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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Edward Scott and the Star Academy: Acceptance

I looked at the letter again. I just couldn’t believe it. I looked up at my mother, and she just nodded her head, smiling. She was holding a letter of her own, along with a catalogue of some sort. There were tears running down her eyes, and I think down mine too. I read the letter again, for the third time; just to be sure I wasn’t missing something.

The Valusian Imperial Star Academy

Office of the Headmaster, Master Greelux Ambridon


Dear Mr. Edward J. Scott, Jr.,

We are pleased to enounce that you have been accepted at the Valusian Imperial Star Academy. You have been awarded a special scholarship we offer to one special student from one of the many outlying planets every year. You’re mother should have received a packet explaining the benefits of the school, along with a personal transporter. It is set to take you to the satellite orbiting the planet you call Saturn on September first. We look forward to educating you on the wonders of the universe.

Greelux Ambridon
Headmaster

I couldn’t get over it. It was like something out of a bad Harry Potter rip off. And the Valusian Imperial Star Academy? The Valusian Empire was the setting for my dad’s novels. A trilogy of sci-fi books that were just breaking out of obscurity when he… well, Mom and I were never really sure what happened to him. One day he was there, the next he wasn’t. Mom always assumed he was dead, but there was no evidence of that. There was no evidence of anything.

And now this letter. It had to be a bad joke. I looked over at my mother who, just like the letter said, was looking at a catalogue. It had some fancy lettering on the cover that read ‘Valusian Imperial Star Academy, You’re Child’s Path to the Stars.’

“What the heck is this, Mom?” I said to her, pointing to the catalogue with the letter. “Is this supposed to be some kind of joke? Because if it is, it’s sick.”

Mom wiped away some of the tears running down her face. She looked over at me and stared at the letter, and I think I saw a smile flicker on her lips briefly.

“No, Eddie,” she says, “it’s not a joke. It’s real. It’s all real.”

“Come on,” I say, getting angrier. “The Valusian Imperial Star Academy? Dad’s setting for his sci-fi books? What, am I supposed to be like the hero in his books, the only human in the Empire, destined to save the galaxy? It was all made up, Mom, just a set of books he wrote.”

Mom started crying again, and had to use a tissue to stop her self and blow her nose. What the heck was wrong with her? I mean, it was true that she still loved Dad, and that she sometimes teared up when she was thinking about him. But this? You might think she just found out Dad was… dead? What, exactly, did that letter of hers say? I reached over to grab it, and she took snatched it away before I could.

“Honey,” she said. “You’re dad’s books, they weren’t just fiction. He wasn’t making anything up in those stories. He was writing about things that actually happened to him. He just changed the name of the main character so it wasn’t him, to make it easier to sell.”

“What?” I say. “That’s not possible.”

“It is possible,” she said. “I can show you.”

She stood up and headed towards the basement. I followed, wondering what she could show me down there that I hadn’t already seen. It’s not like I’ve never been to the basement. We walk down the stairs and she heads over to a corner. I’ve been to that corner before; it’s where we keep most of dad’s stuff including the laptop he wrote his books on. I didn’t see anything unusually or different about it now. Then, Mom did something.

I’m still not quite sure what it is she did. I mean, I know what actions she took, sure. She pulled out Dad’s laptop and turned it on. How it turned on with out being plugged into the wall, I had no idea at the time. But more amazing was what came next. She typed in a password into the log on screen, and the wall opened. I don’t mean, like, it opened up like there was a secret door or something, no, I mean a tear opened up in the wall, like it just wasn’t there. And beyond that, inside a small room, was something out of a science fiction novel’s worst dream.

The walls looked like they were made out of chrome, and there were tubes running out of them at random intervals. Some went back into the wall, and the rest ran to some strange equipment on the floor or ceiling. I couldn’t see much more than lots of blinking lights, but I could hear humming and quiet beeping, and the smell of ozone filled the air. Mom stepped through the opening, and I followed, jaw open, in awe at what I was seeing.

Off to one corner was a desk, made of the same chrome that the walls were made of, and covered with what looked like several computers, all connected to one screen. Mom walked over to it and touched the screen with the palm of her hand. It turned on, and a voice came out of the walls.

“Welcome back, Jessica,” it said. It sounds echoy and kind of metallic, though not the emotionless robot voice of classic sci-fi. “It has been a long time since you’ve been here.”

“It has, Zero-One,” Mom said, removing her hand from the screen.

“I see a boy with you,” the voice continued. “Scans indicate he shares your DNA as well as that of Master Alex. I take it, then, that this is Edward. He must be of age now, and Master Alex’s belief that he has been accepted at the academy. You would not be here otherwise.”

Mom looked like she was going to tear up again. “You’re correct, Zero-One. He just got his acceptance letter today.”

“Mom?” I say, looking at her. “What is this?”

“Honey,” Mom says, and waves her arm around the whole room. “This is you’re father’s AI, Zero-One. He used it to keep in touch with the Valusian Empire. It was a gift to him by the Emperor himself.”

“Greetings, Edward,” the voice said.

“Uh, hi,” I said and waved, though I wasn’t quite sure where to look.

“Am I correct is assuming that you have been accepted at the Valusian Imperial Star Academy?” Zero-One said.

“Yeah,” I reply, “that’s what the letter I got said. I’m still having a hard time believing it, though. I mean, I grew up thinking all this was just part of my dad’s fiction.”

“I understand,” Zero-One said. “I aided you’re father in the creation of those novels. It was a way for him to make money for your family, and protect you at the same time. I can assure you, however, that the events depicted in those novels were real. I am real. Before he disappeared you’re father programmed me to aid you when you came of age to be accepted in the academy. I am to go with you to school and guide you through Valusian culture and life.”

“Seriously?” I said. “Mom, okay, so I believe, this is all real. Zero-One was in dad’s books, the last one where Dash Adams uses the AI to trick the Galfurian’s into surrendering to the Valusians despite the fact that they were winning, thus ending the war that had been raging through the whole trilogy. And the description of Zero-One in the books matches this exactly, down the the voice. But, still, you can’t seriously be expecting me to go to a school that’s in a whole different galaxy!”

“Solar System,” Zero-One said.

“What?” I reply.

“A whole different Solar System,” Zero-One explained. “The Valusian Imperial Star Academy is in this galaxy, just a different solar system.”

“Whatever,” I said, getting angry. “It’s not just down the block, or even across town, Mom. We’re talking another planet all together.”

“But it’s an amazing opportunity,” Mom said. “Plus, it’s difficult to turn down.”

“What do you mean?” I say. “Seems pretty easy. I just don’t go.”

“It is not as simple as that,” Zero-One says. “There are other considerations. The Empire does not take well to scholarship winners turning them down.”

“Besides,” Mom said. “Are you really telling me that you’re going to turn down the opportunity to travel to another planet, meet real aliens and fly space ships?”

“Fly space ships?” I ask, suddenly becoming interested. It never occurred to me that if this were all real, I’d get to see real aliens. The aliens I’ve read about several times in my dad’s books.

“Oh, yes” Zero-One said. “Basic shuttle piloting is taught to all students at the Academy.”

I look at my mom and then at the room. I look back at Mom, who nods and smiles. I think about things for a few moments and then decide that going to outer space is a pretty big opportunity, and one that’s hard to refuse.

“Okay,” I say. “I’m in. What do I need to do.”

The next several weeks are spent getting me ready. Zero-One informs me that while most of the events in Dad’s books are factual, many of the details were made up or made more exciting to make it more book like. Real life, even adventurous real life, is seldom as exciting as a book or movie. Part of my getting ready is getting the materials I need. These include books and a school uniform. He shows me the books I’ll need to buy on the computer screen in his room, and informs me that it is possible to buy them and download them into his memory.

I ask him where am I going to get Valusian money from, and I think the computer actually laughed at me. Apparently, Dad received a substantial sum of money as a reward from the Emperor. I, as his inheritor, am basically wealthy. So, buying the books is a snap. I even get them translated into English. Zero-One has me start on Valusian 101 right away, and I start learning how to speak the strange language. I feel like I need two tongues to speak it, but Zero-One informs me that Valusians only have one tongue.

My uniform is another matter. I have to order that to be waiting for me at the station in orbit around Saturn when I arrive on September 1. I ask how come September? I mean, that’s when school starts here, but we’re talking about a whole other world. Isn’t that a massive coincidence?

“It is, in fact,” Zero-One answered me. “A highly improbable one, as you suspected, but nothing more than that.”

I decide to let it go. I have another question I need answered. Zero-One has mentioned several times over the weeks getting ready that he will be going with me, as will these digital books I purchased. I ask him, how is that possible, when he’s the size of my bedroom?

“Simple,” Zero-One states.

Then, the beeping that is always in the background of his room increases and the room practically hums. A few seconds later, a slot opens in the wall, one that I never noticed before, and out pops something that looks like an iPhone. I pick it up. It’s slightly warm to the touch, and the screen is blank. I gently touch it with my finger.

“Greetings, Master Edward,” a voice that sounds like a smaller, faster version of Zero-One comes out of the phone’s speakers. “I am Zero-One-A. I will be your personal, portable AI on your time at school. All of your books are programmed into my memory.”

“Cool,” I said. “So, Zero-One-A is a real mouthful, mind if I just call you Zee?”

“Whatever you wish, Master Edward,” Zee said.

“Fantastic, Zee it is,” I say with a big grin on my face.

The last few days are spent packing and getting to know Zee. It turns out that he doesn’t have much of a personality. I learn from him and Zero-One that new AI’s don’t, but they develop one over time, based on the person that owns them. Zee will develop a personality to match mine. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

Finally, the big day arrived. According to Zee, the little disk with a small display screen on it that came with my acceptance letter is my personal transport device. It will teleport me (and only me) and some of my personal possessions that I am holding onto, like suitcases, to the station at Saturn. The device I have isn’t a real transport so much as a homing beacon of some sort, but keyed to my DNA or something. I never did totally understand.

I also didn’t understand the science behind the teleporter. I asked if it was like Star Trek, and both the AI’s laughed at me. They tried to explain the technology to me, something about mini wormholes, but I just didn’t get it. All I understood was that I was going to be sucked into some kind of space tunnel and then spit out the other end. They both assured me that it would not be painful, or even jarring, but their descriptions made me think otherwise. I didn’t have time to think about it, however.

A few days before departure date the two AI’s wanted me to start carrying around that transport disk with me all the time. So, I had been keeping it in my pocket. When the big day arrived, I had been asking questions about what it would feel like to be sucked through a hole to the other side of the solar system when the disk started vibrating. I pulled it out and a count down timer was flashing on the screen, 5 minutes. I rushed up to my room to grab my stuff and started yelling at Mom to let her know I was about to disappear. She came in to my room to give me a quick, tear filled hug and a good luck.

“I know you’re going to do great, honey,” she said. “Here, take this. It belonged to your father, and I know he’d want you to have it now.”

She pulled out a little piece of jewelry. It was a necklace with something that looked like a dog tag around the end. On it was the symbol of the Valusian Empire, a red star rising over a Saturn-like planet in black. On the back was something that looked like a bar code, like you find on cereal boxes or stuff you buy form the grocery store. I nearly cried at getting this. It was my dad’s, and now it’s mine.

“Time’s almost up,” Zee said. He was hanging from my shoulder over my chest on a special case that he and Zero-One set up for me. “You must grab your luggage, Master Edward.”

I had been trying to get him to just call me Ed, or even Eddie like my best friends do, but he wasn’t having that. Master Edward was all he would call me. Something about it not being appropriate for an AI to be on close friendly terms with their masters. I rushed over to my luggage, and grabbed the handles. I looked up at my mom and saw her still crying.

“I love you Mom,” I said. “I’ll find a way to send you a message, through Zero-One.”

And then the transporter disk started beeping again, more frantic and louder than before. Before I could even ask what was up, I suddenly felt like I was being turned inside out. I had about a second of that sensation before the world righted itself again, and I fell to my knees, sure I was about to throw up. Then, I looked around me. I found myself standing in what looked like a Train Station, with platforms and large grooves in the floor, only no tracks. It was all indoor, and mostly made out of steel or some other kind of metal. And then I saw the people walking around me, and realized that I wasn’t on Earth anymore.

There were all kinds of strange aliens. Something that looked like a squid in a power suit made its way by me, followed by two beings that looked like people with dog faces. Kind of like that Egyptian god, Anubis. Some people looked basically human, but with odd features, like purple skin, or no ears and pointy things coming out of their fore head, or four arms. Other’s looked completely alien, like this one guy (at least, I think he was a guy) that looked like an orange weight lifter with a hammer for a head. And this other creature that looked exactly like a centaur, except that the hair was green and the skin was ash gray.

“Welcome to Saturn Station, lad,” I heard a voice say, and turned around to see someone that looked completely human. He was older, with gray hair and a mustache, and wore some kind of uniform, a blue jumpsuit with gray stripes down the arms and legs, and a matching ball cap. “You must be Edward Scott.”

“Uh,” I stumble, unsure what to think. I wasn’t expecting to see a human here. “Yeah, I’m Edward.”

“Pleased to meet you,” he said, extending his hand. I took it and we shook. A completely human thing to do. “My name is Charles, and I’ll be helping you get to your ship. Don’t see too many humans here, I’m always glad to see them when I do. You got your forms?”

I’m caught off guard by the sudden change of subject, but Zee comes to my rescue by beeping and displaying the invitation and the permission slip from my mom on his screen. Charles bends over and looks at the screen and nods.

“Good AI you got there,” he said. “These are exactly what you need. Let’s get you to your ship, shall we?”

I nodded, and Charles led me down the platform and through a set of doors. Through the doors I found myself in what looked like a mall food court. There were at least a dozen restaurants that I could see, most of which looked like fast food places, though the food they served was odd. Some I wasn’t even sure I would call food, despite the strange beings eating it.

But what caught my attention the most was the large window that looked out into space. It was black, as you would expect, but it wasn’t empty. There were hundreds, no thousands of stars, and other things too, clouds of some sort, all strange and wonderful colors. And best of all was the view of Saturn. From this window, it was just a corner of the planet. It was a fantastic shade of orange, with the rings circling it, making it a truly awe inspiring sight. It all struck me at once. I was really here. I was in outer space.

“Awe inspiring, isn’t it?” Charles said. “I never get tired of seeing that view, and I’ve worked on this station for thirty years now.”

We pause for a moment at the window just to enjoy the view, and it truly is amazing. I could just stare out this window for hours. Charles nudges me in the shoulder, however, reminding me that I’m going somewhere.

“Come on, let’s get you to your ship,” he said, and we start making our way towards another door.

“Wait,” I say, suddenly remembering something. “I need to pick up my uniform.”

“Oh,” Charles said, and he pulled out a blocky looking device about the size of a paper back book from his pocket. It was his AI, I realized. “Well, it looks like we’ve got time before the ship to the Academy is due to leave, so I’ll take you to the store your uniform is at.”

He lead me through a different arch way to a big hallway. There were more shops down this hall, but they were not food places. Some seemed like normal stores, a barbershop and gift stores. But others didn’t make any sense to me. Something that looked like a wax for octopuses and another that looked like it sold eyeballs. I didn’t get any of it, but I didn’t want to ask Charles. He seemed to think we were running out of time before we needed to get to my ship.

A few moments later, we stopped at what was obviously a clothing shop. I couldn’t read the sign above the shop, but under it was words in several Earth languages. I recognized English, Spanish and what looked like either Chinese or Japanese, I wasn’t sure. One other language I didn’t recognize but Charles told me was German was there as well. The English sign read ‘Dural’s Clothing for All Species.’

“Welcome, Charles,” I heard a voice that sounded like someone gargling gravel say. “And who’s your friend? It looks like another native to the solar system.”

“He is,” Charles said. “This is Edward Scott, and he’s been accepted at the Valusian Imperial Star Academy.”

“Oh, really?” the voice said. Then, I saw who was speaking. It looked like the voice suggested, a large boulder about eight feet tall, with arms and legs. I didn’t see any discernable eyes, but there was defiantly a mouth. “Well, welcome, Cadet Scott. My name is Dural, and I’m guessing you’re here to get your uniform.”

I only nodded. The rock made a rumbling sound that I assumed was laughter.

“Not used to non-Earth life forms, huh?” it said. I nodded again. “Well, you’ll get used to it at the Academy, let me tell you. Here, let me get your uniform.”

He disappeared behind a counter and reappeared a moment later with a box. He handed it to me and twisted his mouth hole into what appeared to be a lopsided frown. I’m guessing he was trying to smile, because other wise, he was snarling at me, and I didn’t want to be eaten by a rock. I opened the box and looked inside.

The uniform was impressive. It consisted of a white shirt and black tie, and dark blue vest over that, and some navy blue pants with a black stripe down the side. A long, navy blue jacket also came with it, with round black patches on the shoulders and elbows, and black stripes at the cuffs and across the waist. Across the left breast was a gray square with some strange symbols in it. Dural told me that was my name in Valusian. On the right shoulder was a patch that had the planet Earth on it, and below that was another gray box with more symbols. Earth, Dural told me it read. It also came with a set of black boots that came up to my calves. They looked like they were made out of leather.

“There’s a warm weather jacket, too,” he said. “I’ll send it to your ship in another box.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Can I get dressed right now?”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Charles said, and both of them lead me to a dressing room, where I changed. I looked at myself in the mirror. Other than my long, black hair, which went down to my shoulders, I looked rather dashing. At least, I thought so. When I exited, both Dural and Charles told me the same thing, though I suspected that Dural was just saying that because I was his customer. All dressed, Charles and I finally left for the ship that would take me to the Academy. That’s when the trouble started.

We had just barley left the clothing store when there was an explosion. Charles and I were knocked down, and the wind was blown out of me. A few moments later, as the smoke cleared, I scrambled up and started coughing. I turned to look, and saw a group of people in armor. They looked almost completely human, but it was hard to really tell, because their faces were covered by helmets. They were also covered in armor, and sporting what was very obviously weapons, though they looked like something from a Saturday morning cartoon show rather than real weapons. One of them fired in my direction, though, a red beam that scared the wall next to me, making me realize that they were real enough.

“Death to the Humans,” one shouted.

“Death to Edward Scott!” the others shouted behind them. I saw that there were six of them total. And they apparently all wanted me dead. I froze in terror.

As I watched, things seemed to slow down. The six armored beings with guns all looked my way and aimed their weapons my way. A few brought them to their shoulders, but most just held them up to their waist. Then, there was a flash of blue and the next thing I knew I was being carried down a side hallway that I never noticed before. Things moved back to normal speed, and I realized I was being carried, by Charles. For an old man, he was pretty strong, and fast. We were running down a hallway that didn’t seem to have any thing in it, except lights on the wall.

A few seconds later, there were more of those red laser things, complete with buzzing noises. Each time they hit the floor or the wall, they left scortch marks.

“Who are they?” I shouted.

“Galfurians,” Charles replied as we ran. “They have it out for the Valusian Empire, and for some reason, really hate humans, even though we’re not officially a part of the empire. I think it has something to do with your father.”

“You know my father?” I cry, suddenly more interested in that tidbit of information rather than the men shooting at us.

“Not personally,” Charles said. “But everyone has heard of him, and as a result, you. You’re a celebrity, Edward. Didn’t your AI tell you this?”

“I was unaware of current galactic events,” Zee said before I could ask it the question.

“No time for this now, anyway,” Charles said, and rounded a corner. We were back in the food court. He skidded to a stop in front of a stall, and tossed me over the counter to one of those strange octopus looking things, who caught me with three of it’s tenticals. “Watch that for me, will you, Tred? Galfurians on my tail.”

The octopus just waved, and pushed me under the counter. There was a hole in the counter, and so I twisted my self around to get a look at what was going on outside. A few seconds later, the six guys in armor came rounding the corner, and stopped, looking around for us. I see then that their legs are very not human. Their knees bend backwards, and the boots the wear end in two, long toes. Then, I see Charles, over by the window. He’s jumping up and down and waving his arms.

“Hey! Furballs!” he shouts. “Over here!”

Without hesitation, all six Galfurians turn and fire at Charles. None of them aim, which is a blessing, because they are all lousy shots. Charles dives behind something that looks exactly like a couch and the shots mostly bounce harmlessly off the material the windows are made of, or scorch the floor and even the couch itself. Charles pokes his head up, but a few more shots sends him back for cover. This is ridiculous, I realize. He’s going to end up killed, and hiding me under the counter will only work for so long.

I think back to my dad’s books. The Galfurian’s were trying to over through the Empire in them, and Dad’s main character put a stop to it by killing their king. But, before getting there, he discovers that the hostile aliens have a killer weakness. Water. Salt water, like that found in the ocean, is like acid to them. I squirm around, and the squid-guy holding me down puts one large eye towards me.

“Stop,” he says in heavy accented English. “They will hear you.”

“We gotta stop them,” I say, ignoring him. “Do you happen to serve ocean water here?”

“What?” the eye blinks.

“Salt water. Ocean water,” I repeat.

“Well, of course,” he says, as if I just asked if the station had air to breath.

“Great, I want the tallest, largest glass you can get me,” I say.

“I don’t think now is really the time for a drink,” the squid says.

“Just get me one,” I say. “I’ve got a plan.”

The eye blinks again, and then disappears. A few seconds later, its back, and a new tactical brings me a tall, large water bottle, inside of which is what appears to be the dirtiest water I’ve ever seen. I look back out the hole at the aliens with the guns, and I realize that the water probably won’t do much good unless I can get them out of their helmets.

“Zee,” I whisper, and place the little computer up against the hole. “Can you tell me if there’s a way to get those helmets open?”

A few seconds later, Zee quietly beeps, and I turn him around. Text flashes across the screen.

“Affirmative, Master Edward,” the text reads. “The helmets are all controlled by a radio signal. Send the right signal, and the helmets open.”

“Do you know that signal?” I ask hopefully.

“Negative,” reads the text, and my heart falls. This plan isn’t going to work.

“Stay down, monkey boy,” one of the Galfurians says, and sends another shot towards the couch.

Then, to my surprise, another one opens it’s helmet. It pulls back and retracts into the armor, and I get a good look at the face. It’s feminine, to be sure, but it looks very much like a cat. The others follow suit, and I see a mix of female and male cat faces.

“The boy is around somewhere,” the first one to open her helmet says. “Start sniffing him out.”

They start doing just that, smelling the air. I realize that, as close as I am, they will be able to find me pretty quickly. Without thinking, I crawl out from under the counter, open the bottle of water, and jump up onto the counter top.

“Hey, cat face!” I cry, and spray some water into the faces of the nearest two. Their faces burn, and their drop their weapons, bringing their hands up to their faces. I fling water and two more, dropping them just as quickly. The remaining two, however, are quick to act, and start firing at me. I duck back behind the counter, but in doing so, I throw up the bottle. As I watch, the bottle is hit by a bolt of laser, and explodes, salt water flying everywhere.

I ducked my head between my legs and closed my eyes, expecting the cat people to jump over and start blasting me to shreds any second now. In stead, I heard more gun fire, this time sounding more like an electric buzz than the laser guns did. After a few seconds of fire, I heard two drops, followed quickly by four more. Then, there was foot steps, and a voice calling to me from above the counter.

“Edward?” the voice said. It was Charles. “Are you okay down there, lad?”

I open my eyes and see the old man looking back at me. He has a small pistol in his hand, the barrel of which is still smoking. I smile and leap up, giving him a hug. He laughs and hugs me back with one arm.

“Just like you’re father,” he says. “He always acted before thinking, too. But, thanks to your action with the salt water, I was able to take our attackers down.”

“Who are you?” I say. “I thought you worked for the station.”

“Oh, that’s just a cover,” he says. “I’ve been assigned here to make sure that you make it to the Academy in one piece. Looks like a good thing I was here, too.”

I look over the counter at the dead cat aliens. I’ve never seen dead people before. I feel sick, drop out of Charles’ hands, and promptly throw up. He pats me on the back until I finish, then hands me a cold, wet towel that I use to clean up. I see the octopus thing clean up my vomit as Charles leads me away, and wonder vaguely if that will end up on the menu. I try not to think more on it lest I throw up again.

I look up at Charles. I have a lot of questions. What does he know about my dad? Just who is he, really? Send by whom to protect me from what? What the hell is really going on here? He sees the look in my eyes and pats me on the back.

“Come on, lad,” he says, returning to the kind old man I first met when I got here. “Let’s get on the ship. It’s a long trip to the Academy, and we’ll have plenty of time for you to ask your questions on the way.”

I look down at the floor. I was scared. Someone tried to kill me. Six someones. And now I was in the care of a strange old man that was far more than he appeared. All so I can go to school in a space academy?

“Charles?” I say.

“Yes, lad?” he says.

“I’m scared,” I say.

“Good,” is his only reply. “Good.

The End

Week 25

Well, here we are, another week, another story.

This one kind of hit me out of the blue. I've been watching my Farscape box set again, making my way through Season 1, and really felt the need to write a classic sci-fi story. But, I didn't know what to write without completely ripping of either Farscape it self, or Star Trek. So, instead, I looked for other sources of inspiration. I found it in an odd place. Harry Potter.

So, the story you are about to read is my strange combination of Farscape and Harry Potter. I rather like it, and I will definitely be returning to it again soon. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Free Edit Contest!

Okay, I have to blog about another contest.

Freelance Editor CA Marshall is giving away a free substantial edit (100K words)! This is truly awesome, and I hope I can win, because I would love for her to look at my novel.

Check out the deatails of the contest here.

http://www.camarshall.com/2010/06/celebrate-with-me-free-substantial-edit.html

Free Book Giveaway!

I don't normally post about other writer's blogs or in fact about anything except my stories. This time, however, I'm doing something a little different. I'm posting about a contest.

Anne Riley is haivng a giveaway for reaching 200 members for her blog. And the book's she's giving away are awesome. Go to her site, check it out, join up, and enter to win!

http://annerileybooks.com/2010/05/hooray-summer-book-giveaway/

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Report

“I’m getting too old for this shit,” Gerald said.

He’d been walking this beat for fifteen years now, had worked his way up from a foot cop to a detective, and still mostly kept to the same beat. In all that time, though, he had never seen anything like this.

“What do we have here, Sergeant?” he said to the duty officer.

“Looks like a dragon attack, sir,” he said.

Gerald had already figured that part out. There were red dragon scales all over the place, and the building they were looking at had been burned on one side. It had to be a dragon. But that didn’t explain the dead troll, the dead human in a lab coat and the fact that the place was just crawling with brownies. Gerald hated the fae, and brownies the most. The little suckers trashed his car last week. ‘We just want to clean your windshield,’ they had said. The worst part was that his insurance refused to cover fairy attacks. He had to pay an extra two hundred a month if he wanted that kind of coverage.

“I got that much,” he sighed, lowering his sunglasses to stare at the duty officer, “I mean what do you have for information on the specifics and maybe on the reason behind the attack.”

“Not much, sir,” said the duty officer. “Just this.”

He handed Gerald a manila folder with a plastic tab on it. A little bit of paper in the tab had some writing on it, but all it said was ‘Report.’ No number, no idea of what the report was on, nothing. Gerald opened the report and gave it a brief scan. Mystical drawings and arcane formula were side by side with scientific formula, and it looked like two different hand writings for both sets of notes. The odd formula looked like they were being combined in some way, but Gerald was neither a mystic nor a scientist, and so none of it made sense to him.

“This is just gobblygook,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” the Sergeant said. “We found it hidden in a wall safe. It was behind some pretty heavy duty magical protections, on the side of the building that was burnt.”

“We got a staff wizard here, then?” Gerald asked, surprised but grateful. Maybe the mage could tell him what this report meant.

“Yes, sir, Detective Armstrong is right over there,” he pointed. “He’s been trying to contain the brownies. We’re not sure yet if they’re just scavenging like normal or if they’re part of the crime. There’s an awful lot of them here. Also, he’s been casting the standard lot of forensic spells.”

“Fantastic,” Gerald said. “When he’s done, tell him to come see me. I want him to look this report over.”

The Sergeant nodded. Gerald opened the report again and looked it over. It just didn’t make any sense. Why would you want to combine magic formulas with science formulas? People have tried combining science and magic before, and it always ends in a big boom. Sure, you could enchant scientific items, like magical flash lights that don’t need batteries, cell phones that floated by your ear or flying trains, but no one had been able to find a way to truly blend science and magic. The two disciplines were just too different. It was like mixing water and oil. Or maybe more like mixing nitro and fire.

He looked over the building remains before him. It was obviously a lab. It had all the good, stereotypical, movie set lab stuff, like Bunsen burners, glass beakers, something that looked like a television sized magnifying glass and a round piece of metal machinery with several glass beakers hanging off of it like a miniature circus ride. Nothing here that would indicate magic being used, this was a purely science zone. Then, Gerald looked over at the troll again. Trolls weren’t known for their devotion to science. Sure, they used modern day conveniences, like everyone else, but they weren’t particularly talented when it came to the scientific arts. As with any stereotype, there were exceptions, but still…

Narrowing his eyes, he went over to look. Trolls were notoriously hard to kill, but dragon fire is one of the few things capable of doing the job, so Gerald wasn’t really surprised to see the large, stony looking creature partially burned, particularly in the head and left shoulder area. That did leave a significant portion of the troll to examine, though. First glance didn’t seem in indicate anything out of the ordinary, though. The remains of a Cash for Katie tee-shirt, jeans, hard leather wallet connected by a chain to the hard leather belt. All pretty normal for a troll.

So, he decided to look for something that wasn’t normal. He pulled a pen out of his pocket and gently used it to lift up the tee-shirt for the large, round belly. There it was, just like he thought it would be. He smiled. Normally, Gerald didn’t get this lucky.

“Sergeant,” he called, and the uniformed officer was at his side in a matter of seconds. He bent down to look at the belly of the troll next to Gerald. “What do you see here?”

The man’s eyes opened wide when he looked. “Is that a…?”

“Yup,” Gerald said. “A sigil. The magical tattoo all registered wizards are required to have. This troll was a magic slinger.”

“Why would a troll wizard be hanging out in a science lab?” the sergeant asked.

“More importantly,” Gerald said, “who would want to kill them both? And why?”

Whatever was going on here, the death of these two was just the beginning of things. Gerald stood up and sighed. He had a big job ahead of him, he could tell.

“Sergeant,” he said to the duty officer, “get me some coffee. This is going to be a long night.”

******

About an hour later, Gerald was on his second cup of coffee and the tent working as the headquarters for the investigation. He was reviewing the preliminary and secondary investigation reports of the scene. The scene had been cleaned of distractions, such as the brownies, which had been captured and gathered in a special holding cell. It was still undetermined if they were witness or scavenging, and a translator was on the way, as all of them refused to talk to the detective. The bodies had also been moved and replaced with outlines made of white tape. In a few hours, he would be heading to the coroner’s office to find out the results of the autopsies of the bodies, though he thought he already knew what the results would be. Death by dragon breath was pretty obvious.

He was reviewing what was going on right then, including which uniformed cops were out questioning potential witnesses, when he heard a person behind him clearing his throat. He turned around and saw a plainclothes officer standing at attention. He was an older man, with a neatly trimmed gray beard and round, wire rimmed glasses. Gerald recognized the man as being Detective Armstrong, the magician that was responsible for containing all the brownies.

“Ah, Detective Armstrong,” Gerald said, “I take it you’re done with your initial magical forensic investigation?”

“Yes, sir,” the older man said, “I was told that you wanted me to report to you? I assume you want my report.”

Gerald waved the older man to a seat. “Please, have a seat and come coffee,” he said. “and you can stop with the ‘sir’ thing. I checked your record, and you have at least five years seniority on me.”

Armstrong gratefully sat and took the offered hot drink. “Yes, sir,” he said between sips, “but you’re the officer in charge of this investigation, and therefore, I technically report to you.”

“You can still cut out the sir bit,” Gerald said. “Makes me uncomfortable for another detective to refer to me as such. Gerald, please.”

Gerald held out his hand and the other man shook it. “Jon,” Armstrong said.

“Great,” Gerald said, nodding. “Now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s get down to business. I do want to hear your initial report, so let’s start with that.”

“Well,” Jon started, “outside of the dragon fire and the expected traces of dragon magical energies that were used to break through the building’s defenses, the only thing out of the ordinary was the brownies.”

“Magical defenses?” Gerald said, writing something down in a note book. “The building actually had magical defenses around it?”

“Well, yeah,” Jon said, “but nothing out of the ordinary. All over the shelf magic.”

“Okay,” Gerald said, still writing, “now what about the brownies? Were they witnesses or scavenging like normal?”

“Honestly, I’d say they were victims,” Jon said, “but I won’t know for sure until we can question them with a translator.”

“Victims?” Gerald said. “How does that work?”

“Hard to say at this point, for sure,” Jon said. “There were the remains of little cages that have the auras of Brownie traps on them around the building. I’d say they were being experimented on. Plus, and here’s the big one, they had all their magic stripped from them. That’s why they can’t talk. I’m stumped, though, as to how that happened, and why we need a translator.”

“Stripped of magic?” Gerald said, raising an eyebrow. “I’ve heard of that happening with wizards, but never with innately magical creatures, like a brownie.”

Jon only nodded. Gerald turned around to the piles of papers on the plastic picnic table that had been set up in the tent and found the report. He handed it to Jon.

“That leads nicely in the second reason I wanted you here,” he said. “Take a look at this and tell me what you think.”

Jon read over the report. It was only a few pages long, all of it hand written, and obviously by two different hands with different pens. Not only were there the formulas, but there were notes and arrows pointing to them, along with diagrams and pictographs. It was a jumbled mess, to be sure, but Gerald was convinced that this was the key to the whole case.

“Well,” Jon said. “Off the top of my head, most of the magical formula here are pretty basic. Bigby’s Law of Extra-planar Motion, Nicodimus’ Three Laws of Magical Energy, stuff like that. Things wizards learn when we’re ten.”

“Ten?” Gerald said. “I mean, I’ve heard of these things, but are you telling me this is the ABC’s of magic?”

Jon laughs softly. “No,” he says. “It’s more like the basic magical laws and theories that describe how the universe works. They’re more like the magical equivalent of Newton’s Laws of Motion and Gravity, or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Which, by the way, are also in here.”

“What?” Gerald said. Jon turns the report around and points to some of the scientific formula’s interspersed among the magical ones.

“See that?” he points to one of the simpler formulas. “That is Newton’s Second Law of Motion.”

“Okay,” Gerald says. “First, how do you know all this? And second, why does Newton’s Second Law look like it’s trying to use arcane symbols as the variables.”

“First,” Jon says, “all magicians are taught some basic science. It’s good for us to know exactly what laws of physics we’re breaking when we break them. I’m not saying I’m a physicists by any means, but I probably know more than the average person on the street. I’ve been told the same is true for scientists and magic.”

“Second,” he continues, “I have no idea. It looks like the two people who wrote this report were trying to use the magical formulas to solve for scientific problems and vice versa. For what purpose, I have no idea. This is an old idea, the melding of science and magic, but it’s never been done.”

Gerald nodded. Then, something occurred to him. He looked up at Jon with a sly grin on his face.

“Jon,” he said, “what’s your current assignment?”

Jon blinked, taken aback by the question. “CSI, magical division.”

“How would you like to get out from behind the desk and do some real detective work?” Gerald asked.

“What?” Jon asked in shock. He didn’t look to pleased with the idea.

“I need a partner on this, Jon,” Gerald said. “I now next to nothing about science and even less about magic. And with the perp being a dragon, I could use a wizard at my side. Plus, you already know the case as well as I do. The captain owes me a favor. I’ll put in the request to have you transferred to homicide, and it’s a done deal.”

Jon paused, looking terrified.

“Jon,” Gerald said, looking the older man straight in the eye. “I need your help. Two men were killed, a human scientist and a troll wizard, but a dragon, and we need to figure out why, find the dragon and throw him behind bars. I can’t do this without you.”

There was another pause, but finally, Jon nodded. “I haven’t done more than forensics in such a long time, I’m not sure what good I’ll be. But, I’ll do it.”

“Good,” John said, slapping his new partner on the shoulder. Then, he reaches for his cell phone. “I’ll call the captain, then we’ll head to the coroner and see what our bodies have to tell us.”

******

Gerald and Jon walked down the stairs to the County Coroner’s office. Gerald didn’t even notice, he’d been here so often in his career, but Jon wondered briefly if the smell was the bodies, or some chemical to prevent one from smelling the bodies. The walked down a long hall, through a set of double doors and into a large, cold room. There were tables everywhere, most of them on wheels, and two large examination tables in the center of the room. One of those tables had a body on it that was currently covered in a plain, gray cloth. The other table had the remains of a dead, naked troll on it. Peering at the dead troll with some kind of eye peace was a surprisingly young looking woman with flowing blond hair barely kept in check in a series of intricate knots and braids. When she looked up, Jon saw that she had long, delicate, pointed ears. An elf.

“Gerald,” she said warmly as the two men entered the room. “It’s been so long. I didn’t know you were working on this case.”

Gerald and the elf woman hugged. “Lyssia,” Gerald said, giving her the traditional elvin kiss of close friendship on her cheek. “It has been a long time. Two years, in fact. I thought you had retired and moved onto a new profession. It was your five hundredth birthday, after all.”

“True,” she said. “And I did take up auto racing for a while. Never quite got the hang of it, sadly, and after one major crash during a race, I decided I wanted to go back to work as a coroner. So, here I am.”

“Well, I for one, am grateful that you are here,” Gerald said.

“Are you going to introduce me to your handsome friend there?” Lyssia asked, looking over Gerald’s shoulder to Jon. Jon blushed at the intensity of the stare.

“Oh, of course,” Gerald said. “Doctor Lyssia Greentree, this is Detective Jon Armstrong, Wizard… er…”

“Master Wizard, Second class, Blackstaff,” Jon corrected. He reached out to take the elf’s offered hand, and kissed it gently before returning it.

“Master Wizard?” she said. “And Blackstaff, nonetheless. I’m impressed. Not many humans make Master in Blackstaff.”

Jon only nodded. Gerald looked back and forth between the two. “I have no idea what Blackstaff means, but a Master, eh? I’m beginning to believe that my new partner may be more than I initially believed.”

Jon blushed again, and lowered his head, embarrassed by all the attention. Gerald smirked and Lyssia smacked him on the arm.

“So,” Gerald said. “Let’s get back to business. What do you have for us on our poor dragon victims, here?”

Lyssia walked over to the cadaver under the blanket first, laying her hands on it’s stomach.

“Well,” she said taking in a deep breath. “Not much. Pretty straight forward, really, at least on this guy. You are looking at the remains of one Doctor Richard Worthy, noted physicist. He was killed instantly by the dragon’s breath. Nothing special about his corpse, except the only slightly odd fact that he had no protection spells or items on him. Not entirely unusual.”

“And our troll?” Gerald asked.

“Ah, now here’s where things get interesting,” the elf said, and Jon swore he saw her ears twitch. “Here we have one Svergold Yarlson, a Master Wizard, Fourth Class, Mjolnier. I was also able to find out that, not long after reaching first class master status, he studied the sciences. Physics, to be specific. He had a PhD in the subject, in fact, a rarity both for a troll and a wizard. Smart guy was our Doctor Yarlson.”

She paused for a moment for effect, looking back and forth between Jon and Gerald, making sure that they were paying attention.

“Now here comes the truly interesting stuff,” she said one she had it. “Just like our human friend over there, our troll wizard here had no magical protection, either in the form of spells or devices.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Gerald said.

“Not only does it not make sense,” Jon said, “It’s impossible.”

Jon suddenly un-tucked and rolled up his shirt, turning around so that Lyssia and Gerald could look at his back. There was the wizard tattoo, very similar to the one the troll wore on his stomach.

“See this?” he said. “It’s the standard tattoo all registered wizards are required to wear. It’s also magical ward, protecting wizards from most forms of harm outside the most advanced weaponry and magic.”

“So, wait,” Gerald said. “Lyssia, your saying that, despite the physical presence of this tattoo, Mr. Yarlson did not benefit from its protective magics?”

“That’s exactly what I am saying,” she said.

“How?” Gerald asked.

“I have no idea,” Lyssia replied. “That’s why you guys are the detectives and I’m the coroner.

******

Gerald slammed the door shut on his car as Jon sat down next to him. Jon looked over at his new partner. He didn’t look angry.

“What was that about?” he asked.

“What?” Gerald said, looking distracted. He was searching for something in his pockets.

“The slamming he car door,” Jon said.

“Oh,” Gerald said. “Nothing. I just do that out of habit. My old car had a sticky door. I’ll try to stop.”

With that, Gerald pulled out a semi-crushed packet of cigarettes, pulled one of the only non-broken ones out, and put it up to his lips. He had the lighter opened and ready to click it when he turned and saw the look on Jon’s face.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” Gerald asked slowly.

“Do I really have a choice in the mater?” Jon said, looking at the cigarette.

“Right now, you do not,” Gerald said.

“Then I guess I don’t mind,” Jon said, and Gerald immediately lit the end of the paper and tobacco stick and took a deep inhale.

“That’s better,” Gerald said. Just then, his phone rang. He reached down to his belt pouch, pulled it out and flipped it open. “This is Detective Dabrowski,” he said. “Yeah? He’s there now? Great, we’re on our way.”

He turned to look at Jon. “The translator just arrived. We can go talk to the brownies now.”

“Great,” Jon said. “I love talking to the fae.”

Gerald looked over at the older man and smiled around his cigarette. “For a moment there, I almost believed you,” he said, then started his car and drove away.

A few moments later, they were in the precinct interrogation observation room. On one side of the two-way mirror sat a rather frightened brownie. In the observation room with Jon and Gerald was Captain Perkins, a man pushing fifty but in far better shape physically than either Jon or Gerald, which made Jon self conscious. Hovering in the air right next to the captain was a pixy. She was about three inches tall, with lustrous blond hair that was bound back in black ribbons. She wore a miniature power suit that reminded Gerald of his sister’s doll collection from when he was a kid.

“Gentlemen, this is Dame Lavorna,” the captain said, waiving to the pixie, “of the Summer Queen’s Court. She has graciously volunteered her time here to help with the translations of these brownies.”

Jon raised an eyebrow and was about to ask a question when Gerald interrupted him.

“A pleasure, Lady,” Gerald said and bowed. Lavorna ignored him, however, and fluttered over to Jon. It was obvious to the wizard that the dimunitive woman was reading his aura.

“You are a wizard?” she asked. He nodded. “then you no doubt wonder what a fairy of my standing is doing here working as a translator?”

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Jon said.

“Simple,” she replied. “For the past few months, fae have begun disappearing in Arcadia. At first, it was the minor races, especially the violent races, like redcaps or goblins. Then, it was noticeable among Summer Court races, like leprechauns and even pixies. And, of course, brownies. Lots of brownies. We had a recent break in our investigations into the disappearances when a brownie witness described the perpetrator. Someone from outside Arcadia. A troll.”

“Let me guess,” Gerald said. “Svergold Yarlson.”

“Yes,” Lavorna nodded. “That was the name that came up in our database when we ran the description through it. Thus why I am here.”

“So,” Jon said, “our troll victim was kidnapping fairies and, what, selling them to the physicist? What for?”

Gerald smiled. “Let’s go talk to the brownies and see if we can’t find out.”

******

“Say that again?” Gerald asked.

“He said that he and his friends had all been experimented on,” Lavorna said. “A machine was attached to their heads and all their magic was sucked out of them, including their translator magic that allowed them to speak with humans.”

“How is that even possible?” Gerald said.

“I don’t know,” Jon said, “but it matches the story of the other three brownies. And my magic indicates that they’re all telling the truth.”

“I concur,” Lavorna said.

“The problem with this,” Gerald said, “is that there was no such machine at the scene. And nothing appeared to be missing.”

“Well,” Jon said, “obviously something was that we didn’t notice.”

The brownie spoke up then, uttering a string of noises that sounded to Gerald like the crunching of leaves combined with someone gargling. Lavorna listened and then turned to the two humans.

“He says he has information on the dragon that freed them,” she said.

“He does?” Gerald brightened at this prospect. “All of his buddies clamped up on this subject.”

“He says that he will offer this information only if I can promise the Queen’s protection,” she replied.

Gerald sat upright in his chair, looking from the pixy to the brownie and back again. “You’ve got my attention,” he said to the brownie, uncaring if the creature understood him. Then he turned back to the pixy, “are you willing to extend such protection?”

“I have been authorized to do so if such information became available,” the fae knight said. “I’ll make the offer now.”

She returned back to the brownie and the two of them held a conversation for some time. Gerald and Jon occasionally asked questions, and in a matter of an hour, they received the information they needed.

“The dragon was there to liberate them?” Gerald said.

“No, to steal the machine,” Jon reminded him. “He swore the brownies to secrecy on pain of death, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Gerald said, thinking. He knew the dragon was the perp from the beginning, but he wasn’t sure he liked the idea of facing a dragon, even with magical support. But now he was talking about facing a dragon with a device that could take magic away from creatures. Not a fun idea.

“We just need to find the dragon,” Jon said. “What about those dragon scales left on the scene?”

“No,” Jon said. “I called about those earlier. The lab ran tests on them, but the scales don’t match any of our records. Whoever this dragon is, he doesn’t have any priors, or is even registered with the government.”

“Maybe the brownie knows something?” Jon suggested.

Lavorna turned and spoke to the brownie some more. When she returned to the two men, her look was not very encouraging.

“He doesn’t know much,” she said. “The dragon didn’t speak a lot, except to threaten the brownies. Apparently, the dragon was only interested in the machine. He did mention a name, though, but it’s obviously a alias, for it is no dragon name.”

“What is it?” Gerald said.

“Ondalaka,” she said. “I am unfamiliar with the word, but as I said, it is obviously no dragon name.”

“No,” Gerald said, smiling. “But it is a name I know.”

The other two looked at him, confused.

“It’s the name of an old night club, closed down a few years ago due to some questionable business practices,” Gerald said. “They were trying to make a human’s only club that featured... er… exotic entertainment from the fairy realms. Ondalaka was the name of the wizard that built the place.”

“Is this club building still around?” Lavorna asked.

“It is,” Gerald said. “No one bought the location after it was closed down.”

“Well, then let’s go,” Jon said.

“I wish to come with you,” Lavorna said. “This dragon possesses a weapon that is very dangerous to my queen.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Gerald said, bowing low to the diminutive knight. The fae then left the room first and Gerald started following behind. Jon, however, grabbed his partners by the shoulder and pulled him aside.

“Gerald,” Jon said, “I’m sure how to put this, so I’ll just say it. You do realize that our fine knight there is only three inches tall, right?”

“Yeah,” Gerald smiled, “but pixies have the power to shrink humans to their size.”

“She’s a knight,” Jon said, “in the direct service of the Queen of the Summer Court.”

“So,” Gerald said, “out of my league?”

“Out of your league,” Jon said.

“Can’t blame a guy for trying,” Gerald said, and the two laughed and followed after the pixie.

******
Less than two hours later, the three of them, plus a large SWAT team, had a small, boarded up building surrounded. The remains of a few signs still proclaimed the building to be Ondalaka. There were reports from the sharp shooters on the roofs of nearby buildings that the roof to the roof to Ondalaka had a massive hole in it, large enough for a dragon to get in and out, for sure, but they couldn’t see anything inside. Jon confirmed that it was a magical darkness. His magical scans indicated that the dragon was, in fact, home, and it was likely that the dragon knew they were all outside.

“Attention Dragon inside the Ondalaka building,” Gerald said into a loud speaker, “This is the police. You are under arrest for the murders of Doctor Richard Worthy and Master Wizard Svergold Yarlson. Come quietly, and you won’t be harmed.”

There was only silence. Gerald let it drag out for a few minutes before lifting the loud speaker back to his mouth.

“We have you surrounded,” he said. “My men are armed with Dragonhide shells, and a few of them have been magically enchanted to seek you out specifically, thanks to the dragon scales you left behind at the scene of the crime. I don’t want to send my men in after you, but I will if you leave me with no other choice.”

There was more silence, and Gerald began to suspect that the dragon wasn’t really in there. He sent a questioning glare at Jon, who only nodded his head. Gerald turned to the officer in charge of the SWAT and nodded. The other man started yelling commands into his walkie-talkie, and in a matter of seconds, the whole SWAT team had descended on Ondalaka.

No shots were fired, which made Gerald suspicious. The men reported nothing but darkness, and so switched to magical goggles that allowed them to see through illusions. They reported what appeared to be bullet holes and other signs of a fight. Then, they spotted the dragon. He was lying down on the ground, apparently unconscious.

“I think he’s dead, sir,” a SWAT officer reported over the walkie-talkie. The SWAT lieutenant looked over to Gerald, who shrugged. He nodded over to Jon and Lavorna, and the three of them went into the building. There was definitely a firefight here, with emphasis on fire. Whatever it was that happened here, the dragon fought back. A brief exanimation of the room also indicated that the machine was missing. Someone had not only known about the machine, but that this dragon with no identity had it. And on top of it all, they had beaten the police to the punch in getting it.

There was a complete examination of the Ondalaka building, but there wasn’t much to indicate what happened. Whoever attacked the dragon was able to get close to the beast before the attack happened. And they weren’t alone, either. But who they were remained a mystery.

******

Jon sat in his office a few days latter, reviewing the case. He knew that whomever it was that took the machine was going to try and weaponize it. Imagine, a machine that could steal the magical energy of a living being. He also knew they weren’t going to have a lot of luck with that. It took him most of the day searching through the building, and another two days to organize the papers once he had them. But now, he had an almost complete report in front of him. It was far bigger than just the few pages Gerald had at the beginning of the investigation, and went into far deeper and more advanced formulas. And sure, some pages were missing, but Jon had enough that he figured he could fill in the blanks once he’d studied it more. He hadn’t told Gerald about it yet, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Jon knew that whoever had the machine didn’t know how to use it. They needed this report. And that meant they would come looking for it one day and, by virtue of him having it, him too. Jon looked over the report again and smiled.

When they came looking for him, he would be ready.

The End

Week 24

Well, another week, and another story!

This week's story was prompted by my entry in the Five Minute Fiction contest. The prompt was "report" and a rather amazing story came out of it. Talk about inspiration! I wrote over 300 words in five minutes! I liked the story so much, I fleshed it out some and made it this week's story. I thought, though, as an added bonus, I'd post the original 300 word story here, so you can compare and enjoy. So, here it is, the original, short, Report.

The Report

“I’m getting too old for this shit,” Gerald said.

He’d been walking this beat for fifteen years now, had worked his way up from a foot cop to a detective, and still mostly kept to the same beat. In all that time, though, he had never seen anything like this.

“What do we have here, Officer?” he said to the duty officer.

“Looks like a dragon attack, sir,” he said.

Gerald had already figured that part out. There were red dragon scales all over the place, and the building they were looking at had been burned on one side. It had to be a dragon. But that didn’t explain the dead troll, the dead scientist and the fact that the place was just crawling with brownies. Gerald hated the fae, and brownies the most. The little suckers trashed his car last week. ‘We just want to clean your windshield,’ they had said. Right.

“I got that much,” he sighed, “I mean what do you have for information on the reason behind the attack.”

“Not much, sir,” said the duty officer. “Just this.”

He handed Gerald a manila folder with a plastic tab on it. A little bit of paper in the tab had some writing on it, but all it said was ‘Report.’ No number, no idea of what the report was on, nothing. Gerald opened the report and gave it a brief scan. Mystical drawings and arcain formula were side by side with scientific formula, and it looked like two different hand writings for both sets of notes. More disturbing, it looked like they were trying to find a way to combine the two styles of controlling the world.

Gerald looked over at the troll again, and saw the telltale tattoo that marked him as a wizard. Whatever was going on here, the death of these two were just the beginning of things.

“Sergeant,” he said to the duty officer, “get me some coffee. This is going to be a long night.”

The End

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The City by the Tree

Two figures, men in long flowing red cloaks and brass breast plates, stopped by the tree. It was a young tree, not much more than a sapling, really. But already it was taller than both the men. One of them, the older of the two, came up and placed a hand on the tree, patting it affectionately, before turning to regard his companion.

“This is it, my brother,” the tall man said. He waved an arm about him to indicate the large, grassy plain that stretched before them. “This is where we will build our castle and rule our new empire.”

“Why here, Rianon?” the other man asked. He was slightly shorter than Rianon, but had neatly trimmed beard, giving him the appearance of being older. He was trying to shield his eyes from the sun, but was struggling against the wind whipping his cape around him too much to do so effectively. “There is nothing here except this young tree. While surely this land is fertile, there isn’t even a water source nearby, making farm work difficult. This land holds no strategic value, even. There is nothing.”

“Exactly, Danon,” Rianon replied. “Exactly.”

Danon closed his eyes and shook his head in a futile attempt to prevent the headache that was coming on. When he re-opened his eyes, he was glaring at his brother. His brother, who had decided to keep his face clean shaved after receiving the long scar that ran across the left side of his face from the top of his ear to his jaw, was smiling.

“Think of it, Danon,” Rianon said. “We’re building an empire, trying to get all these people that we’ve conquered to work together, think of themselves as a single entity. What better way than to build a new city?”

“Why would we not just use our home city as our capital?” Danon asked.

Rianon had a smile on his face that appeared condescending. “Brother, doing so would merely make us nothing more than conquerors, and not empire builders. This way, we create a whole new city on ground that belongs to no other country or tribe, simply the empire, and would therefore be the Empire’s city. It will bring everyone together, believe me.”

“Truly, you sound like a politition,” Danon said, glaring at his brother.

“Thank you, brother,” Rianon said.

“It was not meant as a compliment,” Danon said, causing his brother to laugh.

“Danon,” Rianon said, “I know that you have always been more the military man than I have, and I have differed to you in those instances. So, when it comes to politics, please defer to me. I shall attempt to explain this in military terms for you. Early in our empire building, we decided that conquered peoples would have the opportunity to become full citizens of our empire, correct?”

“Of course,” Danon replied immediately. He was not sure where his brother was going with this, but he felt that he had already lost this battle. “Conquered people will only rise up in rebellion sooner or later if not given another option.”

“Exactly!” exclaimed Danon. “What I am proposing is another step to help curtail any future rebellion. A new city that belongs to all the citizens of the empire, that any of them came come to live in, as one nationality. It gives everyone a common home, a common capital that belongs to them all. People will be less likely to rebel against a city that is their city.”

Danon thought that over for a few moments. Rianon’s logic did seem to make sense. And it would give many of the soldiers something to do now that the wars were over. This reminded him of another promise he and his brother made at the beginning of the campaigns.

“Okay, brother,” he said, “I agree that this is as good a place as any to build a new city, and I accede to your reasonings for building one. Does your plan still allow for the soldiers to be given land?”

“Of course,” Rianon said. “As you have said, there is plenty of arable land for farms, and we’re not far away from the sea, so fishing will be possible. Plus, there’s a forest just over those hills, we can even have a logging community nearby. There’s plenty of room for us to give land to the nobles that we need in the city, and still have enough left over to give to soldiers. We don’t have enough here for all the soldiers, of course, but we do still have plenty of land in the conquered territories to dole out to our soldiers. They earned it, after all.”

“So, how do we decide who gets the land here?” Danon asked. He purposely ignored the part about nobles getting land. He had no use for most nobles; men who refused to serve in the military, but felt okay about sending other men to die in their stead. However, he understood they were important to the running of an efficient empire, and so was willing to tolerate their presence. He would later make an argument to have as many of those nobles be officers that served in the wars.

“I propose that we offer land here to those men who proved most loyal or courageous during the campaigns,” Rianon said. “We will hand pick the selected soldiers, and make the land they are awarded here at the capital a special award for going above and beyond the call of duty.”

Danon thought it over for a moment, and looked back at the tree. He looked it up and down, realizing that it would someday grow to be strong and large, as he hoped the fledging empire would. Then, he nodded his head.

“Okay,” he said. “We’re agreed. We’ll build our city here. I have one last question to ask, though.”

“Fair enough,” said his brother.

“What do we name this new city of ours?” Dannon asked.

Rianon smiled. “We’ll call it Urbos Nemenus, the City by the Tree.”

***********

The great tree loomed before Gerendus, over twenty feet tall with a full, thick trunk and a massive amount of green leaves. He smiled at it, as he always did when he looked at the tree. It had been named by the people of Urbos Nemenus Ridan, after the founders of the city and the Ridan Empire it still controlled. It was considered a cultural treasure, and was, in fact, emblazoned on the round shield Grendus wore. But, more important, it had become a companion of a sort for the young officer. He came to the tree when he wanted to think.

The smile quickly faded, however, when the sounds of clashing swords, cries of people and the smell of smoke coming from the other side of the city returned him to reality. Today would not be a day he could think. He turned back to see the assemblage of troops before him. They were here at the northern wall, assigned to protect the city’s main gate. The attack, when it did come two hours ago, came from the south. The raiders were obviously hoping to catch the army unawares, not understanding that they had that gate covered as well. Gerendus, however, was having trouble not taking troops and rushing to the South Gate’s aide.

A hand gripped his shoulder, causing him to turn in alarm. He looked up at the great bear of a man that was his general. General Danicus was smiling at him, making the beard on his face bristle and appear more like a weapon that a sign of age and that made Gerendus nervous.

“I know that look in your eyes, lad,” the General said. “You’re wanting to run off and join in the battle. You don’t strike me as a glory seeker, so I’m guessing it’s because you want to help the troops at the South Gate. Well, let me tell you right now, you’re doing more good standing here guarding the Tree Gate.”

“I know,” Gerendus sighed. “I just question what good we’re doing here. It doesn’t seem likely that this gate will be attacked, and I can see that the raiders have started burning the city.”

Danicus looked down at him again, this time with a serious look on his face.

“Lad,” he said. The general always referred to his officers as ‘lad,’ no matter their real age, “you’re of noble birth, right?”

Gerendus gulped. The general had made his way up the ranks, starting out as a common soldier. It was generally known that he wasn’t fond of noble officers in his command, though not having them was impossible.

“Yes, sir,” Gerendus said. “House Fornan, sir.”

The general nodded. “A good house,” he said. “I take it you were educated? Taught our history?”

“Of course, sir,” Gerendus said, unsure where this conversation was going.

“In the hundred years this city has stood, have its walls ever been breached?” Danicus asked.

“Yes, sir,” Gerendus said automacilly. The walls had been breached several times over the city’s history, both by rebels and outside raiders, and even once by a renegade general that wanted to take the throne himself.

“And has the city been set fire to?” Danicus asked again. Gerendus was beginning to feel like he was back in school.

“Yes, sir,” he said slowly. In addition to the attacks that set the city ablaze, there was even a great present revolt inside the city itself that burned down a full third of the city’s buildings.

“And yet, here we are,” the general said, “sanding inside the walls of Urbos Nemenus, the greatest city in the world.”

Gerendus looked at his commanding officer. His expression was blank. Danicus shook his head.

“Our job here, lad,” Danicus said, “is to protect this city, to make sure it’s here for another generation. We’re not here to protect the people living in it, but the city itself. Look at the tree, lad, and tell me what you see.”

Gerendus looked at Ridan again, taking in the site of the great tree. “I see the symbol of our empire,” he said.

“Bah,” Danicus said. “This is why you educated, nobel officers take longer to whip into proper soldiers. I’m not looking for the expected answer, I want to know what you see.”

Gerendus looked back at the tree. He stared at it for a few moments, a thought coming to mind. He dismissed it at first, thinking it silly. Then, he looked back at the general, and rethought that initial reaction.

“I see the history of the empire, sir,” he said. “I see our strength in Ridan’s trunk, our growth in her branches and our wealth and prosperity in her green leaves. I see the whole of our empire stretching back to Rianon and Dannon themselves.”

Danicus nodded, eyeing the young noble with renewed respect. “Aye,” he said. “Indeed, that is what I see, too, when I look upon this tree. But, do you know what else I see?”

Gerendus shook his head.

“I see that it is still standing,” the general said. “I see that it is still healthy and strong, and that as long as I still stand, as long as I can hold a spear or swing a sword, I will make sure that it continues to stand.”

Gerendus looked back at the tree, and something stirred in his heart. He saw the smoke coming from the fires on the other side of the city, but could tell now that they were being contained. The solders over there had the situation in hand. He had a job to do on this side of the city, and for the first time in his military carrier, he felt that he wanted to do it to the best of his ability. He turned and saluted the general.

“Your orders, sir?” he said.

“Stand fast, lad,” the general said, pointing over the wall. Gerendus turned to look, and saw that another band of raiders, perhaps two hundred strong, were making a run at the north gate. “It looks like we’ll both get the chance to defend this city and our empire. Stand fast!”

***********

Gregori walked down the cobblestone paths that wound their way through the park just outside Nemenus University. It was a public park, belonging to the city, but most considered it a part of the University, and the students and faculty were the ones that walked it the most. Gregori passed many students and a few fellow teachers, but didn’t really notice. Today, his mind was on a single task. Something important he had to do. He had a very special date at the great tree, Ridan.

When he got there, he stopped and tucked his silver handled walking stick under his arm, adjusted his long coat, re-settled his top hat on top of his head and pulled out his pocket watch to check the time. He smiled, seeing that he was early. He looked up at Ridan. The tree was truly massive, reaching nearly thirty feet in height and ten feet in diameter. It had retained its status as the symbol of the health of the empire, but that empire had a much different shape today that it did in the times of steel sword and knights or even the founding times when soldiers still used bronze. The empire now was an industrial power as well as a military one, and even though its holdings on the Duronic continent were not to the extant they were even when it was founded, Ridan the empire had holdings all over the world. It was said that the sun never set on the Ridan empire.

He looked back out over the city, and saw the tall smoke stacks of the work houses and textile factories. Though they sprayed the sky with black smoke, they were the pride of the empire, allowing Urbos Nemenus to dominate in trade by producing superior equipment and goods than anyone else, even Victorn, their closest neighbor and biggest rival. Of course, their steam powered trains and ships granted them an advantage as well, allowing them to get goods and, more importantly, soldiers from one end of Ridan to the other, and across the world to the empire’s holdings elsewhere quickly.

Gregori pulled his thoughts away from such concerns, however. He was an economics teacher, and it was easy for his mind to wander to the things that allowed his nation to become the economic power that it was today. He looked instead towards the area of the city known as Noble Estates, where once many of the cities aristocracy lived, and was still a place for the wealthy and well-to-do made their homes. If was from this direction that he expected Betion to be coming from. He smiled at the thought of her, and reached his hand into his pocket to reassure himself that the small package he held in there was still secure. He also instinctively checked his other pocket, inside of which was an envelope carrying a letter that he was not excited about sharing with her, but knew he must.

He saw a figure on the bottom of the hill making its way towards the tree. It was obviously feminine, wearing a long dress and a short coat over it with a large, flower encrusted hat. It had to be Betion. He start pacing, nervous for all the news he had for her. When walked around the tree to avoid her for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. When he rounded the tree, she was standing there with her hands on her hips, her red painted lips pursed together in slight agitation, but a gleam of pleasure in her eyes.

“Betion,” he said in as pleasant a tone as he could muster. “I was just… uh…”

“Avoiding me,” she replied. “I know.”

He started to protest, but she came up and gave him a hug and a rather improper kiss. Thankfully, there was no one else around to see it. She smiled at him and moved towards a nearby bench. Her smile put him instantly at east, and he knew what he must say.

“Now,” she said as she sat, “what was so important that you dragged me away from Mrs. Omnius? She’s very particular about her schedule, and isn’t very pleased with me leaving in the middle of the day like this.”

“I have news,” he said. “Important news.”

He started by pulling out the letter in his pocket. He handed it to her. She held it with a confused expression on her face.

“That letter is from the Department of the Military,” he said. “I’m being drafted into the officer corp.”

A look of terror went up on her face. “What?” she exclaimed, “why?”

“Quite simply, we’re going to war,” he said. “According to that letter, the border skirmishes in Yuril with Victorn are getting worse, and the Department feels that it will escalate to full war very soon.”

She looked terrified. Yuril was so far away, a whole continent away.

“The good news is that it’s unlikely that I’ll be going to the front lines,” he said. “They want to make me a supply officer. They’ve offered me a bonus for signing up as well, which leads me to the next bit of news I have.”

He knelt down before her, getting down on one knee. He reached into his other pocket to pull out the small package he held in there. He looked up into her eyes.

“Betion,” he said, “I love you more than anything else in the world. While it is true that I may have to leave as part of the army for a year or more, I want nothing more than to return home to you. Please, allow us the brief time we have here together to be as man and wife. Marry me.”

He pulled out the box and opened it to reveal a ring with a large, heart shaped diamond. She pulled her hands to her mouth. She had already been trying to hold back tears, but now the effort failed her, and she broke out in full on crying. She leaped off the bench and onto her knees, throwing a hug around Gregori.

“Yes,” she whispered into his ears. “Yes, for now and forever, I will be your wife.”

She looked over his shoulders to the great tree known as Ridan, and silently whispered a prayer to the tree. Watch over him, she asked. Bring him back home.

***********

Diannon Rindalski looked from behind stage at the crowed that had gathered there. He had been rehearsing this speech in his head for the past few days, even before the results were in, but he knew that he would win. He knew he was destined to be Ridan’s first Prime Minister. And so he had done everything he could to secure a stage at the Great Tree, where he would give his historic speech. And the crowed that turned out in the city park was enormous, and most of them were cheering. He smiled. His aid was introducing him, and when he finished, he walked straightened out his red tie and walked out, waving his hands and smiling. The cheer that erupted from the crowd could be felt physically, and for a brief moment, Diannon thought the stage would collapse. He waved his hands until the crowd quieted down enough for him to speak. He gripped the large microphone in front of him and smiled. This was it. History.

“My fellow citizens,” he said, “it is official. We have done it. As of today, we are now the Republic of Ridan.”

The crowd cheered again, causing Diannon to pause before continuing.

“I know we’ve been through a lot lately, and this first election to select a Prime Minister has been hard on all of us. But, the bloodshed is behind us. The civil war is over, and we are united. We can now set about the important task of healing.”

Another cheer from the crowd. When they quieted down, he pointed to the Great Tree.

“This tree, this Great Tree, was planted here nearly four thousand years ago, by Urbos Nemenus two founders, the brother Riannon and Danon. They wanted it to be a symbol for their new empire, an empire that lasted for nearly that whole four thousand year period. The tree represented the strength, growth and history of the empire. And in that capacity, it served them well.”

He turned back to the crowd, leveling a serious expression on the people of Urbos Nemenus. The tree was almost a holy symbol to some, had been a rallying point during the civil wars, and was pointed to some as the symbol of all that was corrupt by those wanting the downfall of the empire. But, it was also a part of the city, one that had been there since its founding. All the news reporters had their pens at the ready, the large bulbs on their camera flashing and popping. The newspapers wanted to see on which side of the fence the new Prime Minister fell in regards to the tree. Keep it, or cut it down? Everyone wanted to know. And he was about to tell them.

“It’s true,” he said, addressing the crowd again, “that this tree served as a symbol to the empire that we long struggled to remove from power. But, more importantly, it has also served as the heard to this city. Urbos Nemenus would be nothing without this tree. We are the City by the Tree, after all. And so I suggest we repurpose it. While it has been accepted that our new national flag be without the tree, the first time in our long history, to cut it down entirely would be a crime. This tree has been with this city from the beginning, and I feel that it is important that it stay with it until the end. Let this tree, which once stood for the corruption of an empire, now stand for the hope and dreams of a city. Let the Great Tree Ridan become the symbol of new life, new hope, and a better way of life that starts right here, in Urbos Nemenus!”

The crowd cheered again, this time even louder than when he first entered stage. Diannon smiled. He had a long and secret love for this tree, and the controversy on if the people of Ridan should get rid of it tore his heart to pieces. It was part of the reason he wanted to be Prime Minister, to save the tree. Partially, it was ambition. He really did want to see the imperialists out of power, and the fact that they won nearly half the seats in the senate would be troublesome for him, but he, a commoner, a person with no direct ties to the emperor, had one the role of Prime Minister. He was sure that he could lead his country on this new path. Democracy was nothing new in the world, but Ridan was the last real empire, and so its turn to democracy was hard. He had little doubt that keeping things running for his full term would be just as hard. But, he wanted it, and he would make it happen.

In the mean time, he had a speech to finish.

“This tree represents one last thing,” he said. “It represents my desire to see our new republic grow strong. Not strong in military, like the empire we used to be, but strong as a people, as a nation, as a place where people will want to come. We’re behind the game when it comes to world politics, being new to democracy. But this tree represents to me that we, as a people, have the strength of will to make it happen.”

The crowd cheered again.

***********

Davindal Creed slowly walked through the park, aimlessly kicking rocks as he went. It was late at night, and no one else was around. It was just him, the park and the stars. He hadn’t really planed the walk, but he wasn’t surprised when he looked up and saw the Great Tree named after his country. It was gigantic, old, gnarled and perhaps the oldest living tree in the world. And he had always thought of it as a good friend. He always came here when he needed to think. And right now, his job was making feel the need to think.

“Hello, son,” a gravely voice said, causing Davindal to look up. It belonged to an older man, with close cut gray hair, who was still in fit, muscular shape.

“Dad?” Davindal said. “What are you doing here?”

“I saw you take off in your plane,” Dad said. “It wasn’t too difficult to figure out where you would end up. You do know that you’re supposed to be in quarantine, right?”

“Yeah,” Davindal said. “I’m glad you’re the one that came after me. At least I know you won’t be dragging me back right away.”

“What is it, son,” the older man said, “butterflies?”

“Dad, I’ve been up to space before,” Davindal said, “I’ve never had butterflies on those missions, why would this one be any different?”

“Because,” his dad said, “this time you’re not just going up to fix a satellite, or bring supplies to the space station. You’re going to a whole different world, son, to set up a colony. This is a little bigger than anything you’ve ever done before. Than anything any of us have ever done before.”

“Including you?” Davindal said.

“Look, son, things were different in my time,” Dad said. “In my day, we flew in thin hulled ships that were nothing more than very expensive jet planes with some rocket boosters on the back. We had to…”

“Fly by the seat of our pants and trust atmospheric equipment for flying in space,” Davindal said in a passable impression of his dad wit ha smile on his face. “I’ve heard this all before, dad. The great Krandel Creed, national hero an astronaut. I’ve never been able to live up to the shadow you’ve thrown over me.”

“Shadow?” Krandel said. “Hell, Davindal, you left my shadow long ago and have begun casting your own. I was just a grunt, pushing levers and flying planes. You, you’re part scientist, part engineer and all astronaut. You’re going to be helping build the first permanent settlement on Rendalar. Rendalar, son. The furthest out I got was our moon, but you’re going to a whole ‘nother planet. That’s important.”

Davindal looked down and started walking again, this time around the tree. “You’re right, Dad. I know that. And I’m sorry for lashing out at you like that. It’s just… I’ve never had butterflies before, Dad. But I got ‘em now, big time.”

Krandel laughed. “I had butterflies flittering around in my stomach every time I went up. Every last time.”

“What did you do to get rid of ‘em?” Davindal asked.

“Well, if a warm glass of milk didn’t do it,” Krandel said with a smirk on his face, “I’d sneak out of quarantine and head to town.”

“What would you do in town?” Davindal said.

“Usually, I’d hook up with your mother, and we’d go have some fun,” Krandel said.

“Do I want to know what kind of fun you two got up to?”

“Did I ever tell you that you were conceived the night before my third mission?” Krandel said.

“Okay, Dad,” Davindal said, waving a hand at his father, “we’ve officially reached the too much information stage.”

Krandel laughed, and the two walked on in silence for a few moments. Davindal looked up at the tree they were walking around. Once upon a time, that three represented an entire empire. Now, it’s the most popular tourist attraction in the world. That tree had been a party to more major historical events than most people were even aware of. It humbled Davindal to stand in front of it. No matter how important the mission he was about to take, no matter how historical it was, to this tree, it was just one more thing in a string of things. Being by this tree helped him put things in perspective. He walked up to it and put a hand on it, to bring that perspective close to him, to make the tree more real. He smiled.

“Feel a little better now, son?” his dad said, standing a respectful distance back and waiting a few moments before asking the question.

“Yeah, Dad,” he replied. “Yeah, I am.”

“I told Maximus that letting you come here was the right thing to do,” Krandel said.

“You told the General that I came here?” Davindal said.

“Not just told him, I talked him into letting you go, and letting me do the retrieval,” Krandel said. “He owed me a favor.”

“You called in a favor from the General just to let me have a few moments quiet time with The Tree?” Davindal said, sounding more incredulous than the last time. Krandel only nodded.

Davindal could only stare at his dad for a few moments. Then, he broke out in a fit of laughter. A few seconds later, Krandel joined him. The two laughed hard and loud for several minutes. In the dark of night, the sound seemed even louder, but the Great Tree was deep enough in the park that no one was disturbed by the sound.

“You know, Dad?” Davindal said. “I’m glad that you’re the one that came to get me.”

“Me too, son,” Krandel said. “me too.”

They started to walk away when Davindal looked at the tree once more. He turned to his dad, a wry smile on his face.
“Hey, dad,” he said. “Did I ever tell you what the super cool thing we’re doing on this mission was?”

“No,” Krandel said, “I don’t think you have.”

“We’re bringing along seeds,” Davindal said, and continued when he saw the look of confusion on his dad’s face. “Seeds from Ridan, the Great Tree. We’re bringing them with us, and when we get the greenhouse up and running, the very first plant we’re planting on Rendalar is going to be one from the Great Tree. We’re calling the new colony New Urbos Nemenus, and we thought it fitting that the New City by the Tree have it’s own Great Tree to go with it.”

“Wow,” Krandel said, looking back at Ridan. “I wonder what history that new tree will witness?”

The End

Week 23

Well, here we are, another week, another story.

This story was a lot of fun to write. It came from a writing prompt from the podcast Writing Excuses. I've been keeping their prompts written down, and this week decided to use one for my story. I got to this prompt, and the whole story appeared in my head. Writing it was a snap, too, and it happened that work allowed me to get some serious writing time in, so I even finished it early. That was nice.

So, enjoy this week's tale of the City by the Tree. See you next week.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Last Jump, a Bonus Story

Surprise! Here I am, in the middle of the week, posting a blog entry!

I decided to do this because I have written something I consider pretty cool, and I wanted to share with you all. Yesterday, I participated in a little contest called Five Minute Fantasy, a fantastic idea run by Leah Peterson at http://www.leahpetersen.com. The idea is that you are given a prompt, and then have five minutes to write a story that features or includes that prompt. This was my second time participating, but this week the story turned out FAR better than last week's entry. So much better, that I am added it here as a bonus story. It's only about 250 words long, but still, that was part of the fun, seeing if I could get a whole story fit into a short amount of space. So, here it is, my Five Minute Fantasy entry.

The Last Jump

Darrell waved his had to shoo the fly away. The day was dark enough; he didn’t need the distraction of a common household insect to add to it.

“What’s the matter, Darrell?” came a feminine voice behind him. “You’ve done this before, hundreds of times. Now, you seem nervous.”

Darrell turned to look at LaShondra, his wife. She was beautiful, even after forty two years of marriage. The smile she brought with her into a room seemed to bring the light of day. He tried to return her smile, but he just couldn’t do it.

“Last time I did this…” he hesitated. “He was with me.”

LaShondra’s smile faltered. Then, she came up to him and wrapped her arms around him, filling him completely with her presence. The scent of her perfume, her shampoo, her womanhood, made his old bones feel revived.

“I’m here this time,” she whispered. “I know I’m no substitute for Ty, but I’m here. You won’t be alone. Never alone.”

He hugged her back, and kissed her cheek.

“I know,” he said. “I know. He was my best friend, since we were in second grade. It’s hard to accept that he’s gone.”

“He would want this,” LaShondra said.

“It’s time, sir,” the young man behind them said.

Darrell nodded, and then turned back to LaShondra. “You ready?”

She nodded, and the two of them turned to the now open door on the side of the plane, and jumped.

The End

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Day in the (After)Life of St. Peter

Peter sat on his stool, behind his expansive, solid oaken desk, with the little cherubs carved into it which sat on a endless plain of fluffy cloud-like material that was always soft on the feet no matter how many feet trod upon it, and sighed. He looked behind him to the tall (they seemed to almost reach up for ever), pearl carved gates of heaven, inlaid with gold, of course. He turned around to look at the great book that lay on his desk, in which was the names of every being, past, present and future, throughout all creation, and sighed again.

“Ah-hem,” the woman standing in front of Peter’s desk cleared her throat to get his attention. This was the third time she had done so since she arrived here. Peter looked up at her, a spiritually beautiful woman, with long, flowing red hair and gleaming white robes, and sighed once again.

“Well,” the woman, Clara Frost her name was (Peter saw it listed in his book), said. “Are you going to cross off my name in your book and open the gates to Heaven for me, or what?"

This was somewhat rude, Peter felt, his eye’s squinting in the manner of someone about to snap in anger. And snap is just what he did. He reached up, and, instead of grabbing the large (almost twelve inches), pure white quill pen next to his book, slammed the great book shut. This caused a loud “pumph” noise, startling the woman, and causing the people directly in line behind her to jump.

“No.” Peter said.

“No?” Clara said, a look of fear creeping in on her face. “No what?”

Peter smiled, but it was anything but pleasant. “No, I’m not going to cross your name off my book and open the gates to Heaven for you. Nor anyone else, for that matter. I quit.”

“What?!” said an Arabic man, next in line behind Clara, named Homayun, Peter remembered reading in his book. “You cannot quit!” he cried.

“Oh, yeah?” Peter said, “Just watch me.”

“But,” Clara stammered, “but, what about us? How are we going to get into heaven?”

Peter actually smiled, but it wasn’t really reassuring. “I don’t know. Not really my problem anymore.”

“But…”

“Listen lady,” Peter said, pointing at Clara, “I’ve been trapped out here for almost 2000 years! For all that time, I’ve only been in Heaven once, and then I got this job. Now, I sit just outside Heaven, right next to the gate, but I never get to enter it. I hear the music, but I cannot join in. I open the gate for all of you, but never for myself. Well, I’m fed up with it. I’m leaving.”

“But, where would you go? You still can’t enter Heaven, right?” a woman in line asked. Peter didn’t know her name, because his book was closed.

“You’re right, I can’t. I think, though, I’ll go to Tahiti. I hear it’s a nice place to visit. Good bye.”

And with that, Peter vanished in a puff of pure white smoke.

There was a few moments of nervous silence before someone near the back of the line said, “Hey, not that I’m not enjoying the scenery here, or even getting tired for that matter, but how come the line stopped moving?”

With a somewhat shocked look still on her face, Clara turned around and even though she didn’t know who spoke answered, “St. Peter’s gone.”

“What, like on a brake?” someone else from the back of the line asked.

“No,” Clara answered, panic beginning to creep into her voice, “he said he was quitting. He just disappeared, and it didn’t look like he was planning on coming back.”

No one answered. Everyone just stood there in line, unsure what to do. The line got longer, and as the news made its way down the line, the new people were informed that they might have a long wait before getting into heaven. It was difficult to tell how much time had passed since Peter left, being that things never changed and there was no since of being tired or hungry. However, after what began to feel like a long time, there was a puff of cloud like smoke, similar to the one Peter left in, that had the faint aroma of roses with it. Clara was at first excited, figuring that it would be Peter returning. Instead, it was something far more impressive.

Floating several inches in the air before her was a six foot tall being with massive white wings, wreathed in a soft white glow. Obviously, this was an angel. The stark beauty of the being caused Clara to be stunned, and she simply stood there, staring at it, with her mouth open.

“What is going on here?” the being said in a voice that sounded more like three voices, all singing in a perfect harmonious choir. “Why have you souls not been processed and passed through the gates? We have angels on the other said waiting for you.”

“Um…” Clara said, still in awe of the being before her. “You see, sir, Saint Peter is no longer here. He, uh, quit.”

“He quit?” the angel said.”He can’t do that! He’s runs the gate. This is a logistical nightmare!”

At this point the angel seemed to become fully aware of the long line of human souls that were staring at him, most now in terror over his words.

“Uh, listen, folks,” it said, waiving his arms in what he thought was a calming fashion, “we’re experiencing some technical difficulties here, but don’t worry. We’ll find Peter and get things up and running again soon.”

Then, it leaned in to Clara and whispered to her, “Did he happen to say where he was going?”

“He said something about Tahiti,” she replied.

“Tahiti?” the angel said in its chorused voice. “Did he happen to say when? Never mind, it doesn’t matter. It’s as good a place as any to start looking. Thank you!”

And with that, the being was gone in that magical puff of white smoke. Clara stared at the empty space for a few long moments before turning back to the line. Everyone was still in it, but several people were poking heads around to see what was going on. From Clara’s point of view, it looked like a long white snake with multiple heads. She looked at the man in line immediately behind her, and he just shrugged and shook his head. Everyone stood there, unsure what to do, for another long period of time. Then, another cloud of white smoke appeared, and the angel was back.

“Has he returned yet?” the multi-voice asked, and then the beautiful head turned and looked around. “No? Okay, well, don’t worry, we’re working on this. We’ll have him back and you all in this gate in no time.”

Then, it was gone again. Shortly after that, people started moving out of the line. Everyone knew their place, and no one even had the thought of stepping out of place. But people were starting to get bored. A few started to do yoga. Some just sat and talk. One young woman discovered that the cloud they were standing on had the consistency of snow, and started making balls out of it and threw it at the man in line in front of her. A snow ball fight broke out there after, with many laughing and enjoying themselves.

One man in line, who knew his own name to be Jeffrey, watched it all from a slight distance. In life, Jeffrey never participated in the activities of his fellows, and honestly didn’t feel the need to now. Mostly, he felt fear. Fear of the other’s not liking him, fear of the cloud snowballs hurting, fear of humiliating himself. He had honestly not expected the fear to follow him in death. Of course, he hadn’t expected to die at the age of thirty, either. This is what happens when a bus hits your car.

Looking at everyone playing and having a good time reminded him of a time when he was a little boy. He was about ten, and living with his mother, who had just left his father that same year, in North Dakota. They had only been in this neighborhood for a few weeks, and Jeffrey hadn’t yet made any friends in school. Outside his house, he saw a group of children ranging from six to about fourteen playing. They had built two small snow forts and were currently throwing snowballs at each other, each side trying to capture the other’s fort. Jeffrey had trouble determining who was on who’s side, as it appeared that children switched sides wily nilly and were more interested in throwing the hard packed snow than in winning the game. He couldn’t figure it out, but he did know that they were laughing and having a good time, and he was sitting inside, looking at them. He had just about decided to pick up the book laying open on his bed when his mother had come into the room.

“Why don’t you go outside and play with them, honey?” she had said.

Jeffrey, of course, protested, but his mother wouldn’t have it. He needed to make friends, as far as she was concerned, and so he needed to go out there and play with the neighborhood kids. Jeffrey loved his mother, very much, and so did as she asked. A few moments later, he was bundled up in his winter clothes and being gently shoved out the door by his mother. When he got down the little walkway and past his fence, to the street, all the other children stopped playing to look at him. Jeffrey froze. He had no idea how to interact. What was he supposed to say? Why did it always look so easy in his books?

Then, a little girl came up to him and said hello. She was Jenny, about his age, and she asked if he wanted to play. Jeffrey only nodded, so she dragged him off to “her side.” Just as Jeffrey was reaching the snow fort, pay resumed, and snow went flying everywhere. At first, Jeffrey had fun. Jenny showed him how to pack the snow into a ball, and then poked her head up over the fort and threw one, randomly it seemed to Jeffrey. She laughed and ducked back under. Jeffrey was next. He closed his eyes up, poked his head up and threw the ball, then ducked back down.

“You did it!” Jenny said. “You hit Donald Bloom!”

“Did I?” Jeffrey asked, and looked back up over the fort. It was just in time to see Donald, his coat covered in fresh snow and an evil grin on his face, throw a snowball right at him. It smashed hard right into Jeffrey’s face. It felt just like being smacked with his father’s belt that one time when he was eight. It hurt, and all Jeffrey could do was stand there. Jenny asked if he was okay, seeming genuinely concerned, and Jeffrey was about to sit back down next to her. Jenny seemed to make everything seem okay. But then he saw Donald Bloom and some of the other kids right around them. All of them were laughing, and pointing at him. He felt the tears come before he could control them, and though he tried fighting it, he was crying in a matter of seconds. Jenny tried to tell him that they weren’t laughing at him, they were laughing because they knew what it was like to be hit like that. It was a good hit, she said, even he had to admit that.


Jeffrey didn’t have to admit anything. He just ran back to his house, past his mother and back up to his room. He tore off his wet, cold clothing, jumped onto the bed, and picked up his book, instantly escaping into the world of Mowgli, the boy raised by animals in the jungle. His mother came in to find out what happened, but he refused to stop reading his book. She only sighed, and picked up his wet clothing to wash.

He shook his head and watched the cloud ball fight continue. At least back on Earth, when he was alive, he had his books. Here, there was only one book. He looked sideways at it. It was beautiful, a hard leather, hand crafted binding. And it was huge. Oh, the things that must be written in there. The story of every person that had ever lived and ever would live. Jeffrey would give his right arm to read that book. He shook his head again. He knew that not only would he never get the chance to read that book, but that even to think about it was probably blasphemy.

He looked away from it and was startled to find himself staring into the bright blue eyes of a young woman. In surprise, he cried out and backed away. She smiled at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “you startled me.”

“That’s funny,” she replied. “I’ve been sitting here watching you for a few minutes now.”

He blinked, unsure what to say at this moment. Her accent was slightly Australian or maybe English, it was difficult to tell. She smiled again. Jeffrey couldn’t help but smile back. Something about her put him as ease. She was beautiful, to be sure, with long black hair, shining blue eyes and perfect, slightly pouty lips. Like everyone else here, she wore long, white robes that were both a perfect fit and free of any dirt. In fact, Jeffrey was pretty sure, the whole cloud was probably free of dirt. She moved around next to where he was still sitting and then sat down herself, cross legged.

“Mind if I sit down?” she asked.

“You already have,” Jeffrey said.

“Oh, look at that, so I have,” she said. She held out her hand for him to shake. “I’m Melissa.”

“Jeffrey,” he said, shaking her hand.

“So, Jeffrey,” she said, “How come you’re not joining in the fun?”

“I’m… not a very social person,” Jeffrey said in a bout of honesty.

“I see,” she said. “So, what is it you would rather be doing then?”

“Honestly?” he asked, and she nodded her head. “I’d rather be reading. But, of course, none of my books are here. There might be books waiting for me on the other side of the gates, of course, but in the mean time, I’m stuck out here with no books to read.”

“Well, that’s not really true, now, is it?” she said, and then pointed to St. Peter’s book on it’s podium. “There’s that book, there.”

“Yeah, but, I can’t read that one,” Jeffrey said.

“Why not?” she asked. “I don’t remember hearing any stories about not being able to read St. Peter’s book. I mean, who are we going to tell? We’re dead. Besides, I saw the way you were eyeballing it earlier. You want to read it, don’t you?”

“Well, of course I do,” said Jeffrey.

“So, get up there and go read it,” she said. “What’s the worst that could happen.”

“I could go to hell,” Jeffrey pointed out.

“Okay, yeah, that’s the worst thing,” she said as if that had never occurred to her. “But, do you really think that the Angels and God would do that just for looking at it? I’m sure they would give you some kind of warning. I mean, look, it’s not like St. Peter is here right now. Heck, he even left the book unlocked.”

Jeffrey looked and saw that she was right. The massive, gold flap and lock on the book was left open. The key that locked it was even sitting on the podium, next to the book. All he would need to do is open it. Then he looked back at Melissa, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

“Who are you, really?” he said. She laughed.

“I know, I know,” she said. “I must sound like the devil, trying to get you to do something bad. I swear, I’m not normally like this. I mean, look, I’m here in heaven, right?”

“Well, in line just outside of heaven, anyway,” Jeffrey replied.

“Right, well,” Melissa said, scratching her head. “I just like it when people are enjoying themselves. And you don’t look like you’re enjoying your self. I say, if reading is something you’ll enjoy, then go on and read. I mean, it’s not like you’d be opening the gates to heaven and letting people in, right?”

Jeffrey nodded his head. That was true. He looked back over at the book. No one was even by the podium right now. He could even keep it there and just read. There was a lot of fear in him, though. He looked back at Melissa. She looked like someone with no fear, and something in side of him snapped. He had lived his whole life in fear. Now, he was dead, and he was still letting the fear rule him. He decided right then and there that enough was enough. He was going to overcome his fear, and he was going to read that book. He turned back to Melissa with a smile on his face.

“I’m going to go do it,” he said. “Want to join me?”

She laughed back. “Sure, why not,” she said. “Reading’s not really my thing, I’m more of a movie girl, but I’ll give it a go.”

The two of them stood up and smiled at each other. Jeffrey realized it felt good. He’d never done anything like this before, never mind with a beautiful girl at his side, but it all felt good. They marched up to the podium, dodging around people and ducking to avoid the cloud balls being thrown about. Jeffrey wondered for a moment if the cloud stuff would hurt if he let it hit him, but he was enjoying the simple physical pleasure of ducking and avoiding being it. He was surprised at how good he was at it.

After laughing and moving their way to the podium, they stopped, look at each other and smiling. It was a great thing, he though, just to be here. She nodded at him and then the book. He looked over at it, and the fear all returned. He looked around to see if anyone was looking, and saw that no one was. Mostly, everyone was involved in the cloud ball fight, but some were praying or meditating, some were talking and others were exploring their surroundings. None of them were looking up at the book or the two of them. He slowly reached over and touched the book. It was the most exquisite leather binding he had ever seen. In life, he had become a librarian, and had spent his time finding rare and hard to find books for the library collection. The night he died, he had received an award for his collection, having rescued several books that were bound for the incinerator or the trash heap.

None of those old, rare books he collected, no matter how finely put together they were, matched the fine quality of this book. He wasn’t really surprised, but he did decide to take a moment to savor the quality. When he looked at Melissa, she had this strange look on her face. It occurred to him then that she had no idea what it was he was doing. Embarrassed slightly, he removed his and from the spine and reached to open the book. It opened with a slight creek, and set off a sweet, almost lemony sent. Jeffrey found himself inhaling in that smell, and saw, to his surprise, that Melissa was too.

“Wow,” she said. “I didn’t know a book could smell like that.”

“Me neither,” he said, “and I’ve been a librarian all my life.”

The books pages didn’t seem to want to say at the beginning of the book, although that’s where Jeffrey opened it. He saw a brief entry on Adam, but never got the chance to read it when the other pages tumbled open. The book seemed to go on forever, but eventually the pages stopped, and he saw that there was a large, red silk bookmark at the point where the book stopped. It must have been open to that page for some time. He looked at the page, and it was exactly as he expected. Fine calligraphy, as if twelfth century monks handwrote the book. Each entry was set off from the others by a large block letter, complete with highly detailed pictures. Jeffrey saw that most of the pictures contained many modern things in them, such as cars or cell phones or even televisions.

He turned to Melissa and smiled. “Look at the work on this lettering,” he said. “It’s exquisite.”

She smiled in return, seemingly genuinely happy that he was enjoying himself. And he was. He returned to the book and examined it some more. He discovered that some entries were clear and sharp, easy to read. Those seemed to be the older ones, the people who already entered heaven. There were others that, while the lettering was just as fine, and clearly printed, it was difficult to read. It was almost as if the words seemed to slip right off his brain, like he couldn’t get a grip on them no matter how hard he tried.

So, he looked at the next entry, right below the last person who passed through the gates of heaven. It seemed to come into focus as he was reading it. Clara Frost, it read, and began to describe her life. She was born in a small town in England Clara Blake, and lived there until she was college age. It listed her loves during her time in England, including the star soccer player at her high school, and the time the two of them spent in the school stadiums broadcast booth, making love. It was the first time she made love, but didn’t say anything about the boy except his name, Edward Jones. It went on to describe her move to the United States to go to school at UC Berkley. She majored in creative writing, participated in several protests, and at the age of 22 graduated. That same year, she became an American citizen and was married to who she thought was the love of her life, James Frost.

She went on to write several books, a few of which were published, and became the mother of two boys, Thomas and James Jr. He life was not easy, however. Her husband, it seems, was an alcoholic, and after losing three jobs in the same number of months, she divorced him, took the two boys with her, and moved back to England. She didn’t stay there long before returning back to the United States to accept a teaching position at Berkley. Her boys grew up and left home and went onto their own lives, James Jr. eventually marring and giving Clara her first grand child, Neil. She never re-married, though in the later years of her life she had found someone that loved her for her, a man named David Jones. He stayed with her until she died in her sleep at the age of 81. Under that entry, it had a single line. It read:

Entry to heaven granted right away.

Upon reading that, he felt compelled to do something. Before he realized what he was doing, he spoke.

“Clara Frost,” he said in a clear, strong voice. A woman looked up from the game of Rock-Papper-Siscers she was playing with another woman. She looked young, in her twenties, and was beautiful. Long flowing red hair surrounded her face, and Jeffrey realized that she was the woman at the front of the line. She came up to him and stood before the podium, straight, tall and proud.

“Yes?” she asked in a tone of voice that indicated she was used to getting her way.

“It says here that you can get into heaven right away,” Jeffrey said, pointing to the line in the book. He then pointed to the gates, and was surprised as they swung open. They were quiet and slow, almost like the mechanical gates for parking lots of gated communities. She turned to look at Jeffrey, a look of shock on her face. Slowly, it turned into a smile.

“Thank you,” she said, and quickly walked through the gates. Jeffrey could hear some angels on the other side, singing songs of welcome, and then the gates closed. Some of the other souls had noticed what happened, and the line was re-forming. No one had forgotten their place, and no one fought to move up in the line. It was instinctive. Jeffrey turned to look at Melissa. She looked as surprised as he did. Then, she smiled.

“Well,” she said, “it seems to be working. Keep at it.”

He nodded, turned back to the book, and looked at the next entry. Homayun Aziz, an American of Aeribic decent. He was born in America, but was raised in a very traditional Muslim culture. When he went to school, he had trouble with the other kids, who would pick on him for his funny name, but he always tried to turn the other cheek, tried to be better than them, just like his mama taught him. One day, in sixth grade, however, he just couldn’t take it anymore, and punched one of the bigger kids that was picking on him right in the jaw. The punch knocked out two teeth and dislocated the jaw. Homayun was sent to the principles office, and sent home that day, where his parents punished him thoroughly. However, when he returned to school, no one made fun of him anymore. As he got into high school, he discovered sports, joining the school baseball team. He eventually got into the local university on a baseball scholarship, and majored in computer repair and programming, getting a job as an IT specialist. He married a African-American woman, Susan, who was a Christian. The two combined caused his mother to faint when she heard the news, but eventually, Susan was accepted into the family, and they had a little boy, named Ishaq Levon, who went by Levon most of the time. He died of a heart attack at the age of 53. He had the same note on his entry as Clara Frost had on hers.

“Says here you get to go in right away, Homayun,” Jeffrey said. Once again, the gates opened and Homayun entered. Jeffrey heard the angels inside singing again, but this time it was in an Arabic language he didn’t recognize.

The next person in line came up. Major Alfred Doddsworth, RAF, retired. He fought in WWII and later in some other campaigns. He never married, but did have several affairs throughout his life, including at least two to married women. For the most part, his life was pretty normal and dull, outside his service in the air force. He appeared to be slightly selfish, but, he also gave to charity when he could, and would serve at hospitals dedicated to taking care of war vets. The note at the end of his record read:

Entry to heaven granted after twenty years in limbo.

“Major Doddsworth?” Jeffrey said after reading the entry.

“That would be me, young man,” the man came up to him and saluted. He looked somewhat like the stereotypical image displayed in America of the Victorian officer, complete with mustache, except that he wasn’t wearing a uniform, but the white robes everyone was wearing.

“It says here that you’re life was good over all,” Jeffrey said, “but you also had some pretty major sins that you still need to make up for. You’re assigned to twenty years on Limbo, after witch you will be granted access to heaven.”

The man saluted once again. “Very well, young man.”

With that, two angels descended from on high and gently lifted the Major away. And on and on it went. Name after name, person after person, some admitted right away, other’s assigned to serve time in Purgatory before gaining admittance. Some tried to bargain with him when this happened, other’s were accepting of their faith.

After what seemed like several hours of moving the line along, the white puff of smoke happened again, and the Angel that Clara Frost had spoken to earlier. He looked around somewhat confused, saw Jeffrey at the podium with the book, and looked relieved to see someone there.

“Hey, did that lady that was at the front of the line wander off?” the angel asked, then went on before Jeffrey could answer. “Never mind. Listen, we’ve got a solid lead on Peter. Apparently, he’s visiting Disney World now. We should have him back here soon. Do me a favor, and just keep these other people away from the book, would you? We’ll get you back up and running in no time.”

And with that, he puffed away again. Jeffrey turned to look at Melissa.

“He didn’t say you couldn’t read it, just that you needed to keep others away,” she said. “I’d say keep going.”

And so he did. He got trough a total of one hundred and twenty names before some unexpected happened. The next name on the list was Melissa’s.

“Melissa,” he said, “this is you.”

She gulped. “What’s it say? I’m guessing that I’m getting time in Purgitory. I haven’t exactly been a good girl all my life.”

Jeffrey read. Her whole life was there, summarized in one paragraph. Despite it’s short length, it seemed to cover everything, not missing a detail. He knew her more deeply than he had ever known anyone before, even the other people he’d let through the gate. Then, he got to the line after her entry. He read it again to be sure. Then, he looked up at her and smiled.

“It says that for helping me come out of my shell and start reading this book,” he said, pointing to the big book in front of him, “you get to go straight into Heaven.”

“Does it really say that?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “yes it does.”

Then the gates to heaven opened. Melissa looked at them, then wrapped her arms around Jeffrey and kissed him.

“I’ll be waiting for you on the other side,” she whispered in his ear.

She walked through, and Jeffrey was very happy. He turned to look at the next name on the list, but a hand touched him on the shoulder, stopping him. When he turned to look around, he saw Saint Peter, with the Angel that had been looking for the wayward saint behind him. Both were smiling at him.

“You’re name is next on the list,” Peter said. “I think I should take over for this one.”

“You never really quit, did you?” Jeffrey said. “This was all a test for me, to see if I could come out of my shell and do something kind for my fellow man. If I did, I wouldn’t have to spend time in Purgatory.’

Peter and the Angel both nodded, and Peter clasped Jeffrey on the shoulders. “It’s true that I felt I needed a break, so the Angels felt this was a good way to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. I pretended to quit, Melissa was put close enough to you in line that she nudged you in the right direction, and you made the final decision. Now, my boy, you are granted immediate entrance to Heaven.”

The gates opened, and Jeffrey looked at them, longing in his heart. But, he turned to look at the book, a slight twinge of sadness there too. He looked up at Peter.

“Will I ever got to read this book again,” he asked.

Peter laughed, and turned to look at the Angel. “I told you he would ask that.” He turned to look at Jeffrey once again, and said, “I’ve been told I can offer you a deal. I’ve been granted a two week vacation every decade. During that time, if you would like, the Angel’s have agreed to let you work this station in my stead. What do you say?”

Jeffery smiled. “It sounds like heaven.”

The End