Peregrinas

LMAshton's Adventures in Speculative Fiction

Titles Matter

When you create a title for something you wrote, how careful are you to choose the right words?

Here’s one example of a not-so-effective title:

Tests confirm chocolates contaminated – CAA

And here’s the very brief news article the title is for:

The Consumer Affairs Authority(CAA) told the Colombo Magistrate Court today that test results from Singapore confirmed that the milk powder imported by Edna chocolates contained Melamine.

Hmm. Somehow, I think it would have been more effective had they said something like:

Tests confirm milk contaminated – CAA

What do you think?

Useful Websites For Speculative Fiction Writers!

Today, I’ve got a couple useful websites for you. The first…

SF Editors Wiki – it’s a wiki for keeping track of the works that science fiction editors have worked on. It includes editors with Ace Books, DAW Books, Baen Books, and Tor Books, just to name a few.

The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. How cliched is your novel? Is it derivative crap or fresh and interesting? While answering the questions in this exam won’t necessarily give you an accurate answer to those questions, it can still be loads of fun. :) And if you want to write a cliche-ridden derivative piece of crap, this would be a great checklist to make sure you got ’em all. :) Or at least a lot of ’em. 😀

TV Tropes Wiki. Not for speculative fiction only, and not for television series only. It just started with television before expanding into other forms of fiction. For the uninitiated, tropes are story elements that help convey a purpose. Clear as mud? 😛 Go there and get started reading. It’s not just educational but also highly entertaining. :)

An interview with three speculative fiction editors and what they do – and don’t – want to see in their slush piles. Like no Isabelles nicknames Izzy. No exploding spacecraft in opening paragraphs. No unheard of virus that alters humanity completely except for one (un)lucky bastid who’s immune. Poor guy. :( 😉

The Query Project. With links to published authors who post the query letters that worked for them. Even Simon Haynes‘ query letter is included, as rambling as it is. 😉

Speculative Fiction Comics

I’m not much of a comics person – with the exception of Asterix & Obelix, thanks to my oldest brother, Tony – but I’ve recently been introduced to a few comics that are right up my alley. Speculative fiction comics. Can you say, “Cool!”?

We have Freefall, which starts with a wrecked spaceship, duct tape, and a robot. I think. Hey, cut me some slack – I’ve just started reading it! 😉 And I’m liking the humour. 😀

Then there’s Skin Horse, which starts here. Genetically augmented lions, a sniper, and some kind of talking dog. The lion talks as well, of course. I mean, where would we be without a genetically mutated talking lion?

Gunnerkrig Court reminds me, initially, of the Adams Family. Except Gunnerkrig Court is a school and Antimony, who somehow acquired a second shadow, is our main character. Complete with schoolgirl uniform. And the shadow wants Antimony’s help to escape. And it goes on from there with a minotaur named Basil…

And then there’s Dicebox. Starts here. With a spacesport and spaceships, Jaffa freighters (how did the Jaffa get in here?), and two down-in-their-luck people.

And of course, Girl Genius – Adventure, Romance, and Mad Science (starts here). “Now, this isn’t a Heterodyne story like your mama tells you…”

Do you read speculative fiction comics? Other kinds of comics? Which are your favourites and why?

U7iJvN

Mobile Phone = eBook Reader

We’ve been contemplating getting me an ebook reader for a few months. I have joint problems, and honestly, it isn’t a whole lot of fun dislocating a thumb from holding a hardcover book. 😀 Okay, so in all fairness, I dislocate my wrist when I slice bread, so this isn’t all that unusual…

Then the husband recently got himself a new mobile phone – an Omnia – so naturally, I inherit his old one. My old one was already dead, as was the prior old one. Yeah, I’ve got a mobile phone graveyard happening. And an iron graveyard, too, but that’s another story. 😛

The phone I inherited is an HP pocket PC that he got in Dubai a couple of years ago. Initially, I thought the screen would be too small and there would be too much glare, but then I plowed through ten ebooks (fantasy, of course) in about a week and a half…

Sure, an ebook reader would probably be nice, but they cost money, and besides, going by the way I’m going through ebooks, this is working just fine. :)

Happiness reigns!

Sentinel and Short Stories

Fahim had a dream that led to a story that we started developing.

You know, this is a fairly standard thing with us. I have ideas, I bounce them off him. He has ideas, he bounces them off me, then gives them to me. 😀 So, really, it should come as no surprise that he gave me another idea. An intriguing one, too.

Not that it’s entirely his, despite his illusions…

Without going into what the story is about – it’s still in development phase, plus I don’t want to reveal too much at this point other than it’s science fiction set in the current time- I will say that one point has me somewhat frustrated.

I was looking for short story ideas.

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at short stories. I’d love to work on developing some of my story-telling skills, honing them, analyzing them, improving them, working on them, in short story mode. Character development, dialogue, description. Things that are universal to all stories, regardless of length.

But this is another one that’s turned into a novel. There’s too much stuff there to be a short story, and honestly, I don’t – any longer – see a way to make it a short story. It’s just no longer possible from the way I’m looking at it.

If you write short stories and novels both, how do you do it? How do you get just enough meat for a short story before it turns into something much longer?

A Potentially Very Cool Site

Is currently in construction. It’s a Tor site. You know Tor – publishers of science fiction and fantasy. You can read more about it on Making Light.

The basic idea behind the new site – as I interpret it – is a community for people who enjoy reading speculative fiction and all sorts of other things. But probably not sourdough. 😉

Anyway, check it out. And, if you sign up at the new Tor site, you get free ebooks. About one a week. Which was enough incentive for me… :) Not that I really needed incentive… 😀

Stranded

Science Fiction.

A group of people, heading towards the Gathering of all the families, go through an unstable Nexus point into an uncharted region of space where they discover their ancient roots, lost in the passages of time until now.

Status: Rough plotting, but needs a seriously detailed plot outline. Have a few scenes written, but nothing more.

*****

“You don’t have to manhandle it, you know,” screamed Charla.  “The damn thing is already broken.”  Blood clotted just below her nostrils, more blood staining her bright blue uniform.

A man, grey hair at his temples, stood to the side as the doctor straightened her nose.  He folded his arms in front of him.  “What was it this time?  Insubordination?  Merely having an opinion contrary to your own?  What?”

“An opinion contrary to my own?  Is that what you think this is?” asked Charla.  She brushed the doctor aside and stood up, squarely facing the captain of the Jona.  “Do you have even a little bit of a clue what Raiph is like when no one else is around?”

He rolled his eyes.  “Not this again, Charla.  We’ve settled this…”

She scrunched her eyes.  “Have we?  Galen?  From what I recall, he offered to marry me, a solution you found acceptable, but I did not.  And still do not.  Do you know how he tries to manhandle me?  Do you find it acceptable behavior that he tries to assault me?”

“There’s no proof that he’s ever attempted to assault you…”

“And because I’m your daughter, you can’t possibly find it in you to give me the benefit of the doubt.  Because that wouldn’t be fair to him.”  She shook her head in disgust, then hopped back on the examining table.

“The Gathering is a good time to find you a mate, one with his own ship.  Then you won’t have to put up with Raiph any more.  Or me.”

She shook her head.  “Galen.  Father.  You wouldn’t be saying that if mom were still around.  You know that I’d make a better captain than Ghai ever will.  But you’re bent on the old ways.  Just because he’s older.”

“This isn’t the time or the place for that argument, Charla.  But at Gathering, we will find you a husband.  It’s time for a solution.”

“You could always sell Raiph’s contract.  Oh wait, you can’t.  No one else wants him on their ship, either.” She sneered.  “Sometimes, Galen, it does actually pay to listen to instinct.  Not everything has to be by the book, logic and reason.  Emotion has its place to.  Mom wouldn’t have liked you tearing your heart out just because she died.  She wouldn’t have…”

“Enough.  You will not speak of her that way.”  Galen had turned white, his lips rimmed with red splotches.  His voice was soft, barely audible.  He turned and left sickbay.

“Angel, you’re an angel.  Thanks for fixing me up.”

Angel smiled.  “You’re welcome.  But please, try not to break it again.  It’s going to ruin your lovely profile.”  Angel was tall, taller than Charla, who already stood taller than many men.  “So what really happened in Engineering?  The unofficial version?”  Angel cleaned up the bandages and detritus left behind after bandaging first Raiph’s wounds and then Charla’s.

“First the whistling and catcalls.”  Charla rolled her eyes.  “You know I wouldn’t deck him over that – it’s not worth my time or energy.  But it’s been progressing.  He grabbed me a few times, and I hit him back.”

“Hmm.  I didn’t see the reports.”

“Because there weren’t any.  As far as I was concerned, it was dealt with unofficially and effectively.”

Angel nodded.  “I can see that.  There was a guy I worked with once…”  Angel smiled.  “But you’ve heard the story.”

“Yeah, guy grabs, you elbow him, he sings soprano.”  Charla and Angel laughed.

“So what happened?”

“I caught him in Recycling, doing what, I have no idea, when he didn’t need to there, and when I asked, he refused to give me an explanation.”  Charla shrugged.

“That sounds a bit odd.”

Charla nodded.  “It is.  I might have let it go, but then he deliberately picked a fight with me.”

Angel frowned.  “Like you caught him off guard and he needed a diversion?”

Charla nodded.  “Which only makes me more suspicious.”

“Naturally.”

“But father won’t want to hear any of this, not until or unless there’s incontrovertible proof.”  Charla stiffened her spine, straightened her shoulders, and put a stern expression on her face in imitation of her father.

“What now?”

“Now I go back there and see what I can figure out.  There has to be a reason for what he was doing.  Mel’s not sick, is she?  None of my readings indicate anything.  Can you run a double check?”

Angel walked over to her desk and sat down. She typed commands into the console and, satisfied, looked back at Charla. “I’ll know soon enough, and as soon as I do, I’ll let you know.But I don’t know how Raiph could make a Jona sick through Recycling, let alone why he’d want to. He knows as well as anyone that if Mel gets sick, then we’re all dead. We’re not close enough to any other Jonas if anything goes seriously wrong.”

Basement of the Universe

Science Fiction.

A man searches for his missing wife, only to find a way to disappear himself to a strange place.

Status: Currently in editing. The following excerpt is the first draft. I have a revised excerpt you can look at, although it still needs further editing.

***

Piers slumped in his black leather easy-chair. He put his drink on to the end-table beside him, the ice cubes clinking against each other, then he leaned back and closed his eyes. He waited for the answering machine to play back his messages, not caring who called him. Not caring, that is, unless it was the one person he hoped would call him despite months of silence.

“Piers, buddy, me and the guys are playing hoops tonight. Why don’t you join us? And before you decide to ignore us, I’m coming to get you at seven. Be ready, ’cause I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”

Piers picked up his drink and saluted the voice before he took a gulp, hoping for the dulling sensation of the vodka to hit, and fast. He was tired of the pain, tired of the hole his wife left behind when she left him. He wondered again if his wife left him or if it was foul play. The police had never given him a good answer on that one, instead preferring to suspect him. But with no body and no evidence of foul play, they couldn’t go as far as locking him up. They asked the same question Piers asked. Where had his wife gone?

He took another gulp, leaned back, and closed his eyes, willing himself to forget the pain.

The doorbell rang. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. He hoped whoever it was would go away, but the second and subsequent rings, ever insistent, convinced him otherwise. He got up and ripped the door open, a snarl on his unshaven face until he saw his best friend. “John. What are you doing here?” He turned and walked back to his living room, taking another drink as he went.

“Don’t you check your messages? Tonight’s basketball. Get your stuff. Let’s go,” said John, with a touch of lilting Irish accent. A leftover from the old country, he said. “Exercise is great for the soul. And overcoming jet-lag. You were in, what was it, Ohio, this time?” he asked as he glanced at Piers’ suitcases, still outside the utility room door where the washer and dryer were.

“Yeah. Columbus.” Piers spoke with a flat voice, inviting no probing. He hoped John would lose interest and go away.

John cleared a spot among the books, magazines, newspaper clippings, and file folders and sat down on the crowded couch. “What was in Columbus, Ohio?”

Will John think he’s nuts? Does it matter? While Piers was confident of his friendship with John, he’d also been confident in his relationship with Tracie, and given that she left without a word, he no longer knew if he was any kind of judge of character. “A psychic. Reputed to be one of the better ones. Consulted on a few police cases, helping to solve unsolveable cases, or so she claims.” John stacked a few books onto the coffee table to give himself room.

“And? Was it productive?”

Piers laughed. “Nope. She wore a purple tent-dress with a pink feather boa and big, gaudy jewellery. She must have thought that if she looked crazy enough, people would believe she was the real deal. As soon as she started talking about my missing sister, it went flat.”

John shook his head. “You give her your name ahead of time, the least she could have done was her research. At least make it sound good.”

“Which is why I gave her the name of a man who’s looking for his sister.”

John snorted. “You sly dog. Nothing useful, then?” John looked interested, and Piers felt himself pulled out of his fugue. He hit them after his trips. Part exhaustion and part hopelessness as he found yet another dead end, he figured. But smiling John, who’d been his friend since forever, had a knack of bringing him out of them. At least, as much as Piers was capable of coming out of it.

Piers shook his head. “Nope. Not a thing.” He felt better when he called it a fugue. Calling it depression wouldn’t make it any better. If he could keep denying it long enough for him to find a clue, then it wouldn’t matter what he called it.

John looked around at the scattered newspapers, books, and magazines covering all available surfaces. He picked a stack off a chair and flipped through them. “I understand the need to find answers, but this? The Qu’ran. The Bhagavad Gita. New Perspectives in Wicca. Papacy and the Mystical. Oh, this looks interesting. The Mystical Design of the Universe: Concepts in The Kabbalah. Has your study of all these religions taught you anything?”

Piers sighed. He hated to admit failure, and yet, what else was there to say? “Oh no, I’ve learned a lot.” But honesty got in the way. “But nothing that helps.”

“Anything that’ll bring Tracie back? Any clues?”

Piers hung his head. He wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Not yet. “There are still religions out there I haven’t studied. And more unexplained mysteries that might have clues.” He paused, thinking about what he’d said. “It sounds lame even to me,” he whispered.

“Piers, you need to let this go.” John put the books on the coffee table amidst the others, and looked at another stack. “She’s not coming back. You need to move on,” he said.

“I know, I know. I’ve heard it all before. From you, remember?” Piers sighed. “But what the hell happened? Did she leave me for another man? Another woman? A man and a woman?” A bitter laugh escaped Piers’ mouth. “I don’t know what happened. All I know is that the police tried pinning her murder on me without a dead body. They didn’t consider her disappearance even as a remote possibility.” He glanced at John, and, noting the look of sadness on his face, continued. “Oh come on, John, you know they didn’t. From the beginning, they treated it like a homicide case. What did they ask you? Do you remember?” Piers poured himself another drink. He knew it affected his ability to think, but right now, he didn’t care.

“Yeah, okay, you’re right. But given statistics, it’s natural, Piers.”

“I know all about statistics, including the fact that statistics do not say that I did her harm.” With shaky hands, he took another gulp of the amber liquid, spilling some on his beard and shirt.

John buried his head in his hands, then ran his fingers through his hair. “You’re right, and I’m sorry. I know it’s hard on you. Any ideas where she is?”

“Her parents’ haven’t heard from her, or, at least, won’t admit it to me. None of her friends will admit to hearing from her either. So what is it? Is she scared of someone? Is she dead?” He gulped air, sucking in a sob. “Did she forget who she was? And me? Is she unconscious in a hospital somewhere, unable to tell anyone who she is?” He put a hand on his forehead and closed his eyes. “Dammit, John, no one has any answers. Not even you, and you’re supposed to know better.”

Piers hated putting John on the spot like this, but dammit! He was running out of ideas!

John looked like the dog who’d been kicked by his master. “Men of the cloth don’t know everything, Piers. It doesn’t work that way.”

“Why the hell not? You have a direct line to God. So tell me. What does God say happened to her?”

John shook his head, his arms out at his side. “I’m sorry, Piers. I don’t know. But searching for answers this way, reading all these books, it isn’t healthy. You need to let go and move on. Stop obsessing about her. Take up a new hobby. Something that doesn’t involve,” he glanced at a stack of books on the end table, “Buddhism or Whirling Dervishes or accounts of missing people from Nigeria or the Hindu Kush. It’s not doing you any good.”

Piers exhaled. “John, I can’t. She was my whole life. She. . . She loved me, believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself. She’s everything to me. She’s . . . Any life that doesn’t have her in it isn’t worth living.” Piers picked up his glass and bottles and took them into the kitchen to wash and put away. He needed the time to compose himself. As he came back, he saw the look of concern on John’s face. “Oh, John, don’t look at me that way. I’m not talking suicide. I wouldn’t do that, and you should know me well enough by now.”

“But you sounded. . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. But I’m not. It’s just that everything is pale without her. There’s no meaning anymore. I need to find out what happened.”

John stood up. “Piers, eventually, you’ll have to face the fact that you don’t know and might never know what happened. And you’ll need to get on with your life. But, I’m your friend, even if I don’t understand what you’re doing. Let me know if you need anything. Okay?” Piers nodded. “Alright. Grab your gear and let’s go. The meatpacking guys think they can beat us, and with your unstoppable jump shot, we need you to beat them.” John grinned as he got up, spurring Piers to join him.

Piers, back home again, was exhausted from the workout. He tossed his gym bag in the laundry room and went back to the living room to read before bed. He picked up a book, Alien Abductions and You, from the pile he’d checked out of the library a few weeks before. He glanced through the table of contents, wondering if it was at all possible that aliens had abducted his wife. As he read, he wondered if any of it were true. There were many theories about what could be causing the so-called Alien Abductions, but he had a hard time believing it was little green men or his own government kidnapping citizens for testing.

But then, before Tracie disappeared, he hadn’t believed in aliens at all, nor had he ever explored world religions. Oh sure, he’d heard of most of them, and dismissed them as wrong. Like most people, he believed in the religion his parents raised him in, and that was good enough. Until Tracie. When she disappeared, that changed everything.

He couldn’t believe in a malicious God who would separate him from Tracie. He wouldn’t believe it – he refused to. He had to believe that there was a way to be with her again. Otherwise, God was nothing more than a cruel joke, and that, he also refused to believe.

Maybe John’s right. Maybe it’s time to let go, he thought. He looked around the room, noticing for the first time the mess, the piles of hundreds, maybe thousands, of books, articles, magazines, and newspaper clippings on missing civilizations, alien abductions, and missing and kidnapped people. He looked at the books on Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, Jainism, and New Age beliefs. He wondered, for the first time, if maybe, just maybe, he’d ventured out into the wrong side of crazy. His dwindling bank account balances, suffering from the onslaught of book purchases, private investigator fees and travel expenses to consultations with spiritualists and reknowned psychics, he thought, would seem to confirm that theory.

“I’ll read something else, then,” he said, out loud. “Yeah, going crazy, then.” He ignored the piles of books lying around near him and wandered down the hall and into their shared study, her side untouched since she vanished except for occasional dusting, and wondered if she had anything to read. He poked through the pine bookshelves, covering two walls from ceiling to floor, that were filled with an eclectic range of books. He skipped by the romances. Not in the mood for anyone but Tracie. He passed over the historicals and mysteries. He wanted frivolous and fluffy. Science fiction or fantasy, maybe. Something out of this world to help him forget Tracie. Something different from his usual choices.

He picked up an anthology of short stories and settled into Tracie’s office chair.

He flipped to the middle and started reading the first short story he found, Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Lewis Paggett.

When he finished, he shut the book, unsure of how he felt. Bizarre little story, he thought. Starting with Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky poem, it was a story about little children who were in a unique position to understand the universe better than adults, and to manipulate it. These children could find cracks in the universe and go through them. But leading to where?

No, this is utter nonsense. It’s a story. He tossed the book on Tracie’s desk, dismissed it from his troubled mind, and went to bed.

He woke with a start, sweat pouring off him. He’d had a nightmare, he realized, as he looked at the wrinkled and dishevelled sheets. “All mimsy were the borogoves,” he said, remembering the dream, the little blonde-haired, freckle-faced girl, a Tracie in miniature, in his dream who pointed in front of her, laughing at him. Then she stepped forward, and disappeared through a slit in space, laughing at him still until she disappeared into nothing.

Her laughing haunted him.

He wiped the sweat from his face, unsure of what to think. He got up and ran down the hall into his wife’s study and grabbed her copy of Alice in Wonderland off the shelf.

JABBERWOCKY

By Lewis Carroll

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought —

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

It made no more sense to him now than it had when he’d first read Alice & Wonderland decades earlier. He remembered his English teacher trying to teach them about symbolism using this poem, but he didn’t see it. Never did.

But why would a stupid poem or a silly short story give me a nightmare, he wondered.

He thought back to the day his wife had disappeared. He remembered her in the kitchen, washing the dishes. He’d given her a kiss on the forehead, grabbed his briefcase from his office after stuffing it with papers and file folders, yelled out a goodbye to his wife, and then walked out the door. When he’d realized he didn’t have his keys to unlock his car, he went back into the house to get them. Less than a minute after he left and she was already gone. Even then, he couldn’t remember if his wife had responded when he said goodbye to her that morning.

Outrageous, he thought. Not possible. There was no such thing as cracks in the universe. It was the most ridiculous theory he could ever come up with, and if he ever told anyone about this thought, he’d get locked up in the funny farm for sure. No one would look at him the same.

This was not possible. At all.

He remembered his high-school English teacher, Mr. Terry, telling him to think outside the box, use his imagination, dare to believe the unbelievable. But that guy was a twit, he thought. Every poem John Keats ever wrote wasn’t always about death, nor was it always about love or sex. Why can’t the Ode on a Grecian Urn be about an urn? Why does it have to be about something else? Something bigger? Why can’t it be about what it’s about? He noticed his clenched fists and forced himself to relax. But sometimes that old coot knew what he was talking about, he conceded. He remembered back to his high school days, sitting in that classroom, while Mr. Terry, who, even in the hottest weather, wore long sleeved shirts and pants, talked to them about reaching for their dreams, never giving up. He’d said it didn’t matter if we were adults with adult responsibilities – we shouldn’t give up but should keep working towards making our dreams happen. And then Mr. Terry had told us why he never wore short sleeves or shorts, about that horrible accident on that stretch of highway while he’d been on vacation with his wife.

What a horrible day that had been for Mr. Terry, Piers reflected. He, of all people, would understand how Piers felt to lose someone so beloved. He would understand why Piers couldn’t give up on his wife.

The thought that Tracie could have gone through a crack in the universe was preposterous, and yet it would explain something he’d wondered about.

The police, during their investigation, found no evidence of foul play. No DNA, no fingerprints, no doors forced open, no blood spatter, no fibre. Nothing. Even her suitcases and clothes appeared to be all accounted for. Not that Piers would know for sure – he couldn’t keep track of all his wife’s clothing or shoes. But Tracie hadn’t taken her purse, so she had no ID or access to banks or credit cards, and no money was missing.

In fact, Piers could find nothing of hers that Tracie had taken with her other than the clothes on her back. That, and a coffee mug. Piers could never figure out why she would take a coffee mug, a gag gift from him on their first anniversary, but not any of her other more treasured memorabilia, like her grandmother’s antique sapphire wedding rings, or the antique pipe her grandfather had used every day until he died. Or, for that matter, why she hadn’t taken any of the emergency money they had stashed in a coffee can in the freezer.

How far could she go without money?

In fact, that was one of the little anomalies the police clung to when they focussed on him as the only suspect in the murder investigation.

She had disappeared without a trace. It made no sense.

Children of the Dome

Science Fiction.

Children, trapped inside a bombed mall, find a way outside to an unfamiliar world.

Status: First draft not complete. Completely plotted in the detail that my brain requires. Just needs me to sit down and finish writing the thing.

***

“Let’s go shopping,” said Teresa, a bubbly teenage girl with long, wavy brown hair and rich brown eyes. “I need something new to wear. Maybe some new shoes.” Teresa smiled, a dreamy faraway expression in her eyes.

Willa sighed. “You’ve seen everything there is. There isn’t anything new. There won’t ever be anything new. There hasn’t been anything new since, well, forever.” Willa hated trying on clothes and picking out what shirt went with which pants. She hated the charade of trying to be fashionable when clothing was so irrelevant. She’d much rather just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day. Life was much simpler that way. Besides, she mused, it was far easier to fix things when she wasn’t worried about getting her clothes dirty. She was a tomboy. She accepted that long ago.

“So what? It’s fun. And it gets us away from them,” she said, indicating the younger girls giggling in the corner of the classroom.

“Yeah, I’ll give you that. Is your homework done?”

“Finished it during class. We need something more challenging.” Teresa tapped her hot-pink coated nails on the desk.

Willa packed her books away in her book bag. “Yeah, but there’s only so much Audrey can do with the lot of us. It’s not like she has the resources.” She tossed her bag over her shoulder and said, “Let’s go. And while we’re out, why don’t we stop by the bookstore and pick something out?”

Teresa flashed a grin at Willa.

Teresa and Willa ambled down the concrete corridor, the back access hallway for the mall. Deliveries used to be made through these, Willa figured, but that was long over. They came to a door marked, “Be et on,” the other letters faded with gouges streaking through them. They opened the door, the lock long since broken, and Teresa looked around. Teresa, Willa knew, had more clothes than anyone else she knew. But then, Willa knew that wasn’t saying much considering the only people she knew were the other children and her teachers who were stuck in this bombed hole.

While Teresa looked through the clothing, Willa wandered to the front of the store. There wasn’t much to see through the rolling grille doors that separated the store from the rest of the mall, just chunks of concrete, twisted steel, and shards of glass from the broken skylights above. The mall had been bombed a decade earlier, or so the theory went. None of them knew for certain, nor were they likely to ever know. Radios and television didn’t work after that, but Willa didn’t know if it was because no one outside the mall broadcast radio and television anymore, or if it was because the thick concrete walls of the mall, necessary for the harsh winters in Edmonton, made it impossible for anything to get through.

She looked up at the top of the security doors, wondering what the sky looked like. The debris in front of the security doors was so deep she couldn’t even see the sky from here. In some stores, they could catch small glimpses of the sky, but nothing more.

Willa wondered again why, in all this time, no one had come to rescue them. Everyone had their own pet theory, but with no communication with the outside, that’s all they were. Willa wondered if the rest of the world was dead or dying and couldn’t spare the energy to look for her and the rest of the kids. She’d come to terms long ago with the certainty that her parents, and those of all the rest of the kids, were long since dead. Them, and everyone else who worked in that lab underneath the submarine ride. Given that the lab was a secret, and so was the daycare that tended the employees children, it wasn’t that surprising if no one came to rescue them because no one knew they were even there.

She remembered that day well, the last time she’d seen her parents. They were fighting. Again. They’d fought a lot ever since her mother had been promoted to Lab Supervisor while dad was still a technician. His ego didn’t take it well, she thought. But at least, even as they dropped me off that day, they still loved each other and me. So how bad could it be?

“What do you think of this shirt,” asked Teresa.

Willa turned to her best friend. In truth, Teresa was her best friend by default. There weren’t many to choose from in their small group. At least Teresa wasn’t that bad, she thought. “I thought you hated that shirt. That’s what you said last month,” she said of the white shirt with the blue and black Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“I dunno. I think it’s kinda cute.” Teresa held it up in front of her and looked in the mirror. “What about it with these shorts?”

Willa thought they looked like shorts. “They’re okay.” She turned to the security grille and tried to remember what the mall looked like before it had been bombed. Of course she’d been in it hundreds of times, shopping with her mom or dad or with them dropping her off in the daycare before they went to work, but she wondered how accurate her memory was after all this time? She remembered a pond with gold fish – Japanese, maybe? – that were over a foot long, an incredible site to her then. She’d heard stories about a man swimming naked in the goldfish pond in the middle of the cold Edmonton winter one night who’d then run outside to escape mall security. From the stories she’d overheard, it was -30 or 40 Celsius that night. Made it easy for security to catch him. Willa giggled at the thought. How could people be so dumb?

The mall had very few windows to the outside, but had an abundance of skylights overhead that caught the bright sun even in the coldest of winter days. It also meant that they had no way out unless they could dig their way through a caved-in concrete wall and all its accompanying debris.

Willa wanted a way out.

“Aren’t you getting anything?” Teresa’s voice shook Willa out of her thoughts.

“Nah. I’m fine. Let’s go to the bookstore.” Willa wanted something new to read, a new diversion.

“Honestly, you could stand to spend a bit more time on your appearance. It would help, you know.”

“Help how? There’s no one here to notice. Remember?” Willa was losing patience. This conversation had repeated itself with increasing frequency as of late.

“We won’t be stuck here for ever. Someone will find us,” Teresa said, smiling as she twirled in the middle of the store.

That was the last straw. “Enough. Teresa, alright? Enough. We’re never getting out of here. No one’s coming to save us. We’re stuck here until we die. Don’t you get it?” Willa hated herself when she yelled, especially when it didn’t do any good. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get mad at you.” Teresa’s hunched shoulders shook and Willa could hear Teresa stifling her sobs. Willa put her arms around Teresa. “I’m sorry. I’m impatient and irritable today. Just ignore me, please.”

Teresa hiccoughed. “It’s okay. You’re right. It’s just that it’s so hard to give up hope. I keep thinking that today, someone will find us.” Teresa wiped the tears from her eyes. “Are we ever getting out of here?” Teresa plastered a smile on her face. “We’ll just have to make our own good luck, won’t we?” Teresa didn’t sound at all certain, thought Willa.

“Yep. We’ll have to find a way out of here,” she said. I wish I had an idea how or where, she thought.

Black Light

A woman inherits a watch that takes her to other worlds – or does it?

Science fiction.

Status: First draft completed, but needs to be re-plotted and re-written.

***

A young man stood hunched over a long utilitarian work bench. He delicately gripped a small, silver colored device in his hands. He frantically jiggled a toggle on the side of the small metallic device. He waited, but nothing happened. He jiggled another button, then waited. Nothing. He turned it over and perched magnifying lens glasses on the tip of his nose. He peered at the depressions and etchings on the device, squinting at the small symbols imprinted on it. He glanced at the detailed diagram in the notebook to his left and flipped a page. He studied it, compared the device to the faded diagram, and pressed a tiny screwdriver into another depression. He waited a few seconds.

Nothing.

“Kazbat!” he swore. Wiping his brow, he closed his eyes, slowed his breathing, and looked at the diagram again, comparing it again to the device. He counted the depressions from the side, or at least, what he thought was the side.

“Ah. It is possible. Hmm. Yes, yes, I think I see . . .”

He depressed another indentation and the device swung open, revealing the inner workings of the device. “Fantastic. And. . . Ah, yes.”

He flicked a switch on the side of his magnifying glasses and the device was bathed in green light. He could see some features inside the device much more clearly now, highlighted as they were. He looked carefully, memorizing which features emitted the radiation. “Omega radiation,” he said. No one believed him yet that it existed, but he knew. He knew. And he had invented the only machine in his world that could detect it.

Omega radiation caused by omega waves. Omega waves that also did not exist according to those other scientists. The ones who called themselves the foremost experts. The ones who laughed at him from their ivory towers and called him a wash-up, a has-been, a pretender. Omega waves – now that was a marvel! Completely different from the other electromagnet waves, he had conjectured. Caused by the interaction between two subatomic particles that exist only in two specific elements, as far as he knew. Elements that haven’t yet been found in nature. Elements which only he, thus far, had managed to create under laboratory conditions. Elements which no one else in the world had yet been able to recreate using his methods. Shoddy work went into those experiments, he knew. The cartel, with all their power, made sure of that. Ah, well, even if the cartel were willing, the other scientists surely were not. These were elements which, he supposed, no one really wanted to create. Or believe could be or had been created. All narrow minds steeped in the belief that further scientific advances would only serve to harm us. As if we could do worse than we already have, he surmised. Kasbat! But this, this radiation. It was something altogether different. Not harmful. Didn’t destroy anything, he thought. But it created. Yes! It created!

Omega radiation was special by its very definition. A radiation caused by two subatomic particles which existed only in two unnatural elements. Elements that could only exist if those specific subatomic particles were there.

Subatomic particles which were affected by thought. Intention.

It helped, he knew, that he’d believed in these particles since he was a small boy. It helped, he knew, that he’d been exposed to those ancient writings so very long ago by his heretical parents. It helped, he knew, that he’d seen other things. Miracles, they might be called, as a result of those ancient writings.

It made sense to him that they couldn’t recreate the experiment. They didn’t want to. It was that simple.

The intention itself would have made the experiment unsuccessful, even if they had the right equipment and the right men following his methods. But they didn’t follow his methods. Didn’t believe him that they were all necessary.

Who ever heard of a scientist insisting that clearing the mind of negative energy, no less, was necessary for a scientific experiment to succeed? Or that positive affirmations could make a difference? That believing was the key? Believing it could be done. And they didn’t believe. That was the bottom line, he thought. They didn’t want to believe. They got the outcome they wanted simply by wanting it.

He presented the theory – fact, he thought – at the national symposium after the last vernal equinox. “It should have brought me recognition. It should have brought me the funding I needed,” he thought, “to complete this with proper tools and equipment. I could have been done months ago.” He muttered, “damn them all to Hasbah!”

He drank out of the mug at his elbow, the drink long since gone cold and stale, a thick scum layer floating on top. “It would have turned the physics community up on its ears. If they only had the foresight to recognize . . . ah, those damn fools. They’ll never learn. They’ll forever be old men living old lives with old ideas.” He broke the tip of his pencil off. He flung it at the garbage can and watched as it joined the other pencils, torn papers, and other debris that littered the floor beside it.

He cleared his mind of anger. He took a few long, deep breaths and calmed himself. Feeling centered, he turned back to his work.

He flipped a few pages back and compared his device to yet another diagram in the notebook. He filled in a few details on the page with the strange symbols from the device. “If they could only see the big picture. Too bad for them. They aren’t going to benefit from my discoveries. Not now. Let them think of me as washed up, finished. They’ll never know. They won’t have a clue.” Noting one symbol in particular, he raised his eyebrows in surprise.

Carefully, he put the device down, got up, and went to the large, overstuffed bookshelf behind him. Books of all shapes, sizes, and colors were crammed in every which way. Fingering book after book, he finally found the ones he was looking for – one notebook, grayed from use and age, and another, newer, barely faded red with stains on the front cover.

Flipping through the older one, he searched for a symbol to match the one on the inside of the device. “Ah. now how did I miss that the previous fifty times? Hmm.” He flipped through the red notebook as well, seeking an answer. In this notebook, however, the left column held symbols that were cursive, round, flowing, while the right hand column held linear symbols. In the margins were notes in yet another language. He flipped to the back third of the book and scanned the pages until he found what he was looking for. “Hmm. Could be. Could be.” He looked back at the first notebook and made some notations in a rather messy script. “No, wait.” He crossed off a few lines and rewrote the notes. “Yeah, that’s better.” He shook his head. “Not that anyone will care. Not that anyone else will ever read this.”

Picking up the device again, he peered through the magnifying lenses, picked up a small tool off his workbench, and carefully, gently, pressed a button in the device. The button changed color to a dark, vivid red – but only for a split second.

The man smiled with satisfaction.

He closed the device and, strapping it to his wrist, he turned to face the middle of the crowded room, the only part of the room without bookshelves, workbenches, or equipment. He depressed the knob at the very top of the device and waited, not so patiently, for a few seconds, until a bubble formed, barely there, in the middle of the empty space. It grew larger and larger until it was nearly large enough for the man to walk through in a stoop.

Looking at the bubble, he could see a skyline, a purple sky, and three moons. Flying craft darted about, one coming right at him. He ducked as the bubble hiccoughed and dissolved.

“Kazbat!” he swore, picking himself up off the floor. “Ah well, it could’a hit me. It didn’t, so I guess it was a good thing after all,” he said under his breath. “So, what, insufficient power source? Short?” He picked up the first notebook again and flipped to the beginning. “Right. No discernable edges to the bubble, just a merging of images.” He scanned the rest of the page, mumbling. “Tingling hair follicles and red shift in the visual cortex. Yep.” Flipping to the next page, he said, “What’m I missing?” He checked over the notebooks, comparing the symbols in one notebook with notes in another. “Alright. I need a break. It’s probably right in front of my face.”

He wandered over to the window and looked out over his back yard, eyes at just a few inches above eye level. He poured himself a hot drink in yet another mug. He had a dozen or so littered throughout his workroom, some weeks old and molding. One mug he’d placed on the top shelf of his bookcase was threatening to walk away under its own power. He spotted a bird flying overhead with an expansive wingspan. The bird dove for the ground suddenly and the man dropped his mug, spilling the hot contents. The mug landed on the floor and broke into a dozen pieces. He looked briefly at his soiled shirt, looked back at the bird again, and something gelled. He didn’t notice the shards underfoot as he walked back to his workbench. He didn’t notice the sound the shards made as they broke into smaller fragments and ground deeper into the rug.

He looked in his notebooks again, checked his translations, and jolted as he realized the mistake. “Of course. It was the wrong symbol. Tiny little curly cue on the upper right hand side. Small bitty thing. Tiny bit of difference, and it all makes so much more sense.”

Excited, he picked up the device and one of his tools and opened the back of the device again. He made a small adjustment, then put his goggles back on. He checked the energy output levels in the device. He closed it again, put it back on his wrist, and depressed the switch.

Another bubble formed, but this time, with hazier edges, almost blending into the images from his basement work area. He looked into the bubble, seeing out over large open fields of wild blue grass almost as tall as he was. Wild animals roamed freely as they munched the grass. The sky was red, almost orange “Huh. That looks great. We haven’t had that much grass since, well, ever. And the sky. Is that from pollution? Or do they have an old sun?” The bubble again collapsed before reaching what his translation notes told him should have been the full height. “Still unstable. Okay, but we’re closer. Eliminated one more thing. So now what’s left?”

Muttering to himself in what he so proudly referred to as his most intelligent conversation of the day, he said, “What else can it be? Impurities in the power source? Too much shielding? Too little shielding? By krokey I wish I understood their technology better.” He paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth as he ran his fingers through his hair. Slamming his fist on his counter, he exclaimed, “But what if it isn’t that at all? What if . . .” His brain moved quickly, jumping from thought to seemingly unrelated thought. He stopped moving, appearing frozen in spot, then smoothed his hair in a nervous gesture.

Just then, the grimy white door at the top of the steps opened and a blonde girl, about fourteen, waltzed down the steps.

“Hi, daddy,” she said, putting her arms around him.

“Hmm.” He removed her arms, saying, “Maybe it’s in that other translation.” He went back to the bookcase and, looking through all the books, grabbed another one, this time a dark blue, off the shelf. He went back to his workspace while he flipped through the notebooks. “Oh, Love, have you done your homework yet? You know you can’t get behind. Gotta keep your marks up.”

“Yep. Didn’t have any.” She wandered around the room and collected the dishes and obvious trash lying around. Some of the mugs she picked up with obvious distaste. “Finished most of my homework at school. Don’t’cha know it drives the teachers up the wall? They can’t keep me busy enough. They complain about me talking too much, but what can they do? Daddy, those classes are way too boring. Why can’t I help you?” She sighed, then added, “Or why not get me into a university class or two? Daddy, they’d let you do that.” She put the dishes in the makeshift sink, stoppered it, and added soap and water. Looking at her hands, she said, sadly, “Daddy, you know I don’t have problems with my grades. I’ve been at the top of my class for years. It’s Grady you’re thinking about, daddy. You need to remember who you’re talking to.”

When she finished washing up, she joined her father at the worktable and looked over his shoulder at the notebooks.

“What’s the problem, anyway, daddy? Gimped a translation?”

“Love,” he said, his attention focused on the notebook, “it’s time for you to do your homework.” He spotted another error and made some notes. The girl sighed. She’d hoped to get his attention, but when that failed, she picked up two of the notebooks her father had set aside and made herself comfortable in the large easy chair under the window. She curled her feet under her and studied them in earnest. “Daddy, where did you get these notes from anyway? I’ve never seen symbols like this anywhere else.”

“Oh, the blue notebook’s from that Yark fellow. He went on a dig in Lhaazu and they uncovered some odd tablets in an antechamber. They originally thought the antechamber belonged to a trusted servant, or perhaps a lower wife, but turns out they were all wrong. Yark thinks it was the royal scientist, but couldn’t tell anyone. The cartel, you know? But he told me – I’d already been discredited, so who would believe me? The other’s from your grandparents. A dig in Rurutona. The reason they were discredited, by the way. A bit more to it than that, but yeah, basic reason.” He put the soldering iron down and removed the magnifying spectacles off his head. “Turns out the royal scientist was thought of as evil, or so the records say. But they say that about anything they don’t understand, like most myths and legends do. Anyway, that’s where this device comes from. Smuggled out. They had quite a few, and Yark figured they wouldn’t notice if there were twelve or thirteen. He thought I could help him figure out what they were for.” He opened another compartment within the device and made yet another adjustment, a mere eighth of a turn of a screw. “He had those tablets analyzed. Turned out they weren’t even made from any materials available at that time. Too far advanced. Really got his interest going. That was when he turned to me.”

He grabbed one of his machines and rolled it over to his work area. He rigged up the electrodes to fit into the tiny device, no larger than the tip of his thumb. Double-checking to make sure everything was firmly connected, he turned the machine on, programmed in a command, and waited, fidgeting, for the results.

“So why doesn’t Yark help you get your status back, daddy? Surely he could stand up for you.”

“No, dearie, he can’t. If he did, he’d be discredited, too, and we’re better off with him on our side exactly where he is. He can do more good for us this way. Those fools at the cartel would just disembowel him. No, not worth it, Love.” He drank some of the old stale laffe from the mug sitting at his elbow.

“Oh, sorry, daddy, I missed that mug.”

“Huh?” he said, not even noticing when she picked it up and replaced it with a clean mug filled with fresh laffe.

The man grabbed the test results from the impact printer and studied it. He circled a number here, another number there. Another number jumped out at him. “Gotcha!”

He grabbed the device, fumbled to open another compartment, and, failing, swore again. “Shupe!”

“Daddy!”

“Huh? What?” Turning around, he notices his daughter and the light shining on her hair, almost glowing. “Alysse.” Tears formed on the girl’s face. “No, daddy, momma’s been gone for five years.”

He blinked. “Oh, right. Of course. I’m sorry.” He hid his embarrassment by turning back to the bench, opened the other compartment on the device, made another minute adjustment, closed the device, and then activated it.

A bubble formed. The image in the bubble melted into the scene in front of him. No discernable edges. It grew larger and larger and finally, it enveloped him. His skin tingled with freshness, coolness, as he was completely surrounded. He looked at the scene in front of him, a beach with shimmering blue sand and two suns overhead. He smiled, tears streaming down his face. “I did it,” he said. A creature resembling a fish with legs walked out of the water and nuzzled his ankles as he dropped to his knees, petting it. “It has fur. How can that be? Fish don’t have fur.” He stroked the animal and mumbled, barely audible, “but we’re not in Shasa anymore, are we. Anything’s possible now.”

Love watched her father from the chair. She saw him walking towards her, only not towards her, but towards the beach scene between them. She watched him as his feet touched the sand, saw him noticing nothing else but the beach scene in front of him, the other world. She watched him as he ignored her and the house with all the painful memories. She was helpless to stop him.

She watched the bubble dissipate and knew that he knew it was dissipating as well, and she watched him, knowing full well that he didn’t look her way even once. She saw the bubble disappear into nothing and knew that she was alone. She’d been alone for five years since her mother and younger had died in an accident, but she at least had had the empty shell of her father. But now, she didn’t have even that.

Not knowing what else to do, she wiped the tears off her face, blew her nose on her hankie, and picked up the notebooks again, studying the ancient scripts and diagrams. “Maybe, just maybe,” she said, quietly, “I can find him before he forgets about me completely. Maybe I can make him notice me again.”

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