Covering Your Asterisk

cvr genesis 0116THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION — and I admit it hasn’t been easy here lately — may be aware that I and my cohort are in the final stages of preparing my second novel for publication. The MS is with my alpha, who is promising to get back to me ASAP. She’s not a robot in returning comments and so-forth, but I wouldn’t want her to be. One of the things I prize her for is her very humanity. Waiting is. When waiting is filled, I will move to the next cusp. The cover. I have an advantage, here, and that is that, since this is a series, I have already done a lot of the thinking on this subject. A Baby Troll Chronicles cover looks like so and so and so — only the images and colors change. And, while I wait for feedback, there are a few details I can put through the grinder. Well, I already have. And herewith lies the lesson.

Again, tapping those of you who have been paying attention, if you have been following along, you have seen the cover for my first novel. If you haven’t, there’s a link in the right-hand sidebar where you can see the cover. And, while you’re there, buy the book, why don’t you? And, if you have (it’s been selling at a walk here lately), why haven’t you left a review. Was it that terrible?

That cover was mainly blue and featured a background of linked hexagons, representing the benzine rings of a testosterone molecule, and an iconic image of Dolly shooting her service pistol on the run. (And, as has been noted in other articles on cover design, this is a sell, and not documentation, Dolly’s hair is not shoulder-length and in a ponytail in the story, though she is wearing a cheongsam in a couple of scenes. That the book has sold (at all) amid the noise and the Tsunami of Carp that is Amazon’s e-book sales tells me that the cover typography is not utterly shitful, so, until somebody manages to gen up an absolute formula for same, I think mine is a worthwhile example.

First, fonts: I use two. A commenter was fooled early on about the faces on The High T Shebang, but there are only two: Clarendon and Nuptial Script. I have used two weights and two widths — Heavy and Medium Condensed of the Clarendon. The Nuptial only comes one way, but I have fattened it a bit with strokes the same color as the face. I have been tempted from time to time to play with a variety of faces in the same design, but have almost always ended up with a cleaner, easier-to-read design trusting to variations among a single face or family of faces, rather that entirely other faces.

Second: type elements. There are two, basically, the title and the author’s name. Other elements may be present, but they are nowhere near as important and are to be de-emphasized, if not deprecated entirely. In my case, these are: the slug line which tells this is a book in a series and which it is — this is important in genre fiction, but as I say, not to be emphasized; and the publisher’s colophon (on the left margin midway up). In my case, the main type elements are given more-or-less equal weight. The author’s name is set in a single line in a color which stands out in a condensed face, but almost two inches tall when printed. Having stared at it on the Amazon pages for hours on end over the last two years, I can tell you with some authority that the author’s name is recognizable, readable at small size and low resolution, and, by its presence on this cover alone, should be a household word real soon now.

The title is a bit trickier. It starts out with “The”, which is a nearly invisible word — like “said” — and doesn’t need any emphasis but the spare breath of its being said. The second word is the key word of the novel. In the case of the first, The High T Shebang, the High T referred to a state of High Testosterone, which the lead characters were poisoned with, and which made for the central plot point of the story. This second one, the main character’s creation — or Genesis — as an artificial person, brought to life by the Goddess Aphrodite as the culmination of a millennia-long effort. In both cases — and, as I intend, in all future cases in this series — the third word — a noun — is selected from the list of translations from the Greek Upothesa, which is the name by which its members refer to the secret syndicate of Men and Gods to which the main (and indeed, most) characters belong. In this case, the U noun is Undertaking. The novel does not encompass the entirety of the Genesis Undertaking of Aphrodite’s, (that’s left for two additional novels to fill in), but it details the first twelve hours of life of the creature thus created.

I used a single-word slug for the power word in the title — High T on the first and Genesis on the second, set in Clarendon Heavy and placed in the middle of a hexagonal shield, which echoes the hex grid background. I use a goldenrod yellow (approximately a PMS 137) as a color that will stand out on the Amazon page and read against the background.

And the U noun — Undertaking — is set in Nuptial, in the same goldenrod, with a 1-pixel outline in the same color. All type in this new cover has a black drop shadow approximately 10 pixels down and to the right to enhance contrast with the background.

As has been noted elsewhere, The Chronicles are fantasy — contemporary or urban fantasy — and maybe paranormal romance, so the cover art practically requires an illustration and most effectively a “realistic” image of a human figure, illustrative of the kind of story it is — but not necessarily a scene from the book. The use of an iconic silhouette on The High T Shebang was an error I hope some day to correct, but I felt that drawing a suitable image was beyond my ability-time resources and I couldn’t find stock imagery that suited me, so I fell back on what I could find-slash-make work. On The Genesis Undertaking, I feel like I have a little more room to stretch out and have suitable stock-type images available, so I have a couple of options, one a scene from early on in the book emphasizing the fantastic myth nature of the story and the second, a bit of a spoiler, which portrays a scene from later on in the book which emphasizes the action/adventure aspect of things. More on that later, as I work the concept and have results to show.

But, whichever way I go, you can see that I have left a space below the title where a picture can be montaged or vignetted in.

I did the design in GIMP. The original cover was lain out in a combination of CorelDRAW and Photoshop. But, since I no longer have Photoshop available to me on my home machine and no longer have a work machine, I have had to adapt the .psd file in GIMP. The layering should be somewhat obvious. What is not, perhaps, is that I grew frustrated with the difficulty of setting and scaling type within GIMP, so I took the design as far as I could — layered in GIMP’s native .xcf format then exported a flattened version to .png, which I imported into Inkscape, where the vector capabilities made it easier for me to, first, set and scale type and set fill and outline strokes, and, Second generate a drop shadow (which I did by the expedient of duplicating the type to be shadowed and coloring it black before offsetting it manually right and down by 10 pixels. Then I re-exported to .png for the final image you see above and at right.

Still left to be done, are, of course, the illustration(s) for the front cover, images for the spine and back cover of a trade paper binding Ebacks don’t need back covers or spines, so I’ve never done one. However, I have looked at CreateSpace’s guidelines and see nothing I can’t accomplish there.

When and as those are done, I’ll post what looks newsworthy here.

The Genesis Undertaking

THE GREEK WORD Upothesa translates as meaning, variously, AFFAIR; HYPOTHESIS; ASSUMPTION; BUSINESS; CASE; CONCERN; CAUSE; MATTER; CONJECTURE; PREMISE; PRESUMPTION; SHEBANG; SUPPOSITION; UNDERTAKING. I found it by accident when trying to find the Greek word for business (Epicheirese Anonymos Etairia): (Enterprises, Incorporated).

“Upothesa” is the name applied from 1780-ish onward to the loose syndicate of businessmen and Gods that extends back in history to the late stone age, first in the Balkans, then extending throughout Greece and the Hellenic world, and then globally. It is a core world-building element of my series, the BabyTroll Chronicles.

I have recently (in the last couple of days) finished a final edit on a 15-year-old manuscript of a story now titled The Genesis Undertaking, which relates the events surrounding the first 12 hours of life of the titular character, Baby Troll — Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East — the figurehead of Upothesa, called the Childe of the East.

I have turned the MS over to my Alpha reader. In a short time, I will be seeking Beta readers for the book, which I intend to publish this month (via Draft to Digital, I imagine) in eBack and trade paper.

Watch this space. I will also be expositing the process of developing the cover art.

Christmas Indie Book Sale

I know I promised myself I would spend the bulk of the year-end break working my fingers to the bone at the keyboard. But reading the listings below of tasty tales by independently published authors at reduced prices, I am sorely tempted to play hooky at least part of the time.



1. Dragon Noir

By Cedar Sanderson

Click the book cover.

On sale for the first time from Dec 17-23rd

The pixie with the gun has come home to see his princess crowned a queen and live in peace. But nothing is ever easy for Lom. A gruesome discovery on his doorstep interrupts their plans and sends Lom off on a mission to save not one, but two worlds. It’s personal this time and the stakes are higher than ever before. With friends falling and the enemy gathering, Bella and Lom must conquer the worst fears and monsters Underhill can conjure. Failure is not on the agenda.



2. Young Warriors

by Pam Uphoff

Click the book cover.

Free for five days!

It’s traditional for young lords in the Kingdom of Ash to spend two years in the army. Xen Wolfson is a young wizard, and Garit Negue a young prince. And the world is filled with adventures and danger … and learning experiences.

Their world has been in sporadic contact with two different cross-dimensional worlds–generally as a target for conquest. When the Empire of the One returns, the young warriors are standing foursquare in their path.


Brand New Release!


3. Nocturnal Challege

By Amanda Green

Click the book cover.

The one thing Lt. Mackenzie Santos had always been able to count on was the law. But that was before she started turning furry. Now she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy to keep the truth from the public-at-large. She knows they aren’t ready to learn that monsters are real and they might be living next door.

If that isn’t enough, trouble is brewing among the shapeshifters. The power struggle has already resulted in the kidnapping and near fatal injury of several of Mac’s closest friends. She is now in the middle of what could quickly turn into a civil war, one that would be disastrous for all of them.

What she wouldn’t give to have a simple murder case to investigate and a life that didn’t include people who wanted nothing more than to add her death to the many they were already responsible for.



4. Hilda’s Inn for Retired Mercenaries

By Cyn Bagley

Click on the book cover.

In Delhaven, there is an Inn run by a retired mercenary. If you are a down-on-your-luck mercenary or men-at-arms, come to the public rooms and Hilda Brant, the owner, will give you a bowl of stew. If you want ale, hand over the coins. Hilda may give you floor space, but she expects you to pay in favors or coins.

Hilda isn’t prepared for the damage and chaos caused by a dragon, black mage, and elementals. And a very angry Lord Barton.

Amazon Kindle author page

Facebook author page.



5. The High T Shebang

By Mark Alger

Click on the book cover.

Marked down to $2.99 (save $3.00) through Christmas

Sometimes you just have to go to war in the underwear you have on.

Dolly was reborn into a new body just last week. Right out of the birthing chamber, she was tumbled into a conflict that goes back to the stone age. Her creator, the Greek Goddess, Aphrodite, has disappeared, and the God in charge of her institution — the Babylonian Marduk — has called for her death. Her lover and Geppetto, Mitchell Drummond, is threading his way through political minefields to keep her as safe as her profession allows. 

New in love, they soon find they can’t keep their hands off each other. Their sexual fever comes to worry them. They suspect there’s more to the situation than mere new love. Meanwhile, they have a job to do. Keeping up the pretense that all’s well and nothing’s going on is wearing thin. But in Upothesa, you’re not allowed to talk about secrets. Dolly is a secret. Trying to keep it together, Dolly and Drummond go on a mission to New Zealand to protect the Dolly’s secret and the life of a major TV drama star.

 



6. Collisions of the Damned

By James Young

Click on the book cover.

My God, we are losing this war. — Lt. Nicholas Cobb, USN

March 1943. The Usurper’s War has resumed, with disastrous results for the Allies. In Hawaii, the U.S. Pacific Fleet lies shattered after the Battle of Hawaii. Across the Pacific the Imperial Japanese Navy, flush with their recent victory, turns its gimlet eye towards the south and the ultimate prize for their Emperor: The Dutch East Indies.

For Commander Jacob Morton and the other members of the Asiatic Fleet, the oncoming Japanese storm means that the U.S.S. Houston and her Allied companions must learn to fight against overwhelming odds against an enemy who claims the night as their own. In the skies above Houston and the other old, tired vessels of the ACDA Fleet , Flight Lieutenant Russell Wolford and his men attempt to employ the Allies’ newest technology to even the odds. With full might of the Japanese Empire falling on them, the ACDA’s soldiers, sailors, and marines must fight to hold the line long enough for reinforcements to come.



7. Blackbird

By Alma Boykin

Click on the book cover.

$.99 Dec 21-24, 1.99 Dec 25-28

One man becomes all that the Turkowi fear — and respect. Matthew Charles Malatesta, second son and rumored bastard of a mercenary, grandson of Duke Edmund “Ironhand” von Sarmas. One man, who will fight to the last breath to carve a place for himself, who will create a court of learning and civilization, who stands alone between the might of the Turkowi Empire and all of Godown’s people.



8. One in Infinity

By Amie Gibbons

Click on the cover image. (Note: This title is a novelette.)

On sale for $0.99 from 12/19 to Christmas

Turns out coincidences do happen, and it sucks when it leads killers from an alternate reality to your door… 

Rose plans on partying her last weekend of freedom before her residency starts, but fate has different plans. When men straight out of a fantasy novel attack, she gets pulled into a blood feud between magical beings thanks to a random stroke of luck. Now she has to adjust to her new world view and help one of the men to save herself from a fate worse than death.



9. Tick of the Clock

By Travis Clemons and Michael Z Williamson

Click on the book cover.

A man awakens in a 21st century Illinois hospital, holding very distinct memories of being shot in Switzerland decades earlier. The nurse calls him Detective Crabtree and says the DuPage County Sheriff will be by to check on him shortly. Yet he remembers his name being Sherlock Holmes.

When Sabrina Worthington is killed during a home invasion, her billionaire husband has an ironclad alibi. But Adam Worthington does not appear to be the grieving widower people would expect to see. Meanwhile, their former girlfriend keeps tugging on every possible string to convince the authorities to indict the man for murder. 

By the tick of the clock, it would seem impossible for a man to be shot in the 19th century and wake up more than one hundred years later. It would also seem impossible for a man to shoot his wife while she’s at home and he’s at a theater thirty miles away. But when the seemingly impossible is properly analyzed, will Holmes determine the improbable truth behind her death and his life?



10. The Spaewife

by David L. Burkhead

Pricing will be $0.99 the 19th through the 26th.

Click on the book cover.

A young mother hears the Norns. They tell her of terrible things to come. When Ulfarr wants her gift of prophesy to serve him, he takes her, murders her husband, and steals away her children. Can the young mother escape from Ulfarr’s clutches and save her children from him? Only the Norns know.

I Think About Time A Lot

THOUGH YOU WOULDN’T KNOW IT from what I write. I could never write a time travel story, though, because I have too hard a time with the possibility.

In order to accept time travel, one must accept one or the other possible models of time — one as a continuum — without discrete ticks of the cosmic clock. Or of time as a series of discrete, quantum events, with ticks of the cosmic clock analogous in time to a Euclidean point in space — defining a discrete and unique locus with no dimension.

If time is a continuum, you could never land anywhen for certain, because there never is a discrete quantum moment which can be defined as any when, which would require a certain conservation of events. Every branching of events — every time a particle goes one direction rather than another, a new universe is created in which that probability eventuated. Things get too messy and probabilities end up merging when they’re too close to each other, which sort of obviates the quantum nature of things.

The notion of the conservation of events is, to the best of my knowledge, original to me. It means that the probability of any given event or sequence of events is directly proportional to the number of individual beings or objects (in the case of objects, to their mass and in the case of beings to the influence they have on still other beings) affected by the event. And that, with events above a certain moment — probability weighting — the number of subsidiary events which must be altered or prevented grows ever larger, the greater the probability. In other words, it does no good to go back and kill Hitler in order to prevent the Holocaust or World War II — some other figure will rise to take his place. But you may be able to save the life of his loyal Alsatian shepherd dog from death in the bunker in April 1945, if you can find just the right combination of events to tip the odds in her favor — killing any number of historical figures won’t do it.

This combination also works “sideways,” as you may call it — for the creation and meeting of parallel worlds or universes. Of course, there are an infinite number of possible branchings for any given either-or choice, all the way from the subatomic level up to the movement of civilizations or people’s lives. But each branching of a quark’s path does not create or fail to create a whole civilization or that civilization’s end in a war. Branchings between what might be considered discrete world lines are usually caused by historic cusps — whether this king or that one is the one whose kingdom is the first to develop agriculture, animal husbandry, the domestication of cats, the brewing of beer, with all the civilizational changes that follow in train with those choices. Like that public TV series, Connections. And world lines with similar sequences of probability branchings made will tend to cluster around the moment of those probabilities, conserving events of greater moment across world lines and possibly several lines at once. So there will be several lines in which the Irish discovered America, but the Vikings were the first to plant settlers there among the Indians, while the Spanish were the first successful colonists. In others, it will be the Dutch, the Italians, the Portuguese and the English, in still others, the Chinese — coming from the West — colonize the Americas long before the Irish set out westward in their coracles. The variations among these, such as are found in alternate history fiction cause similar world branchings, but tend to cluster around key events of greater relative moment.

This is the model I use in building the world of the Baby Troll Chronicles. I would love to hear from y’all with your thoughts on the matter.

This is Disgusting

AS OF JUST NOW the word count on The Origin Protocols is 49,427 — sneaking up on a notional halfway point. (I say, “notional,” because I suspect, with how things are shaking out, 100,000 words may be optimistic and I may end up needing 120K or 150K to fill in the outline.

But that’s good news. Progress of a sorts.

No, what’s bugging me — disgusting me with myself — is my rate of progress. Stephen King says if you can only turn one novel every five years, you have a problem with your work ethic. Implying you’re not a writer, you’re a wannabe. I’ve been working on this novel since the last one was published. And, since I have an exact date for that (10/23/13), I also have no way of dodging the implications. In a year-and-a-half (roughly speaking), I have barely managed to crank out 50,000 words — a month’s writing goal by NaNoWriMo.

I tell you that to tell you this. A while back, following some advice in a blog post by Rachel Aaron, I started tracking my word rate for every writing session. Since I started, back in October, I have logged nine sessions (which is, in itself, disgusting — I should be writing every day and I know it), and have peaked (twice) at around 2,500 words per hour, albeit not for a sustained period. Which means that, over the same time, having added about 5,500 words to this novel, I’ve done about two hours’ work. As I say, disgusting. Depressing.

Even so, I should have done better. I get a clear shot every other Saturday, with no obligations to anything or anyone other than the craft or my readers. Each one, assuming I work four-to-six hours at a stretch (which seems nigh on impossible to me), affords me the opportunity to advance the ball 10,000 or so words down the field. IOW, I should be able to finish this fucker in ten weeks and haven’t.

Disgusting.

The Concept of “Wild”

CONTENT I FIRST ENCOUNTERED on a television series called Bracken’s World (should I be surprised that a 1960s TV show that ran 1½ seasons has a Wikipedia entry which, almost tv-tropes-like, ends with a meta-reference to the series Mad Men?)… refers to content that is not synchronous to the content in the mainstream of a presentation. In radio, a wild sound track might include overheard conversation, or pre-recorded announcements. In television, wild sound is recorded asynchronously from that recorded during a camera shot. A voice-over, for example, or an off-set effect, such as a gunshot. In literature, a wild scene might be one that, while it may or may not fit in the plot structure of the larger work, does not fall in train with the scenes or chapters which might come before or after it in as-written sequence. Case in point:

Who Knows Where This Goes?

Mitchell Cary Drummond

Drummond marched out of the elevator, taking his first step while the door was still [opening withdrawing, receding sucking back in]. He threw the door of Marduk’s outer office back so it crashed against the nearest chair inside the waiting room. A frekun ang Guard trooper, stationed at a desk against the far wall, leapt to his feet. He recognized Drummond and held out a preventory hand.

“Dr. Drummond! Sir! You shouldn’t…”

Before he lost his nerve, Drummond pushed by the other man and kicked open the door to the inner office. Without pause, he fired a shot from his service pistol in the general direction of the God behind the desk and brandished the razor-edged cavalry sabre he’d snatched up along the way with a whistling flourish.

“You sonuvabitch!” he shouted at Marduk. “I’m going to make you pay for this!”

“What are you talking about? Mitchell! Put that down!”

His first shot had gone wide. There was still a wisp of smoke rising from the hole it had made in the paneling behind Marduk’s left shoulder.

“Say your prayers, motherfucker!”

From the outer office, Drummond could hear the voice of the guardsman calling for backup.

“And what, pray tell, have I done to occasion this fiery retribution?”

“You exposed Dolly to these thugs when you hired them to kidnap her off the road. Now one of them has gone all serial-killer psycho-stalker and taken her from our loft. And terrified my Brownie near to death!”

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Who indeed…?

It Feels as Though

I OWE THE HOUSE an update. Here it is mid-December and the novel anticipated for spring, then summer, then “later this year” still is not forthcoming. So… what?

Well. The obvious point is that I haven’t really been working on it all that assiduously. After all, I wrote the entire Apocrypha (14 stories, over a million words), in 6 months. I’d expect to be able to turn a 120,000-word novel (for all it’s more sophisticated) in more time.

But, NOOOOoooo!

The latest excuse is the shed for the back yard at Casa d’Alger, coupled with the move of the Patch Factory. Well, the PF move is pretty much complete and I have four more days on the job remaining this year. I’ll be on staycation from Friday on to the Fourth of the New Year. It is my earnest hope to finish three or more of my outstanding projects, the novel included in that period. Of course, I have 16 days, which implies something like 5,000 words a day required. That makes me doubt that I’ll actually finish, but I suspect I can get within striking distance.

Meantime, here’s the next snippet.

Discovery, Rev 3, Ch4, Scenes 5 &6

Da Doll Mounts Up

The Gabrielle Dolly

The dolly double-timed it from the BOQ to her unit’s barracks, where she rummaged in the slops chest until she found a CADPAT camo rucksack, which she took back to her rack in the empty barracks room and loaded it with what she thought she’d need. On the way out, she encountered Little Low again.

“You’re up to something,” the Lance Corporal said.

“Yup,” the dolly replied. “And I’m in a hurry, too. Your point is…?”

“What? What are you about, here, recruit?”

“None of your business, Lance,” the dolly said, perhaps intemperately, albeit still not breaking discipline.

“Consider yourself on report,” Little Low said, rather weakly, as well as exceeding her authority. And, it seemed, she knew she was, for she danced from foot-to-foot in the doorway, not taking any action to block the dolly’s exit from the barracks building.

The dolly pushed by her nominal superior and clomped down the wooden stairs.

“I don’t care for your insubordinate attitude,” Little Low called after her.

“Really?” the dolly said, rounding on the striper. “That’s the best you got?”

“Stop!” Little Low shouted. Just then, a frekun ang corporal came running down the stairs from the second floor.

“What’s going on, here?” he asked. Technically, he outranked Li’h Loah, but neither woman was in his chain of command, so — just as technically — he had no authority in the situation.

“If I’m gonna break discipline,” the dolly was saying, unawares the larger noncom had entered the dispute. “Do you think I’m gonna… what…?” Realizing what was going on, the dolly took off running across the yard toward the BOQ parking lot.

As she ran, she heard the frekun ang corporal berating Little Low. “Isn’t that recruit in your platoon?” he demanded. “Here, you! Stop!”

Little Low told him succinctly, “Family issues. Fuck off.”

“Wow!” the corporal said, stunned. Trolls didn’t usually use obscenity, profanity, or blasphemy. “There’s a unit headed for disaster!” He said, stating what, for him, was the obvious. He stalked off, clearly washing his hands of the matter. The dolly heard the thudding of following footsteps and quickened her pace to a dead run. A quick glance behind over her shoulder showed her that Little Low was following her and gaining on her.

“Baby Troll!” the little billilaalu called after her. “Gabrielle! Stop! Think what you’re doing!”

“Done thinking!” the dolly shouted. “Doing, now!”

She came to the parking lot and did a pretty slick hurdle-jump over the low hedge that framed the lot and ran up to the parked Harley. She fumbled the keys out of her pocket, got a grip on the correct one and, struggling to keep her hand steady enough, stuck it in the ignition lock. Behind her, there was a loud rustling, as though Little Low, rather than jump the hedge, had elected to bushwhack her way though it. Which had to slow her down.

The dolly took the handlebars in hand and swung her leg over the seat. She turned the key (her heart rate settled down as the engine whirred to life and settled into a husky purr) and rocked the bike off the kickstand as she toed it into gear and twisted the throttle. Little Low came up behind/beside her and clutched at her shoulder. “Gabrielle!” she pleaded.

The dolly gave it gas and took off down the lot in first, the engine screaming. She made the bike slew through the S to get out of the lot and onto the street. She shifted to second and took off down the straight in front of the BOQ. Pete was just coming down the front steps, a determined look on her face, as the dolly whizzed by. In seconds, bike and rider were out of the area and headed for the main road.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Petra Alexandra Troll

Pete stopped at the curb in front of the BOQ and waited until Little Low thudded to a stop beside her.

“Is that who I think…?”

Little Low nodded and said, “Mm hm,” at the same time, then gasped for breath. “Bitch stole my motorcycle.”

“Yeah. Thought she was pretty slick when she snaffled the keys in my quarters.”

“Speaking of which,” Little Low said, turning to face Pete. “How is it that a bike that was in the maintenance garage when its owner — to wit, me — left campus is now a good two hundred miles south?”

“Yeah,” Pete said quietly. “About that. I wanted to talk to you, but didn’t get the chance before…” She stopped when she realized that Little Low was crying.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Pete Can Has Geas

Petra Alexandra

Pete let go a long-suffering sigh and snugged Little Low against her side, under her right arm. She patted the other’s outside shoulder with a distracted there-there air while the little billilaalu sniffled her hurt at the dolly’s betrayal. Neither one acknowledged how un-military their behavior was. “How long before she’s UA?” Pete asked.

“Monday morning reveille,” Little Low sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her gloved hand.

“The whole weekend? When I was your age…”

“Two feet of snow, barefoot, uphill both ways. I know, I know. The unit’s on liberty until then. There was the birthday party, which command figured to be of some significance. That was supposed to be a surprise.”

“I saw the flyers. She probably could have used the morale boost if somebody had broken Op Sec to her on that.”

“And she could have acted surprised if somebody did dump the feline out the burlap. Yeah. I get that… Now.”

After standing quietly for a moment, staring off into the distance after the dolly on her stolen motorcycle, the two of them turned and ambled toward the BOQ.

“So,” said Pete. “Last December, when I went back north, I told you…”

“To be a good friend to her,” Little Low finished for the Lieutenant as they started up the short flight of the front steps and stopped on the porch.

“And were you?” Pete asked as she yanked the door open and held it for her companion.

“Not so much. She’s hard…” Little Low passed through the door and stopped in the BOQ’s foyer. She let her voice trailed off.

“To get to know,” Pete said as she joined the other. “I get that.”

“No,” said Little Low. “That’s not it at all. She’s pretty much an open book. Not just her life story, what she wants from this world. Her massive crush on that Man of hers. No, she’s hard to be a friend to. I suspect that, when she gets around to it, she’s not going to have a lot of friends. But the ones she will have will be mortar forking strong. The kind who, when you show up at their door with a body to hide, won’t ask questions, but will just grab their hat and a shovel and follow you out to the car.”

Pete nodded and made a crooked grin acknowledging the truth of that. She punched the elevator button with a stiff forefinger and they waited for the car to come to that floor. They got in. Pete pushed the button for her floor. The car went up. They got out and walked down the hall to her room.

The door was ajar.

Little Low fell still and silent and threw Pete a look. Neither one of them was armed, but they both were sudden death with hands, feet, and other striking surfaces of the hominid body. But Pete was relaxed, as though she’d expected this and wasn’t worried there’d be an ambush the other side. She pushed the door wide and brushed Little Low back to enter the room.

“It’s okay,” she said. “Come on in. Have a seat. No food or drink in quarters, sorry. I’d offer, but… You understand.”

“It’s okay, Ell-Tee. I really shouldn’t be imposing on you like this.”

“No imposition, Lance. I have a sort of an obligation, where Baby Troll is concerned, myself. Hephaestus sort of laid a geas on me to protect her and, now I think on it, hasn’t relieved me of it, even though I haven’t seen her in months.”

“Hephaestus,” Little Low said archly.

“Okay. Well… Terry Britten. But she was acting under H’s orders. I suppose I’m going to have to go after her. Baby Troll, I mean.”

“Are you really? Well. I know some folks in the motor pool. You want a motorcycle, too? That Harley’s gonna be hard to catch with anything less frisky.”

“No. Thanks. I don’t need speed so much as craft. I’m not going to catch her in a stern chase, so I’ll have to go to where I know she’s gonna be and catch her that way. Speedy vehicle’s not going to get the job done. No, I’m going to have to get there the old fashioned way.”

“You’re gonna earn it? How? ‘What’s a nice girl like you…?'”

Pete laughed. “No. No. Nothing like that. I’m gonna hitch hike.”

“From where? Right outside the main gate? That’s discreet.”

“No. Good point. That won’t work. I’ll have to get a start. So I guess one of the patrol three wheelers would be the best. Care to be my driver?”

“Would I!”

“Drop me off somewhere near Winchester on 64?”

“Twist my arm!”

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Discovery, Rev 3, Ch4, Scenes 3&4

HEREWITH OFFERED this week’s snippet, without comment — on the snippet. The shed project has metastasized. And going on yet another weekend. I awoke at 6:30 this morning, legs and feet aching and mouth dry. It was raining. The weather predicted more of the same. I got up, took four Advil and my neuropathy med, drank a bottle of water — while browsing Facebook and some blogs — and went back to bed. Hey! It’s Saturday. I get to sleep in. I was out like a light in minutes.

And woke up at 1:00 in the afternoon, feeling quite refreshed, albeit late for the world. The rain had stopped, but the ground outside was wet, and I resolved to blow off work on the shed for the day — pending permission — and set about cleaning up the kitchen and preparing breakfast. Later on, SWMBO got home from work and advised that the old shed was open, its doors flapping in the wind. More concerned about sacks of concrete mix getting drenched in the rain than about any potential theft, I put on shoes and went out to check. The lock had been cut. And recently, as the concrete sacks were still dry. I got a new lock from the stash of hardware and closed up the old shed, knocked pooled rainwater out of the slough in the tent, and straightened up a bit before going back in to watch the last ep of Hinterland on Netflix.

Maybe tomorrow, I can get around to getting started on the platform frame. Meantime, it’s on to MI5 (the Brit spy/cop drama — ten seasons).

It’ll Be a Hot Mess Tonight

The Gabrielle Dolly

The dolly found herself dropped into an emotional funk. Everybody was dissing her. Ignoring her. Dismissing her presence, her opinion. Wasn’t she supposed to be the reincarnation of the most successful Childe ever? OK, so she still couldn’t remember a thing — well, except for occasional, scratchy, black-and-white flashes, like cuts from a movie she barely remembered seeing — not at all like memories. And they made no sense to her. But didn’t the bare fact of her miraculous existence merit her getting cut some slack? But no! She was recruit this and “Hey you” that. And she had, at one point, gotten heartily sick of being called a baby Troll.

Out of nowhere, a song popped into her mind. Since she didn’t remember ever learning it, she let herself assume she was making it up on the spot. Nobody loves me/Everybody hates me/Guess I’ll go eat worms… It made her laugh — a short, mordant bark in recognition of the irony inherent in it.

Besides, she knew from her time in the survival courses that worms were a good source of protein. Still…

Feeling a little better, but still in a sour mood, she hitched herself up and marched off to the barracks. The shortest distance between the mess hall and the recruit barracks led across the parade ground. But, to be seen on the parade ground with nothing apparent to do — even in notional free time — was to be assigned some unpleasant task, so she took a roundabout way from the mess hall across the central campus of Meander until she came to the outskirts of town, as it were, and the recruit barracks — two-story clapboard buildings with outside stairs and tilting windows (now closed against the February chill except in the spaces where the steam radiators produced a tropical heat), set on spongy ground among tall, clean-limbed, second-growth oaks.

As she approached the utility pole that carried the barracks’ electrical supply from the mainline, she saw that the wooden circumference from chest level on a billilaalu to just above head-tall on a frekun ang was plastered, as usual, with handbills for the sensation of the moment. These were technically litter, but tacitly permitted so long as they did not exceed the envelope of good taste. They generally were just a bit racier, a bit spicier, a bit less decorous than their officially-sanctioned cousins on the official bulletin boards inside every building and under shelter in outdoor common areas. The dolly had never seen anyone distributing them. They simply appeared spontaneously, from her point of view, like mushrooms after a predawn rain. And were about as safe to consume — i.e., not entirely.

This set were printed on a fluorescent lime background in magenta ink and were drawn in a style that made her think — for no particular reason — faded San Francisco Art Nouveau. The legend was simple. In bold letters, all caps, it read:

TONIGHT AT EIGHT. IT’LL BE A HOT MESS. DON’T BE LATE. SHHH! IT’S A SURPRISE.

–Apparently referring to some sort of inside joke. Something all Trolls were presumed to know, but culturally ignorant Man girls… not so much. It keyed to her mood. Reading it, she grumped a little more grumpily, stomped a little more stompily, and frowned a little more frownily. She crossed the barracks lawn and clumped up the steps, through the entryway, and into her unit’s bunk room.

A quick visual sweep told her nobody was there at the moment. And, as it could be anticipated they would be shortly, and she really didn’t want to be there when they did, she spun on her heel and re-exited–

–Running into and nearly running down her assistant training NCO, the billilaalu Little Low.

“Oof!” they both asserted simultaneously.

“Watch where you’re going, recruit!” the Lance Corporal barked, righting herself and bushing her uniform back to rights.

“Sorry, Lance,” the dolly muttered.

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Happy Birthday

Lance Corporal Li’h Loah

“What’s that? Do I hear a baby Troll?”

“SORRY, LANCE CORPORAL! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” the dolly shouted and stomped off, leaving Little Low to stare after her, gape-mouthed. But the event took place in off time (and the Troll Guard was strangely notional — compared to other military units — about troopers’ behavior while on liberty), so, while the dolly’s rudeness might be remarked upon later, there was no immediate disciplinary action to be taken. Little Low merely turned and went on about her business.

Another recruit — a frekun ang from Slovakia, who was just coming in and had been brushed back by the dolly’s explosive exit — asked, “What’s up her butt?”

“Didn’t get the memo,” Little Low said, standing, staring at, as it were, the memo — a pink-and-green handbill push-pinned to the barracks bulleting board.

“What memo?”

“Her birthday’s been rescheduled. Surprise party in the mess hall tonight.”

“Ah! I see. Thus posters all over camp.”

“Exactly. Thus posters all over camp.”

“Is secret, no?”

“Is secret,” Little Low said, semi-consciously aping the no-articles syntax of the other. Pasu learned Man language in various and sundry ways, and usually — even in English — took on the accents of their teachers. This guy, apparently, learned English from a native speaker of a Slavic tongue. To Little Low, it was less than remarkable, but did not go entirely unnoticed.

“Poor kid,” the frekun ang said. “I hope she gets some joy out of it.”

“As do I,” Little Low said. “As do I.”

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Discovery, Rev 3, Ch 4, Sc 1&2

LAST WEEKEND OF NANO and pride demands I hit at least 50Kwds by Monday, so we are hard at work. Meanwhile, I’ve settled (Did I mention this before?) on a title for this work: The Origin Protocols. For the nonce, though, I’ll be referring to it here as Discovery, that being the working title.

Previously… The Gabrielle dolly is having breakfast with her training platoon in the messhall at Camp Meander, the Troll Guard training facility in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, when she learns that the excitement which had been attendant on her Genesis (the night before, six months removed) was at an ebb and the Regiment (Arcadia) was being recalled to campus after having been sent to Meander on puzzling orders from Chancellor Marduk.

Wandering around at liberty after breakfast, she runs into an old acquaintance: Lieutenant Petra Alexandra Troll, who excites in her a desire to return to campus and to see her crush, Mitchell Cary Drummond. For Dolly, to conceive a desire is to act upon it.

I Know That Bike

Lance Corporal Li’h Loah

Little Low, as the dolly called her (her Pasu name, Li’h Loah did not translate directly to English, but could be taken to be the equivalent of Lily — a generic flower name given to girl babies (she had never taken a Man name)), was standing just outside the wide, air-curtain door to the mess hall, watching — along with all the other Guard troopers and officers in the breakfast-time crowd — the goings-on in the circular drive out front of the hall. She was, of course, too far from things to actually hear even a fragment of what was being said, but that didn’t stop her — and, indeed, the entire crowd — from speculating. And she had her PDA out and was madly thumb-typing messages to sources and connections near, far, and wide, seeking deals, laying and taking bets, spreading news, hearing gossip.

It was what she lived for. When she was not in training rotation as a member of the NCO cadre at Meander, her occupational specialty was company clerk. As she was attached to the Special Operations Teams, she didn’t clerk for a company, but she had all the responsibilities and — like most of her colleagues in larger units — a great many talents at scrounging that made her valued by her superiors in her position, despite her tendency to breach discipline.

As she was watching, a figure transited her field of vision. It took her an instant or two to realize what she was seeing. Among the crowd of mostly frekun ang troopers clumped on the pavement around the bollards that fended traffic off from the mess hall doors, it was hard to see anything less than six-and-a-half-to-seven feet tall. But movement helped. This was someone frekun ang shaped,but billilaalu tall, moving smoothly from left to right in her view, briefly visible in fits and snatches behind obscuring foreground figures. Then she realized:

It was a frekun ang — Lieutenant Petra Alexandra, to be precise — riding a motorcycle.
And Little Low wondered when Pete had gotten a bike. Then, as Pete cleared the crowd in front of the mess hall and rolled on down the drive to the street, Little Low recognized the bike.

“Hey!” she shouted. “That’s my bike!” She set off running down the sidewalk by the driveway. While her shout went almost unnoticed her broken-field run through the crowd did not. Although custom and her status as billilaalu made the frekun ang in the crowd yield precedence to her, there were enough of her own along the way to slow her down.

By the time Little Low broke free of the crowd, Pete had turned onto the main street and was headed, under power once more, back into the residential area, with its maze of streets, paths, mews, and alleys. Although the Meander campus was generally open and spacious, it was close enough that one could easily lose sight of a distant, moving object behind trees and buildings.

Little Low ran down the length of the driveway and bucketed across the street to a barracks lawn across the way while Pete, free of the crowd, accelerated two blocks down the main drag and turned down a residential side street and disappeared behind a block of apartments.

Winded, Little Low thudded to a stop in the middle of the next block and stood bent over, hands braced on thighs, trying to catch her breath, thinking what do do next, how had Pete gotten down here from the East College campus on her bike and why.

She didn’t make the connection to the dolly. Though she did have occasion to wonder whether there was any connection to the loud clap of thunder which had echoed across the parade ground a few minutes before. Little Low knew, from long experience, that the sound had accompanied the out-porting of God and his appurtenances. Being who she was, she had a powerful curiosity bump and wondered about these things.

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What Comfort They Could

The Gabrielle Dolly

The dolly just sat there, stunned, tears sheeting down her cheeks. She thought there was nothing more. Could be nothing more. But then Pete went on, in a very small voice.

“They tell me I couldn’t possibly remember. That at barely three, uprooted, on the road, surrounded by fear, disease, starvation, and death, I could not possibly remember… but I swear, I do. I remember my father as he was in those moments. He would have been forty-four that summer, the same age as your Mr. Drummond. He was big as a mountain, I remember. Tall and blond with eyes of impossible blue! And his voice! I remember he sang the songs of our people as he walked. I didn’t know them, then, just the sound of his voice… rich and golden like the sun. It was the sound of safety. It was my Pa’a-um, that voice. The spring in the mountain valleys — the pass at Baroghil is over 13,000 feet, so I’d guess the floor of the valley is five to seven thousand feet — the air was light and sweet, and the sun was bright, but no burden. The scent of water on the wind was a… I think the word is benison…? You don’t know?” She shook her head. “I don’t suppose it matters. But I could live in that place the rest of my life and consider myself blessed.

“Except…

“Except that we left over six hundred bodies in that valley. Some were buried properly — very few of those. Some in shallow graves, some tumbled into ravines, some… near the end, Father said they could only leave the dead by the roadside and run for their own lives. Somewhere about the middle of the valley, my mother’s heart gave out. They scooped a shallow grave out for her and buried her with wildflowers, the way my people always have. By then, she’d already buried half of her own children.

“The soldiers. The bandits. The native Men of the valley, who were suspicious of all of the strangers on the road. They hunted us on foot and from vehicles on the ground, and when we took to the hills, they hunted us from helicopters… the great Russian Hind helicopters, the terror machine of that whole war. Even a small band of peace-loving Pasu, frantic to get away from the war zone… even we were targets for the Hinds. They would hover over the road or loom up across low hills and cliffs, and rain death down on us like evil gods of hellfire. Death in the bullets of machine guns or cannons. Death in napalm and white phosphorus. Death in nerve gasses: CX and malathion. They would swoop down on fleeing women and children and they never, never showed any mercy. We had no weapons to fight back. The mujahedin had Stingers, but those were hundreds of miles away and not until much later. We could only run and hide. Or die.

“Toward the end, my father put me in a sling on his chest and carried me, dragging two other children — both no more than five summers old — by the hands, traveling at night, eating new leaves and bark from the trees, and the meager roots that had survived the winter, drinking melt water, traveling at night by moonlight and starlight. It took him all spring and into summer to get to Jirhum Ra. When he got there, they said he was a stick figure of a man, and I was a little bundle of bones, barely alive. In fact, they thought I was dead at first. Along the way, he’d buried the last two children, not even sure they were his own, he was so muddled by hunger and fatigue. He buried them almost within sight of the Great Peak that looms above Jirhum Ra. If they could have lasted another week or so, they might have survived. But in the end, it was only he and I who made it.

“He found a relative — a cousin of my mother’s who had fled the mountains for a life in the city years before — and he fostered me with her. As soon as he saw me settled in, he took the sword. He enlisted with Regiment Boeotia and was gone. I never saw him again until last night. But I heard of him.

“Those of us who take the sword leave life in the Pa’a-um behind, but the center does not forget us. Word of his deeds came back to us in Jirhum Ra from time-to-time. We heard of his rise in the ranks to become the highest enlisted soldier in the Regiment, to become the foremost Command Sergeant Major in the entire Guard. I was proud to know he was my father. When it came time for me to take my wanderjahr, I chose to come to America, for I had heard it was a whole continent like Jirhum Ra. Here, I ran into a boy whose family had lived near us in Jirhum Ra, who had enlisted in Regiment Arcadia and come to America that way. He persuaded me to enlist in the Guard. I did so in honor of my father. That boy was Bob-O. I never went back. I sent my hair back, as is the custom, and from then to now, I have never thought of my home or the home of my family that is no more.”

The dolly remembered his eyes. They had been impossibly blue. She had looked into them. And she recalled the timbre of his voice — hearing it in her head — and she could tell that, twenty years before, it could have sounded in joy like sunshine to a worshipful daughter whose world is encompassed by the love of her father — her Pa pa. The dolly remembered, somewhere in her studies, a minor bit of lore, that in many cultures around the world, the syllable pa being the easiest for an infant’s mouth to form, the name Papa is the easiest for a baby to say. So, almost universally in the tongues of humanity — of, not just Men, but all hominids, Men, Trolls, Elves, Brownies, Sprites, Fairies, and Imps, that word is the name that children call their fathers. In her brief life, the dolly had learned much of things she would never know herself, and the love between a child and a parent was something she knew she would always regret not knowing.

And she remembered again the feel of Pete’s gun in her hand. The recoil. The heat of it. The bite of the gunsmoke in her nose. The sound of the bullet strikes. The still form in CADPAT BDUs lying on the snow-swept stones of the Regimental parade ground before the barracks.

She collapsed against Pete, clinging to the Troll, and wailed something that might have been “What have I done?” muffled by the fabric of her tunic.

The two of them wept, Pete for her memories of a time long gone and forever lost — if, indeed, it had ever been — and the dolly for the promise of a man she might have known and loved as a father, and now never would and the grief she had caused her friend. And for the fact that it probably could not have been any other way. They held each other for a very long time, and took what comfort they could from it.

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