Book Review: The Book of the Emissaries

The Book of the Emissaries: An Animism Short Fiction AnthologyThe Book of the Emissaries: An Animism Short Fiction Anthology by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anthologies, written by various authors, are always a tough chore. For one thing, you need to present a coherent theme over a bunch of short stories. The second problem is that you have to ensure all of the authors carry with them a sameness while ensuring each one is allowed to do what they do best. It’s a tall order to fill under the best of circumstances. The Book of Emissaries, was, in my opinion, a very good collection.

The stories are written in what I would call a classic ‘story telling style’ which gives you more the feeling of mythology than anything else, which is what they were trying to do. So, on that aspect they hit the mark. The stories were compelling. There were only a few which I found to be a little disjointed in spots. I’m not going to give you the names of these stories because you might be tempted to skip them and you might have a different reaction them than I did.

The story telling is imaginative and has some great depth to them. The images were vivid and the characters were believable. That is essential for me, I have to actually believe the characters or I would be tempted to close the book and move on.

There is a continuing story that is really a thread which runs through the book where one god-like creature is trying to hunt down something that is stolen from them. I actually found this thread to be the most interesting aspect of the book. I almost wanted to hear more about this chase through time.

One thing I didn’t personally like was that it seemed to take me a while to get into the throws of the stories. I had a hard time really finding my footing in the first few stories, but the writing carries it along as it is actually well written. Eventually I picked up the story line, and then away I went. That was a minus in my opinion, but then again, this is a collection of stories and you have to be willing to accept a little disjointedness.

There was one story that I just didn’t like. The last one takes place on Mars, and while I understand the purpose it serves, it really did little for me. It was, itself, well written, and probably would make a great story all by itself. But, it seemed forced to me into the book.

Again, these are just my reflections and you may not agree with me. All-in-all, I was glad I bought and read The Book of Emissaries. The writing is solid and the editing is well done.

-Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Writer

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Writing is Very Lonely

Writing is a solitary pursuit. It’s just me and my computer. All by our lonesome. In the quiet of our room.

Well, I guess that isn’t really true. Every day I get home and before I sit down to write, my wife has dinner for me. She takes care of me. If it weren’t for my wonderful wife Tanya, there’s no way I’d be able to pursue this crazy dream of becoming a professional writer.

But that’s it. Just me, Tanya, and my computer. Oh, yeah, and my kids. They’re here too. Sometimes they come in and bug me. But they ask cool questions sometimes, and they are proud of their daddy the author. But that’s all of us. Me, my family, and my computer.

20160124_131456Oh yea, I forgot. I have a bunch of friends in the world, and at work who find it interesting, and put up with me talking about writing. And I talk about writing a lot! They tolerate my talking about this problem or that problem. They hear me talk about my misadventures looking for an agent or a publisher. So yes, I need their support as well. But no one else.

So it’s me, my family, my computer, and my friends. Well, okay, maybe I have a bunch of Facebook friends at the Horror Writer’s Association and other Facebook groups who support me and answer questions. They patiently answer the idiotic questions I have about this and that. But they are intensely supportive and give me the pat on the back, or reality check, when I need it. But that’s it. My family, my computer, my friends, my Facebook friends. Maybe only about two hundred people or so.

Oh, and how can I forget, my editors. I have two that I have used so far. Yeah, them too. There is also a publisher guy I’ve been talking to about maybe publishing my book. Oh yeah, can’t forget him.

So, as you can see, and I have clearly demonstrated, writing is very … very lonely.

-Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Writer

 

Haley the Space Assassin, Episode 5: Time to Go A’Killin

“Three … two …” the Chiny’ll continued counting.

Haley knew there was good reason to believe that when he hit the number one, he’d pull the trigger, reducing her to space dust. He would then turn back to Trelax and continue to berate him for bringing him into this mess. He knew she had a tracking beacon in her, all members of The Service did. Eventually they would track her back to this ship and to him. There would be some very uncomfortable questions he would have to answer, and there would be repercussions for his actions. But he had money and influence and as soon as he could, he would be out of the situation. Bribes and favors would see to his eventually making it through the trouble caused by vaporizing one human girl.

“Wait, I accept,” Haley said. She put her hands up in a sort of surrender.

“See, I knew you’d come around.”

“Okay, that was a little tense,” Trelax added.

“You’ll go to Earth, kill the target, and then return Trelax to his Mothers’ house on Bagoria?”

“Agreed. You agree to let me go?”

“As I promised, Earth girl.”

“So, who is the target? What did he do to get you hot under the collar?”

“What he did is of little concern to you. Who he is—”

“Governor David Sikes from North Dakota.” Trelax offered up with a grin.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” The Chiny’ll turned back towards Trelax.

“Governor Sikes from North Dakota. The assassination target.” Trelax suddenly seemed unsure of himself.

“By the power of Zolthor, Trelax, you could screw up a one spaceship convoy, you know that?” The Chiny’ll put his hands over his eyes, holding his head. “I seriously need to do some more research and find out which one of your mothers’ contributed to your idiot gene. No, Trelax. It’s not a Governor or North Dakota. The target is the Underworld District Commander from Tal-Severn.”

“Wait,” Haley interrupted. “Are you telling me you didn’t even have the right guy, Trelax? I mean, I know I’m new to this whole enterprise, but I would guess knowing the correct target is sort of … well, important.”

“Whatever, I would have gotten it straightened out eventually,” he said bitterly. “And now that my Dad has assigned me a babysitter, I’m pretty sure the chances of success are around one-hundred percent.”

“Oh, Trelax, not a babysitter,” The Chiny’ll siad. “Haley, please return to the Splendid Two. I’ll make sure the ship has been completely resupplied and readied. You should take some time to get used to the ship. We are about four days away from Earth. I’ll file a landing request with The Service, but the rest will be up to you. Please give me some time to talk with my son.”

Haley knew that she was walking away from a negotiation with the The Chiny’ll, and that almost never happened. Usually, after he killed you, your remains were swept away with a broom and dustpan or sucked up by a vacuum. Killing an underworld boss would be a small price to pay for her freedom. Not that she relished the idea of assassinating an alien, but The Chiny’ll made it clear, it was either he dies or she does. Things could go very wrong. Maybe something would happen to make killing the district commander unnecessary.

She was a little worried about the possibility of having to spend the next week with Trelax. He was an idiot. On the balance, he’d done more things wrong than right. They’d be lucky to arrive back at earth in one piece.

Walking through the tunnel connecting the Splendid One and Splendid Two, she took a few moments to look out into the galaxy. It was an amazing place really. She always wondered how far she could go if she had her own ship and could just keep on going. Oh well, maybe a few days trip back to Earth would cure her of the space travel bug she had always felt.

Stepping back onboard the ship, she heard the plucky voice of Mike. “Oh, I’m so glad you are not vaporized Haley!”

“Thanks Mike. I have to say, I’m pretty happy about that too.”

“The Splendid One ship’s medical computer told me it was still reading your life signs.”

“I am glad you cared enough to keep track of me.” She was touched by the ships concern.

Haley sat down in the navigator’s chair on the command deck. She touched the control panel and it instantly came alive. It was amazing how intuitive it was. With a touch of a button, she could see everything from the exterior sensor array to the ships diagnostics. She pulled up a map of galaxy and found she could easily work out a course for the trip back to Earth. It even gave her some rudimentary control of the ship. She could likely get them most of the way to Earth just by touching a few buttons. But the ship was set up for Trelax to work on his own so most of the controls were at his fingertips.

“Carl, are you listening?”

“Yes, I always am. Anything you need, just feel free to ask.”

“How did Trelax control the ship from his Captain’s chair. This is too big a ship to be run by one person.”

“Yes, well, this ship is a kind of hybrid. Mike and I are sentient beings, in a sense. My programs are run on a bio-electric system. Essentially I work as navigator as well and Mike does some of the other work.”

“Mainly tactical,” Mike said.

“Wait, the medical program is responsible for targeting and destroying vessels? Isn’t that against your programming?”

“Fortunately, I’ve never had to kill anyone.”

Haley was a bit worried about this. The galaxy wasn’t known to be a safe place and if they did actually come across any difficult situations, she didn’t want their fate tied to a computer program whose primary function was to do no harm.

“Tell you what guys, as long as I am here, why don’t you leave tactical and navigation up to me, okay?”

“Anything you want Haley,” Carl said. “Trelax won’t mind, he isn’t even aware how much we have to do to keep this ship running.”

Haley brought up a diagnostic of the ship and several things were flashing red. She didn’t like the look of it, but questioning Carl indicated that generally the things flashing red weren’t likely to get any of them killed in the next week so she should be fine. Not very reassuring, but she had little choice but to accept it.

Just then the pneumatic door of the bridge flew open and Trelax stomped in. It didn’t take a family counselor to see that whatever the conversation he had with his father wasn’t very positive. He flopped down in his Captain’s chair.

Glancing over at her, he sneered at her. “Make yourself comfortable, by the way.” Then he opened a communication channel to the Splendid One, “Trelax to Splended One, release docking clamps.”

A voice on the other end of the channel responded. “Releasing docking clamps, have a great day Prince Trelax.”

“Oh Zothor, get me out of here!”

She could hear the docking clamps release from the ship and the thrusters automatically put some distance in between the two ships. As they moved away from each other, Haley could see how large the Splendid One really was. Easily, it was at least three football fields long and maybe one and a half fields wide. Maybe she could get a tour next time she was on board. Good God Haley, what are you thinking? A tour? No, you want to get as far away from The Chiny’ll and his idiot son as you can.

Suddenly the voice of The Chiny’ll came over the intercom. “Remember what I told you Trelax. Haley, take care of him, please.”

“Gee, thanks for the pep-talk, Dad. Your comms are getting bad, can’t here you. Splendid Two out.” Trelax hit the communications disconnect button.

“So,” Haley said, “the talk with your Dad went well?”

“You know what Haley, I’m really not in the mood to talk. I’ve got this so I would just rather be alone.”

“Okay, I was just trying to help. You know, I have a father too and he can be—“

“Everything was fine until this happened.” Trelax suddenly turned towards her. His face was red with anger. “Now you are my babysitter for the next week. So, let’s just make the most out of this and maybe we can all go on our separate ways.”

“Wait, you’re blaming me for all of this? You came to a planet with the wrong target, botched the job, and you kidnapped me. Don’t blame me for you being such a screw up. You were probably one before I met you. And now I’m just trying to be nice to you and you decide to be a complete dickhead to me.” Haley practically jumped up out of her chair. “You know, fine, you can be up here all by yourself. I’ll go find a room and stay there until we get to Earth. You spoiled brat.”

How dare he speak to her that way after he was the one who kidnapped her off of her own planet. She stormed off of the bridge section of the ship and into the corridor.

“Haley, are you alright? The vitals I’m reading are off the charts.”

“Well, Mike, file that data away. That’s pissed off bitch mode right there.”

“I’m not familiar with that, but I’ll take it that you are upset. Is there anything I can do?”

“No, not unless you have a spare spaceship handy.”

“A spare would take fourteen Earth days for delivery form the Bagorian fleet headquarters. Shall I file that request?”

“No Mike, I was being sarcastic.”

The main corridor was ‘U’ shaped. Doors on the right side led to berths and a small galley. The ship was never designed for extended space travel, but that’s how it was being used. She wondered if that is why there were so many areas flashing red on the ships diagnostic readout.

She quickly found one room marked ‘Cabin 1’, and opened the door. It smelled like a dirty dog kennel, but not as pretty. Clothes were strewn everywhere and there was a collection of old food cartons from all over the galaxy. This had to be Trelax’s room. Further down the hall she found a cabin with a bed, dresser, and a small bathroom. It would suffice for their trip.

She was still angry with Trelax. How could he be such a jerk, and how did she get saddled with him? The Chiny’ll’s disruptor started to look better and better all the time. Suddenly a computer panel came off the wall on an articulated arm. A computer generate face appeared.

“Hello Haley, Mike said I might try cheering you up. How about a game of Chess?”

“Thanks Carl, but I’m stuck on a space ship, in the middle of the galaxy, with the biggest loser this side of the known universe. I think I’ll skip the board games for now.”

“I can see how that would be upsetting. I’m sorry you’re in this position.”

“Thanks Carl, but I think I’d like to be alone now.”

“I understand, but before I go, can I tell you something.”

“Sure, why not.”

“I have been a part of this ship since the day they connected the first power coupling. I’ve seen many Captains come and go. Some of them were pretty good, but most of them were forgettable. Trelax is the only one who’s ever treated me as a real crew member. Being bio-electric, I have feelings and he doesn’t talk to me like I’m just a program. He talks to me like I am actually a living breathing crewmember. I’m not sure why he is mad at you at the moment, but I’d just ask you to give him a chance. He’s actually a pretty good guy. Maybe not the smartest being in the galaxy, but his hearts are in the right places.”

Haley studied the computer version of Carl. She never thought of computers having feelings. But this one seemed to be a fan of its current owner. “Thanks Carl, I’ll keep that in mind. But he has a lot of apologizing to do.”

“Well, it looks like he may be on his way to do just that.”

She got up from the bed and Carl’s computer screen retracted into the wall. Walking over to the sink, she found a glass and poured herself some water. As she took a sip, she heard a knock on the door.

She let out a heavy sigh. “Come in Trelax.”

“How’d you know it was me?” he said, stepping over the threshold into the room.

“Carl and Mike don’t have hands to knock.”

“Good point. I brought you something.”

Haley was seriously hoping it wasn’t baby poop. “What?”

From behind his back he brought out a pint of Ice Cream. “Look, I’m sorry I barked at you like that. No, the talk with my father didn’t go well. He thinks I am Bagoria’s biggest screw up. I just try so hard and he never sees any of that. He only sees when it goes wrong.” He sat down on the bed next to her. “I just don’t … I just don’t know how to make things right with him.”

She had to admit, even though the ice cream wasn’t her favorite flavor, his apology was her favorite kind. Sincere. “You know what, Trelax? That may be the best apology I’ve ever gotten from anyone. I’m sorry I snapped at you too. You and I are going to have to work together if we are going to get home without killing each other.”

“Glad to hear you say that, do you know how hard it is being on that bridge with only Mike and Carl to keep me company? Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but it’ll be nice having someone else to talk to for a change.”

“And you have no idea how great it will be to have someone else to talk with as well,” Mike said.

“Hey, don’t you have some scanning to do?” Trelax said.

“Well I do, but—“

Haley was suddenly, and violently, thrown across the room. The last thing she remembered was wondering if the navigation route she planned back to Earth had suffered from some fatal flaw and they had run into a large asteroid.

A Great Young Adult Book to Read!

Sophie's DifferentSophie’s Different by Patrick Hodges

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sophie Devereaux is the kind of daughter every parent would love to have. She’s independent, loving, and as warm hearted as they come! But, as they say, the rain falls on both the good and the bad, and she has the worst day any teenager could ever have. But, not to be deterred, she tries to rebuild her world by talking with her best friends in the entire world.

That’s when, unfortunately, she has the misfortune to get paired with the school hottie, and biggest jerk, in Science class. This pairing doesn’t sit well with the popular girls and their attacks on her ensue. It’s a harsh world out there when you are a teenager.

Patrick Hodges has done it again! Sophie’s Different wraps up the series of books started with Joshua’s Island and Ethan’s Secret. The story is told in vivid colors and in a world where the cool kids rule and the un-popular kids are treated like lepers.

Sophie shows us that ultimately it’s character that counts and she has tons to spare. Coming to her aid is a boy named Ayden who has also had his share of misfortune. But he proves to be her knight in shining armor. He comes to her rescue when she needs it most and the two of them prove to be an unstoppable combination.

There are two ways, in my mind, to write a book. Either have strong characters or a strong world to hang the story line on. Patrick does both equally well, but it’s his character building skills that are strongest. He builds his characters in such a way that you care what happens to them. This is a hard skill to master, but Patrick does this with skillful ease.

That isn’t to say the world he builds is lacking. I can visualize the world he builds for his characters. When the bus comes around the corner, you can see it in your mind. When Sophie is sitting at the dinner table, eating with her family, you can see it in your mind’s eye.

On balance, this is another solid performance by Patrick Hodges. I can’t wait to see his next work. However, I am already a huge fan!

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Silent Shouts for Remembrance

Many who know me, for any length of time, know I have a fascination with cemeteries. They are a grim reminder that we all eventually suffer the same fate; death claims us all. But cemeteries are also testimonials to the lives lived. Inscriptions on tombstones tell you about the person. When they died, how long they lived, what they loved, who they loved, and sometimes how they spent their lives. 

20160214_140130
A Knight of a Prussian Royal Family

We took a few days to visit Munich this weekend and happened upon an old cemetery. While we could’ve spent hours searching the witnesses of the past, we only spent a little time there. We found Pastors, Bishops, Medical Doctors, one scientist, and a couple of actors who performed at the state theater. We saw wooden memorials, granite memorials, and even a metal family marker.

One headstone was of an American who made their home here in Germany. Their stone was in English and told of their love for their adopted homeland and how they never forgot where they came from. Another memorial was to a man who had explored Japan. See the photo below, it is a striking memorial.

Inscriptions of every sort graced the pages of the memorials. They stood there, quiet sentinel to the people who once were, the lives lived, and the stories shared.

There are some who would think this is a grim hobby, but many harbor the same fascination. When you die, do you want to be forgotten, or do you want someone to remember you? In some ways, by looking at the memorials, you are fulfilling a wish to be remembered.

20160214_140925
Metal Family Marker

But this is, at least on some level, the essence of writing for authors. There is an element of wanting to entertain you, but, like Shakespeare, we want you to remember us by our works. Maybe, instead of looking at a book of a deceased author as a good story, you take a moment to think of him or her by the candlelight writing or maybe an old “Brothers” typewriter plunking away at the keys. Remember that they were people too. In fact, take some time to remember every artist behind every piece of artwork as a living, breathing human being. And then marvel at the work they, a mere human, created.

Humans like to be remembered. Life is for living and maybe headstones are

 

20160214_141044
Headstone from a German Explorer of Japan

a reminder to do just that. Next time you are near a cemetery, take some time to visit. You may find out some interesting facts about the people who lived, and died there, and maybe a little more about yourself in the process.

-Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Writer

 

Haley the Space Assassin, Episode 4: Family Matters

Haley walked down the ship’s corridors. The lights seemed to be adjusting for her as she walked as if Carl sensed where she was and changed the lighting for her specific human needs. A little way down the hallways she came to an airlock. She approached it with some apprehension.

When she was within three feet of the door is suddenly sprang open, and what was in front of her made her stop in her tracks. Connecting the Splendid Two and the Splendid One was a long cylindrical tube. It was made out of clear flexible tubing, like a terrifying, but beautiful hamster tunnel. Stepping across the threshold, lights lit up the floor below her, and it seemed to change from a simply cylindrical shape to something with a level floor for her to walk on.

The clear glass was almost completely invisible. Standing directly in the center of the tunnel she could see both ships, and the entire galaxy, laid out before her. The stars seemed to twinkle likes she had never seen before. For the moment she was awestruck until the enormity of the situation settled back in. Oh crap! I’m in big trouble, she thought to herself.

Crossing the clear tunnel and walking through the airlock of the Splendid One, she immediately saw a sign pointing to the ship’s Bridge. Making her way along the corridor, twice she had to duck into hallways to avoid crew members making their way to other parts of the ship. She came to a large door with a small window in it. Through the window she saw two creatures standing face to face. One of them didn’t look happy at all.

Edging closer to the door, she tried to make out what they were saying. She had to strike a balance between standing where she could hear best, but not so close to activate the sensor which automatically opened the door. She knew, from the medical bay doors, that anywhere outside of three feet she was going to be far enough away. Two and a half feet was definitely getting too close. It truly was an art form; one she was going to need more practice with.

A sudden whoosh of pneumatics left Haley standing directly in the doorway of the bridge section. Freezing in place instantly, she was hoping, beyond all hope, no one would notice her. Those hopes quickly evaporated.

“Wait, Trelax,” the larger of the two Bagorian’s said. “Are you telling me that you brought a human onto my ship? You kidnapped a human and brought her here?” He was pointing at Haley with his massive finger.

The smaller Bagorian, identified as Trelax, stood there for a moment, seemingly unable to answer. “Well, I wasn’t sure what to do.”

The larger Bagorian looked at Haley, and said, “Come here please. I really must apologize. Things like this really should never happen. It’s truly out of character. Again, I most sincerely apologize.”

The Bagorians are the current leaders of the Galactic Order. The Galactic Order is a corrupt and ruthless, but efficiently run, criminal enterprise. Headed by a King, called The Chiny’ll, they got to the top by diversifying and investing in their criminal empire. In addition to being cold and precise in dispensing their brand of justice, they were also known to be incredibly polite and pragmatic. Yes, they’d kill you in a moment, if they thought you were an immediate threat. If not, they would likely offer you cup of tea before ending your life. It was the polite thing to do.

Bagorians, without their earth suits, are really ugly. People tolerated them because they had a habit of killing those they found to be insulting of their appearance. They consistently made the top of the list of the universe’s ugliest species. Standing about eight earth feet tall, they had green skin and looked like they were maybe the offspring of some exotic earth frog and bigfoot. On the top of their head were patches of hair that ranged anywhere from orange to a sort of dirty grey color. Most Bagorians were heavy set, around three-hundred-fifty Earth pounds.

“I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude,” Haley said.

The large Bagorian smiled at her. “Non-sense, it’s I who needs to apologize.” The large Bagorian got up from his chair and motioned to Haley. “Please sit down and make yourself comfortable.” He motioned to one of the crew members sitting at a panel nearby. “Trignar, bring Miss, ummm … what’s your name?”

“Haley.”

“Miss Haley, some tea please.” Turning again to Haley, “I’m sorry, I have a matter to attend to, before we get to your execution.”

Haley was just getting comfortable in the seat when she heard the word execution. “I’m sorry, did you just say execution?”

“Yes, of course,” the large Bagorian said. “It only makes sense. You met an assassin, and now you have seen the inside of my ship. I can’t just drop you off at the nearest inhabited planet and ask you to pretty-please not tell anyone. Can I?” He turned back to Trelax.

“Now, as for you, Trelax, I’m really not sure what went through your head. Do you know what kind of problems this could cause me? I’m on my way to a committee meeting and now I have to stop what I’m doing to take care of this bit. Do you have any idea how this makes me look? They are going to have to wait on me. They can’t start without me.”

Turning back towards Haley, he said, “I really am sorry you have to witness all of this.”

“It’s okay, take your time. Please, take as much time as you need.” Even though the prospect of her impending execution was a little terrifying, she was watching the discussion with great interest. There was something familiar about it, but she couldn’t place her finger on it.

“She saw the card, and I had no other choice,” Trelax replied.

“Rule number one, no one ever sees the card. You should know that. It’s like the first thing they teach you in school. Were you sleeping that morning or what?”

“But I really didn’t know what else to do. I was in my hotel room, she brought food, and she identified me as Bagorian. I wasn’t sure how much she knew or didn’t know, and I just needed some time to think.”

As the two argued, Haley scanned the room. Everything was either polished steel, black, or brass. The black walls were the deepest black she’d ever seen. Along the walls there was a strip of brass, like the Splendid One, that she could tell had been recently polished. The chair she was sitting in was of the softest leather. It was very comfortable, an irony, not lost on her, given her impending execution.

“… And another thing Trelax. Where’s that card now?”

“Uhhh … oh, man. It’s still in the hotel.” Trelax looked down at his feet. Haley had the impression he was a bit of a perpetual screw-up.

“Trelax, this was your first assignment!”

“Yea, Trelax,” Haley said. “I even know that is a huge foul on the play, and I’m not even Bagorian.”

“See,” the large Bagorian said. “She even gets it, and she’s human.”

“Well, she’s in The Service, so I’d expect she does.”

For a moment the larger Bagorian just stared at Trelax. Haley had figured out why this looked so familiar to her. She recognized the look on Trelax’s face. She understood why his responses were sharp and sarcastic sounding. The large Bagorian had to be Trelax’s father.

“She … you … what?” The large Bagorian stammered. “The Service, so you’re telling me that you let someone from The Service see your card. Then you kidnapped her, brought her onboard my vessel, and now I have to execute her? Do you have any idea what kind of hell I’ll catch from the Earth authorities for this?”

The large Bagorian stood there for a moment. His mouth hanging open at Trelax’s apparent stupidity.

Trignar reappeared and brought Haley a cup of Bagorian green tea.

“Thank you, Trignar.” She took a sip; it was delicious.

“I mean, seriously, what’s the first rule you learn in school, Trelax?”

“Don’t show anyone the card?” Haley offered up.

“Exactly,” the large Bagorian was almost beside himself. “Even the Earth girl gets it.”

“Hey, not nice,” Haley said, taking exception to the insinuation.

“Sorry, I was in a zone there.”

“It’s okay, I understand.”

“So, Trelax, now I have to stop what I’m doing and deal with your nonsense? The clan heads are going to have a field day when I don’t show up, you know. What’re they going to do, organize themselves? They couldn’t figure out a plan if their lives depended on it.”

Somewhere inside Haley’s brain, she’d been keeping tallies on what they were saying. So the big guy is an important man of some sort. He was on his way to some sort of committee meeting when he had to deal with this. The big Bagorian had no issues with killing her, but he seemed to second guess it when he realized she was connected with The Service. It meant he was in charge of some larger enterprise. In fact, he was the head of that enterprise.

Shocked at her realization, Haley absently dropped the saucer holding the small porcelain tea cup to the floor. Both of the Bagorian’s turned toward her. They both looked quizzically from her face and then to the floor where the shattered remains of the tea cup and saucer had come to rest. She took a few steps back and pointed at Trelax and then to the large Bagorian. As she did, her mouth started to form words. “Y … y … you … are him. He’s … no … no … can’t be.” She stammered for a few moments and finally got out something they could understand. “You’re The Chiny’ll.”

The large Bagorian frowned at her and immediately went back to Trelax. “And another thing, young man, you should have called when you got toEearth. Do you know how many calls I had from your mothers, wondering where the heck you were? They were all scared stiff and— ”

“And you,” Haley continued her one sided conversation. “You’re Crowned Prince Trelax, of the Bagorian Empire. I don’t know why I didn’t see it until now. I should have guessed. The Bagorians … and Trelax … this beautiful ship.”

The two Bagorians stared at one another with confused looks on their faces.

“What should we do? I think something is wrong with her,” Trelax asked his father.

“Not sure, maybe the tea was too strong? Hit her on the head again, maybe?”

Trelax made a move towards her and she put up her hands in a defensive posture. She took two steps back towards where Trignar was sitting, who had, until now, been uninterested in their conversation. She bumped into his chair, and he stared at her like she was going to eat him. Trelax stopped moving.

“Don’t want to frighten her. No one move,” The Chiny’ll ordered.

There’s a part of the human mind responsible for slapping the snot out of the rest of the brain when it needs a good thrashing. It was about this time in Haley’s experience aboard the Splendid One when this part of her brain forced the rest of her brain to get a grip on the situation.

“Wait!” She turned to the terrified navigator and studied his face for a moment, a sudden smile spread across her face. She turned her attention back to The Chiny’ll and Trelax.

Bagorians respond particularly well to ego stroking. She suddenly saw a way out, a plan designed so well, that no Bagorian could possibly resist.

“Oh wise, and perpetually fair Chiny’ll, I’m honored to be in your presence. I’m humbled to know that I shall die by your disruptor. However, as my last act, I would like to offer you my services. If, you find them pleasing, then we can come to terms.”

She knew these exact words would essentially force The Chiny’ll to listen to her. It was essentially super ego stroking at this point, but she needed to be bold.

“I find your supplication pleasing, Haley.” The Chiny’ll scratched his chin. “Okay, you’re not Bagorian, or allied specie, but I’m pleased, nevertheless. So, you’re clear to make your case.” He moved back to his captain’s chair and sat down.

“I will offer you my services, as an earthling, to accompany the most honorable Prince Trelax—”

“Too much supplication. He’s an idiot,” The Chiny’ll interrupted, shooting Trelax a stern look.

“Very well then, I’ll accompany Trelax, on his ship, back to Earth, and help him to retrieve the missing assassin card. I’ll then see to it that he makes his way back home safely. In exchange I’m allowed to go free.” She knew that if they could agree on the terms, she could depend on him to keep his word. She was bargaining for her life and knew that she had to offer something that would benefit him. He’d be taking a risk by letting her go.

“This intrigues me. You say, you’ll accompany him, help him retrieve the card, and then bring him back to anywhere I agree to?”

“Location within reason, of course.”

“Naturally, only as far as my wives’ home on Bagoria.”

“Oh man,” Trelax muttered under his breath and rolled his eyes.

The Chiny’ll stood from his chair and regarded Haley for a moment. Suddenly he reached into his belt, pulled out his disruptor, and pointed it at Haley’s head.

Trelax suddenly yelled out, “Dad, what are you doing?”

“Negotiating, son, pay attention and learn. Haley, I’d accept with one slight modification. You must complete my son’s assassination mission. You have ten seconds to decide.”

“But if I assassinate someone I’d be wanted on my own planet.”

“Possibly, but if you don’t, you’d have no skin in the game, as you earthlings like to say. This way, I can be sure you’d never speak of the matter to anyone. Ten … nine … eight …”

“Can I say something?” Trelax suddenly offered.

“No!” Haley and The Chiny’ll both shouted at him in unison.

“Consider the offer Haley. Seven … six … five … four …”

Episode 3: Haley the Space Assassin Despirately Needs an Aspirin

Haley woke-up on a beach. She knew this beach; she knew it well. The hot sand burned her toes. The ocean in front of her seemed to wave at her like a big inviting friend, promising relief. She was fifteen again. She remembered she, and her mom, had just bought a brand new swimsuit for the occasion. She had pressed her mother for a string bikini, but her mom kept insisting on a more modest swimsuit, something Haley was convinced a nun would wear on a beach vacation. Ultimately, they reached a diplomatic solution which would keep both of them happy. A hot pink tankini, a straw sun hat that was ironically cute, and a pair of new sunglasses.

As she walked, her father trudged along beside her, making a joke, maybe for the hundredth time, about how they were never coming back to Virginia Beach ever again. Everyone knowing it was his favorite place on planet earth. Towards the beach she saw people swimming, children screaming with joy, ships cruising out to some exotic port with their containers, sailboats, powerboats, and lifeguards all going about their normal beach routines. The smells of beach, food, and salt water stung their noses. She had to admit that she loved the beach too. There was something magical about this place. Her sister, younger than her, trudged along, silently, beside them. She, in sharp contrast to the rest of the family, hated the beach.

Putting their stuff down, they set up their small encampment. A small shade tent was erected, and beach towels were unfurled. Dad fell into his beach throne, to keep close eye on his sandy domain. They all took their normal places, and roles, in this family tradition which had gone from an annual, to a biannual, to an every possible weekend, event. They even sometimes came in December, when the weather was nice.

Haley walked towards the water, but it felt different than every other time she had been here. With every step she felt like there was a growing magnetism between her feet and the sand. No matter how much force she put behind her steps the beach seemed to want to hold her in place. The act of walking itself was becoming an increasing burden. The water, which never ceased the droning sound of waves, crashing against the shore line, as it had done since the beginning of time, seemed to grow farther away at each step. She started running as the sounds of the waves, and the heat from the sun, and the scorching of the sand suddenly grew intolerable.

The crashing of the waves echoed in her ears, displacing all other sounds the beach had to offer. The sounds of the waves were inviting, and mesmerizing.

thump, thump … thump … thump … thump

thump, thump … thump … thump … thump

As she ran, the faces, towels, umbrellas, ships, even the smells themselves passed away. She found herself, inches from the water’s edge. One more step and she would make it. Behind her the world had fallen away. All of the people were gone, everything had vanished. She wanted to cry out for her mother, but there was nothing to see except a desert, ending in ocean. Even the buildings had succumbed to lumbering hills of sand.

She stood there, looking out into the water, staring at the waves. She was now naked, no longer a girl of fifteen, but a woman of twenty. Naked for all the world to see, but there was no world, to see her. No people, no cities, no roads, nothing. Just her, the sand, and the water made up her world now. But still, she knew she had to stick her toe in the water. She was compelled to do it. Like doing so would suddenly link her to not only the past, but also the future. She felt that if she just dipped her toe in, she could find a way back to the world she was a part of. She reached her foot forward and for a brief moment, felt the cold water of the Atlantic overtake her food. It sent a sudden chill of electric vibrancy through her body.

thump, thump … thump … thump … thump

thump, thump … thump … thump … thump

Haley woke with a start. She couldn’t see a thing. The room she was in was dark, save for the glow of a panel on the wall, and a few colored lights that blinked on and off in nonsensical patterns. Occasionally, the panel issued a beep which sounded like the completion of some unknown diagnostic routine. Perhaps the diagnostic routine was designed to ensure the nonsensical patterns of lights were still flashing nonsensically.

For a moment she didn’t move. Trying to remember the last thing she saw or heard. Searching her brain for some sort of answer, she winced at the pain radiating from the back of her head. Dammit, that stupid Bagorian. She remembered suddenly, the card, the black card. The one she was never supposed to see. That guy was a space assassin, on a mission to earth, or something.

She picked her hands up off the cold metal table and started feeling her body.

Arms … check

Legs … check

Torso … check

Head … crap that hurts … check

Everything seemed to be there, in working order. It really didn’t explain why she was alive though. She suddenly remembered the only class she had on run-ins with the assassins. It was simple. Assassin’s served one function in the galaxy. To kill people their organization felt were undesirable. There’s no need to tell you more because, if you meet one you are either a target, or collateral damage. They would kill you. But, don’t worry, the chances of you actually meeting one were so astronomically against, we don’t really need to discuss the matter further. Suddenly, Haley regretted not raising her hand and insisting the teacher go into more detail.

She, cautiously, swung her legs around to the side of the table, or bed, she was on. Thankfully, they still seemed to respond to her commands, and soon her feet were just barely touching, what felt like, the deck of a ship. Cautiously she stretched and wondered how long she’d been out.

The pain in her head seemed to subside slightly by the act of sitting up, but it didn’t leave completely.

thump, thump … thump … thump … thump

thump, thump … thump … thump … thump

In the darkness she heard a metallic noise, sounding vaguely like an engine. She had no idea where she was, or really how she got there, but there was one thing she was certain of, she was, most likely, on a Bagorian ship.

She’d only been to space twice before. Once on a small transport vessel to make a weird delivery to the dark side of the moon. What made it weird were her instructions to leave the delivery on a rock, take the money, and leave. The second time was on a familiarization flight in school for The Service. It was just around Pluto and back, but it was three days. Long enough to get used to life aboard a space craft and for her to understand basic ship procedures.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” she said.

“Yes ma’am, how may I be of service?” a bright voice suddenly erupted from somewhere in the dark.

“Oh good, someone is there.” Haley suddenly realized the voice might not be a friendly voice at all, but it was too late to worry.

“Where am I?”

“Well, you are sitting on a medical bed, in the medical bay, of a starship. To be more precise, we are presently at a full stop, outside a large asteroid. It’s actually quite lovely. The make-up of the asteroid is mostly crystalline structures. I think an earthling would call it amethyst, and—”

“Okay, okay, enough. So, we’re on spaceship.”

“Well, I figured that would be obvious because, you can’t be just floating around space on your own. You must be one of those impaired humans, I’ll speak slower. You are in spaaaace … you know … where spaceships live … me computer.”

“Okay, so you’re a computer, good, now we’re getting somewhere.”

“Yes … me computer … you huuuuuuuman”

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Because you’re retarded. Oh sorry … we’re not supposed to say that anymore. You slow human … me speak small words … we go slow … okaaaaaay?”

“Why don’t I get up off of this bed, find your control panel, and dump a bunch of water into your circuits. Then we’ll see who’s slow then? I’m confused, my head hurts, and I’m likely nowhere near my bed. So, stop being a jerk.”

“Okay, I apologize. No need to get snippy. My internal sensors are telling me there’s nothing wrong with you. I’ve scanned your whole body and with the exception of a slight concussion, you seem to be in perfect health. Would you like a diagnostic of your reproductive system? I have completely scanned your—“

“Oh, just stop! Look, don’t scan my … reproductive areas without my permission. So, you’re a medical computer I’m guessing, so maybe you can give me something for the headache? Do you have any aspirin?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Off to her right she could see a couple of the lights suddenly flash. A quiet beep issued from an annunciator panel announcing the end of some process.

“Can I get some lights please?”

“Lights at full power,” another, deeper, voice barked.

The room was suddenly flooded with a dizzying, and blinding light. Haley had to cover he eyes. She immediately felt the heat from the lights bear-down on her. She wondered if food under a warming light at the restaurant had the same reaction.

“Turn those lights down! You are so inconsiderate. She’s a human, they aren’t designed for that kind of lighting.” The medical computer snapped at an unknown entity, controlling the lights.

“Well, I never know,” the deep voice said. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell. We get so many different species on this ship I never know what to do.”

“If you had bothered to check the database you would know,” the medical computer shot back.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m not a fancy medical computer like you are. I’m only responsible for lights, water, and heating. I’m so stupid. Maybe you should talk slow to me too then … you know you think you are so high and mighty …”

The computers appeared to be arguing with each other. Meanwhile, Haley cowered on the bed, trying to hide her eyes from the intense light and frightening heat being kicked off by the lamps. The two bickered back and forth for another twenty seconds until she couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Hey, you two! Earth girl, dying of heat exhaustion and going blind!” she said.

“Oh sorry,” the computer with the deep voice said.

Suddenly she felt the intensity of the heat from the lamps fade. She dared look out from her fingers to see the lights were a more comfortable, and more normal level of illumination. The room was mostly a polished silver color. There was a gold band running through the center of the room that seemed to serve no other function than as an aesthetic detail. The one panel on the wall appeared to be running a diagnostic on her. There were two other beds, unoccupied, which had dark panels behind them.

“Thank you. What ship am I on?” she said, taking the aspirin form the dispenser, and the little cup of water the computer had prepared for her.

“You are presently on the Bagorian vessel, Splendid Two,” the computer with the deep voice answered. “Anticipating your follow-up question, which I’m programed to do, you are presently docked with the Splendid One. But you should know—”

“Thanks, that’s enough for now. Who is the Captain of this vessel?”

“Ma’am, the present captain of this vessel is the Bagorian Leader, Trelax,” the medical computer answered.

Suddenly Haley’s brain reminded her of the paperwork for her last delivery. It was for a Mr. Xalert. Trelax spelled backwards. The Bagorians weren’t known to be the most creative folks in the galaxy. Maybe this guy Trelax can be duped into just taking her home.

“Alright, then what do I call you two yuck-yucks?”

“Yuck-yucks Ma’am?” the medical computer replied.

“Yeah, don’t you have names? How do I know what to call you or do I just yell out medical computer thing, I need something?”

The computer with the deep voice butted in, “Oh yes, I understand her question. I’m the Control and Analysis Regulation Computer, most people just call me Carl.”

“Hmmm … hmmm,” the medical computer sounded like it was clearing its non-existent throat. “I am the Medically Intelligent Computer Element. Mike for short. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Well, Mike and Carl, my name is Haley Meadows and I’m pleased to meet you as well. Now, thank you for the medicine, Mike, and the lights, Carl, but I need to get out of here so if you’ll excuse me.”

“But wait Ma’am, I mean, Haley,” Carl implored of her. “There’s something you need to know.”

“Thanks guys,” Haley replied, “but I think it is time to talk to this, Captain Trelax, and catch a ride home. People are going to start worrying about me.” She walked through the door which automatically opened with a whooshing sound and then closed behind her as she walked into the dimly lit hallway.