Writing Prompt: The futile efforts of a slutty secretary.

“So, Mr. Carlyle, is there anything else I can get you?” the young woman asked, making sure that her breasts, hanging heavy in her low-cut blouse, just barely brushed against the man’s suited shoulder.

The man, however, didn’t glance up from his paperwork.  “No, Missy, that will be all, I think,” he said, waving one hand vaguely in the air.

Missy felt a little put out, but she straightened up carefully, making sure to accentuate the long, slender lines of her figure.  Her mini-skirt ended only a fraction of an inch below the perfect curves of her ass, and if Richard Carlyle happened to slide one hand up along the inside of her perfect bronze thigh, he’d soon find a very distinct lack of underwear beneath…

The man didn’t even notice, however.  Missy was pretty sure that she could have been wearing a chicken costume, and the man wouldn’t have noticed!  She threw back her long blonde waves over her shoulder and let out a snort as she stomped out in her high heels.

It’s not easy to stomp in high heels, but the buxom blonde bombshell managed it.

As she slammed the door to his office shut behind her, Carlyle glanced up, his brow furrowing briefly.  Was something bothering his secretary?  He felt much more comfortable reading a financial report than another person, but she seemed annoyed somehow.

He glanced down at the fresh stack of documents that Missy had delivered to him.  She’d left a pink sticky note on top, complete with her phone number and a couple of Xs.  That was thoughtful, Carlyle noted absently to himself.  If she’d left anything out, he could call her about it.

He wasn’t sure about the Xs, but interpreted them to mean that she wasn’t going to strike out if she could help it.

Real go-getter, that Missy, he thought briefly to himself before his mind filled up with numbers.

*

“Your coffee, sir- oh, no!” Missy suddenly exclaimed as she tilted the cup forward, spilling the brown frothy liquid out all over the man in front of her.  “Oh my, I’m so clumsy!  I ought to be spanked for it!”

“Oh, that’s all right, Missy,” Carlyle replied quickly, standing up as the coffee poured down over his crotch.  “I’m sure you just tripped-“

Missy had already dropped down to her bare knees on the carpet, bending forward and rubbing both her hands over his crotch.  “We need to get those pants off of you right away, sir, so they don’t stain,” she insisted, her nimble fingers flying to his belt and tugging it free.  “Come, now, let’s get you out of all those wet clothes!”

She had the belt undone, the button open, and her fingers were on the zipper!  Finally, she was going to get the man naked – and then it was just a matter of wrapping her lips around him.  Missy knew that, once his dick was inside a girl’s mouth, no man would ever pull away-

“Here, no need to worry!”  Suddenly, Carlyle’s hands were down beneath her shoulders, lifting her back up!  “Let me show you something.”

Before she knew what was happening, the man was stepping away from her – and pulling open one of the wooden panels that lined his massive office, he revealed a small closet, full of clean hanging suits!

“You see,” Carlyle explained, grabbing one of the fresh suits off of the rack, “I tend to sometimes have a little accident with lunch.  And vinaigrette is impossible to get out of white linen – I know, I’ve tried.  So I keep a couple extra changes of outfit here, just in case.

“But here,” he finished, handing the coffee-stained pants to Missy as he pulled on the fresh set.  “You can take these and get them dry-cleaned for me.  Put it on the company account, of course – anyone could have slipped there!”

Met with that well-meaning, innocent smile, Missy couldn’t think of anything to do but nod and accept the stained garment.  “Of course, sir,” she sighed, turning and heading back out of the office.

Carlyle smiled as he gazed after her.  What a thoughtful young woman!  She was clearly loyally devoted to him.  She must have known that he had an investors’ meeting this afternoon, and wanted him to be both alert and spotless.  She deserved a raise, he noted to himself.

*

“Excuse me!”  The call stopped Missy in her tracks, halfway to the door to the man’s office.  “Missy, I think there’s been some mistake!”

She turned and glanced back at Carlyle behind his desk, biting her lower lip seductively.  “What’s wrong, master?” she asked.

Carlyle flicked through the stack of papers she’d just placed in front of him.  “Yes, Missy, this is the Kleiberson report.  I need the Daniels report.”

“Oh no, I’ve made such a mistake!” Missy exclaimed, dashing back and dropping to her knees beside the man.  This time, her low-cut top was held up only by the thinnest of spaghetti straps looping over her shoulders, and it offered an expansive view deep into her cleavage.  She’d carefully picked out a top a full two sizes too small – and with no bra, her nipples stood out like quarters through the thin, sheer fabric.

“Now, now, that’s okay-” Carlyle began, but Missy had already pushed him back in his chair from the desk, pushing herself forward and into his lap.  “Missy, what are you doing?”

“Oh, I’ve been a bad girl,” his secretary cried, wiggling forward so that she lay across his lap.  “Please, master, you need to spank me and teach me a lesson!”

Carlyle blinked as the woman wiggled her perky round ass up at him.  She’d chosen another short little miniskirt today, this one little more than a belt.  “Spank you?  Missy, I don’t think that’s necessary-“

“Oh, please, if you don’t, I’ll never learn my lesson!” the woman cried dramatically, managing to twist so that, even with her ass right in range of the CEO’s hands, she could give him another beguiling glimpse down at her full breasts.  “I’ve been such a bad girl, and you need to punish me with a good spanking, right on my tight little ass!”

Missy mentally crossed her fingers.  This had to work!  How could any man resist her, in his lap like this and begging for him?  This would make most men blow a blood vessel and collapse right there!  When she came in for work this morning in this outfit, two of the security guards had suffered spontaneous bloody noses!

But incredibly, Carlyle just stood up, gently easing her off of his lap.  “Now, now, Missy, I would never hit a woman,” he chided her gently.  “I’m very progressive like that, but I believe that chivalry is a lost art these days that needs to be revived.”

“But master, I’ve been bad, and I need to be punished-“

“Nonsense!” Carlyle insisted with a broad grin as he helped her up to her feet.  “You’re a wonderful secretary, and you shouldn’t punish yourself like this.  Any man would be happy to have you working for him!”

“Now,” he went on, as Missy blinked and tried to understand how she’d been so kindly rejected, “if you could go bring me the Daniels file, that would be perfect.  There’s a good girl, then!”

Wondering if the CEO had somehow lost his penis in some sort of yacht accident, Missy tottered out of the room, defeated.

Carlyle shook his head as he watched her go.  A fine girl, he thought to himself, but she needed to shake those old-fashioned notions of punishment.  Maybe he needed to sign her up for a woman’s empowerment course, give her a bit of self-confidence.

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Book 38 of 52: "The Map of the Sky" by Felix J. Palma

Steampunk science fiction and fantasy has been a rising genre, in my eyes.  It’s often difficult for me to immerse myself initially in the complexity of the steampunk universe, trying to remember how I know names like Algernon Swinburne and Charles Babbage.  However, I’ve found that, after the first 100 pages, I’m irreconcilably mired in the story, and I can’t bring myself to close the book until I’ve reached the last page.

Of course, it’s helpful when the plot is sufficiently fantastic, as well.
Such is the case in Felix J. Palma’s “The Map of the Sky,” which happens to be the second of three books in his Map of Time trilogy.  Ideally, I’d read the three books in order, but this was the only one available at my library, so I’m going with it!  Not to worry – I have reservation requests in for the others.

In this story, our hero is none other than Herbert George Wells, cranky and irascible author of “The Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds”!  The man has just published War of the Worlds, and finds himself initially amused when the story begins to come true!  However, amusement quickly turns to horror as he finds that Martians truly are invading, and they appear unstoppable.

I won’t give away much more of the story, as there’s a significant plot twist that would quite spoil the ending.  However, I will say that I was able to guess this twist was coming – it was really the only “out” the author had.  That perhaps slightly dampened my enjoyment.

Still, the book was well written and engaging, and I’ll be reading the others.  Plus, at a hefty five hundred pages or so, it’s long enough for some decent world-building, without initially growing too overwhelming or fantastic.

Time to read: About 6 hours, all in two days.  Damn that immersive universe!

REWRITE: Possession Talk Around the Neighborhood Grill

Author’s note: I like this story!  But I feel that it could actually use a rewrite, to give these characters some description.  I normally hate editing, but… why not give it a shot?

The sun shone brightly down from above the trees, as a thin wisp of smoke rose up from below.  Given the scent of charcoal, mingled with that of charring meat, any observer wouldn’t be amiss in guessing that they were catching a sniff of neighborhood barbecue.

The street was a cul-de-sac, a little half-circle of houses wrapping around the widened end of the street.  Today, the men had dragged their grills out to the middle of the street, plopping a couple of orange traffic cones further up the street to dissuade any lost drivers from plowing into the little gathering.  The grills were a motley assortment, from Jerry’s traditional round charcoal grill to Bill’s monstrosity of a modern grill, covered in knobs and adjustable flaps, its aluminum shining in the sun.

Gathered around the grills, the men chatted back and forth, occasionally opening up the grills to poke at the meat and produce sharp hisses of grease and juices flashing into steam.  Meanwhile, the women gossiped in little circles as they sipped at freshly made margaritas, and the children ran around the groups, chasing each other and occasionally letting out high-pitched screams.

It was a great day for a barbecue, overall.  The sun hadn’t yet reached its apex in the sky, but the day was already pleasantly warm, with just the slightest of breezes rustling the leaves on the trees.

The women gossiped, but the women always gossiped.  Most of them stayed home during the week instead of heading out to offices, and they’d raised gossip to a high art form as they ducked in and out of each other’s houses.

For the men, on the other hand, ‘gossip’ had become a taboo term.  If asked, each man would insist that he never gossiped – he merely updated the other men of the neighborhood on current events within his sphere of influence, his household, his kingdom.  They considered the exchange of information now occurring as vital to defending their homes as the motley assortment of baseball bats and golf clubs that they guiltily kept hidden in the back of their closets.

As he lowered the cover of his round charcoal grill back over the hissing meat, Jerry shook his head back and forth in disbelief.  “Man, you cannot be serious.  On either count.”

“No, I swear it’s true!”  Bill reached out and adjusted some knob on his huge, gleaming aluminum monstrosity of a grill.  Most of the other men would wager – accurately – that even Bill didn’t know what that knob did, but that didn’t mean that the others weren’t envious of the hulking machine.  Here in the suburbs, men gauged the measure of each other by the size of their grills.

Once the knob had been satisfactorily adjusted, Bill looked back up at the others.  “Summoning ritual gone wrong, the whole nine yards.  It’s really the only way for me to explain it.  She’s nothing like how she used to be.”

Jerry waved his tongs dismissively.  “No, man, demons don’t exist.  It’s all hogwash.”

On the other side of the circle, Keith nodded, crossing his arms over his large belly.  “Yeah, what Jerry said.  No such thing.”  He narrowed his eyes at Bill.  “Did you ever think that maybe she just conked her head or something?”

“Come on, guys!  You think I wouldn’t notice if she had a big bump on her head?”  Bill flapped his arms, perhaps trying to express exasperation, but instead only succeeding in making himself unfortunately resemble a large waterfowl of some sort.  “And no, it has to be possession.  I mean, it all started with the book, anyway.”

Keith just grunted, but Jerry leaned in.  “Yeah, what about that?  How did this happen in the first place?”

“Well, her Aunt Agatha died a couple weeks ago.”

“Oh.”

“Sorry to hear that, man.”

All three men paused, looking down at the ground as they each tried awkwardly to think of a way to comfort a casual acquaintance for the loss of a loved one.  Although, in this case, the loved one was only linked by marriage.  Were condolences necessary?  The etiquette was hazy and unclear, so they elected to just pause for silence for a few seconds.

Finally, Bill broke the momentary hush.  “Eh, no big loss,” he said, shrugging off the uncomfortable moment.  “We didn’t know her well, and the woman was crazy.  Always wore black, stayed locked away in her old Victorian house, one of those shut-ins.  But we went up to pack up her stuff, and we found the book.”

“The book that possessed her,” Keith interrupted, still looking unconvinced.

Bill started to answer, but then paused, shook his head, and rephrased.  “No, Keith, I don’t think the book possessed her.  I mean, not directly.”  He waved a hand, struggling for the right words.  “But the book had the spell that summoned the demon that possessed her.”

Jerry held up his hands, his eyebrows jumping.  “Wait, man.  So who said the spell?”

“Jerry, I was just getting to that!” Bill retorted, turning back and forth between the other two men as if unsure who to confront first.  “Let me get my story out!”

He sighed.  “Anyway, since you asked, I think my daughter did it.  Sarah gave the book to her, since she’s getting into that whole “goth” nonsense, and next thing we knew, there was a pentagram in blood on our kitchen floor.”

“Her blood?” Jerry burst out, his eyebrows climbing and knitting themselves together in alarm.

Bill quickly waved him back down.  “Nah, I think she grabbed one of the venison steaks from the freezer and dragged it around.”

“Oh.”  Jerry wanted his neighbor to continue telling his tale, but neighborhood formalities had to be upheld.  “Hey, those were delicious, by the way.  Thanks for sharing them.”

“My pleasure, we had more than we’d ever eat,” Bill replied, an accepted answer, before returning back to the story.  “But anyway, so Sarah’s the first one into the kitchen when we hear all the chanting, and she just freezes.  And I swear that I saw a cloud of smoke go shooting into her mouth.”

“Not a smoker, is she?” Keith asked.

“Nope.”

“Huh.  And you said it shot into her mouth?  Not out of it?”

Bill nodded, and Keith shrugged.  “Man, that’s crazy.”

For a moment, all of the men just stood around, flipping through their limited knowledge of demonic possession.  A couple of them had tried bringing horror movies home, hoping that their wives would feel the need for closeness after getting a few jump scares, but after Rich accidentally left the DVD in the player and his kid put the thing on, well, the wives quickly put an end to that trend.  The men vaguely remembered something about needing bells and candles and a Bible, but they couldn’t even claim any degree of expertise in the subject.

Eventually, Jerry broke the silence.  “So what, do we need to exercise her or something?”

“Dude, I think you mean exorcise,” Keith corrected, making good use of his one piece of knowledge on the topic.

“Yeah, whatever,” Jerry waved him off.  The man kept his attention focused on Bill.  “But really.  How do we get the demon out?”

Bill held up his hands in a forestalling gesture.  “Well, wait a minute!  See, at first I was thinking the same thing.  But now, I’m actually kind of not minding Sarah being possessed.”

Bill smiled for a moment as the eyes of both of his conversational companions widened.  As usual, Jerry managed to get his mouth open before Keith.  “Wait, what?  But there’s a demon in her, you’re saying!”

“Yeah… but the demon is trying really hard to pass itself off as a human!” Bill answered, grinning.

The blank looks on his companions showed that they didn’t understand.  “What’s that mean?”

Before he answered, Bill did something else with his grill, opening a small window to peek at the chicken breasts inside, and then closing it with a nod.  “Well, she’s doing the dishes, cleaning the house, buying groceries, taking care of all the chores – and trust me, she’s like an animal in the bedroom now!” he explained, a wide grin on his face.

Both of the other men nodded in customary, ritual jealousy.  “Dude,” they both chorused, although a note of concern tinged their voices.  This was a devil, after all.  Maybe.

“Hey!  It had been a while for us!” Bill defended, before anyone could attack him for possibly sleeping with a member of Hell.  “Sometimes a guy is just happy to be getting some, even if the woman might have a tiny little demon in her!”

The other two reconsidered, weighing the two sides.  Sleeping with a beast from Hell was bad, they knew, but on the other hand, they both knew the feeling of a cold bedroom far too well.  “Well, maybe,” Keith eventually gave in.

Jerry was a bit more focused on the conversation.  “So Bill, what are you going to do?”

Bill opened his mouth to answer, but then paused and shrugged.  “Oh, I don’t know.  I’ll take her to church on Sunday, maybe.  If she doesn’t start smoking in the service, well, maybe it’s for the best, you know?”

“S’pose so,” Keith agreed.  His mind, however, clearly was still a couple sentences behind.  “Crazy in the bedroom, you said?”

“Oh yeah,” Bill grinned, happy to be back on a topic where he could brag.  “I’ve got scratches all up and down my back.  And I think she’s even more eager than I am!  Makes me feel like a teenager again!  I’m thinking she might be one of those ‘suck-bus’ demons, or whatever.”

“Well, damn,” Keith said, unable to keep a note of jealousy out of his voice.  He held his mouth shut for a second, but eventually the thought on his mind couldn’t be contained any longer.  “Think your daughter could bring that book over to my place?”

Bill smiled, but pretended that he hadn’t heard this last question.  Instead, he opened up his grill, picking up a pair of tongs and experimentally lifting the chicken.  “Looks like the meat’s about done!  Who wants to eat first?”

Talk in the middle of the cul-de-sac returned back to more normal topics, such as who had the worst lawn, what new rules the homeowner’s association might try and enforce next, and whether this would be a good year for the local high school football team.  But secretly, not sharing their thoughts with the others, each man pondered Bill’s confession – and whether they could manage to get their hands on that cursed, Hellish book of his.

The Heavy Darkness

There’s a feeling, Elle considered to herself, that can come from darkness.

She clutched the slightly bent tire iron closer to herself as she tried to see further, blinking her eyes in a futile attempt to help her night vision.  All around her, the shadows grew deep and thick before congealing into a solid mass of impenetrable blankness.

Elle normally felt accustomed to darkness.  She was, after all, a creature of the half-dark, spending most of her waking hours prowling in the twilight.  It was always a delicate balancing act; she had to wait until the sun had sank down to kiss the horizon, to the point when most of the other bands of hunters would have already set up their camps and turned in for the night.

But Elle also knew that for each moment she waited, the sun grew a little dimmer, and her window shrank.  And if she waited too long, darkness would come sweeping over her like a crashing wave of surf.  That darkness brought its own terrors with it, far more ephemeral than the bands of hunters, but just as deadly.

Tonight, the darkness felt especially thick…

Up ahead, she spied the outline of a door, and Elle leapt forward.  The door was locked, of course, but she managed to dig the pointed end of the tire iron into the gap and wedge the door open enough for her slender frame to slip inside.

Out of habit, she hit the light switch, even though she knew the power had gone out years ago.  It was a habit, left over from those vague memories of when the switches had still worked, when humans had still held off the darkness.

She shone her headlamp around the room, taking in the disheveled appearance.  Someone had ransacked this little habitation already, but it looked like they’d just done a quick sweep.  There were always more treasures left behind, goodies that a little scavenger like Elle could use.

She was so focused on rummaging through the piles of disorganized goods that she didn’t see the darkness creeping in through the gap between the front door and the frame.

Behind Elle, tendrils of that curiously thick, heavy darkness crept in, sliding along the walls and ceiling.  They moved curiously, as though they were two-dimensional, only painted across the three dimensions of the room.  They slid over precariously balanced piles of junk without disturbing a single item.

Elle’s hands were deep in the pile, but she wrenched her whole body back with a cry of success as the dented but still sealed can came free.  The effort sent her tumbling backwards – and her cry died in her throat as she landed on her back and stared up at the tentacles rapidly combining on the room’s stained ceiling.

“What?” she gasped out, her voice sounding strangled.  She tried to aim her light up towards the ceiling, but although the darkness shrank back slightly, it didn’t peel and burn away under her light’s glare.

A scratching sound made Elle spin around, staring with wide eyes at the door.  Something was tugging at the door, trying to drag it further open.  Something out in the darkness.

“Is anyone there?” she half-whispered, trying to feel around for where she’d dropped her tire iron, her eyes locked on the door’s outline as it rapidly disappeared into that thick darkness.

“No,” came the whisper back, drifting in from a hundred dead, dusty mouths.

Elle’s head whipped around.  The words sounded as though they’d come from every direction at once – and as she tried to scramble back to her feet, tiny filaments slid out from the darkness that now painted every corner and wall of the room around her.

“No one’s here,” the darkness whispered softly.  The tire iron cut through a dozen threads with each swing, but a hundred took their place, moving in on the terrified girl.  “No one is here.”

As those threads wrapped around her limbs, leaching the life and light from her body, Elle tried to scream – but the darkness absorbed even that last cry.

“No one is here.”

And when the darkness in the room seemed to grow less oppressive, less heavy and dense, those words were true.

Book 37 of 52: "Mystery of the Blue Train" by Agatha Christie

More Agatha Christie!  Probably a quarter of all the books in my 52 Book Challenge for this year so far have been AC novels.  They’re just always so engaging, while still being a great way to unwind after a long day, sitting in bed with just a night light turned on.

Like many others, “Mystery of the Blue Train” is a Hercule Poirot mystery, although, as is often the case, the eponymous detective is not truly the main character.  Instead, the story revolves around Katherine Grey, a young but level-headed heroine who, upon coming into a large sum of money, sets off to see the world.  But scarcely is she away before she finds herself involved in murder!
Of course, there’s a whole host of suspects, including a husband set on divorce and on a downslide towards poverty, an American millionaire, a seductive French dancer, and an earnest secretary.  And, as always, I couldn’t guess the murderer by the end of the story.

One of these days, Agatha, I’ll have you figured out!

Until then, however, I’ll always enjoy another Christie novel.  The use of other characters as the main focus, instead of Poirot himself, is always refreshing.  Instead of being stuck inside the same man’s head for 43 different novels, we get different takes on the little egg-headed detective, seeing him through different lenses.

Time to read: 3 hours.  Pretty typical.

[The Kung War] The Diplomat at War, Part I

If he ignored the lurking sense of uselessness that sulked constantly at the back of his mind, Nils told himself, it was a great day.

To be fair, he wasn’t wrong.  The yellow sun overhead cast down its gentle warmth on civilized Ehftia, and a gentle breeze blew across the glassy walkways.  This close to one of the warm freshwater oceans, there was always a slight little hint of moisture and freshness in the air.  The thread-thin glassine supports that held up the walkways in suspension, high above the ground, vibrated tightly as the air blew through them.  Nils was slightly shy of his fortieth birthday, but he still appreciated the mildly reduced gravity of Ehftia.

It was, Nils reminded himself, the dream appointment of any diplomat.  He ought to be thrilled at this posting.

And yet, try as he might, he couldn’t shake that little sense of useless melancholy.

Reaching his building, Nils passed through the open doorway.  The Ehft, he’d found, were not big believers in the need for solid doors.  And really, why should they bother?  Here on their home world, there were no bugs to swat away, no hazardous weather to keep out.  The most that the Ehft ever received was a light shower of rain, and they cleverly angled and curved their buildings to blow that rain right past the entrances.

Of course, bathrooms had been a rather sore spot, Nils thought to himself with a little chuckle.  Xenobiology was back in fashion as a popular field of study, but many potential xenobiologists quickly changed their tune when they realized that one of the most pressing problems was designing a multi-species bathroom.

Here in his building, fortunately enough, Nils had managed to convince the Ehft that doors were necessary.  “A long-standing custom of our species that must be respected,” he recalled telling one of the meter-tall little birdlike aliens.

“Morning, Nils!  Anything new on the docket?”  Charlie, Nils’s second in command, greeted him cheerily as he entered the office.

Nils shook his head at the younger man behind the desk.  “Afraid not, Charlie.  No update from home.  Maintain diplomatic relations, don’t promise anything.”

Charlie’s grin spread a little wider, and the young man kicked back in his seat, propping his long, lanky legs up on the desk.  “Sounds good to me, boss.  Maybe I’ll cut out early, go try and convince the birds that surfing’s a worthwhile hobby.”

The young man was truly irrepressible.  Nils had watched Charlie attempt several times to convince the Ehft that riding a long, flattened spar of wood along the gentle breakers that swept into the bay of Apteryx was fun.

The Ehft, smartly enough, had watched politely, clucking their beaks softly in respectful acknowledgement, and then kept their distance.

Stepping into his office, Nils dropped down into the chair behind his own desk, running his eyes over the mostly empty surface in front of him.  His nameplate caught his eye, and he ran a finger over it to wipe off any nonexistent dust.

“Nils Ekstrom, Displomatic Science Policy Advisor to the Ehft,” he read off aloud, unable to keep a note of sarcasm from creeping into his voice.  “Sure, Tomlinson.  Whatever you say.”

He dropped the nameplate back down with another sigh.  He could still remember, almost three years ago now, when the general himself had showed up at his office to deliver the news of his “promotion.”

At the time, of course, Nils hadn’t even hesitated in accepting the offer.  Humanity’s fledgling little empire had just made contact with the Ehft, and the whole world was abuzz with energy and excitement.  The first alien species still to be alive when discovered!  And even better, the Ehft had similar interplanetary capabilities as the humans, and appeared friendly!

When General Tomlinson came to Nils with his offer, the whole world had been gripped with Ehft fever, if there was such a thing.  Plush toys of little Ehft filled the markets, and speculation of joint ventures filled all hours of television programming.  Just imagine, pundits cried out shrilly, what could be accomplished through the combination of Terran and Ehft technology!

Now, sitting in his empty office with nothing to do, Nils couldn’t help scoffing to himself.  “Fat lot of nothing came from that,” he grumbled to himself.

It was true, unfortunately enough.  Sure, the Ehft had figured out how to do some crazy tricks with magnets, and their spacefaring ships used a different drive propulsion system than Terran explorers, but there were no great leaps in knowledge to be drawn from these differences.  Indeed, the Ehft quickly recognized that the Terran ion-acceleration drive was a superior system to their own magnetic flux drives, and began adapting their own systems to mimic the Terran model.

The commerce angle, another highly touted area of speculation by the pundits a couple of years back, had also fizzled into nothing.  Ehftia turned out to be fairly poor in rare elements, and the Ehft technology didn’t show much advantage over Terran inventions.  The Ehft also simply weren’t big consumers; instead of striving to outdo each other with bigger and more expensive gadgets and toys, they preferred to spend their free time engaged in freewheeling discussions and philosophical ponderings.

So far, Nils thought blackly to himself, even the most conniving Terran entrepreneurs hadn’t figured out how to establish a big sales base among the Ehft.

Over the last twenty-four months or so, communication and travel between the Ehft and the Terrans had largely declined.  Only a couple of supply ships still bothered to take the long detour to Ehftia, and they mostly just carried a handful of tourist sightseers.  The Terran government now seemed to be focusing on expanding in towards the galaxy’s center, moving away from the Ehft so as to best avoid any territorial disputes.

Dragging himself out of his thoughts of history, Nils forced himself to look through the light handful of documents on his desk.  One of the Ehft kitchens wanted to try setting up a food import program, exchanging some of the bland but nutritious foodstuffs produced here for some classic Terran spices.  Nils tried unsuccessfully to muster up some sort of enthusiasm for the program, but he just couldn’t quite pull it off.

His roaming eyes fell on the only decoration he’d brought to his office – an old classic Terran pistol, hanging in a wall-mounted glass case.  Before he’d left the military service to take a position in the diplomatic corps, where he was less likely to be shot at, he’d been one of the best pistol shots, winning most of his unit’s competitions.

But there was no point in getting lost in misty-eyed recollection, Nils told himself with a shake of his head.  Aside from Charlie, he was the only human in the city, quite possibly the whole planet.  And while the Ehft were always polite enough, the little bird-like aliens didn’t really understand the idea of friendly competition.

Besides, he thought to himself, allowing himself a brief grin, the Ehft didn’t really possess the necessary evolutionary appendages for shooting.  They were very dexterous with their beaks and taloned toes, but they didn’t gravitate towards the tool use like humans.

Nils looked back down at the other documents for his appraisal, but the buzz of his holocomm, the Ehft version of a telephone, came to his rescue.  “Head Terran diplomat Nils Ekstrom,” he said as he hit the button to take the call.

“Yes, Diplomat Ekstrom,” replied the Ehft voice at the other end, managing quite passable Terran English.  Nils was glad he wouldn’t have to strain his voice with the squawking Ehft tongue.  “This is Khal, flight leader at the spaceport.  I have an incoming shuttle, from the Terran freighter *Spaceman from Pluto*, requesting to speak with you.”

Nils frowned.  He wasn’t expecting any messages, and didn’t recognize the ship’s name.  “Uh, sure.  Put them through.”

A pause for a moment.  “That is, you wish for me to connect you now?” Khal asked.  Clearly, the Ehft didn’t quite understand all the subtleties of English quite yet.

“Yeah, that’s what I meant.  Connect me.”

The Ehft made the little beak-click that signaled assent, and the line crackled with static for a moment.  After a few seconds, the static shifted.  “Hello?  Is this another person?” called out a female voice at the other end.

“This is Nils Ekstrom, the Diplomatic Science Policy Advisor to the Ehft – do you have a message-“ Nils started, but the voice cut him off before he could finish.

“Are you in charge?”  Nils couldn’t be sure, given the rather rough comm connection, but he thought the woman on the other end sounded off, like something was wrong.

“Erm.”  Nils had an unfortunate streak of honesty – not the best trait in a diplomat.  “I’m in charge, but only because there’s not really anyone else here.  Just me and Charlie.”

The woman at the other end of the connection let out what sounded like a huff of exasperation.  “Ugh, listen.  I’ve got secure information, something that I can’t send over a comm connection like this.  I’m headed down to the spaceport now – can you get here by the time I land?”

The spaceport wasn’t far.  Nils glanced once more at his meager pile of diplomatic duties, and then rolled his eyes.  Who would even report him for leaving his post?  Charlie certainly wouldn’t say anything.  “Yeah, I’ll be there when you touch down,” he promised.

“Great.  Get there now.”  The woman on the other end of the line hung up.

For a moment, Nils stared down at the little black box of the holocomm.  Had he grown too used to the overly polite Ehft?  Were all humans this uncouth, and he simply hadn’t noticed before?

After a second, however, he hauled himself up from his chair and headed out of the office, towards the spaceport across the gently waving glass bridges.  He sent one last glance at the displayed pistol in his office as he headed out, but he didn’t even consider taking it, removing it from its case.  What danger could he face here in the heart of the civilized Ehft homeworld, in their capitol city?

*****

Nils had anticipated that he would beat the descending shuttle to the spaceport by several minutes, but the shuttle was already touching down as he arrived.  From the look and sound of the ship, the pilot had been in a hell of a hurry, he considered.  The whole underside of the shuttle, coated in heat shielding, glowed a dull orange with excess heat, and the engines crackled and hissed as the exhaust vents cooled.  The pilot must have been redlining the thing the whole way down, Nils thought to himself.

He hurried towards the landing pad as the shuttle’s door opened.  A blonde-haired woman poked her head out, her expression set in a frown, which only deepened as she spotted Nils.

Not waiting for the shuttle’s little ramp to extend out, she hopped down to the ground and stalked towards Nils.  “Are you that diplomat from the comm?” she demanded, not waiting for any introduction.

No, Nils thought to himself, it couldn’t be that all humans were this rude, and he’d merely grown too accustomed to the polite Ehft.  This woman just happened to be especially impolite.  “Yes, Nils Ekstrom,” he greeted her, holding out his hand.  “And you are-“

“Sarah Walker, *Spaceman from Pluto* captain,” the woman replied, giving his hand a perfunctory shake, looking as though she was fulfilling a particularly distasteful favor.  “Listen, this is important.  Can you get a line open to Earth?”

Nils blinked.  “And what,” he asked, drawing on his diplomatic stiffness, “is this regarding?”

The woman, Sarah, just stared back at him flatly.  “We’re under attack,” she responded, glaring.

Again, the diplomat had to blink as he tried to wrap his head around these words.  “Excuse me?  Under attack?  Who?  From whom?”

Sarah shook her head, muttering something under her breath.  Nils didn’t quite catch the words, but he correctly ascertained their meaning.  “I don’t know,” she admitted tersely.  “But I just came from Idris, and someone there was transmitting an emergency SOS.”

Idris.  Nils knew the name.  It was a small agricultural planet, owned by the Ehft and in their territory, but recently opened up to human settlers for expansion.  Fairly remote from Ehftia, even more distant from Earth.  “And this SOS stated something about an attack, maybe a failure of some equipment?” he asked, hoping his tone would soothe Sarah.

It didn’t seem to be doing the trick.  “Not just an equipment failure.  An attack.  An alien attack.”

”It couldn’t have been some kind of miscommunication from the Ehft-“

“It was in English – from a Terran settler.  She witnessed it firsthand.  They got her husband.”  Sarah’s eyes flashed, daring him to challenge her again.

Nils paused again – but this time, his brain was racing.

His first thought was that this sounded like it was definitely above his pay grade.

His second thought, however, was that he didn’t really have much choice but to handle it.  He could escalate the information back to Earth, of course, but it would be days before he heard a response.  At the moment, he was the highest ranked human within several light-years.

“Okay,” he said, surprising himself with the calmness of his voice.  “Can you come back to my office and give a full report?”

Sarah nodded, reaching up and brushing a few strands of her blonde hair back behind an ear.  “Yeah, sure,” she said.  “It’s not like I’m losing money sitting on a shipment.  After getting that SOS, I figured I needed to haul ass back here and pass on the message.”

“Probably smartest,” Nils agreed, gesturing to the freighter captain.  “Let’s head up to my office, and I can get all the details.”

As he led the stressed-looking woman up to his building, Nils eyed her, trying to get a good assessment of her.  She looked to be in her early to mid thirties, perhaps, he guessed, although age was difficult to even calculate for freighter merchants.  A trim figure, suggesting she kept in shape on her long flights.  That spoke to inner strength, perhaps less likely to lie.

In any case, Nils pointed out to himself, what would be a reason to lie, especially with a lie so fantastic!  He tried to wrap his head around this almost unbelievable new piece of information, assuming for the moment that this was true.

Someone had launched an attack on Idris?  Some other alien race, not only previously unknown to humans and the Ehft, but hostile?

Nils didn’t usually let his brain wander off on flights of fancy.  Even in his office, with very little to consume his time, he did his best to keep his mind on current challenges.  He knew that daydreaming could quickly mire him in deep trouble.  Fantasies didn’t belong in his mind, his job, or his life.

Now, however, an idea that, only minutes before, he might have described as fantasy was suddenly becoming very real.  He didn’t know how trustworthy Sarah Walker might be, but surely she’d had the presence of mind to bring the transmitted logs from Idris.

He’d pass this on to his superiors, Nils decided, glancing sidelong at the woman’s resolute expression.  After that, this would be out of his hands.  He’d probably have to interface with the Ehft, of course, but surely the Terran United Worlds would send someone with better skills to handle this new issue.

Nils led Sarah into his building, but as he stepped inside, the diplomat couldn’t help glancing up at the sky, his expression concerned.  Nothing looked out of place among the soft, fluffy, thin clouds, but he didn’t feel comforted.

If Sarah Walker was right, something – something dangerous – was lurking up amid the stars.

Hidden – but perhaps not for much longer.

"Danni California" is now available as an ebook!

“The girl’s eyes widened – just as I pulled the trigger…”
It’s the end of the nineteenth century in a growing nation, and unrest is close at hand. Jasper might wear the high collar of a priest, but he’s a trained killer, highly paid to assassinate anyone troubling the shadowy Organization. He’s just received his latest target: a young female redhead robbing banks from Mississippi to Illinois. 
But as Jasper hunts his flame-haired mark, he finds himself growing closer to her. Danni is smart, sassy, and sensual—even when Jasper’s looking down the barrel of her Colt. 
As fate pulls the robber and the assassin closer together, they find comfort in each other’s arms. But can these two outlaws hope to stand together as the nation’s forces rally against them?

That’s right!  The story I’ve been telling on here for 25+ posts is now its own ebook, available for purchase on Amazon.com!  And it’s less than a dollar!
So, want to support your local, organic, GMO-free, whole grain blogger?  Pick up a copy by clicking the link above!

Writing Prompt: Who owns samurai swords?

Normally, I’d consider the curved samurai sword out of place.  Who expects to find an actual sword in an office building, even in a gigantic executive’s office like this?

At the moment, however, the sword looked like salvation – if I could only reach it.

Trying not to draw attention to myself, I flexed my arms, testing the ropes that bound me to the chair.  The coil looped around me several times, but I could feel it budge ever so slightly when I strained my muscles.

Maybe, just maybe, I had a chance.

“And now, Mr. Smith,” spoke up the man standing in front of me.  “What in the world are we going to do with you?”

He’d been turned away from me, staring out the massive floor-to-ceiling windows that made up the entire far wall.  Dressed in a suit as dark as midnight, he looked as though he belonged in this setting.  Only the dark, dangerous little glint in his shark-like eyes revealed that he was no corporate executive.

The man stepped over to stand in front of me, crouching down slightly in his elegant black suit.  He shook his head back and forth, spreading a sorrowful expression across his face.

That expression never quite managed to touch those flat black eyes, however.

“And it’s repeated offenses, too,” he sighed.  “Sneaking around our operation multiple times, taking pictures.  You’re going to have to tell me where you sent those, by the way.  This underhanded dealing – it’s just not how things should be done.”

I tried to stare back at the man, but my eyes must have flicked over towards the sword on the wall.  The man caught the look, and he stood up, stretching out his knee joints as he walked over to lift the blade off the wall.

“Not bad,” he commented with a note of approval, swinging the sword in a lazy circle.  “Of course, I doubt the man who owns this office has ever put it to use.  Probably just enjoys the delusion of imagining himself as an assassin.”

In a sudden movement, faster than I could blink, the man had the blade of the sword pressed up against my neck, its tip digging into my soft skin.  “Rather ironic, that is,” he continued, allowing himself a small smile.

I tried not to swallow, feeling that cold steel point digging into my skin.

“Now, once more, Mr. Smith,” the man repeated, moving in closer as he held the blade against my bare neck.  “The pictures.  We both know that you’re going to die tonight, but there are so many appendages I can remove before that finally happens.  Let’s be civilized, here.”

One of the burly, muscle-bound thugs standing at the doorway behind me sniggered.  I hadn’t seen them move since they’d dumped me in the chair, but I knew they’d stuck around.  “Civilized,” the man grunted to himself, apparently enjoying the joke.

I saw the shark eyes flick up, and I knew the thug had just made a mistake.  Again moving with that blurred, unbelievable speed, the man lunged past me, and I heard a sniggering cut off with a wet gurgle.

“Something funny?” the man in the suit hissed, some movement of his eliciting another gurgle.  “Come now, laugh!  A severed carotid, isn’t that hilarious?”

A moment later, I heard the thump of a heavy body dropping to the floor, and I knew that I was out of time.

The samurai sword appeared once more, this time draping across my shoulder from behind me.  I could see dark red blood staining the gleaming silver of the blade.  “Now, Mr. Smith,” the man in the suit hissed, his breath hot against the ear.  “I’m very quickly losing my patience.”

I nodded – and then threw my head back, putting as much force into the movement as I could manage.

The man almost dodged.

He pulled his head out of the way, at least, so my backwards headbutt didn’t smash in his nose and face as I intended.  That sword drew across my shoulder, leaving a burning line of fire.

But he couldn’t get all the way out of my path – and the back of my chair slammed into his shoulders, knocking him backwards onto the ground.

And a moment later, I fell on top of him.

The chair cracked from the blow against the floor, and I felt sudden slackness in the bonds around me.  I tugged my arms free and struggled to free myself, even as the man trapped beneath me howled and furiously clawed at me to get free.

He managed to pull out from beneath me, but I had both arms and one of my legs disentangled from the broken chair.  The man rolled in a somersault and burst to his feet, his teeth bared in a twisted grimace, but I kicked myself free as he turned to face me.

The sword was still clutched in the man’s hand, and he spun it in a silver flurry of metal.  “Come here, Mr. Smith,” he hissed, death leaping through the air in front of him.

I turned tail and ran, past the corpse of the thug behind me and his shocked companion.  My foot caught at the raised mantel of the office’s entrance, but I caught at the door, keeping myself from falling and throwing it shut behind me as I fled.

A split second later, with a sound like an axe striking a tree, the samurai sword pierced through the door.  I stared back at the solid foot and a half of quivering steel poking through my side of the office door.  The blade’s point terminated less than an inch from my wide eye.

And then, after that brief instant of paralyzing fear, my body recovered, and I hurtled myself away, back down the empty office building towards the ground floor and escape.

Back up in the office, the man stepped forward and, with a slight grunt, wrenched the sword free of where his throw had embedded it in the door to the office.  The remaining grunt watched him, trying to evaluate his own chances of surviving the next five minutes.

Those chances looked slimmer by the second.

“What now, sir?” he ventured.

The man in the suit sighed, brushing one hand over the fine fabric to remove a few specks of dust.  Even when he’d slit the throat of the first thug, he’d avoided getting a single drop of blood on his clothes.

With practice came experience, he supposed.

“Now?” he repeated back.  “Now, we wait for Mr. Smith to return home – and then we follow the tracker in his pocket to him.  It’s a bit like mice.  Do you know how to kill a nest of mice?”

The thug shook his head, wondering where this was leading.

The man in the suit grinned.  “The best way, in my experience, is to strap a small explosive to one of the mice – and then let it go,” he said.  “The mouse will retreat back to its nest, where the explosive will kill not only itself, but also its brethren.  Quite an elegant solution.”

“So that Mr. Smith is the mouse,” the thug guessed, trying to follow the metaphor.

“Yes,” the man in the suit confirmed.  He stepped over to behind the desk and bent down.  When he stood up, a gray brick sat in his hand, with a small electronic attachment embedded in it.

He stepped over and handed the brick to the thug.  “And you,” the man concluded, grinning, “are the explosive.”

Book 36 of 52: "Redshirts: A Novel with 3 Codas" by John Scalzi

Shocking geek confession: I’ve never seen Star Trek.

However, even though I haven’t ever watched a single full episode of the show that this book parodies, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the fast-paced and wicked humor that runs rampant in this novel.  If you’ve ever watched an action movie and felt like the hero must have somehow acquired a suit of invulnerable plot armor, well, this is the book for you!

Be warned, however: there’s going to be some very meta themes.
I flew through this book, and the story felt very fast-paced – so fast paced, in fact, that I found myself finishing the story, reaching the end, with a good sixty or seventy pages left in the book.  What in the world?  Is this just an under-200-page story with a lot of padding?

No, as it turns out.  This is a story within a story, and then there’s another story wrapped around that one.  The characters of the first story are just that – characters – in the second story, and the third story is even more disconnected from those, another step out.

Like I said, meta.

Still, despite the unexpected shortness of the main story, I really enjoyed this parody, and I’d happily pick it up again.  It looks like John Scalzi has a lot of books out, so I will probably be reading more by this man – he can write!

Time to read: 3 hours.  Literally burned the whole thing in a single afternoon.

[The Kung War] First Contact

Frisson (n): a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill

Michael Frederick paused as he strolled along the road, his nose wrinkling slightly.  Something smelled off, he thought to himself.  He took a deep breath of air, and frowned as the word “acrid” wandered through his mind.

For a moment, he glanced down at the muddy road beneath his feet.  “Road” was an optimistic term for it, he thought to himself with a touch of wryness.  The dirt track leading back to his little town of Deven Ride was splashed with puddles and ruts from farmer’s wagons, adding to the already thick layer of dirt coating his boots.

All around him, the scene was quiet, pastoral.  The rolling hills of Idris around him undulated gently, the nearly four foot high crops swaying back and forth in the soft breeze.  If Mike ignored the second moon glowing faintly even in the brightness of the early afternoon sky, he could pretend that he still stood back in the fields of his childhood home in Iowa.

His farmer’s eyes instinctively scanned the horizon.  There!  Up ahead of him, a thin plume of smoke rose up above the crops.  The wind carried the hint of smoky ash towards him.

“Damn,” Mike cursed, quickening his pace slightly.  Deven Ride, the little village that he and Kate called home lay in that direction.  His boots splashed in the shallow puddles as he stomped along, fighting the sucking mud.

Could something have caught fire?  Usually the Ehftians were pretty good at getting any accidental fires put out pretty quickly.  A necessary skill, considering that they still built most structures out of wood.  On Idris, the trees grew quickly, and their small community needed far more material than they could fabricate with the tech they’d brought over.

At first, Mike had balked at the idea of settling on this new world.  “I’m not a settler,” he had protested, standing over the kitchen table in their cramped little apartment. “And you know how aliens make me uncomfortable.”

“But you are a farmer,” Kate had replied serenely, looking as calm and composed as she sat at the table as Mike had ever seen her.  “And I know you’re miserable here, in the city.  You miss gazing out at fields of crops.”

Mike shook his head, but they both knew that Kate was correct.  Even now, in the midst of this debate, he felt a surge of affection towards his wife.  She was the best thing to happen to him, and he still sometimes couldn’t believe that, when she took his diner order all those years ago, he’d managed to summon up the courage to ask for her number.

A farmer and a waitress, he had thought to himself, shaking his head ruefully as he settled down at the kitchen table across from his wife.  Two of the most unlikely choices for interplanetary settlers that anyone could pick.

“Okay,” he finally gave in, after a long sigh.  “Tell me about this crazy plan of yours.”

And Kate told him.

The planet was twenty-seven light years away, discovered several centuries ago and given the name Idris, after the prophet.  Humanity knew it was habitable, but Idris’s borders only recently opened up for immigration.  “The Ehft technically control the planet, but they’re opening it up to us as a sign of goodwill,” his wife read from the pamphlet she’d brought home.  “It’s a little milder climate than Earth, slightly higher gravity.  And it’s got great soil, a lot like our own planet.”

There had been more debate, of course, but Mike and Kate both already knew the final outcome.  Kate had made up her mind, and although a strong man in many respects, Mike was perenially powerless to argue against her.

Now, four years later, he looked back on that decision as one of the best in his life.

Sure, settling on Idris hadn’t been easy.  The Ehft, stocky meter-tall feathery creatures that reminded Mike of old drawings of Kiwi birds, proved to be friendly enough.  Their beaks gave their speech a curious clipped accent, but they quickly mastered Galactic English, and Mike even picked up some phrases in their curious squawking tongue.  He sometimes felt like a giant when he passed through a crowd of the short little aliens, but they were always polite and cordial in their greetings.

Mike reflected on the strange little aliens for a moment.  They weren’t what the farmer would call “his people,” that much was certain.  But they were agreeable, in their own little way.  They always inquired about Kate, and now asked about little Ethan’s health as well.  Mike always smiled when he replied.  In some way, the little birdlike Ehft reminded him of his own child.

After some thought, he and his wife chose a plot of land on the northern continent, inland but near a river.  The climate proved as mild as promised, and although fluctuating rain levels sometimes made him worry about their crops, the river’s irrigation proved a blessing.  His house sat in the little village of Deven Ride, a larger mother bird surrounded by the smaller Ehftian dome-shaped huts.

That little village was just over the next hill.  Still eyeing that plume of smoke with concern, Mike picked up his pace, cutting through the nearest field and climbing up until he could see over the waving crops.

As he crested the hill, he stopped, staring.

The village hadn’t been laid out in any real order.  The Ehft tended to add more homes as their population grew, spreading out in all directions without any true pattern.  But they had made sure to leave a central green, where the Ehft youngsters flapped and bounced off each other.  Mike and Kate imagined that Ethan would soon be running about as well, once he grew steadier on his chubby feet.  Normally, the village reminded Mike of a cluster of mushrooms.

But now, those mushrooms were smoldering and scattered.  Something must have happened, Mike thought blankly to himself as he stared down, trying to make sense of the chaos in front of him.  A meteor strike of some sort, perhaps?

Several of the Ehftian domes looked flattened, completely demolished.  Others looked shattered, burnt and blackened.  Several of the round homes still burned, sending up that plume of smoke.

Where were the Ehft? Mike thought wildly, taking another step down the hill towards the village.  Surely, they would be hurrying to extinguish those fires!

But his eyes fell on an object in the middle of the village and he stopped, staring.

A large, bulbous shape sat in the middle of the destruction, its oval shape distorted by strange blobby growths.  Several short rods protruded from some of those blisters, and with a thrill of terror, Mike realized that he was looking at some sort of armed spaceship.

The ship didn’t look like any he’d seen, either Ehftian or Terran.  But who else could it be?

Movement suddenly caught Mike’s eye.  There!  An Ehft came scurrying out of the wreckage of one of the huts, sprinting across the charred ground.

Mike started to call out, but as his mouth opened, some thrown object shot out from between the huts, and the Ehft stumbled and collapsed with a cry.  As Mike stared in confusion and horror, a new creature emerged from behind one of the huts, advancing on the injured little birdlike alien.

This new creature stood on two legs, like Mike, with a bipedal body, but that was where the similarities ended.  Instead of two arms, it had four, and it looked almost unnaturally thin.  In one of its four arms, it brandished a nasty-looking knife, which it kept pointed at the whimpering Ehft.

Invaders!  Mike’s mind still reeled, but he crouched back, down amid the cover of the plants around him.  The Ehft whimpered again, prompting the attacker to deliver a savage kick.  It made some sort of noise, a harsh scraping sound like nails on a chalkboard, and then raised the long knife in its hands.  Standing over the injured Ehft, it lifted the blade high.

Mike tore his eyes away, but he still heard the crunch and the organic sound that followed.

It still didn’t make sense!  Some sort of unknown alien race, attacking out of the blue?  And why pick their little farming community on Idris?  There was no military presence here, no valuable strategic base.

Confusion weighed heavily on Mike’s mind – but beneath it, he felt a rising tide of burning, furious anger.  The little bird couldn’t have meant any harm!  And this alien had butchered it without a thought!

He heard another squawk, and dragged his attention back down at the ruins of the village.  The six-limbed alien had advanced on one of the still-standing huts, knocking down the door.  Another Ehft scurried outside, clearly cringing away from the weapon in the attacker’s hands.

More movement danced around this Ehft’s legs, and Mike’s blood suddenly turned to ice in his veins as he squinted.  There were chicks, little Ehft youngsters, clinging to their mother’s legs!

It didn’t seem to make a difference to the attacker.  The sword’s blade flashed again, and the Ehft collapsed.  The chicks squealed in alarm and fear, trying to cluster up against their fallen parent.  The alien just grunted, bringing its blade up again for another slaughtering strike.

The boiling anger overflowed.  Without thought, Mike was on his feet, charging forward.  Aliens or not, the little chicks were helpless!  And this attacker was going to slaughter them?  Never!

The six-limbed alien glanced up at the sound of his pounding footsteps, but Mike was moving too quickly for the alien to react.  It tried to bring the blade around, but Mike tackled it, his weight bringing them both to the ground.

Those four limbs scrabbled at Mike, but his vision was edged with red, and he barely felt as slashes cut through his clothes.  He slammed an elbow down, grinning with bitter, humorless satisfaction as something crunched beneath the blow.

His questing hand closed on something hard, something of cool metal.  The blade slid into his hand awkwardly, but he brought it around, slamming it over and over into the creature beneath him until its spasms ceased.

Mike rose up uncertainly to his feet.  The Ehft youngsters had scattered, probably out into the fields.  He stared around at the burning village, suddenly feeling overwhelmed.  He glanced down at the six-limbed alien at his feet, but the creature sprawled, clearly dead.  No creature, human or alien, could survive with its chest shattered like that.

His thoughts felt like sludge, mired and lost in fog.  The blade, still clutched in his hand, felt heavy and useless.

He stood in a waking nightmare.  All around him, little Ehft lay in motionless piles of feathers, while their homes and structures burned.

And then, piercing down to his very soul, he heard the scream.

This wasn’t the squawking cry of an Ehft.  This scream was uniquely human, the shriek of a woman in mortal danger.

Kate.

His heart stopped, and all conscious thought ceased inside the Terran’s mind.

*

The two Kung cautiously entered the house.  This building seemed larger than the little huts surrounding it.  They didn’t anticipate trouble, but both clutched their scimitari in their more powerful upper hands.

Outside, their companions were probably cutting down the last of the little bird-creatures that populated this planet.  There was little honor in killing such weak and worthless opponents, but their duty was to exterminate.  And perhaps, this Kung considered hopefully, this larger building would contain a chieftain of some sort, whose death would bring them more honor.

There!  One of the Kung caught a hint of motion, and leapt forward.  His kick shattered the closed door, and the sentient on the other side let out a loud cry and shrank back.

No bird-creature, this!  Larger, the Kung observed, nearly as tall as he stood.  But flabby, with none of his deadly thinness.  Only two arms, not four.  Pale skin, clutching what looked like a smaller version of itself to its chest.  The smaller, perhaps a juvenile, stared at the Kung with large, watery eyes.

The creature let out another scream, trying to back away from the Kung.  No fighter, this one.  Not worth much honor.  But the Kung were here to purge these lesser sentients.  He raised his scimitari and advanced.

From behind, the Kung heard a pounding sound, drawing closer.  Something approaching?  His companion turned, brandishing the knife and watching the door.

Something burst in, slamming into the Kung nearer to the door with a roar of deep-throated rage.  It yelled something, but even if the Kung could have understood the language, the words blended together into a cry of raw, unhinged emotion.

“I’ll kill you I’ll kill youkillyoukillyoukillkillkill you I’ll kill you kill you I’ll kill you-“

It was another one of these flabby two-armed alien creatures!  Larger and more muscular than the cowering specimen – a male, perhaps?  But even as the Kung drew this connection, his fellow slumped back, as the screaming alien slammed a scimitari over and over into his fellow Kung’s carapace.

Grinning, the Kung turned towards this new threat, hefting his own scimitari.  This, now, this was a fight that promised honor!  He squared off, one blade forward to defend, the other drawn back and poised to strike.

This screaming, raging alien didn’t bother with any form, however.  He threw himself forward, still bellowing at the Kung.

“You hurt her I’ll kill you kill you kill kill killyoukillyou I’ll kill-“

Its first strike was sloppy, wild.  The Kung parried the attack and brought his own blade around to counter, slicing open a line along the alien’s flabby arm.

But then the Kung made his first mistake.

Another Kung, after failing on the attack, would have pulled back and recalculated, planning its second assault.  But this screaming, shouting alien didn’t pause.  Even as strangely red blood erupted from its arm, it slammed the injured limb forward, knocking the Kung off balance from sheer fury.  Its leg swept forward as well, smashing against the Kung’s own leg and upsetting his battle stance.  They both toppled backward.

On the ground, the Kung kicked back wildly against this alien on top of him.  It never entered the Kung’s mind that he might be losing this fight.  He was trained to win, to always seek victory.

Another hit scored, this time along the alien’s ribcage!  The Kung felt his knife sink in deeply, and knew that he’d won.  Victory, as he’d been trained to seek!

Yet still the alien flailed at him.  It howled in pain, but still didn’t retreat.  Did this creature not know reason?  Was it some sort of berserker?

That wondering thought was the second-last thing to pass through the Kung’s mind.

The last thing was the blade of the alien’s scimitari, stolen from his fallen companion, piercing his skull and turning the Kung’s brains to pulp.

*

The six-limbed creature slumped back, still twitching, and Mike found himself thinking again.

He stared down at the thing, below him.  His final, desperate attack, guided by unthinking rage, literally nailed the creature to the floor of the farmhouse.  His hands dripped blue gore, coated up to the elbow.

Mike raised his eyes to Kate, who still clutched little Ethan to his chest.  “Are you-“ he began, unable to even finish the sentence.

She nodded, shaking off her paralysis and rushing forward to him.  “You’re hurt, Mike!  We have to-“

He waved her off, even as the pain hit him and he doubled over, clutching at his side.  “No!” he rasped, covering the wound in his stomach, unwilling to let her see.  “You have to get Ethan out of here.  Get to safety – tell someone about this-“

“I can’t!”  Now she was sobbing as well, her hands grabbing at him, sounding almost hysterical.  “What about you-“

His teeth gritted as he fought the pain, Mike pulled himself back up to his feet.  “There could be more of these things out there,” he said, picking up the dead monster’s knife with his good hand.  “You go.  I’ll hold them off.”

Kate shook her head, but Mike leaned up against her, kissing her softly, almost tenderly, on the cheek.  “Please,” he begged her, his voice a hoarse whisper.  “I can’t – I need for you to be safe.  I need it, more than anything.”

Now, Kate was weeping as well, their tears mingling together as she embraced him.  “Oh, Mike,” she sobbed, holding him for what they both knew would be the last time.  “Mike, I love you.”

“I love you too,” Mike whispered back, meaning the words with all his heart.

After a moment, however, another spasm of pain hit his body, and he straightened back up.  “Now, go!  Away from the ship, and don’t look back.  Head for Caemlyn, over the hill – they’ll have a radio.  Keep Ethan safe.”

Kate nodded, and although her eyes shone with still more tears, she managed to straighten up, showing off the iron spine she possessed.  Mike saw that iron, knew it for the surge of love it summoned up within him.  He watched as the love of his life picked up their son, who still stared, too young to understand, and headed out the back door of their farmhouse.

As she left, Mike staggered back to the front door.  Still clutching the stolen knife from his dead foe, he stared up at the bulbous, ugly ship that stood in the middle of the destroyed village.

“Fuck you,” he growled under his breath, as he started forward.  Once again, the redness crept into the corners of his vision, letting him ignore the burning pain.

*

“Odd.”

The Kung commander narrowed his eyes as he turned to the subordinate officer who’d dared to speak aloud.  “What is it, navigator?” he growled, considering executing the impertinent officer right there for daring to speak without addressing him by his proper title.

The juvenile officer, perhaps not realizing his error, gestured down at the screen below him.  “One of our shuttles, victor.  It’s coming back up – but we received no signal before its launch.”

Now, at least, the officer used the proper term of respect.  The commander leaned over the display panel, watching as the little dot representing the landing craft rose up from the planet’s surface.  “It’s moving quite fast,” he observed.

“Yes, victor.  In fact, it should be visible on the main screen in a moment.”

They both raised their eyes up to the main display, higher than the other screens.  Sure enough, there was the flare of the approaching shuttle.  Its flight path seemed very erratic, and the engines looked out of sync, but it was definitely headed towards them – and accelerating.  Whoever sat behind the ship’s controls clearly hadn’t piloted a vessel like this before, but the ship still advanced – rapidly.

“It’s not diverting its course towards the docking bay, victor,” the navigation officer commented unnecessarily.  Everyone on the ship’s deck could see that, whatever the shuttle was doing, it wasn’t changing course.

The commander sprang into action as the shuttle continued to grow larger.  “Open a line of communication to its comm!” he demanded, waving a hand at the communications officer.

That Kung was already flying his fingers over his keyboard.  “Shuttle 23, this is the main ship,” he called into the microphone.  “To avoid a collision, cut speed and shift heading to-“

The growled, half-garbled response that came back over the channel made no sense to the Kung.  Their ship’s computers could perhaps have created some sort of translation, given enough time, but time was one advantage that they no longer possessed.

For just a moment, before the shuttle slammed into the side of the warship at full power and underwent cataclysmic meltdown of its main drive core, the Kung commander frowned at the nonsensical sounds from the shuttle.

“Fuck you!”

#

*Author’s note: Yes, this will (probably) be a series!  I really want the chance to try and develop some good characters.  Personally, it’s that defiant middle finger, fighting back against impossible odds because it’s the honorable thing to do, that gives me a sense of frisson, that chill running down my spine.  That’s what I want to capture here.