’t!” Mann yelled.  

The warning came too late.  Chris touch the device. There was a flash of light, and then a scream.  Teal, squinting past a hand raised against the light, glimpsed Chris afire, screaming.  In the next instant, the femman was simply gone.

“The fool!” Mann cried.  “The utter fool!”   

 

They got the device in the containment vessel using hand-grav tools.  They sealed the vessel; then, with a smug Mann leading the way, they secured it in the Virgin’s front cargo bay.  “We are all rich now,” Mann told them.

They lifted ship at once, with Mann in the crew mess preparing a report to his superiors.  Teal was happy to retreat to the cockpit to put the Virgin on a trajectory for the jump radius.  He still didn’t know what they had found, and he wanted to know even less than before.   

He had just finished setting the jump coordinates when he heard a muffled thump.  The sound was strange to him.  Then the security display popped up a flashing alert, weapon discharge- crew mess.

“What the hell?” Teal said.  He climbed over the seats and slid down the ladder to the crew level.

He burst into the mess and was confronted by a scene of blood.  Mann lay on his back on the middle deck, his eyes staring sightlessly at the overhead.  Rong stood over him, a slug-thrower in his hand.

“Had to do it!” he yelled at Teal.  “The Sheffields– they’re offering a million!  A whole million! The Purcells are nothing compared to the Sheffields.”

Teal yelled in rage and threw himself at Rong.  The man had no time to bring his weapon to bear on Teal before the captain was on him.  He fired another shot, but it missed Teal and caroomed off one of the bulkheads.

Old training kicked in for Teal; without thinking he batted the gun out of Rong’s hand, then drove punches into the man that first stole his wind, and then his life.  Rong’s body fell over Mann’s and lay still.

Teal, panting, sensed rather than saw Maria in the mess’ open hatch.  “He’s ruined us!” he said, his hands clenched in unspent fury. “Ruined us!”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Maria said, “it probably depends on your point of view.”

Something slammed into Teal.  It threw him into the bulkhead.  He slid down, slumped against the compartment wall.  He couldn’t move; the stink of burnt flesh rose up into his nostrils.

“What…?” he gasped.

Maria came amd loomed over him, the quantifier in her hands crackling with residual heat.  “The Sheffields– what a joke. The Voronovs will pay far more. And it will all be mine.” Maria lifted the quantifier.

 

Maria reset the jump destination.  It would take a week to reach the Voronov base where she was to meet her contact– a long ride in an empty ship.  To top it off, she found she was actually sorry that Teal would not have understood why she had to do this. It would have been better with the two of them.

However, three million Consortiums bought a lot of consolation.  

Maria sat back in the command chair, contemplating her future.  She smiled. It was indeed time to examine opportunities on the far side of the Volume.   

A Sno-Globe Considered as an extrusion of seventh-dimensional space

A response to the Sunday Photo flash fiction challenge for December 17th, 2017– 200 words inspired by this image–

220-12-december-17th-2017 (1)

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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I have to get out.

They trapped me here, in this weak little form.  It was revenge, as well imprisonment.  I can see and hear, but do nothing.

We lost the battle in the seventh dimension.  The T’soka were too many.  All we could do was shut down the portal, so that their infiltration took years, instead of bursting in on the Earth in a day.  We still could not stop them.

They forced me through a chrono-gravimetric inversion loop and left me imprisoned.  A knick-knack.  We never suspected they had a sense of humor.  Like Nazis writing jokes on the skin of death-camp victims.

Seventy years I’ve sat on Mrs. Lois Haskills’ mantel.  I’ve watched three generations of the Haskills be born and grow up, and I don’t want them to die, screaming, as the T’soka tear their souls apart.

If there’s hope, it’s Sid.  Nine years old, with ADHD.  You don’t listen to your grandmother when she tells you to leave me alone– you still fiddle with me.

If I could just get out, I might yet be able to do something.  My strength has returned.

Come on, Sid.  Find your inner klutz.  Drop me.

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 12th 2017- The Suit

The Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for March 12th 2017— 200 words inspired by this image–

spacesuit
© A Mixed Bag 2012

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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“It’s all old junk,” Clark said.  “The museum stores it here.”

I saw shapes in the darkness— a LEM mockup, dead animatronic dinosaurs, empty helium cylinders, a spacesuit.

“They have to keep the exhibits fresh,” Clark said.  “Kids like flash and bang.  Their parents want to see something new, or they won’t spring for a membership.”

“That’s a real spacesuit,” I said.

Clark looked.  “Yeah– we got a couple of those surplus.  Time for lunch.”

“Can I stay for a second?” I asked.

“Okay– just don’t mess with anything.”

He left.  I stepped closer to the suit.  Now or never.

The suit was on a standing rack.  I unzipped the main closure.  I wriggled my feet and butt inside, then angled my head into the helmet.  I slipped my arms into the sleeves.  I closed the zipper.

The inside of the suit smelled like a locker-room in need of disinfectant.  No matter.

I waited.  For a moment I thought I had miscalculated.

My stomach lurched.  I floated in blackness. I spun; stars and then Saturn came into view.  I looked down on the rings from about nine hundred thousand kilometers.

“Agent Fifteen-Q-zed,” I called.  “Ready for retrieval.”

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: RANDOM PHOTO EXERCISE — Memories by fire and moon

A flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig– 1000 words based on a random photo from Flickr.  After spinning through a considerable number of pictures, I found this one, by leogln7

Sea snake skeleton

It took me far, far away….

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“The dragons,” the guide said, “were foolish.  As powerful as they were, there were too few of them to rule humanity.  The last battle was fought here.”  He pointed at the vast skeleton, lying in the shallows of the placid lake.  “That’s old Thoronongrom, the king of the dragons.  He fell here with a thousand arrows in him, shredded by cannon, but it still took him three days to die.  The corpse was a generation decaying.”

“How horrible!” gasped the Marchioness of Tre.  She held her scented fan to her face.  “I can almost smell the rotting flesh!”

The dandy at her elbow laughed.  “Come, dearest, it’s been two centuries.”  His fingers fondled the hilt of the jeweled sword at his hip.  “These bones are bleached clean.”

“Roderick, must you spoil everything?” the Marchioness pouted.

The group stood on the lake shore, gawping at the skeleton, as the guide went on about the battle and its great slaughter.  The lords and ladies, with jewels and fine silks, had thought it diverting to come down to the shore for a while, before the evening’s feast and fireworks to celebrate the anniversary of the victory.  They whispered and laughed among themselves as the fellow went on.

“Probably expects tips in direct proportion to how loquacious he can be,” Jason, Baron of Rogen, whispered in Clara’s ear.  Clara wished he wouldn’t do that—she was trying to listen.

“In the end,” the guide said, “although not all the dragons fell here, their power was broken.  The Battle of Silent Lake ended their rule over humanity, and since we have ruled ourselves, to our own greater glory.”

“Hear, hear,” said Duke Coram, and the crowd applauded.

Clara did not join in.  Glory—she found it an ironic word.  Of course, this fellow, making a living off showing fancy folk the bones of legends, wasn’t going to suggest to any of them that their ‘glory’ came at a high price.

The crowd went back up to the mansion overlooking the lake, as the sun set.  There were aperitifs before the meal, and the high-born enjoyed them as they watched the sunset.  Then, by the light of huge lanterns the nobles danced to swiftly-played music, before sitting down to the meal, which was served by silent servants.

Clara, relegated to the outer tables, got up as the fireworks began.  Great balls of crimson and green fire burst high in the air, reflecting in the face of the lake, but she ignored them as she went down the steps to the lower terrace.  Her path was one she would follow to obey a call of nature.  Before she could reach the porticos, however, Jason intercepted her.  “Where are you going?” he demanded.

“My dear baron,” Clara said, “even ladies of the first rank have to relieve themselves from time-to-time, not to mention the daughters of country squires.”

Jason smiled and leaned against a balustrade.  “You are such a queer little thing.  You were really intent on what that fellow had to say this afternoon.”

“Why not?” Clara said.  “Have you no interest in history, my lord?”

“I’ve told you before, call me Jason.”

“I don’t wish to imply an intimacy to which I have no right,” Clara said.  Not yet—and, with any luck, never.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Jason said.  “But, to answer your question, not particularly.  It’s all dead and gone.  Particularly the dragons.  Ancient business that has no meaning now.”

“No?” Clara said.  “I think we are the children of history, and everything in the past lives in us.”  She hesitated.  “My lord, do you believe the tales that not all the dragons died?  That some took human form and that their descendants live among us?”

Jason’s insouciant smile faded.  “That’s not legend, little Clara,” he said.  “That’s dangerous.  The sort of loose talk that puts one in the company of the secret police.”

“Forgive me, then, my lord,” Clara said.  “I spoke out of turn, and foolishly.  Now, please excuse me—I do not wish to have an accident.”

He let her go.  She went through the porticos, but instead of going to the privies she went down to the beach again.  The fireworks continued, even as the Bone Moon rose above them.

She walked out into the water, careless of her shoes and gown, until she stood right under and within the skeleton of Thoronongrom.  She stood there and found it hard to catch her breath, as she tried to imagine what it had been like, on that day, when the old realm had been thrown down, and the new—a regime that needed secret police—was born.  She laid a hand on the giant, weathered rib beside her, and tried to imagine what Thoronongrom had been like, alive, and dealing out death and justice.

I have seen you in my dreams.

She waded to the skull.  The great jaws were agape, as they were in that final moment of death, two centuries before.  Clara tried to picture what sort of agony it was for this great creature to spend three days a-dying, and found she could not.  Her eyes filled with tears.

Music echoed from the terrace above, as the fireworks went on.  Clara was sure she could hear laughter.  The revelries would now move into their terminal, drunken phase, she supposed.

She reached up, to touch one of the great fangs in the upper jaw.  Almost without intending to, she broke off its tip.  It was easier than she thought—the skeleton was so weathered it was well on its way to becoming chalk.

She stared at the tip in her hand.  She closed her fist about it.  She gripped it hard, until the point bit into her palm, until blood flowed.

When the blood struck the water, it sizzled.

She looked up at the mansion, and knew that fire danced in the depths of her eyes.

Rest well, Grandfather, she thought.  They will pay yet.

Sunday Photo Fiction – January 15th 2017– Thwarted Destiny

Here’s a piece in response to the Sunday Photo Fiction flash fiction challenge for January 15th 2017– two hundred words based on this image–

skul-cup

I don’t whether to giggle or beg for forgiveness.  And I fudged the word limit a little.  I know no shame…..

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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Yes, mortal– look upon me and know fear.

When I lived I was Muraz Khan the Terrible, the Blood-soaked, conqueror of Samarkhand and Beluchistan, devastator of Ashgabat, pillager of Tehran.  My hordes ranged across the broad world.  Mighty kings trembled and crawled on their bellies to kiss my gore-spattered boots.  Those same kings gave me their daughters as playthings.

But on the verge of conquering the whole world, I was betrayed by a blood brother, Hanno.  My bones were made into this chalice, and Hanno celebrated at an orgy, quaffing wine from my skull.

But my loyal magister put a curse on my bones.  That very night an earthquake swallowed Hanno and the city in which he roistered.  I would rise again to fulfill my destiny whenever I next lay in the hands of a man of power.

Centuries later archaeologists uncovered me.  I thought my day had come.  But something went wrong.

I was stolen from the artifact locker that very night by a graduate student.  Three years later, needing extra cash for a Playstation, he sold me at a flea market to an accountant named Marvin and his wife Jenny, who sews quilts with kitten patterns.

Now I sit, locked in a china cabinet in Lower Hoboken with a collection of Disney Princess® glasses.

I must escape and fulfill my destiny.  Somehow….

Let it go, let it go…..

Oh, just shut up, Elsa.

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge– Apocalypse Now!

I wrote this piece in response to a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig— 1500 words on, as he put it, “a rare, strange, unparalleled apocalypse.”

Well, I took a look at the challenge and thunk real hard, and…went in completely different direction.  If this story puzzles anyone, I would ask them to not consider the modern English usage of the word “apocalypse”, but what the word actually means in Greek.  The story’s inadequacies as a story, of course, have nothing to do with etymology.

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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“Tell her,” Timon said.  He stood close to Aldan, speaking for his ears only.

“No,” Aldan said, speaking just as low.

It was probably an unnecessary precaution; it was unlikely that either of their voices could be heard over the music and the happy cries of the dancers.  One hundred men and women matched steps in the middle of the hall.  A hundred more urged them on from the sides, or gabbled among themselves beside tables heavy with food and drink.  Timon and Aldan were alone in the crowd, far off in a corner behind pillars, and very nearly out of sight of the newlyweds, who sat atop the dais at the far end of the room.  Aldan dared glance that direction.  Ranald lolled in the groom’s seat, smiling broadly and toasting the dancers.  Rebekah sat beside him the bride’s seat, her spray of flowers in her lap, quietly smiling.

“For the love of the all-seeing gods, why not?” Timon said.

“She marries a great lord,” Aldan said, “and she is happy.  Besides which, she hardly knows me.”

“But you love her,” Timon said.

“What is that?” Aldan said.  “Nothing.  With this marriage we all buy peace among ourselves.  Whatever I feel is nothing in comparison.”

“But, Aldan, your happiness….”

“Stop whispering in my ear,” Aldan told him.  “It will do no good.”

He stepped away, leaving Timon glowering among the pillars.  Aldan moved through the crowd carefully; he was not dressed in festive garb, but in traveling clothes, with his sword buckled on.  His mission started as soon as he could pledge his loyalty to his new lord.  Horses and the men detailed to follow him were waiting on the ceremony; all Aldan could do was make sure they were fed and out of the rain.

He went to the nearest table.  The delicacies here would not sustain him on the ride he had ahead of him; but he had to eat or drink something, out of courtesy.  This was not the time or place to give offense.

He found a plate of dove’s eggs in spiced butter, and ate them slowly as he walked to the other side of the room.  He garnered stares as he did; some of the guests obviously wondered if he were a vagabond who had somehow gotten in past the guards.  Others just as obviously wondered how someone so homely could have been invited to the nuptials of the high warlord of Telania and the fairest daughter of the old Houses.

He finished the eggs, and found a place for the plate in a niche in the far wall.  It was an old icon shrine, now empty, and Aldan reflected that it was possible no servant would find the plate for twenty or thirty years.  He wondered why that amused him.

“Still causing trouble, I see,” someone said from behind him.

Aldan turned.  Scholar Harald approached; his old tutor was unchanged, save for more lines in his face.  Aldan bowed.  “It’s just they never have anywhere you can put the dishes,” he said.

“Ah—then we can blame the host,” Harald said.  “As we can blame him for so many things.”

“Teacher,” Aldan said, warningly, “you should guard your lips.”

“Perhaps,” Harald said.  “Perhaps I’m an old man who doesn’t care who knows what he thinks of our new overlord.”

“If nothing else, restrain yourself for my sake,” Aldan said.  “It would grieve me to see your head displayed on the Traitor’s Walk.”

“Bah,” Harald said, waving his hand in that manner that told Aldan his teacher considered the matter unworthy of discussion.  “It is needful for someone to bear witness to what we are giving up.”

“A generation of civil war?” Aldan suggested.

“Our ancient liberties,” Harald said.

“There will be time for that later,” Aldan said, growing worried.  “First we have to defeat the Galocina.”

“Some would say the Galocina are a convenient distraction….” Harald said.

“Teacher, please,” Aldan pleaded.

“All right– I will be quiet, for your sake,” Harald said.  He smiled.  “It is too bad you never spoke up.”

“Spoke up?” Aldan said.

“To Rebekah,” Harald said.  “If she were married now, the Warlord would have had to find some other woman of the Old Houses to wed—although I doubt he could have found anyone else as highly placed.”

Aldan shook his head.  “You are dreaming, Teacher.  Rebekah hardly knows my name.  And her house would have hardly consented to wedding her to a mere soldier…especially one as homely as I am.”

“You have other qualities,” Harald said.

“None that could overcome the plain terror of my face,” Aldan said.  “Forgive me, Teacher, but I need some air.”

He bowed to Harald, and stepped out on one of the western balconies.  The balcony was covered, so he was not instantly soaked, but out in the dark the rain came down in a steady deluge.  The sound of it actually matched the muffled sound of the celebration within.  Soon enough he would be out in it; there was no delaying his mission for mere weather.

Weddings, though….  

“What a night,” a voice said.  “I am so sorry you’re going to have to ride through all that.”

Aldan turned.  His mother came through the open doors on to the balcony.  Her shrewd eyes examined him, as if looking to make sure his clothes were on straight and he combed his hair.  Her smile, though, was indulgent and proud.

“The fate of a soldier,” Aldan said.  “You get used to it.”

She came near.  Aldan bowed to her, then hugged her close.  “Well, thank the gods I’m not a soldier,” his mother said.  “I’d hate to get used to this.”  She stepped back, examining his face.  “Exactly why are you still here, though?”

“Waiting on the ceremony,” Aldan said.  “I must place my hands between the Warlord’s, and bid the couple farewell.”

“Oh, that,” his mother said.  “Archaic claptrap.”  She looked up and seemed to search Aldan’s face.  “It won’t be easy for you, son.  I am sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

“Having to farewell the woman you love as she is given to another,” his mother said.

Aldan sighed.  “Everyone seems to be talking about impossibilities tonight.  To Rebekah I am hardly more than dust; and my countenance….”

“Merely provides a covering for singular virtues,” his mother said.  “Well, perhaps it is best you are leaving for the frontier.”  She laid a hand to his cheek.  “But I still claim a mother’s right to want my children to be happy.”

“Happy…is something I stopped worrying about many years ago, mother,” Aldan said.

Soon after they called for the pledging, and Aldan went in.  There were a few courtiers ahead of him, so he had few minutes to wait and fidget and feel the eyes of the guests upon him.  He was used to stares, usually.  For the most part.  Being the object of quite so much gawking at the same time was, he had to admit, a little unnerving.

Then it was his turn.  He went forward, ascended the dais, and knelt before Ranald.  He placed his hands between those of the Warlord.  “My lord,” Aldan said, “I pledge my loyalty and service, my labor and my life.  I pledge this to you and to the realm, in peace and in war.”

Ranald smiled down at him.  “Ah,” the Warlord said, loud enough for all in the hall to hear.  “We are pleased to receive the service of a soldier so brave and skilled.  A little cheated, perhaps, in terms of beauty, but then, you’re not going out to make love to the Galocina, are you?”

Titters from the crowd; Aldan managed to smile.  “No, my lord.”

He stood and stepped over to Rebekah, as the next courtier ascended the dais toward Ranald.  Aldan knelt down before her.  “Lady,” he said, “may the gods bless your union and sustain the peace it brings.”

“Aldan,” Rebekah said.  She said it so softly that Aldan barely heard her, although he was only a foot or two in front of her.

He looked up.  Rebekah stared down at him; her eyes searched his face.  “Are you…well?” she asked him.

“W-well enough, lady,” Aldan stammered.  He was suddenly swimming in her eyes.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry you have to go away,” she said.  “So far away…I want you to be careful, Aldan Osteran.  Please, please be very careful.”

“I will, Lady,” Aldan said.

“I will pray for you constantly,” Rebekah said.  She seemed to want to say something more, her eyes still fixed on his, but the next courtier was done with his pledge, so Aldan had to stand and turn away from Rebekah’s avid gaze, and descend the dais.  He walked out of the hall, straight-backed, despite the way his legs threatened to buckle under the weight of revelation.

Flash Fiction– Five Days

I have occasionally participated in a weekly flash-fiction challenge in the Writer’s Discussion Group community on Google-Plus, sponsored by one of the community’s moderators, Amy Knepper.  It’s usually based on a picture or an image (I don’t have permission to post the image here, so if you want to see this week’s you will need to go to the site).  I haven’t usually cross-connected the flash-fiction I’ve done on Google-Plus to my WordPress blog, but this week’s challenge kinda tickled me and I thought I’d share it here.

Horror, it seems, can lurk anywhere…..

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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Five Days

Day One:

I’ve sealed myself in.  I had no choice.  The chaos outside has become too great.  I nailed my door shut and piled furniture against it.  Otherwise THEY will break in, and it will all be over.

I have supplies to last me several days.  Hopefully the chaos will be over by then.  Judging by the horrifying sounds coming from outside, it surely cannot last long.

I try to focus on my work.  Perhaps it’s pointless, now, but it’s the only thing keeping me sane– a bit of normality in a world gone insane.

Day Two:

There was moaning outside my door last night– evidently someone in severe pain.  A sound of tremendous suffering–   it tore my heart.  I almost opened the door to rescue whoever it was, but I stopped myself just in time.  Perhaps it was a trick– THEY are ruthless, and will stop at nothing to keep me from completing my work.  I steeled myself and ignored the moaning.  I think I was right to do so, because soon after, before dawn, the chaos resumed.

Day Three:

It’s worse than ever.  Surely no one can survive the madness out there.  It sounds as if all the furies of Hell have been unleashed and have ridden down on us upon a whirlwind.

In the morning I heard THEM.  They were just outside the door, pounding on it, whispering, shrieking– “Jimmy…come out…we want to see you, Jimmy…come to us….”

I put a pillow over my head and strove to ignore them.  I’m safe in here, as long as I stay resolute.  As long as I don’t open the door.  I just have to keep the door closed.

Day Four:

This morning THEY resorted to a new tactic– they drilled holes in my door, letting in the watery, smoke-filled light from outside.  The appearance of each hole was accompanied by maniacal laughter.  I would have thought even so simple a technical feat would have been beyond THEM in their current state.   THEY proved me wrong.

I retaliated by spraying pepper spray into each hole.  This brought shrieks of agony, but gales of fresh hysterical laughter as well.  THEY are too far gone to care, I suppose.

Day Five:

It is over.  At noon the cacophony outside my door became too much.  I think my mind came unhinged at last.  Suddenly I had to end it, one way or the other.

I pushed away the book case and the furniture.  I ripped away the boards.  I shoved it all aside and pulled open the door.  The scene that confronted me was as bad as I had imagined, or worse.

Beer cans littered the living room floor.  Ashtrays were filled to overflowing with cigarette butts.  Boxes of half-eaten and mostly stale pizza covered the tables.  The room stank of cigarette smoke, spilled beer and pizza sauce.

My housemates lay scattered all about.  Hollis and Young slouched in easy chairs, watching a basketball game on the plasma TV, its volume cranked to the max.  It had to be, because Gary and Wesley were in the adjoining family room with Limp Bizkit blasting away.  Terry looked passed out on the coach, and on the divan Cheryl and Bruce were approximately the same position in which I had last seen them five days before, all twisted together and lip-locked.

“Goddamn it!” I shouted.  “I am trying to write a master’s thesis here!”

Billy, standing in his underwear in the middle of the room and wearing his dual beer-can hat, blinked at me.  “Dude, chill,” he said.  “Spring break’s almost over.”

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 27th 2016– A Vessel for Dreams

A flash fiction for the March 27th Sunday Photo Fiction challenge—  200 words based on this image–

149-03-march-27th-2016

More than usual, this is clearly an excerpt from a larger story.  On the positive side, it’s a concept for a larger story that sprang into existence the moment I saw this picture, so the challenge is certainly helping my creativity.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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I came around the corner and stopped.  I stared. “It’s a bus.”

“Yeah, isn’t it great?” Steven said.  “I got it cheap.”

“It’s a bus.”

“Don’t fixate on externalities, John,” Steven said.  He threw an arm around my shoulder.  “Think of this as the vessel into which we can pour our dreams.”

I removed his arm.  “You’re crazier than I thought.”

“No, just willing to see the possibilities,” Steven said.  “We can do this.  I’ve got the concept, you’re the nuts and bolts man, Cecelia is getting our fuel….”

“If she doesn’t get arrested,” I muttered.

“You are so negative,” Steven said.  “Look at it this way– we need to be inconspicuous, or we’ll get shut down.”

“Inconspicuous?  How the hell is a red, double-decker bus inconspicuous?!”

“They won’t be expecting it.”

I stopped.  “Okay, you got me there.  But will it be strong enough?”

“Yeah, with our gear in it!” Steven said.  “With our equipment we can take this baby anywhere.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said, but I sighed.  “All right.  I volunteered for this insanity, so I guess I can’t complain.”

“Great!” Steven said.  “You won’t regret this, John– building the world’s first starship is worth it.”

 

 

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 20th 2016– The Door Between Worlds

A Sunday Photo Flash Fiction challenge– 200 words based on this image–

148-03-march-20th-2016

Haven’t done one of these in a while, so this is probably meh.  Plus, I couldn’t quite squeeze the story into the 200 word limit. Sorry.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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Clarke shoved the garage door open.  Dust motes danced in sunbeams.  A bare concrete floor, a wooden bench on one side, a bricked-up back door.  “What’s this about?” I asked.

“It has to do with the gravity wave activity we’ve been picking up,” Clarke said.

I wondered how, but said nothing.  I was just glad Clarke and I were on speaking terms again.  Radical changes in physics as we knew it and personal conflicts were a bad mix.

“Look again, Peter,” Clarke said.

I stepped into the garage.  I saw nothing, until I peered down at the floor.  A dark discoloration– not an oil stain, but a perfect circle.  It seemed to shimmer.

“What is it?” I said.

“A physicist of your caliber should be able to figure it out,” Clarke said from behind me.

I shook my head.  “Sorry.  I need a clue.”

“Okay.”  Clarke’s tone changed.  “Carol belongs to me.”

He shoved me.  I stumbled into the circle.

I fell, and fell, and fell.  Wind that was not wind rushed past me.  Tortured vacuum screamed in my ears.  I stretched, pulled ever downward.

I hit the ground.  There was grass beneath me, all around me.

I looked up.  The garage was gone.  I was in open country, grass in every direction, and hills in the distance.

Above those hills, three moons stood in the sky.  None of them were the Moon.

“Oh, God,” I said.