Fiction Friday

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I’m dreaming of peace. Soft images. Calm and serene.

A shimmer of light filters into the darkness.

Silence changes out for sounds. Random beeping and crackling sounds that intellectually I know are computers, but seem so otherworldly.

My eyes drift open.

The bay is dimly lit. Not even enough to read by. They know this is where you’ll wake up. No one wants to stare into a bank of sun-bright lights first thing.

There are techs here. Medics. They go about their duties in quiet efficiency, checking gauges and readouts. I let them remove the spiderweb of tubes and wires before I step forward and plant a foot on the deck. As always, it’s icy cold. The shock has proven to be the little jolt my body needs to fully come around, and this time is no different.


“Saffron system.”


“Heavy Confed presence. We’re number three on approach. Expectation of enemy action within three hours.”

I sigh and glance back at the hibernation tube.

I was dreaming of peace.



Elements: Hibernation


Sit down, kid, and let Red explain. Time’s a funny thing when you’re in the bucket. Sometimes it’s like you’re just floating in the void. You feel like it’s been ages and when you look at the chron, it’s been maybe a handful of minutes at best. It’s even worse when you’re doing recon. Then all your equipment is live and you really are just kinda floating around.

I been running escort for merch for the last decade, kid. I’ve done the drift and watch thing, and I’ve been in shit so thick your feathers’ll turn white. There’s a reason they pay me as good as they do.

Nah, I’m good. Thanks, though. I’ve got coffee. I’ll take one of those smokes, though, if you feel like sharing.

Anyway, like I was saying, time ain’t what you think of it. I talked to the nav a while back. Spent a couple lunches and dinners discussing it, right? Ever see how much that guy can put down, by the way? Those tentacle things get to whipping around like a mixer. Food just cramming into that beak of his –

Yeah, yeah. Off track, I know. Look, kid, I just got back from… Never mind. That ain’t important. Just listen to that little voice in your head when it tells you that time seems to be dragging. Watch your chron a bit. Get it back in a rhythm, ‘cause if you let it get away from you, it’s a stone bitch to get it back.

Oh, yeah. That’s mine. No, ma’am, I had the pancakes. He had the salad. Yep. Boring as cheese, huh? I guess somebody’s gotta be, right? Hey, I tell you what: when you finish your shift, you and me should go grab a drink.

Yeah, I saw the ring. And?

Ha! He ain’t my husband, honey, and I ain’t planning on telling him if you don’t.

Wow. Guess she’s really set on that whole marriage thing. What? Hey, kid, if you don’t take a chance now and then, you ain’t going anywhere.

My ass. What’s he gonna do to me? Shoot me? Toothies been trying that for years. I’m still sitting here, with near a hundred fighters painted on my hull. Her old man? Probably some dumbass wage slave somewhere.

Yeah. Back to it, right? Here’s the deal: You and all your friends see time as some kind of straight line thing, and it ain’t. You’ve seen a river, yeah? Well that’s how most Folk think of time. Like it’s a river. Seconds flow by and they’re just lost. Hey, pass the salt.

Spend enough time in the void, though, looking into nothing and begging the gods for the hint of starlight on metal so you can do something, anything, to remind yourself that you’re really alive, and you’ll understand.

Time ain’t a river, kid. It’s a fucking ocean. Those seconds you’re thinking are passing you by? They’re all still there. If you know what you’re doing, you can reach out and touch ‘em, put the damn things in the order you want, and use the hell out of them.

Me? Not yet. Not consciously, at least. I’m working on it, though. Me and the nav been talking on it. When time seems to be slowing down, you pay attention to it and it seems like it’s normal again, right? So what if you could pay attention and have it work for you? The whole thing is experiential, you dig? It’s different based on who is experiencing it.

Think about this one: You’re in the bucket, right? Just cruising along like a drop of black against a black background, surrounded by blackness. You’ve been out there for a while and everything seems to be just creeping along even slower. Block out the chron. Don’t think of anything except how slow everything is. Reality itself is slowing down. It’s just you and the darkness. Soon there will be nothing at all. Just darkness once you’ve passed it, so the time it takes to do so is inconsequential.

See what I mean? You do that when you’re on stick and you’re gonna get a handle on what’s going on. Out there it ain’t nothing but you.

So you get in a fight. What then? Your craft ain’t no faster than a toothie one. You’re a better pilot, right? Moving inside their guard, getting the drop on them no matter what. What if that ‘better pilot’ thing is because you’re got a feel for how time actually works and subconsciously you’re finding the best way to move. You’ve got time working for you now instead of against you. You’re one of the ripples in that ocean, kid, and you can change it. You can make time stretch and flex.

It ain’t that far-fetched. Probably been going on forever, it’s just that Folk don’t see it for what it is. They call it luck or fate or some such shit. The nav calls it temporal manipulation.

Look at me, kid. I look like some kind of kook coming in here and spewing lies over my breakfast? I got better shit to do than that. I ain’t here to convert you or tell you that you gotta see shit my way, but you asked about why it felt so long and lonely out there.

Maybe next time it happens, you’ll think about what I said. Maybe you’ll understand why one old eagle’s got the rep he has. Maybe you’ll be the one to make it work.

So shortly before Yule this year, a link popped up in a fiction group I belong to. The Secret Life of Pandas invited us to play along with the Writer’s Q&A she had done. I thought perhaps I’d accept that gracious invitation, and yet I’ve spent several days forgetting it (which is typical, of course). Today I said to myself that I would get it done, so here it is, in all its unvarnished glory.
When did you first start writing? When I was a mere babe, I ripped a canine tooth from the gaping maw of a hungry tyrannosaur and used it to scratch obscenities on the nearest bathroom wall, followed by my drinks order for the day. After that, I stayed pretty chill for a while, until I was a middle school student (probably fifth grade or so) and the desire to stain pristine pages with ink caught up to me once more.
Was being a writer something you always aspired to? Not at all. It just happened. I actually aspired to be a space pirate. That hasn’t happened…which is a damned shame. I’d look cool as hell with a mutant parrot on my shoulder, and I could get a cybernetic eye and then put a patch over it for effect. That, and I’m pretty good at saying, “Arrrr” a lot.
I have all these stories that bubble up in my head and scream at me to put them on paper (even if it’s only digital paper). Giving them voice and a chance for others to dig on the weird shit that rolls about in my head is fun.
What genre do you write? What day is it again? I’m not really specialized. I’ve done superhero stuff, science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, steampunk, paranormal western, and a few others here and there. Sometimes I classify it as one genre or another, and sometimes I just say it’s a story. One of the few things that ties my stuff together is action.
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? Again, I fall back to a “which one” kind of thing. Let’s keep it simple:
 1: The fourth Firedrake novel, Inquisition. Continuing the stories from my earlier books, with lots of fun new folks and weird situations. I’ve missed Drake since I’ve been on some other projects.
 2: A new short for Z262, my anthropomorphic space colony stuff. Holidays with Zeke is a little slice-of-life tale about what happens when one of the most effective killers ever to eviscerate soldiers of the rodent army meets his girlfriend’s parents for the first time — as they celebrate the birth of their pacifistic deity.
When did you start working on this project? Well, #1 is about a year old, if not a little more. It’s coming along slowly, as do most of my projects.
#2 is about two weeks out.
What was your first piece that you can remember writing? I have vague memories of some creative writing assignments back in 1980, but I can’t put the details together. I remember that I loved those assignments, though. The one part of my school years where I can say I actively over-achieved.
I wrote a lot of RPG fanfic in my early high school years, about the people I gamed with and the characters we used. Bits and pieces of that are more likely to be what I actually remember.
What was it about? The RPG stuff? Usually detailed sections from one scenario or another, telling of how our characters triumphed over some obstacle or another. Lots of blood and gore. Cursing and alcohol was probably a major part, as well.
What’s the best part about writing? Seeing different situations through the eyes of my characters. I describe what’s going on, but I actually see the images play in my head.
What’s the worst part about writing? The urge to drive a shrimp fork into my brain and twist-start that big gray bitch when the words suddenly seem to stop coming (or just sucking when they do).
What’s the name of your favourite character and why? I still love to play around with Firedrake. That would be Special Agent Francis Drake, United States Department of Justice, Metahuman Response Division. He does and says a lot of the things that people wish they could get away with when dealing with bosses (and frequently everyone else).
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When I grab some instead of wasting time, then I get whatever that amount is. I’m notorious for my laziness.
When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)? Night, definitely. Morning is that special time when humans should be asleep. Sleep during the day, boys and girls, and you’ll be awake when the vampires come.
Did you go to college for writing? Nope. I went to college for classes that I can’t really remember. After I stopped doing that, I went to work in the real world for a while (deeply weird, definitely not recommended for all). I’ve attended a few classes since then, but they’re all in subjects I want to learn about.
What bothers you more: speeling errors; punctuation, errors, or errors for grammar? Well, I would like to go on record as saying I love this question — for the format if nothing else. Most of the time I pick up on spelling as soon as it pops up. It makes speeding through a first draft interesting, as I keep pausing to back up and correct.
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you? “Dude, drink this!”
No, seriously, it would probably be the people who tell you to keep reading. By seeing how different authors write, you help expand and refine your own voice.
What advice would you give to another writer? Don’t use the word “bae”. I mean, really. Like ever.
Stop comparing yourself to other writers. I don’t read your writing and think, “This is no Stephen King” or some such, and pretty much no one else does (unless you put it out there with, “This is just like Stephen King” on it somewhere). It’s not fair to yourself or your art to put yourself through that. I’m not saying you should never strive to better yourself, or to be a writer in the league of your favorite author, but don’t look at your work and think that it’s not good just because it isn’t what someone else has done.
What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement? I snap up articles here and there, read them, and then move on. I have no specific sites that I visit for that. I do belong to a weekly fiction group, and the folks there have shown me several new blogs that I enjoy reading.
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? I dig shooting and maintaining firearms. I can spend an entire afternoon cleaning them and not be bored. I drink coffee a lot, and I like eating tacos (although I’m not sure how that fits in here — but in my defense, the question was pretty open).
What are your hobbies? I love pen-and-paper roleplaying games. I suck at the computer ones (they’re usually too scripted or require interaction on an MMO level, which I avoid like the plague topped with a generous helping of tuberculosis), but old-school gaming got me through some pretty shitty moments in my past. Revisiting them now and again is like coming home again.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year? Well, I re-read Rolling Hot by David Drake. I’ll go to my grave thinking that is one of the best pieces of military science fiction ever created. It’s in my top five books ever. As to new books? It’s a toss-up. This past year I fell onto the Caverns & Creatures series by Robert Bevan, and the Cape High series by R.J. Ross. The former is guaranteed to be a rollicking ride of laughs and crude humor. The latter is a world-spanning series about super-powered youth learning about their world, and R.J. writes it in a way that has me spinning pages like a lazy susan on crack.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen this year? I’ll stick with new releases, rather than fawning over my personal favorites this time (Army of Darkness FTW!). I just saw the new Star Wars flick the other day (Episode VII: The Force Awakens). I enjoyed it quite a bit. Lots of action, fun characters, and the usual array of beautiful scenery and props.
What is your favourite book or series of all time? Man, I hate trying to come up with just one. I grew up on The Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhikers Guide, but I also cut my teeth on The Executioner, Able Team, Phoenix Force, Deathlands, and similar. Lately I know I’m guaranteed a good read with David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series.
Who is your favourite author? Dan Abnett probably hits a high note. The man has written dozens of books in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universe for Black Library, and — as if that weren’t cool enough on its own — he used to write Judge Dredd.
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing? Well, since the year has practically ended, I’ll go with next year. I have several short pieces in various stages of editing that will soon be released, and I’m always scribbling down something for my Z262 stories. There is a fourth Firedrake novel in the works as well, as discussed above.
Where else can we find you online? Here and there. I’m a member of the Pen and Cape Society, a group of authors who write superhero prose (among other projects). I have a profile over at Goodreads that I almost never remember to update. Stories of mine have appeared in several places, and you never know where one might turn up. I’ve got a (neglected) Twitter presence, and an author page on Facebook. See? I’m trying to adapt to the whole “technology is your friend” thing.
All right, writer friends. Join in if you want. It’s actually more fun than you think it might be. Trust me. I did it. See? Right up there. Dude, seriously, if you’re reading this and you ignored everything above it… That’s just weird.

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.




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.



Duggan was ugly by most Folk standards, and he knew it. His bald head was crisscrossed with scars and his beak-like nose had been broken more often than he could remember. A close encounter with an axe-wielding hare had taken his right ear. His plastron was awash in graphically violent tattooed threats and the entirety of his shell was decorated in kill markings. He would never make it in civilized society, but the big turtle didn’t care. It wasn’t civilized in the hole that he and his partner occupied. It was hot and still in there, and Duggan was bored.

“Hey, Lissa,” he called. His voice was a deep, sepulchral thing, garbled not at all by the butt of the unlit cigar in the corner of his mouth. He always had one there, and only a very few of his fellow troops had ever heard him speak without it in place.

“Send it,” Lissa replied, without turning her attention away from what she was watching. She had her paws wrapped around a rifle, and the stock of it was snugged up tight into the pocket of her right shoulder.

“I thought these dipshits were supposed to move by now.”

“Should be any time.”

He tapped at his chron. “Naw, fam. Shoulda been by now. Maybe half an hour or so ago.”

“Then stop bitching and get your ass behind that nailgun. If they move, we gotta zap ’em first. You want McEnroe and BigButt to win?”

He made a snorting sound. “Those two couldn’t beat you to the punch if you gave them a five-second lead.”

“I don’t intend to give them the chance,” she said. Nimble fingers made a minute adjustment to the holosight atop her rifle without her moving the weapon.

Duggan checked the belts leading into his machinegun again. The waiting was what killed him. The boredom of holding his position while waiting. Once it all dropped in the pot, Lissa knew he’d be the usual killing machine the crew knew him to be, but at the moment, he might as well be chewing off his own claws.

“Me either,” he muttered, patting the stock of his weapon. A garish drawing of a screaming rat was painted on the butt.

“The Cap says we’re in for a lot of action on this one,” Lissa said.

“His mom’s in for a lot of action.”

She laughed at the familiar joke. “Supposedly they dropped in a battalion of rabbits the other day.”

“Good,” Duggan said. “Can’t wait to get me some ears.”

“Frayker said he’s gonna be the first to get some,” she countered. The words were barely out of her mouth when Duggan was back with his usual.

“His mom’s gonna be the first to get some.”

“What have you got against Frayker’s mom?” she asked.

“Not as much as I did last night.”

“Damn, dude, that’s just ugly.”

“So’s Frayker’s mom.”

The two shared a round of laughter. The commentary was an easy back and forth thing with them, and spoke of partners who had held similar conversations many times in the past. Duggan cracked the seal on a canteen and slurped noisily at the warm water inside it. When he offered it, he finally got Lissa to take her eyes off the firing line. She gripped the canteen and hoisted it, pouring water past tiny pointed teeth. Taking a second mouthful that she let sit for a while before swallowing, the mongoose turned back to her rifle. Duggan drained another slug from the canteen before shoving it back into his belt.

“Thanks,” she said. “I was getting kinda dry.”

“Same same. Figured if they aren’t moving, we might as well get a drink. Hell, I’d have brought some of Smitty’s wine if I’d known they were gonna just sit out there on their tails.”

“That shit’s nasty,” she said, a shudder rippling down her back.

“Nasty? Girl, I watched you drink your body weight in that!”

“Think that’s when I decided it was nasty,” she explained. “The hangover that next morning was a thing of legend.”

“Well, if you’re interested, I’ve got a couple bottles back in the hootch when we get out of here.”

“Beats another night of that local beer,” she said, pragmatism winning over flavor.

“That isn’t beer. That shit’s right up there with that grey pasty stuff in the mess hall.”

“Right? What the hell was that?” Lissa asked.

“I don’t know, but it tasted like ass,” he said, leaning against the front wall of their hole. Above them, the logs shifted enough to send a cascade of yellow dust down onto them. Neither of them took any real notice. The dust was a way of life and they had grown used to having it in everything they ate, drank, or slept in.

“It did,” she agreed. “Y’ever wonder whose side the cooks are really on?”

He chuckled.

“I could see you cooking for the toothies,” he said. “Today’s special is cyanide casserole, you beady-eyed shitsuckers!”

“I got a nice hot meal for ’em right here,” Lissa responded as she grinned at his comment. She patted the forend of the rifle. “Let one of ’em pop up their ugly little heads and we’ll see how hungry they are.”

“I’m hoping for more than one,” Duggan said.

“Company strength ain’t just one.”

“I know. I was just saying.”

“I know,” she repeated. “I’m just picturing a couple hundred dead toothies all stacked up in a pile, waiting for the fire units.”

The comment brought a smile to Duggan’s face. “I’ll take mine well done,” he said.

“Aww, damn, man. Why’d you have to equate them to food? Now I ain’t gonna be able to eat my bucket of grey ass-paste when we get back.”

His chuckle began quietly but a moment later he was struggling not to burst into raucous laughter. “Pretty sure that’s a country song,” he said when he had recovered somewhat. Lissa giggled.

“It was raining out, and I couldn’t eat my –” she began. Her voice cut off and she leaned deeper into the rifle butt. Duggan needed no words to tell him what the gesture meant and he stood up into the firing slit beside her, gripping the machinegun and slipping the safety.

The rifle barked beside him, the action cycling and ejecting an empty casing that bounced off his hardened head with a pinging sound. Three hundred meters out, a flash of crimson in the air announced her hit as clearly as any range monitor could have.

“Dinner’s served, you needledick bastards!” Duggan roared as he squeezed the trigger. His boredom vanished as the big weapon thundered and hammered itself into his shoulder. He was home again.

“I’ve lived upon the edge of chance for twenty years or more” – Del Rio’s Song, Imaginos album, Blue Oyster Cult


“Sometimes life ain’t easy,” Tristan said. He flipped the thin-bladed stiletto in his paw, extending it hilt-first to Skeeter. “Take it.”

The matte black hilt seemed darker than ever against the snowy white of Skeeter’s fur. He picked it up and held it, looking at the play of light along the gleaming blade. He hefted it, testing the feel.

“No real weight,” Tristan said, crossing his arms across his chest and leaning against the wall. “Couple dozen grams is all. Once you get used to it, you don’t even think about it being there, ’til you need it, and then it’s in your hand and you’re going to work.”

“You mean, you’ve…” Skeeter began, his words trailing off as he looked with new eyes at the device in his hand.

Lean of weight as Tristan had said, the blade was reinforced by a stiffening spire of steel down its length, lending it a triangular aspect. Much like the leopard who carried it, the weapon seemed purpose built for getting in and back out of a situation.

“Yeah.” The word was delivered with a straight face. There was no braggadocio, no need to inflate past deeds. It was the simple declaration of a lifelong warrior.

Skeeter held it back to Tristan, but the leopard shook his head. A thick claw protruded from his paw and tapped on the long blade.

“First time was on Hephaestus IV. Big rat. About my height, but wider and more muscled. He was guarding an ammunition depot. Took him in the ear. Straight through the head. Guy named Yuri was with me, and he took out the other guard.”

Skeeter swallowed and his gaze became a little glassy.

“If we didn’t get that depot, the rats would have kept shelling our guys. So our unit worked its way forward until we got close. Yuri and I went in at night, all quiet-like. Opened a door for the sappers and lit the sky.”

Tristan recovered the blade from Skeeter, spinning it in his fingers like a drummer at a concert. It vanished into a sheath a few seconds later.

“So like I was saying, sometimes life ain’t easy. You gotta take a chance. Step up and give it a shot. Hell, pup, I lived my life taking chances. One after another.”

“But what happens when you take the chance and it goes wrong?” Skeeter asked. Tristan chuckled, a deep sound akin to a growl.

“Shit happens, you know? Some gambles don’t pay off, but some do. I ain’t ever had anything major go wrong. Missing a toe, got a few scars, and a chunk of my tail is gone, but for two decades kicking rat ass that ain’t much of a price.”

The door opened, letting in a wave of heat that made Skeeter wince. He turned to see Diem step inside. The expression of warmth at seeing Skeeter turned into exasperation when he saw who the young fox was speaking to.

“Gara, pup,” he said, invoking the goddess with his usual casual manner. “You haven’t been listening to this old reprobate, have you?”

“I needed some advice.”

“I was helping him,” Tristan said.

Diem laughed aloud. He unslung his rifle and propped it against the wall, and then went to the refrigerator to pull a beer from its cool confines. “You were telling war stories again.”

“That’s helping!”


“He asked about bravery. About fear. I answered.”

Diem cocked his head for a moment and then nodded. “True. You do have that covered,” he admitted. He spun the top from the bottle and upended it, downing half of it in one prodigious swallow.

“I’m not sure how much of it really applies, though,” Skeeter said. “I mean, I’m not going to war.”

“So what’s the situation?” Diem asked. Skeeter looked at the floor and fell silent. A glance up at Tristan revealed nothing as the other warrior shook his head.

“Somebody picking on you, pup?” Tristan asked.

“You tried to give him advice without knowing for what?” Diem asked. He took another drink of his beer. Setting the bottle on the top of a counter, he leaned backward to sit on the table. His foot drifted forward in a lazy kick that served only to get Skeeter’s attention. When the fox looked up, Diem grinned.

“It’s Miranda,” he guessed. Skeeter’s head jerked up and his eyes met Diem’s.

“Who’s Miranda?” Tristan asked.

Diem made a vague gesture of direction. “Little kitten from up the road a ways,” he answered. “The one you always see Skeeter here hanging around.”

Tristan threw his hands up and howled with laughter. Skeeter shot him a dirty look.

“It’s not funny!” the fox barked at him.

“Oh, no doubt!”

“What’s the situation?” Diem asked again, dropping down until he was close to Skeeter’s height.

“I want to ask her out,” Skeeter admitted.

“I take it back,” Tristan said, waving his hands. “Not funny at all.”

Diem glared at him for a second before realizing the veteran had blanched and was serious. He put a friendly paw on Skeeter’s shoulder.

“It sounds weird, but you were right. Tristan can tell you more about fear than most anyone here. He’s lived through shit that most of us only see in our nightmares.”

“This isn’t war, though!” Skeeter repeated.

“It’s worse, pup.”

Skeeter looked up, his ears perking. “What do you mean?”

“I can roll into a firefight any day of the week. Three possible outcomes: I get dead, I get hurt, or I come out clean. All I’m risking is my life. That ain’t shit compared to putting your heart on the line.”

“You’re not helping,” Diem said.

“Just telling him like I see it. Girls are a whole ‘nother thing.”

“He needs someone to tell him it will work out.”

“And what if it doesn’t?”

“It’s Miranda!” Diem yelled. “She’s head over heels for this little mook!”

Skeeter’s head snapped up once again, eyes widening. “She is?”

Diem reached out and picked up the winter fox by his shoulders, standing him on a chair so they were eye to eye. He leveled a gaze on the youth that had seen enemy troops run in terror.

“You tell her I said anything and I’ll plant my foot up your ass,” he warned. “Now you listen to me. You swallow that fear and go ask her.”

“But what if -”

In a blur of motion, Diem flicked a claw against Skeeter’s forehead. The dull thwack sound echoed in the room. As Skeeter rubbed at his forehead, Diem pointed at Tristan.

“Twenty years he’s danced with fate. He’s dumb and a bit of a dick, but he’s still here. Fear is all that’s holding you back. All you can say is ‘what if’. Well, what if she says ‘yes’, dumbass?”

“I would die.”

“So would I,” Tristan said, ignoring the dramatic tone Skeeter used. “If she says, ‘yes, dumbass’, I’ll die laughing.”


So today’s prompt was “fear”. I didn’t know where to start when it came right down to it. I knew I was probably going to run something in the anthro setting (I have really got to figure out a name for this…) but I didn’t know what to address. My background music gave me the quote at the top of the tale, and I rolled with it. The character of Tristan fell into place – a warrior who relies on his luck even more than his skill, and has done so for an incredible amount of time. I pictured the fear he might have experienced through his years, and then decided to twist it so that it was not the story of his fear that was the focal point. Making him a mentor seemed a good angle, but taking out the idea of him mentoring a younger soldier kept it fresh. Bringing my old friend Skeeter into the mix just added a touch of fun. Hope y’all liked it. Drop a note and let me know if you’re digging these stories.


“Look out there, man,” Buck said, waving his arm in a wide sweep that encompassed everything around them and managed to slosh out a small measure of the wine in his paw. He paid no attention to the loss, jamming the bottle back to his lips for another swallow before continuing.

“Everything we are is out there. We’re all part of the dust that makes up the universe. The same parts that made you and me might have made Arktel or Venophon.”

“I ain’t no planet, man,” Eric said in reply. His eyes were half closed as he looked into the sky. His friend was raving again, as was standard when he had imbibed. For years it had been the same. Buck became more philosophical when he drank, sometimes enough that people fled from the fox when he had a bottle. Eric was more grounded, although he had been known to embarrass many Folk when he had a hit or two of Jazz. The last time he had danced naked on the prow of a tank, using the main gun as a sort of lopsided stripper’s pole. They barely escaped before the soldiers arrived.

“No, but dig it, the same stuff from the beginning of time got spread out everywhere in the universe and we’re all made of it, you know? So, like, you’ve got something in common with the sun and the stars.”

Eric fired a smoke. The sweet mint smell drifted upward, and Buck’s waving hands dissipated the cloud with ease. “So why don’t you hop the next craft out and go visit Uncle Stardust? I mean, if you’re all related and so on.”

“Blow me. You know what I mean. Think about it! The same dust –”

“No more dust, man. No more, please. Talk about anything else.”

“Like what?” Buck asked. His tone was that of a lost child, and for a second Eric felt guilt at having taken the wind out of his friend’s sails as he had.

“We need more wine,” Eric said, rummaging around in the cooler. Only one bottle remained. There were nearly a dozen on the ground, and Eric knew he had only had two. He popped open the top and leaned back against the windshield of the car that served as their couch while they were out here – and their transportation to and from the clearing where they relaxed every weekend.

“We always need more wine,” Buck agreed.

Behind them, in the car, the music changed to something darker and heavier.

“We could, you know,” Eric said, suddenly serious.

“Get more wine?”

“No. Bail on this mudball and go check out the rest of the universe.”

“The fuck?”

“Think about it, Buck,” Eric urged. He thumped a hoof on the hood of the car for emphasis. “Colonists. They always want colonists, so why not us? Making a go of it elsewhere. Away from these stupid-ass jobs we’ve got. Be our own bosses. No more –”

“They don’t have stores, man. Where we gonna buy wine?”

“We can make our own wine! Hell, we can open our own store!”

“Can we call it Buck’s Place?”

“Sure,” Eric said, caught up in the enthusiasm that was sweeping across the pair.

“Where are we gonna go?”

“I don’t know, but I say we do it. You and me, we’ve been beating our heads against a wall for years. Let’s take a chance. Next colony ship, let’s sign up for it!”

Buck grinned and pointed up. “Out there?”

“Yep. I don’t know where we’re gonna wind up, but hell yeah! We’re gonna be out there with the stars, man. That’s where the future is. That’s where we belong. Our future, written in the stars!”