All posts for the month November, 2015

The sheet had once been white, but the dismantled weapons that took up space on the fabric had long since stained it. This wasn’t the first time the sheet had been used for this purpose. On one side of the table, Duggan hunched over the frame of his machinegun. He had the grip section in one tattooed hand and was using a stiff-bristled toothbrush to scrub at the interior, clearing fouling from where it had built up in the trigger assembly. There was a little bit of carbon there, but mostly it was the omnipresent yellow dust.

“This all you’ve got?” Lissa called from the kitchen.

“Is what all I’ve got?” he asked. He picked up a slim pick and slid it in behind the hammer, flicking away a tiny bit of burned oil.

“There’s a bottle of Smitty’s in the refrigerator. Cheap wine? That’s it?”

He blew across the springs, examining them under the brilliant light streaming from the directed overhead lamp.

“Look in the cabinet over the sink.”

From the kitchen came a rumbling and shuffling noise, followed by a delighted yelp. “Been holding out on me, have ya?”

“Always do, fam. Always do. If I told you everything there wouldn’t be any surprises.”

Lissa appeared around the corner carrying a dark brown earthenware jug and two mugs. The cork popped free from the jug and she tipped it up, letting a pale amber liquid flow into one of the mugs. “You got a full jug of Buck’s Best? How much did this run you?”

“Two squirrels and a rabbit.”

She stopped mid pour. When he looked up from the bolt group in his hand, she was staring wide-eyed at him. He looked back at her with a flat expression.


“You… Damn it, Duggan, you’re trading corpses for liquor?”

“Of course not,” he said with a gentle smile. Her shoulder slumped and she licked at her lips.

“Had me going,” she confessed, beginning to pour the second mug.

“It was just the pelts and teeth.”

He reached out for a bottle of solvent, dripping three drops onto his cleaning brush and setting aside the bottle before looking up at her again.

“What? Nobody wants toothie meat.”

“Tell me you’re kidding, D.”

“Should I be?”

“You’d damned well better!”

He shrugged and returned to his cleaning task. After a moment, his shoulders began to rock a little and soon he could not hold in the laughter. It echoed in the house and he set aside the bolt, pushing back from the table and standing before grabbing his mug from the mongoose. He took a deep swig of the fiery liquor as she looked up at him. Her eyes were wide again, but this time, her overall expression was that of disbelief. She reached out and jerked his mug back out of his hand and tipped the contents into her own mouth.

“Hey, that’s mine!”

“Serves you right,” she said in a huff of whiskey-scented breath. “I was beginning to worry.”

“Give me some fucking credit, Lissa. Body sharking for whiskey?” He shook his head in mock sadness as he sat back down.

“If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t think twice. But, damn, I’ve seen you pull some twisted shit.”

“I’d never do that. I mean, not for alcohol. I might trade them for –”

“Stop!” she yelled, punching him in the arm before he could finish the sentence. It was marginally akin to slamming her fist into a wall, and had she not had so much time to practice the maneuver she might well have injured herself. Working with Duggan for as long as she had, this was definitely not the first time she had smacked him.

He tilted back his head and roared with laughter.

“Why does anyone think you’re funny?” she asked, hopping onto the chair opposite his own. She filled his mug again and pushed it his way before swiping one of his cleaning rods. By the time he had calmed enough to answer, she had a solvent-soaked rag down the barrel of her rifle.

“What do you mean, why? It’s ’cause I am funny!” he told her.

She looked at him, holding a neutral expression. “You know what’s funny about you, Duggan?” she asked. There was a sharp hint of challenge in her tone. He looked in her eyes for a moment and then back down at the bolt he held.

“What is?” he asked. His voice was uncharacteristically soft.

Lissa let the moment stretch until it was on the verge of becoming uncomfortable. Waiting until the big turtle raised his armored head to look at her with a mix of suspicion and dread, she grinned in a dazzling display of sharp white teeth and spoke.

“Your mom.”

The room echoed with the shared laughter of the two partners. They reveled in the old joke and even after their laughing died out, the occasional snicker could be heard.

Duggan lifted the mug to his mouth and took a hefty swallow of his whiskey, years of experience allowing him to do so without even wetting the unlit cigar that nestled in the corner of his mouth. Setting the mug aside, he grabbed for the tiny bottle of lubricant that stood in the center of the table. He tapped the tip in a precise series of movements, each transferring a drop of a thin grey solution onto different parts of his weapon that were wear-prone. He ran a short line here and a trio of drops there, a ritual he had practiced so many times he could quite literally do it in the dark.

“So… You gonna stay here?” Lissa asked in a quiet, tentative voice.

“I can come home with you if you want, Lis’,” he said, lips peeling back in a grin. “Didn’t know you felt that way.”

“In your dreams, shell-boy. You know damn well what I mean.”

“Got a month to figure it out, yeah? Before we gotta get the papers in, I mean?”

She snatched up the lubricant and dripped it onto the exposed action of her rifle. Using the tip of a finger to smear it around on the metal, she concentrated on the task just enough to make it clear to Duggan that she was holding back.

“You made up your mind already, didn’t you?” he asked. “Staying.”

“Think so, yeah.”

“Think the toothies will keep coming?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“That’s what I thought, too. Signed my re-up this morning. Fucking hot on this bitch, but there’s a shitload of killing to do.”

She nodded, snapping a retaining pin into place. Her hesitance was a thing of the past. “We go somewhere else, there’s no telling what’s gonna happen, right?”

“Probably wind up in some piece of shit garrison, waiting for someone to jump at shadows.”

“Building security for corp-types who think they’re important.”

He shook his head. “Nope. I’d sooner get fucked by President What’s-his-name.”

“I’ll sell tickets to that one.”

He snapped closed the cover atop his weapon and worked the charging handle several times to ensure that it moved smoothly. Standing from the table, he stood the machinegun in the corner. Beside it was a 200-round canister of linked ammunition.

“So what’s for dinner?” he asked.

“How should I know, dumbass? It’s your house.”

“You wanna eat my cooking? I mean, if you feel up to it…”

“Nope,” she replied, head popping up and swiveling back and forth in an exaggerated negative motion. “Nope nope nope.”

“The Strip?” he asked, hooking a thumb over a shoulder in the general direction of the ramshackle buildings that had cropped up as businesses since the colony had been established. More than one had put together some form of restaurant.

She nodded as her rifle clicked together. She ran it through a quick series of checks to ensure it was working properly. When she was satisfied, she stood it up next to his machinegun. They made a great pair: One sleek, trim, and fast and the other heavy and brutal. She chuckled to herself as the similarity sank home.











The arrival at the mall was unexpected, and the method by which it arrived doubly so.

Lines stretched from the doors back along the sidewalks and into the parking lot itself, people so anxious for the doors to open that many of them had slept there the night before. A constant stream of conversation created a susurration that rivaled the sound of the cars that rolled continuously up and down the parking lanes, hoping against hope for a space — any space — to open up for them. Inside each door, a pair of security officers waited. They had keys inserted into the locks, and when the announcement was made over the mall public address system, they would open the doors and the flood of people would begin.

“What the hell is that?” one woman called out. Those who looked her way saw her standing, her hand pointed into the sky. Several other people at different sections around the mall saw what she did, and in seconds thousands of faces were tilted skyward.

Above them, trailing sparks and fire in a dramatic lightshow, something glowing was descending in a rapid arc. Ahead of the fiery display it seemed to be roiling ball of colors, never holding the same hue for longer than a second. It came closer by the second, and the spectators could hear a sharp whistling sound, so fast was its descent.

A ragged cheer began and was soon taken up by the throat of everyone present as they began to use cell phones to record what they knew had to be a publicity stunt of some kind. A skydiver, perhaps, with a pyrotechnic device to attract attention. It took half a minute for it to sink in to those present that whatever this was, it was not stopping or even slowing its approach. Suddenly, the first of the screams rang out. It was not the last.

Slamming into the roof of the mall with a sound like thunder, the glowing ball punched through the ceiling and blasted a sixty foot wide crater into the food court. Everything near was blasted away. Glass shattered. Tables and chairs flew through the air as if no more solid than feathers on the wave of force. In their individual shops, the employees began to scream. Those not injured shouted in confusion. No one had the slightest clue what had happened. Concerned faces peered out from within their stores, trying in vain to make out whatever had crashed.

In the center of the crater stood a humanoid shape. Its image flickered in and out of view as it shifted through every color in the spectrum, including those that no human could see. It took a tentative step, and then another. Feeling the rubble crunch beneath its feet seemed to embolden it, and it soon marched out to the edge of the crater and then climbed out.

Whatever the thing was walked past shattered storefronts and down the debris-strewn corridor in the center of the mall, ignoring the terrified and curious eyes that looked out at it as it passed. Ahead of it, four security guards rounded corners at a dead run, their shoes skidding and squeaking on the floor as they fixed their gazes on the intruder.

“What the hell?” one of them shouted. He reached for the cell phone on his hip.

“Are you some kind of cape?” called a second. He was kneeling on the floor, freeing a small pistol from around his ankle. It was a blatant violation of mall regulations, but he figured he might well die here without it, and their regulations had been merely a formality he danced around in case of this type of event.

The words flowed from it, inaudible at first and then simply incomprehensible. It appeared to be cycling through dozens of different languages and dialects.

“Do you understand?” it said at last. The words were melodic and in a beautiful tone.

“Yes!” the officer responded. “We understand!”

The creature had already moved on to a new language, but it backed up and when it repeated the question, three of them responded in the affirmative. The fourth was on his cell phone, notifying the police of the new arrival.

“A threat comes to your world,” the thing said. “You have defenders, yes.”

It was curiously worded, a statement instead of a question, but the officers did indeed understand what it had just said.

“The police can contact AEGIS,” one of them said. “They’re capes. I mean, defenders.”

“Bring them to me,” the creature ordered.

“Who are you?”

The head of the creature turned to survey a sign that stood propped against the open doorway into a clothing store filled with brightly-colored dresses. A darkness seemed to begin at the feet of the thing, and spread up its body like ink poured into water. Within seconds it was a glossy ebony in color. Its humanoid shape was heavily muscled but sleek, and when it turned back to the security officers, pools of white light made up what should have been eyes in an otherwise jet-black figure. It hefted the sign that advertised the sale.

“I am Black Friday,” it announced.

So I’ve been asked to take a look at things that are blessings in my life and take note of them. This is an interesting thing for me, as I’m not one who generally sees the bright spots. I’m more the, “Hey, look. This is broken,” kind of person.

But y’all know me: I’ll do anything to be liked (Thanks to Richard Harding for that one – if you haven’t read ‘The Outrider’ series, shame on you, and NO you can’t borrow my copies). To that end, I’ll take a look at a few things, and see what I can make of them. I might even make bullet points and stuff to make it more visually pleasing! Whee!


  • I’ll start with the one that should be the most obvious, and yet is frequently not mentioned — certainly not to the extent she deserves. Back in September of 2012, I made contact with a lady for the first time. We began to talk back and forth and things progressed from there. Last October, she married me. I joke and tell her all the time that this is a point against her overall sanity, but she’s brought out a lot of me that I thought was dead. It’s entirely because of her that I am writing again. It’s because of her that I bother to even get out of bed some days (or staying in on others, but hey, that’s between us). Thanks for everything, Kae. I love you.
  • An extension of the above, but a blessing in her own right: my daughter. Yes, by definition, she’s my stepdaughter, but I don’t see her that way, so semantics can go suck it. She teaches me new lessons in life on a frequent basis. I’ve learned from her as much as she has from me. Oh, and, she’s a million times cooler than anybody else’s kid. So there. Hi, D! Look! You got your own bullet point! Yay!
  • Mentioned above, but here ya go: Writing. I know, right? Seems weird to mention, but a few years ago my desire to put words on paper had vanished. Lost in a mix of grief and anger, and expected never to return. Still today, it’s kind of a bitch to find the right words to drop on track, but at least now I want to do it again. Even when I’m sitting here at the screen, struggling to assemble the ideas that flash through my brain into some semblance of coherence, and there’s that part of me that is telling me to just walk away, I have another part reminding me how much fun it can be to tell that story.
  • Support structure: I’ve got friends and family that have been there for me, even when I know they’re thinking, “Damn, he’s being a dick today.” There are so many of them that listing them individually would make this look like a phonebook more than anything readable. Y’all know who you are.
  • Materially, I’m blessed to have a home and food and all the things that make life easier and smoother on a daily basis. It can be so easy to take these things for granted and forget that there are people the world over who would consider the simplest of them to be Manna from Heaven. Seriously! Obviously there are people in poverty stricken areas (even here, in our ‘enlightened’ nation) who would consider themselves fortunate to have them, but… Imagine some dude in the 1400’s digging on electric lighting, central heat and air, purified water, refrigerators and microwave ovens! “Check this shit out, homes! It’s called Velcro. You’re gonna love it!”
  • I am blessed to have family. A series of close calls over the past few years have threatened some of that, and the fact that we’re still running and gunning is a wonderful thing. In that vein, I would like to thank modern medicine, and those who practice it.
  • I’m sitting here with a device on my lap that when I was a kid was the topic of science fiction. A computer that ‘back in the day’ would have taken up a warehouse fits on my lap. Take a minute to think about that one. This laptop, back then, would have made NASA cream. Look down at that cell phone you carry and realize that tech has advanced so fast and so far in the past fifty years or so (it’s because of the reverse engineering of alien technology, of course). I was present for the emergence of the personal computer, the cell phone, the video game (PONG still kicks ass, by the way). I’ve seen cars go from gasoline to unleaded to gasohol to ethanol-infused, and watched as items once the stuff of dreams became so commonplace people don’t even think twice about losing them.
  • Health is one of those things that we sometimes don’t really think about or just take for granted, right? Well, mine’s pretty decent. I’ve got a few issues here and there (who doesn’t?), but nothing debilitating.
  • I am, of course, blessed to have great taste in music. Y’all should know that by now, right? Cool.
  • I dig coffee and it’s a good companion most days. Some days his friend Scotch comes along and wants to play, too, and that’s cool as well. Seriously, though, I started drinking coffee way back when beside my grandfather. I still have memories of him, sitting at the table in their kitchen, sipping his coffee from an olive-green Melamine saucer while his wife made dinner in a big cast-iron pan (Spanish rice was always a favorite treat, and man, did she ever know how to make it!). Throughout the years, I’ve tried coffee with many a weird additive (yes, cream and sugar both count), but I always come back to just pouring it into a container and drinking.
  • On a note mentioned above, I’m blessed to have memories. Primarily memories of people that were important to me, but memory in general. I spent a good ten minutes just remembering time spent with my grandparents while writing that last point. Memories are all any of us have left of them.
  • I’m blessed to be American. Knock it if you want (we all do), but it’s a great country. Yep, it has flaws. Nope, I still don’t wanna trade it for a life in Myanmar.
  • I’m blessed to have spent time doing sec work ‘back in the day’ because I got to see a whole slew of bands before anyone ever really knew who they were…and I saw them from the stage. I also worked a lot of greats either working their way back up, coming down from the heights of their career, or simply playing in smaller venues. I stood on stage with the Ramones, folks. You think pharmaceuticals will give you a four-hour erection? Try being up there beside a band you loved since before high school.
  • I have come to know an ‘extra family’, for want of a better word. Men, women, and persons with no distinct gender identity. United in a love of community and magical expression. Drummers, dancers, singers. Artists, creators, and innovators. We may only spend a few days together now and then, but I love you all. “Holy shit! He expressed an emotion other than anger!” Yeah, yeah, I know…
  • I’m blessed to have rolled about and played with the creations of such visionaries as Samuel Colt, Gaston Glock, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and Eugene Stoner. You gents, and those like you, taught me that jigsaw puzzles could be assembled into something more than just a picture. I have enjoyed getting to know them all. Few topics these days draw more ire than firearms, and I suppose I will hear from someone not happy that I have referred to them in glowing terms. I don’t give a fuck. I like them.
  • I see a blessing in the acquisition of knowledge. I believe it is important to learn something new as often as possible. It may be something as simple as the mass of a standard paper clip, or as complex as the connection between string theory and vibrational healing, but learn something, damn it. You weren’t put on this mudball to be stupid. For the Heathens among us, does not the AllFather want you to learn? Look to his sacrifice and know that an extra few minutes to read about a topic, or watch a YouTube vid on how-to, isn’t that much of a hardship!
  • I am blessed by having received the knowledge I have. Some of it came at greater cost than I wanted to pay, but that’s life, right? I learned skills that will stay with me for a lifetime. Some of those I have passed on to others so the knowledge stays alive, and I urge everyone to teach at least one thing to another person. Share that love. I can build fires, skin animals, butcher sufficiently to supply my family with meat, grow food, repair a couple of things here and there (though I’m better served breaking them), drive, type, spell, and nail things together in a way that makes them stay attached for a while. There’s a laundry list (yes, including laundry) of things I’ve learned to do. Some things I am better at than others, but that applies to everyone.


There are other things I could put on this list, folks, but for someone who is just trying to recognize things that are blessings in a life he often views through a very dark lens, this is a pretty impressive start.

I walked into this list with some trepidation. It was a prompt for the fiction group I’m in, and I went back and forth for a while about whether I should write about the blessings of an alien-hunting cyborg, but in the end I decided I’d just play the hand I was dealt. I suppose if it ain’t Aces and Eights, I’m doing pretty well.

With that I will sign off. May your Thanksgiving (should you celebrate/commemorate it) be wonderful, and thanks for reading this far down. It’s cool that you stuck with me!





Blood looks different on snow. They don’t tell you that in training – well, not in so many words. Sure, you can get a lecture from a pathologist, or some thick-ass textbook telling you the consistency of the platelets and how the refraction of light changes things, but nobody ever just says to you, “Hey, just so you know? Blood looks different on snow.”

There was certainly a lot of it today, and it did look different. Thinner, with more of a gloss. It was all over the grass where it poked through, red staining the green shoots. In the late spring or the summer it’s an entirely different look. For some reason it was catching my eyes today.

Willie cried his normal shite: “How come I gotta carry the bodies?”

“‘Cause you’re a fucking ox, that’s why,” Sarge yelled at him.

“I’m sick of being the one who carries.”

“So drag ’em if you want. Nobody cares. Just get ’em to the pile.”

I laughed and Scarlet winced.

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s just –”

“Willie,” she said, with a grin of her own.

I finished packing the wound and wrapped it. She was tough as hell, I’ll give her that. Four bullet holes and she was still talking. I tagged her for evac and moved on. Down the line I could see Lawrence at work. The little bastard was good. Set up a triage line like nobody’s business. Made my life a lot easier.

It’s never easy to work on your friends, and it’s even harder when fingers are stiff from cold. I was blowing on them to keep them warm. Flexing them. Hector saw it and tried to smile. I think he saw it. He was marked as having been given a full tap of painkiller, so he could as easily have been counting airplanes flying under the Jandean Oceans or some such impossibility.

Whoever worked him in the field had done a good job. I wrote my notes on the triage card he wore and told him he was going to be fine. I hope he believed me.

“I’m cold, brother,” I heard as I came to the next patient. He had burns on one arm, and his jacket was gone. I asked why and he told me it had caught fire. I flagged one of the runners and ordered him to bring a blanket.

A month ago he would have already succumbed to hypothermia. The plasma loss and the lack of warm clothing would have doomed him. I guess I shouldn’t harp too badly about the changing of the seasons.

Still, I thought as I took another step down the line, blood looks different on snow. Maybe one day I’ll start telling new medics that in training.

I could hear the approaching trucks. Prisoner transports, for one, but more importantly the flame units were coming. Burn off the stinking toothies before their diseases spread. Standing rule. That, and my patients will roll out on their truck. For that I am doubly glad.

Today went well, but only because someone spotted the approaching rats in time to set up an ambush. As a result, we only lost three. A dozen more on the injured list and twice that many with minor shite that they would deal with later. Scratches and bruises. I heard someone bragging about the new scars they would have soon.

I paused long enough to reload my pockets from my duffel before swinging it back over my shoulder. I hate having to fumble for bandages and things. There’s an order I keep everything in.

The Sarge was yelling a warning at Willie again, one I’m sure he ignored as always. Then the air shattered with a shock wave. I wound up flat on my back with the duffel pressed into me and I didn’t know how I got there. I couldn’t hear anything at all. I struggled to my feet to see the massive crater where the bodies were being piled and I realized there had been a boobytrap on at least one of them.

Bits of Willie began to fall on us, mixed with dirt and rat puree. All I had in my hearing was a constant tone, but I knew there were soldiers screaming for my aid. I looked around for them and noticed it again. Fresh and wet and drizzling down.

Blood looks different on snow.



One week into the month.

16,707 words into “Phantoms of Phoenix”, the next in the Jericho Sims stories. First draft is *mostly* complete. There are a couple of sections that include <FIX THIS SHIT> notices in them that I will address before I even begin editing it, but for the most part it is done. Plus, I had the cover already set up for this bad boy, thanks to mdw_jason.


Three possible stories to roll into next, and I’m trying to decide which one should be first up. Tentative titles exist, and the storyboards are pretty much rolled out on all three:

“Badge of Shadows” — A reunion with a soldier from Jericho’s past turns dark when a supernatural bill collector comes calling to cash in on the man’s debt.

“Oracle” — Jericho asks a seeress for information on the Surgeon, and she tells him about a conspiracy in which he will soon be embroiled. The only way he can find answers is to stop the plot, and the clock is already ticking.

“Devil’s Light” — A rancher asks Jericho for help dealing with cattle rustlers, but nighttime lights, strange sounds, and mutilated cattle found inside massive circles of dead grass soon leave him wondering exactly what it is he has stepped into.


National Novel Writing Month (AKA NaNoWriMo) is in full swing, and I’m right in the middle of it, along with a whole mess of my homies. The above Jericho Sims tales will make up the bulk of my NaNo effort this year. I want to get them all set up and ready to rock so that I can begin releasing them soon, so that everyone can enjoy spending time with Jericho as I have.



After Action Report

Sergeant Zeke Sharn


The words sat on the screen, taunting Zeke with their crystal clarity. They were there waiting for him, and the remainder of the screen was a blank space that he dreaded as much as he always had. When it came to the event, he was truly in his element, but writing anything afterward? That involved a careful examination of what had occurred during the battle. For him, unfortunately, that involved a retelling of what his unit had done, as he had zero clue about anyone else. He had been the tip of the spear when they engaged the squirrels, as he tried to be every time. Leading from the front was his way.

He stood from the chair and went to the coffeemaker, pouring another mug of the thick black elixir that he prayed desperately would last long enough for the next resupply ship. He took a sip, found it a touch too hot still and set it on the desk to cool. He walked to the door of his office and looked out, letting the heat of the day wash over him.

VonHogan had been right: Z262 was a shithole. Too hot to be comfortable for anyone not desert suited, and too humid for their tastes as well. On the plus side, the rodents weren’t taking it well, either. Even the big capybaras that acted as their shock troops were annoyed by the environment.

He spit into the dust at his feet. The thought of the capybaras made him glance at his hands. Clean now, but it had taken some scrubbing. All of him had.

“You all right?” asked a soft voice. Zeke looked to his left. There was a setter there. Fiery red hair caught the sun and twisted it into coppery tones.

“You’re quiet,” he said.

“Ummm, okay?”

“It’s a compliment,” he assured her.

“In that case, thank you.”

“Zeke Sharn,” he said, reaching out a paw. Inwardly he shuddered at the thought that she would be touching the claws that only a few hours ago had eviscerated several of the toothies that had tried to hit a mine transport.

“Colleen Goodwin.”

Her grip was firm, and she smiled as they shook.

“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.

“I didn’t? Oh! Yeah. I’m fine. Just trying not to think,” he said, grinning. He gestured over his shoulder. “Would you like a coffee?”

She looked around herself before answering. “I would like that,” she said after a moment.

He stepped aside, gesturing inside. “Please, come in.”

He pointed her toward one of the short couches in the corner and then hurried to find a clean cup. He asked her how she took her drink and soon was handing her the mug he had mixed. He took a seat on the adjoining couch.

“Not going to sit beside me?” she asked in a coy tone.

“Easier to see you from here,” he said, looking into her eyes. It was a good way to cover the nerves that jangled like trespass alarms inside him.

She smiled and lowered her gaze for a moment, sipping at the tan liquid in her cup. He looked around the room, licked his lips, and took a drink of his own brew.

“So…Come here often?” she asked. His eyes met hers and she giggled before breaking into outright laughter. Zeke found himself joining in. It had been a while since he had genuinely laughed, and it felt good.

“I’m sorry,” she said, one hand coming up to cover her mouth for a second. “I couldn’t help it.”

He grinned. “I needed that,” he admitted.

“The laugh? Or just the tension breaking?”


“Glad I could help.”

“I don’t get too many laughs, and even fewer visitors,” he said.

“You’re in a serious business, and it intimidates some Folk.”

“But not you?”

She looked at him with an expression of shock. “No way! You can’t scare… Okay, so yeah, maybe a little. Or, y’know, a big.”

He chuckled again at her expression. “There’s nothing here to be scared of.”

She looked into her mug for a second. “I saw you come back through the gate today.”


He set his mug on a table. This part he could understand all too well. He had been here before. This was the point where he watched someone walk out the door.

“Colleen, I kill for a living,” he said. His tone was flat, emotionless. “It’s not pretty. It’s not a job I come home from and people say, ‘what did you do at the office today’ and I tell them it was all paperwork and sales. Some Folk have skills for dancing. Some for painting or drawing. I don’t. I kill rodents. In all honesty, I’ve never known much else.”

Her muzzle rose and she looked into his eyes once again. The cup of coffee sat uncared for in her grip. Her breath came in a short gasp before words tumbled out in a rush.

“My family taught me all my life that violence was wrong,” she said. “My grandfather was a Tolean priest.”

He nodded and started to respond, but she held up a hand to forestall him.

“I never believed it. I knew, deep in my heart, that there were Folk like you out there. Folk who did what they had to, no matter how horrible it might be, just to make sure that the rats stayed away. Tole teaches his followers that diplomacy and kindness are the answer, but I just…”

Her pause held longer than he expected, and he followed her gaze down to notice that he was holding her hand in his. He opened his grasp and pulled his hand back.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He stood, picking up his coffee and starting to walk away.


He looked back to see her holding up her cup. “If you’ll top this off, I’d like to keep talking with you.”



He nodded and brought the pot over to warm her mug. When he returned, he sat on the couch beside her.