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Various Short Fiction Pieces

Brought to you in no particular order... other than the order I found them lurking in various files and sub-folders on my computer. This probably isn't all of them, I often toss up little story-bits on my blog, but it's a representative enough sample!

Tempest in a Teapot
A Love Story with Bite
In the 18th Century...
The Purl 2s
Zomb-pocalypse
Rule 34: Crochet Hook and Knitting Needle
Rule 34: Yarn
Size is Relative
A Random Tale


Tempest in a Teapot

“Well that was much ado about nothing,” Sarah said as she flopped down on a couch in the teacher’s lounge. “I tell you, those committee meetings are nothing but a waste of time.”

“They do quite get their feathers ruffled, don’t they? Very much a … a… storm in a cream-bowl,” Josh chimed in.

“Storm in a cream bowl? What in the hell does that mean?” Lily looked up from the folder she was holding. “Is that one of your funny British sayings?”

“No, m’dear,” David chimed in, “the correct British term would be ‘tempest in a teacup.’ I think Josh is just trying to show off his knowledge of old sayings again.”

“What? Me show off?” Josh grinned. He strode over to the community refrigerator and pulled open the door. He stared intently at the contents.

“Are you waiting for something to reach out and grab you?” Lily asked dryly.

“Who bought eggs to keep here?” Josh asked with a frown. “It’s not like you can cook them. We don’t have a stove.”

“But we do have a coffee pot,” Sarah said mildly.

“And your point is…?” David arched an eyebrow at her.

“I like hard boiled eggs in the morning, so every morning I put an egg in the filter basket. When the coffee is done brewing, I have a nice, warm, hard-boiled egg. Convenient and energy-efficient.” Sarah said, shrugging her shoulders slightly.

“That actually works?” Lily asked.

“Yes, yes it does. I was surprised – I had heard it on the radio, and decided there was no way it could work. So I tried it.” Sarah said.

“Let’s see,” Josh said, grabbing the carton of eggs from the refrigerator and walking over to the coffee pot. He stared at it for a moment. “Um, how do you work this thing?”

“You don’t know how to make coffee?” David laughed. “How on earth do you survive?”

“I have many other talents, my young friend,” Josh intoned in his best Star Wars impersonation.

“Right, you’re a regular chick magnet,” David scoffed.

“Dude, I am. Ask anyone. Sarah? Lily?” Josh glanced at the girls, but they all evaded his eyes.

“To impress the ladies you have to be smooth,” David said.

“And you are?” Josh quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Quite. Allow me to demonstrate. Ladies?” And with that David grabbed three of the eggs from the carton and began smoothly juggling them. At least, for the first few seconds. Then, suddenly, one of the eggs arced away from him and hit the edge of the counter with a sickening ‘splat.’ David had been leaning out, trying to grab it, and consequently one of the other eggs landed squarely on his head. The last egg dropped to the floor, splattering egg goo all over his shoes.

“Yeah. Smooth, real smooth,” Josh said, edging away quickly.

Just then the door burst in and Ben, the Principal, came in. He took one took at David’s egg-splattered face and began one of his legendary rants. The occupants of the room, by and large, tuned him out, only catching a few pertinent words. ‘Fiscal,’ ‘reprimand,’ ‘responsibility,’ ‘duty,’ ‘walrus,’ and ‘cutbacks.’

“Now THAT,” Sarah said after he had wound down and stormed out of the room, “was a tempest in a teapot. What I want to know is, what was that about a walrus?”

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Love Story with a Bite

She stumbled out of the crush of the ballroom, gulping in the cool night air. It was hot, she was cranky, and damn propriety, she just needed to be alone for a few minutes. Too many stares, too many whispered conversations. She wandered into the large hedged garden and found an isolated bench and sat down. Then, even though she could hear her lady’s maid’s voice in her head yammering on about wrinkles and dirt, she laid down on the cool stone and looked up into the night sky. The sounds from the party were muted, and it was dark and peaceful. She wished she could stay out here, unnoticed, for the rest of the evening. But that wouldn’t suit her purpose, she needed to find a man. She’d promised her guardian she wouldn’t be a bother for more than a month out of the season, and that meant she had to work fast. There were a few eligible bachelors among the men she’d met, but none that quite met her-

She was distracted from her musing by the sound of giggling and rapid footsteps. The sounds came closer, and she willed herself to stillness on the bench. If she didn’t move, there was a good chance that whoever it was would just walk right by. A moment later, Lady Winterhall dashed into the hedge garden and, not sparing so much as a glance at the figure on the bench, quickly moved deeper into the shadowy paths. All was silent for a moment, but she knew that there would be someone following the Lady. She amused herself for a moment laying odds on what gentleman had set the assignation with the voluptuous Lady Winterhall, and had settled her odds-on favorite to be Lord Flinthelm. He was young, devilishly handsome, and not at all ready to settle down and produce the heir his father wanted. He’d be hated if he wasn’t so powerful, and if so many people didn’t fear him. It was said he’d won countless duels with nothing so much as a scratch, though it was said it must be because the devil looks after his own – for each time, the duel was because he was sleeping with yet another married woman. She wondered idly if he were the one to follow Lady Winterhall, if Lord Winterhall would call Lord Flinthelm out in a duel. She supposed not, Lord Winterhall was old and seemed perfectly happy to let his wife cavort around town, as she was his third wife and he had scores of heirs from his first two. It’s odd what men find important, she mused.

A branch snapped, and suddenly Lord Flinthelm was standing in the alcove, staring at her. She hadn’t heard him approach, and she mentally chided herself in being too wrapped up in her musings to notice. Such lapses in judgment could be fatal to her standing in society, were she caught in a compromising position. And then she’d never accomplish her goal. She shook her head slightly and smiled up at Lord Flinthelm in what she hoped was a shy, engaging way.

“Good evening, sir,” she murmured softly. “She… ah, I assume you are… that is to say… the right fork, my lord.”

He grinned wolfishly at her. His eyes shone in the moonlight. He stepped closer to the bench on which she was still reclining, her hands clasped over her midsection, her head tilted to the side to look at him. She watched the way he moved – no, glided – over to her, each muscle smooth and animalistic. His teeth were impossibly white against his tanned face.

“My, my, what are we doing out here all alone? Are you not worried about your reputation? It’s all well and good for the older, more… ah, experienced young ladies to take some fun where they can get it at this balls, but a young miss such as yourself…” He clucked his tongue.

“I was simply getting some air, it is an absolute crush in there. I swore I was about to faint on the spot!” She sat up quickly and fanned herself theatrically.

He ran a hand through his thick black hair, and it fell to rest over one eye. He tossed his head back and snorted. “You appear to be made of sterner stuff than that. You must know my reputation, and yet you don’t flee this place as if the devil were chasing you.” He took a step closer to her. She stood up abruptly, unwilling to let him tower over her more than was strictly necessary. Still, even drawing herself up to her full five-foot-four, she was dwarfed by his six-foot-two frame as he stepped even closer.

“My, my, I can see why they talk of you so,” he said softly, reaching out a hand to stroke her cheek. “They call you an angel, though they fear you as much as the ones they call the devil.”

She stared up at him, unblinking. “It’s the eyes, my lord, nothing more.”

“Oh, true, those silver eyes of yours do add to it, but there’s also the mystery surrounding your past. And you are so achingly beautiful.” He lowered his head and his lips brushed against hers.

She felt her breath catch, and her heartbeat quicken. He caught her lower lip between his teeth and nipped at it, hard enough to draw blood. He laughed as she jerked herself back.

“Maybe you should have been more careful of playing the with devil, my love, because when I’m through with you they shall call you the fallen angel.” He grabbed her arm roughly and dragged her further into the garden, but down the left-hand path, away from Lady Winterhelm. She followed meekly, trying to slow her furiously pounding heart and quiet the queasy feeling in her stomach from the blood on her lip. This was not how it was supposed to go. She wasn’t sure yet, and if he wasn’t the one, and this got out… she was ruined. Utterly ruined.

Finally, he came to rest in a small, almost completely dark alcove. Clouds had moved in and blocked the almost-full moon, and the wind had died, leaving an eerie stillness. He grinned down at her again, his teeth a white slash in the night. The clouds parted for just a moment, and when the moonlight hit his face she saw it flash in his eyes. He was a beast, not just figuratively, but in truth. The wolf that he’d tangled with on his last daring hunt – the one that had bitten him – had been no ordinary wolf. She shuddered.

He mistook her shudder, and laughed cruelly as he pulled at her clothing. At least, she thought, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. He was a blight on society, a wastrel and a cruel man who would not be missed. His younger brother was married and would provide his father with suitable heirs. The world would be a better place.

With that she grinned, and he paused for a moment as he stared at her, his eyes going wide. He may not yet know what he was, but her long, pointed teeth left no doubt as to what she was. He tried to back away but she was quicker, grabbing him in strong hands and sinking her teeth into his neck, not stopping until he was bone-dry. When it was over, she looked down at the ashen corpse with her now blood-red eyes, bemoaning both the fact that she had to drag and hide the body, and that colored contact lenses wouldn’t be available for several hundred more years. She would have to go back into seclusion until she looked normal enough to hunt again, and by then the hunger would be gnawing at her. Hopefully she’d be able to find a suitable victim more quickly this time. Perhaps in Spain… it would be years before she could show her face in London again.

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In the 18th Century...

"In the 18th century, a man who robs graves to sell for medical research becomes too intimately involved in his work. Soon enough, while he sells most of the cadavers to science, he starts taking a few of the ripest corpses home for personal use..."

From the diary of James St. Irving:

8 November 1888

Tonight was my last hope, my last chance. Miranda will be committed to the ground tomorrow, forever taking her secrets with her. I have kept her and preserved her these many months, hoping that one of my experiments would succeed. Tonight was my final – and perhaps most catastrophic – failure. Despite my most valiant efforts, the final piece to this puzzle eludes me.

There is something more powerful at work than alchemy; there is something beyond the physical body that makes us what we are. If I did not believe in God before this, I do now. And I devotedly pray that he will have mercy on my soul.

The horror I have already reeked upon Whitechapel is unparalleled in the annals of history. I can only hope that this is the end; that once a sufficient amount of time has elapsed, the bodies are no longer able to hold themselves together and fall, again inanimate, back into the ground from whence I raised them. It is under this premise that I took only the bodies too decayed for the surgeon’s scalpel – those past the point of decay to be sufficient teaching tools. Those with innards too rotten to tell the prospective surgeon anything of import, but sufficiently whole for my purposes of reanimation.

Unfortunately, while the body can be reanimated – it is a simple machine, a chemically and electrically driven machine – the mind is too complex to be brought back from the other side. The bodies I brought back were nothing more than hollow shells. No, no, they were worse than hollow shells. They were mindless… zombies, crazed with bloodlust and bent upon attacking innocent victims. Their crimes – my crimes – were unspeakable and, to the consternation of the police, unsolvable. I can only pray that time will prove me right, that the killing will cease and show that the monsters I created are no more. But I cannot – will not - wait to see.

I go willing to my death with their blood on my hands. It is a poor offering, and I am sure to be damned to the deepest pits of Hell for not only my crimes against others, dead and alive, but for the act I am about to commit to my own person. I have no choice; the weight of all my sins, past and present, weigh too heavily upon me. I lay this journal – with all of my research destroyed lest anyone contemplate duplicating it – in sacred ground. Hopefully this last act of contrition, my admission of guilt, though hidden, may play part and parcel in lessening my damnation.

May God be with you, Miranda. I pray I do not find you on the other side.

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The Purl 2s

She sat in the drab grey room drumming her fingers against the scarred metal table. She blew out a sigh and glanced at her watch. He said he’d be back in a minute, and that was half an hour ago. She was just about to give up and leave, figuring she could come back and give a statement later when the battered door swung open.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Detective Kensington said apologetically. He gave her a small smile and pulled out a chair on the other side of the table.

“That’s okay,” she lied as he sat down and pulled out a small tape recorder.

“Would it be okay if I recorded this?”

She shrugged, then nodded her assent. He pushed the record button and settled back in his chair.

“So, Ms. Payton, tell us, in your own words, what took place yesterday, the 15th of June.”

“Well, I had already left the office-”

“And for the record, Ms. Payton, where do you work?”

“Fisk, Trenton, and Jenkins, Attorneys at Law.”

“And what do you do there?”

“I’m an attorney, junior partner. I specialize in corporate mergers.”

“Thank you, please continue.”

“Okay,” she paused to collect your thoughts, “I had already left for the day, but when I got home I realized I had left a file on my desk. I had to get ready for a meeting the next day, and wanted to review a few of the facts, so I drove back to the office to get it.”

“What time was this?”

“It would have been about…” she chewed on her lip as she tried to remember. “Eight-ish, I think. Anyway, I was walking up to the door when I first hear it.” She shuddered slightly.

“Can you describe what you heard?”

“It was a click-click noise, sharp and metallic. As I got closer to the door it sped up. Click-click… Click-click… Click-click… click-click-click-click-click…” She broke down and let out a sob.

“Take your time, ma’am,” Detective Kensington said soothingly.

“I…I started running for the door, but I could hear them closing on me… click-click-click-click-click… Finally, I reached the door and wrenched it open. I slid inside and slammed it shut just in time. The needles clanked against the glass as then pressed against it…” She let out another sob.

“Would you like a glass of water?” he asked kindly.

“Yes… please,” she said in a small voice, still snuffling.

He got up and left the room, pausing to talk to Office Newton standing on the other side of the two-way mirror.

“This was a close one, it’s lucky she got away,” he said to him.

“Good thing that office was so security-conscious,” Officer Newton said, “or the Purl 2s would have claimed another victim.”

Kensington sighed. “I can still see the last one, that skein of yarn shoved in her mouth… the knitting needles…” he broke off.

“Well, at least this one got away, and they can’t elude us forever. Maybe she’ll be able to give us a description.”

Kensington nodded, and went to get Ms. Payton her glass of water - and a box of tissues.

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Zomb-pocalypse

“You’re… not what I expected,” Jack said thoughtfully.

Julia paused, her hand poised about the box of ammunition. She cocked her head to one side and eyed him shrewdly. “What were you expecting?” she asked softly.

“Someone more…” He broke off and waved his hands in a vague gesture.

She slid the bullets into the rifle and cocked it, her mouth set in a hard line. “Someone more what, exactly?” she asked sweetly. She strolled over to the edge of the building roof and took aim at one of the zombies in the street below.

Jack watched silently as she squeezed off two rounds and two more zombies slumped over the growing pile, neat red holes in their foreheads. He looked worriedly at the pile for a moment. “Aren’t you concerned that they’ll eventually pile up high enough that they can reach the roof?”

“Nope. Got it covered, and you’re not changing the topic.” She reached down into a box and pulled out a bottle of Everclear.

“Do you really think you should be drinking at a time like this?” he asked.

She shot him an exasperated look. “You’re the one all worried about the height of the pile. This is what I do when it gets too high. You know,” she lowered her voice and leaned towards him, “it’s not like I haven’t been doing this for three weeks, while you were… what exactly were you doing, anyway?”

She pulled off the bottle cap and began looking around the roof.

“What, you’re going to drink the pile down?”

“Don’t be a moron,” she said crossly. She grabbed a rag and stuffed it into the neck of the bottle. Pulling out a lighter, she lit the rag and tossed it over the edge of the roof. There was a soft thud, a clink, and then a wave of heat passed over them.

“I’m not sure what it is, but they burn really well,” she said thoughtfully as she dragged her lawn chair closer to the edge and sat down, pulling a white bag out of the cooler. “Marshmallow?”

“Um, no thanks. Just… how many times have you done this?”

“The burning, or the marshmallow roasting? Because I only got the marshmallows on my last daring run to the grocery store.” She pulled out a marshmallow and stuck it on the tip of a fencing sword, holding it out over the edge of the building.

“The burning, actually. How many have you killed?”

She tilted her soft round face to the side, her long blond curls shifting in the wind. “I’ve lost count. Thousands, probably. In the beginning I had a kill rate of one or two an hour. But I’ve gotten faster at sighting and a lot more accurate. I can knock off forty or fifty an hour now. I usually put in a good eight hour day. Ten if I’m feeling particularly perky.”

She smiled up at him, her plump face shining in the fading light. She pulled the warm, gooey marshmallow off the end and nibbled on it thoughtfully. “You never did answer my question. What were you expecting?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Well, there were tales among the other survivors of this… er, badass chick that was killing off the zombies left and right. I guess I just expected you to be more…”

“Hot, voluptuous, and stunningly athletic?”

“Something like that,” he mumbled.

“Well, it doesn’t take a great deal of athleticism to pull a trigger. Though I have,” she looked down at her plump body, “lost a bit of weight. It’s hard to get much food, you know, with each run to the store being a bit on the risky side.”

“Oh, no, you look… great,” he said lamely.

“I’m forty pounds overweight and wearing a giant flowered sundress. Please. I look like someone’s maiden aunt,” she laughed softly. “Lara Croft I am not.”

“I was actually thinking more…Jennifer Garner in Alias.”

“Well, sorry to disappoint.” She got up and grabbed the box of ammo and began reloading the rifle.

“You’re not a disappointment at all. You’re a one-woman zombie killing machine!”

“Yeah, population of the planet: six million. At this rate the world will be safe in… what, fifty thousand years?”

“Well, boss,” Jack said, slinging a rifle over his arm, “I’d like to pencil in a two week vacation for right about then…”

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Rule 34: Crochet Hook and Knitting Needle

She looked at him and shivered. She was no simpering, modest miss, but the sight of him could cause a hardened harlot to swoon. He was perfection. A good twelve inches of hard, cold aluminium, at least a size 15. He was a deep midnight blue, and his surface, burnished by years of yarn sliding sensously over it, glowed in the dim lamplight. She looked down at her own frumpy plastic body, a pale, unattractive shade of light purple made more hideous by its obvious seams and sickly translucency. And she was a P, for goodness sake! A man of his caliber should have a svelte 00 steel by his side. What could he possibly see in her? She pushed that thought aside as he gently slid his tip into her hook...

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Rule 34: Yarn

The Scottish wool snuggled up next to the American cashmere, and said in his soft, husky brogue, "I canna wait to be knit together with you."

She giggled, and gave him a gentle push. "But we just met, I hardly know you!"

He slipped a roughened strand between her silky ones and she gasped softly. He smiled, and said, "But we were made for each other, can't you feel it?"

And feel it she did! The sensations running through her skein were like nothing she'd ever felt before...

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Size is Relative

“More people are more familiar with the size of most fruits,” James said. “There are places they haven’t even heard of ping-pong, but they know what a plum or an orange is.”

“That’s not true! Plenty of countries don’t grow plums or oranges. Poor people in the heart of Africa probably don’t have them,” Carl said. He looked around the small assembly for support. “But sporting equipment is a standard.”

“Please,” James said. “It may be standard, but that doesn’t mean it’s universally known. Janice, can you tell me the difference between a baseball and a softball?” She stared at him blankly and shook her head. “See? Now, can you tell me the difference between an orange and a grapefruit?”

“Well, normally…” she started, but James cut her off.

“And, sure, they may not have plums and oranges, but that’s the great thing about the fruit scale – you can customize it to the country or region. Say, like, Japan, they may have starfruit sized hail. And Mexico could have jicama sized hail. That way people would have a great point of reference.”

“Then it’s not really a standard scale, is it?” Carl shot back scathingly. “Rebecca, what do you think?”

I was startled by the sound of my name, and it took me a second to get my bearings on the conversation. I’d been busy watching tiny pea-sized hail plunk down the steps. “I think that for one, people in the heart of Africa don’t much worry about hail, and even if they did, the places they don’t have grocery stores and sporting events are also probably places devoid of national weather service radios that, in the unlikely event of hail, could possibly confuse them as to the size of it. And while the sport ball analogies are much more standard, since their sizes are regulated, it is probable that a lot of people wouldn’t know a basketball from a hockey puck. However, as an orange can be anywhere from the size of a tangerine to the size of a grapefruit, that’s not really the most accurate estimation. Then again, they’re weather forecasters. Accuracy is not their forte.”

“So which is better?” James pressed.

Our trusty weather radio went off again just then, letting us know for the tenth time that in case we hadn’t noticed the dark sky, driving rain, delicate click-click of hail, blinding flashes of lightning, and deafening thunder, by the way, there’s a storm. Janice went over and smacked the button on the front of the weather alert radio, temporarily silencing the robotic voice.

“Neither,” I said, unwilling to take sides between these two, especially after the frosting versus icing debacle that ended with Carl stapling James to his office chair after James has Sharpied Carl’s face. “They both have their good points and their bad points. You know if it were up to me, I’d give a damn measurement and be done with it. ‘You can expect hail up to two inches in diameter’ is not in the least subjective and is completely understandable.”

“Unless you only use metric,” Fred chimed in. I shot him a withering look. He grinned back.

“Other than pea-sized, they always use sports to describe hail,” Carl said, ignoring me. “We have marble sized, golf ball sized, baseball sized, and softball sized. And, as you just heard, ping-pong ball sized.”

“What’s the difference between ping-pong ball sized and golf ball sized?” Fred asked. “I mean, aren’t they about the same?”

“Yeah, Carl, what’s the difference?” James taunted.

“2.67 mm,” I said. They stared at me. “A golf ball is 42.67 mm and a ping-pong ball is 40 mm. At least, that’s the official regulation size.”

“How do you know that?” James asked.

“I Googled it after the first weather alert. I was curious about the shift from the traditional golf ball comparison, and wondered if there was a significant difference,” I admitted. I didn’t figure they’d buy me knowing that off the top of my head.

“Have we ever had Wiffle ball sized hail?” Fred asked.

“Wouldn’t that be about the size of a softball?” James asked.

“I’d think a little bigger,” Fred answered as he turned to me and gave me a questioning look.

“Would you like me to-” I started, but was interrupted by the weather radio once again. This time it was warning of quarter sized hail, but on the second run-through tacked on walnut sized as well.

“Do you think they worried people would expect disks of hail if they just stuck with the quarter-sized rating?” Carl asked. “So they had to say walnut because it’s the same size, only round?”

“Well, actually,” I said, “this brings up a question. Do they mean walnuts as they fall out of trees, with the coating around the shells, or walnuts in their shells, or shelled walnuts? Arguably, walnuts can be three fairly different sizes. Certainly different enough to go from minor, annoying dents to totaling-a-car dents.”

They were quiet as they all thought about it for a moment. The only sound was the steady swish of rain against the window and the occasional rumble of thunder. Until the weather radio went off. Again.

It was my turn to silence it, so I trudged over and gave a slightly more vicious than necessary punch to the button that would shut it up for another few minutes. By the time I got back to the group, they’d moved on from hail size and were talking about tumors.

“…it’s everywhere,” James was saying. “Remember when the Pope had an operation and all they could talk about was the grapefruit sized tumor? Again, standard fruits and measures!”

Carl grumbled under his breath, but the fight had gone out of him. And the weather had settled down to a typical spring storm, the clouds lightening and the promised skull-crushing hail never quite materializing, so we all broke off and wandered back to our desks to at least pretend to work for the rest of the day.

My mind was on the phone calls I had to return so I didn’t notice him when I first sat down at my desk. But as I reached for the phone he took a step forward and the movement caught my eye.

There was a pixie standing next to my keyboard, hands on hips, glaring at me.

He was, I’d say, about as tall as a medium-sized zucchini.

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A Random Tale

~The Randomly Generated Bits (from various random generator websites)~
Plot: The theme of this story: light-hearted adventure. The main character: laid-back detective. The major event of the story: premonition.
Bar: Black Ship
Town: Red point
First Line: Why can't I be selfish?
Planet: Ega Psi
Ship: The Shrewd Lee
Spell: Pasta Curse
Gadget: Viral Sector-Meter
Disease: Legendary Bloody Fever
Medication: Laniz - huge, hexagonal, gray pills.
Currancy: Dominion Ducat
Name: Jovaa Nli, Teux Urubadik
Pet: Eonn
Vampire: Selena Nicolai
Enemy: Flyers Of The Deadly One
Evil Overlord: Godrdug
Space Phenomenon: Un-String Cluster
Books:
Current Studies of A Satyr's Courtship Rituals: This book is not very clear. If someone makes an effort to read it, they will find it has little useful information. Making the book virtually useless, it appears that the contents are not very original.
Harpies' Dietary Habits: This book is hard to understand because of a meandering writing style. If someone makes an effort to read it, they will find it is extremely informative. Despite its good traits, the contents were probably taken from several works.
Examining the Frontiers' Recent Philosophers: This book is practically incomprehensible mostly due to terrible diagrams. If, by chance or skill, someone can unriddle the book, that person will find it is reasonably useful. Perusing the book reveals that the contents were probably taken from several works.
Drink: Random Jest Cocoa


“Why can’t I be selfish?” Jovaa asked Eonn, “Just this once?”

Eonn wagged his tail and looked up at her with his big brown puppy eyes, but offered no answer. Then, sensing he wasn’t going to get a treat out of this conversation, he sighed, ambled over to his bed and flopped down. He let out another gusty sigh, and though he didn’t so much as raise his head, his eyes continued to watch her as she got up and began to pace, the large purple envelope still clutched in one hand.

“I mean, what, she expects me to drop everything and just swoop in and save the day? Because she THINKS something might happen? I don’t even know if I believe that ANYONE can sense the future, let alone her. Yeah, she tells that tale about her great-great-great-grandfather being a vampire, but, really – who ever heard of a vampire being clairvoyant? Bloodsucking and treacherous, yes. But psychic?” She broke off suddenly, and strode over to stare down at Eonn. He wagged his tail hopefully, trying his best to look cute and pitifully hungry at the same time. Jovaa sighed, reached into the cupboard above his head and brought out a Jafgra ear.

“I don’t know what you’ve done to deserve this,” she tried to frown at him, “but, here you go.” She dropped the ear onto his bed, and he snapped it up and began happily chewing.

She strolled thoughtfully over to the communications panel, and punched in the number for Selena Nicolai. As the com channel beeped, she tried to figure out what she would say. Before she had an answer, Selena answered.

“Hello?”

“Selena, hi. I got your package yesterday, and I’ve been thinking…”

“Wait,” Selena interrupted, “it’s gotten worse. Far worse. Ega Psi is now in the grip of a major epidemic. Evidently they have a pretty deadly strain of Legendary Bloody Fever, and it’s wiping out half of the population. I’ll upload the data on it into your Viral Sector-Meter – do you have it plugged in?”

“Uh…” Jovaa scrambled amongst the clutter on the control board until she located her VSM. It took another moment of frantic searching to find the connection cable and get it plugged in. The whole time she could hear Selena sighing and drumming her long, manicured nails on her console. “Yes, yes I do. Um, when you say ‘is now in,’ are you referring to now-now, or is this one of your… premonitions?”

Selena smiled tightly, her bright red lips a bloody gash across her alabaster face. “You don’t believe me?”

“Well, I mean, um…” Jovaa trailed off lamely. She’d always felt somewhat self-conscious around the prettier, thinner, more athletic Selena. Selena, the prom queen. Selena, the class president. Selena, Selena, Selena!

“Jovaa!” Selena’s voice snapped her back to the present. “You have the data, you have the package, now, are you going to take the job? Or are thousands of people going to die because of you?”

“Well, when you put it that way…” Jovaa sighed. “I guess I’ll get better seats at next year’s Galaxy Series, won’t I?”

Selena looked confused, then shocked, finished up with outraged. “You, you, just can’t, I mean, how...”

“Chill, Selena!” Jovaa nearly giggled at the sight of a sputtering Selena. That had just made the job worth it. Selena never, ever lost her composure! “I meant that I would certainly get some primo seats after I save Ega Psi from the plague. That has to be one of the perks, right? Geez, what did you think I meant?”

Selena frowned at her. “Not funny. Not funny at all.” And the com screen went blank.

Jovaa turned back to Eonn. “Must be the vampire blood. It may give you the gift of sight, but it sucks all of the bloody humor out of you!”

Eonn glanced up briefly, and went back to chewing on his treat. Jovaa swung back around in her chair and consulted her VSM. The entry for Legendary Bloody Fever was long and full of medical jargon. She sighed, realizing that she was going to need some help on this one. Normally she preferred to work alone, but she was smart enough to know when she needed a little extra help. And medical jargon was not her strong suit. But…

She pulled out her copy of the Intergalactic Tangerine Pages and thumbed to the entries for “Urubadik.” Tracing her fingers down the page, she looked for the familiar first name. Not there. There was, however, a listing for a “T. Urubadik.” Crossing her fingers, she punched in the 23 digit number and waited as the line beeped.

“The Happy Detective Agency, how can I help you?” A gravelly voice answered on the fourth beep.

“Hello, um, is this Teux Urubadik?”

“Who wants to know?”

“Jovaa Nli”

There was a pause at the other end of the line. Jovaa cleared her throat nervously.

“Well, whadaya know…” said the now-amused voice at the other end of the line. “How the hell have you been?”

Jovaa let out the breath she was holding in a long woosh. “Oh, fine, fine. Hey, I hate to call and suddenly say ‘I need a favor,’ but…”

“But you need a favor.”

“Um, yes.”

“Is this something I can help you with over the com, or are you asking to set up a meeting?”

“A meeting would be good”

“Can you get to the Black Ship Tavern?”

Jovaa searched her memory. Black Ship… Black Ship… The name sounded familiar… With a sudden flash of memory, it came to her.

“Yeah, sure. I’m just leaving Red Point now, though, so how about tomorrow at, say, 43:00 GST?”

“That’ll work.” He abruptly broke off the connection before she could say anything more.

Jovaa again turned to look at Eonn. “What is it with people hanging up on me?”

Eonn, who had long ago finished the ear, just raised one closed eyelid and peered at her speculatively. Figuring there wouldn’t be another treat in it for him, he sighed and went back to sleep. A moment later he was snoring softly.

Jovaa glared at her canine companion for a moment (man’s best friend. Ha!), then set the course for the Black Ship Tavern. Then she, too, went to sleep.

(If you care to know, the Black Ship Tavern is quite possibly the most lawless place in the entire galaxy. It lies in the center of the cobbled together remains of all of the ships damaged and destroyed in the last war with Godrdug and the Flyers of the Deadly One. Some say that you could get lost for days in the twisting labyrinth of corridors, never seeing another living soul. There are stories of whole groups of people that wandered off and were never heard from again. If you’re worried, though, for a mere 3,000 Dominion Ducats you could purchase a homing beacon with a distress signal to wear, just in case. About half of the tavern’s income is reputedly from the sale of these. The other half comes from the sale of Random Jest Cocoa.)

Jovaa woke early the next morning to the buzzing of the autopilot. The ship had reached orbit around the Black Ship Tavern, and was awaiting further instructions. She told it to continue the holding pattern, and hopped into the shower. Twenty minutes later, the hot water supply exhausted, she stepped back out and began toweling off as she rummaged through her closet. Grabbing the sexiest outfit she had, a dark purple minidress and high heeled black boots, she dressed quickly and went to stand in front of the mirror.

Long, sexy legs, nicely rounded rear, and a tiny waist. Full bust with a hint of cleavage showing. Flowing, gorgeous hair framing a face with a perfect complexion and compelling green eyes. She fixed this image in her mind as she slowly opened her eyes.

Standing in front of her was a purple sausage with unruly masses of dark hair surrounding a sunburned face. With a sigh, she stripped off the purple dress (only ripping one seam in the process) and donned a long, flowing black skirt and simple peasant blouse. Turning back to her reflection, she saw a middle-aged plump hippy-looking chick staring back at her. At least she no longer looked like an overweight spaceport hooker, she thought. And really, we can’t all look like supermodels, though it would be nice…

Sitting down at the control panel, she artfully piloted her ship towards one of the open space docks. As she got within 100 megatherswhens the control tower called her.

“Please state the name of your ship and you business,” came a nasal voice.

“This is the Shrewd Lee, I’m here to meet someone.”

“Okay, that’s Shrewdly S-H-R-E-W-D-L-Y, here on personal business?”

Jovaa gritted her teeth. “No, it’s the Shrewd Lee, S-H-R-E-W-D space L-E-E, here on personal business.”

There was an affronted pause on the other end of the line.

“Well, excuse me. You’re cleared to dock at bay H-543,” said the voice, “though that’s the stupidest bloody name for a ship I’ve ever…” The voice drifted off as the control tower disconnected.

Jovaa stewed for a moment. Twenty times she had tried to get the ship renamed. Twenty times she had mailed off the 45-page “Application for a change in ship name and/or designation.” In triplicate. Filled out by hand, as required. According to the Department of Galactic Vehicles, nine times they claimed they never received it, five times they claimed one or more of the copies was improperly or incompletely filled out, three times the clerk had spilled coffee on it, two times the office dog had eaten it, and once it had spontaneously burst into flames. All according to the Department of Galactic Vehicles, that is. Jovaa had her own theories. But, she would continue to try (maybe next time it would be sucked through a wormhole into an alternate dimension) because, to be honest, it WAS a stupid name. And she was tired of correcting people.

Pulling into the dock, she grabbed her purse and set off to the Black Ship Tavern, heels clicking on the stainless steel flooring. She glanced down at her watch, noticed that it was already 43:71, and picked up the pace. According to her map, she had another 45 therswhen to go.

(There’s an interesting history to the “therswhen” measurement. The Chief Gaboozle of the galactic was giving a press conference to announce the new galactic measuring system, fully expected to be the immensely popular Pleen system. But a newbie working the PA system prematurely flipped on the CG’s microphone, catching the end of what he was saying to his aid, which was “And then I tied her down to the bed, and was tickling her with feathers when…” The executives in the Rhombus Office immediately created the “therswhen” measurement system and hushed up the entire story.)

She arrived at the bar with 3 minutes to spare. She spotted Teux almost immediately, sitting at a corner table. Sauntering over as casually as she could, she slipped into a chair opposite him. He motioned to the waitress, who immediately brought Jovaa a steaming cup of brown, sludgy liquid.

“What’s this?” she asked, giving the cup a cautious sniff.

“Random Jest Cocoa. It’s our best selling-drink. Now, what was it you wanted to show me?”

She gave the cup a dubious look, and handed him the VSM. He began scrolling through the data, occasionally muttering “Aha” or “Oh.” Jovaa began to fidget in her chair, eventually deciding to try the drink out of sheer boredom.

It was amazing. It was the most delicious drink she had ever tasted. It was a chocolately confection with a deep, rich flavor and a hint of… something. She couldn’t quite place it, but it seemed familiar. Before she knew it, she had drained the entire cup. She raised her hand at the waitress, signaling for another one. The waitress raised an eyebrow, but dutifully brought her another cup.

Teux smiled up at her as he finished reading, a stunned expression crossing his face as he watched the waitress set down a third Random Jest Cocoa.

“Better go easy on the stuff.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she said, knocking back the third one in a single gulp. “Jus lovely…”

(Random Jest Cocoa is the Black Ship Tavern’s best selling drink, however, it is rarely consumed by those who purchase it. Rather, it is purchased by men for their lady friends with one thought it mind. You see, Random Jest Cocoa is 1/3 Imbubue liquor, the strongest injestable liquor in the known galaxy. One shot is enough to render a 200 pound man senseless. Each drink contains 3 shots of Imbubue liquor, making it, Ducat for Ducat, the best value in mixed drinks. Random Jest Cocoa also has the unusual, but pleasant virtue of not causing a hangover.)

Jovaa opened her eyes slowly, taking in the ceiling of the bedroom on her ship. She moved fractionally, expecting some sort of pain to go shooting through her head. The last thing she remembered was sitting in the bar with Teux, and now she was lying in bed, naked, and not alone…

She closed her eyes. Maybe this was all a dream. Her hand inched out and encountered warm flesh. Warm, furry flesh. Her eyes flew open again and her head whipped around to see Eonn curled up in bed next to her.

Just then the com light began to flash. She jumped up, threw on a robe and answered it.

“Hello?”

“Hey there. Feeling better?” Teux smiled at her.

“Uh…” she paused to run a hand through her tangled hair. “What… that is… how…um…”

“Look, I should have warned you, but you never should’ve had more than one of those drinks. I thought I’d give you one to loosen you up a bit, because I know you weren’t going to tell me the whole story.” He held up a hand as she began to protest. “I know you, Jovaa. You came here to pick my brain, but you never had any intention of sharing any more info than you had to. Sure, it was sneaky, but I thought it was for the best. The more information I have, the more helpful I can be. Right?”

“Yeah, sure, but…”

“Look, I didn’t get much info out of you last night, what with you passing out and throwing up all over yourself. By the way, you owe the tavern 243 Ducats for cleanup. And I threw away the clothes you were wearing. That drink leaves quite a stain. But after I undressed you and tucked you into bed – nothing else - I did get a chance to search you ship, and found the letter from Selena. So I think I have a pretty good handle on what’s going on. Meet me back at the bar in, say, one thenwhistle?”

She muttered an agreement and shut down the comlink. Then, climbing into the shower, she prepared herself to face him again. She was embarrassed that he had seen her naked - and even more embarrassed that he hadn’t seen anything worth taking advantage of. Sure, it was gentlemanly and all, but it was also insulting as hell. She consoled herself by thinking it must have been the vomited that had turned him off. Surely, that was the only reason he was able to keep a cool, level head and not ravish her. She was still attractive.

Standing back in front of the mirror, she re-evaluated that idea. She was flabby and dumpy, and even san vomit she couldn’t imaging a man wanted to ravish her. She sighed, donning a voluminous dress that hid all of the bulges by making her resemble an Army pup tent. And then she trudged back towards the bar.

Arriving back at the bar only slightly panting, Jovaa immediately handed over the money to the bar keep, who leveled her with an icy stare. She slinked back to the back of the bar, where Teux was sitting and waiting at the same (though thankfully cleaned) table.

He smiled as she approached. “So, feeling okay?”

“Hmph,” she replied, noncommittally. She didn’t want to admit that while her body felt no ill effects from last night’s binge, her pride at being un-ravished was still smarting.

(The irony here, as most men will have noted, is that if Teux HAD ravished her, she’d be equally upset because he took advantage of her. Sometimes, there’s really no way to win the war, you just have to try to keep within the confines of the shaky peace treaty. Such was the topic of the Galaxy-Wide bestselling novel: Men are like Supernovas, Women are like Un-String Clusters. Knowing this (having read the book cover to cover three times), Teux tactfully avoided her snit and moved on to the business at hand.)

“Great, great. So, I had a look through all of your info, and could only find three books that even referenced LBF. Not really the ones you would expect, though.” He took out three slim volumes and passed them over the table to Jovaa.

She picked up the top one and stared at it. “Current Studies of A Satyr's Courtship Rituals” was emblazoned on its purple velvet cover in gold letters. She turned to the inside front cover to read the omnipresent blurb: “This book is not very clear. If someone makes an effort to read it, they will find it has little useful information. Making the book virtually useless, it appears that the contents are not very original.”

She gazed at Teux, wondering if he was trying to pull a very un-funny joke. Seeing her expression, he held up a hand in a “shushing” motion.

“Yes, I know. Hardly seems relevant. But on page 19 is has a reference to a ritual that was started after an epidemic of LBF, said to ward off the disease during mating season. And, according to all available information, it worked. No more cases were reported during mating season once the ritual started taking place. The ritual involved cooking the usually poisonous Vertium leaves in a mash of Grobsband, Hershact, and Papremun. I plugged those substances into my chemical analysis computer, and it said that, under the right heat and with the correct water content, those four substances would combine to create the chemical compound 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine or 3,7-dihydro-1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione.” He smiled triumphantly.

Jovaa, looked dazed, picked up the next book. The garishly decorated front cover proclaimed its title “Harpies' Dietary Habits.” The inside yielded another unhelpful blurb: “This book is hard to understand because of a meandering writing style. If someone makes an effort to read it, they will find it is extremely informative. Despite its good traits, the contents were probably taken from several works.”

Teux smiled again. “I found that Harpies have never been known to suffer LBF, and wondered if, perhaps, their diets were what was protecting them. Much like the Satyr’s potion protected them. Page 31 points out the Harpies drink coffee. Tons and tons of coffee. Even though the rest of the galaxy gave up both coffee and tea, after they were shown to have such harmful effects by the Cathonian Referendum of Associate Practitioners, the Harpies have continued to indulge in copious quantities.”

His smile got even wider. “And, if that wasn’t enough…”

She sighed and picked up the last book. “Examining the Frontiers' Recent Philosophers” the dull gray cover said, in neat, boring script. The inside flap was just as cheery, proclaiming: “This book is practically incomprehensible mostly due to terrible diagrams. If, by chance or skill, someone can unriddle the book, that person will find it is reasonably useful. Perusing the book reveals that the contents were probably taken from several works.”

“This one is what sealed the deal. One page 29 it talks about the life of one Dr. Smeeg Snoogle. Now, his philosophies were nothing original or ingenious, but he does have one credit to his name. A dubious one, by most standards, but helpful to us. He’s the scientist who created the medication Laniz.”

He looked at her expectantly. She sighed, picked up her VSM and typed in the name. A flurry of information filled the screen.

Laniz
Physical description: huge, hexagonal, gray pills
Chief chemical component: 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine or 3,7-dihydro-1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione
Status: Removed from market after numerous complaints of hyperactivity and insomnia where reported.

She looked up at Teux, and back down at the VSM. She copied the chemical name to the search box and stared, incredulously, at the list that appeared.

“1,3,7-trimethylxanthine or 3,7-dihydro-1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione: found in coffee, chocolate, tea, soft drinks…” The list went on, but Jovaa snapped off the VSM and stared at Teux.

“Coffee. And entire bloody epidemic, solved by drinking coffee? As in, drink two cups and call me in the morning?” Jovaa began to laugh. “Those guys at CRAP are going to have to eat their words now!”

Teux smiled back. “You can call Selena and tell her tomorrow. She’ll be sure to get everything in order to send the people of Ega Psi enough coffee to stave off the plague. In the mean time, how about joining me for dinner?”

Jovaa hesitated, then smiled back. “That would be lovely.”

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