“You’ll lose your reader to a midnight snack.”

Autumnwriting gives 5 tips to a page-turning chapter.

One of them entails to skip what we have called here at P’kaboo, “shoe-lacing”.  Going into too-much-detail on how the main hero goes down on one knee and ties first his left, then his right shoe-laces, left-over-right, right-over-left, two loops and through, pulling them ever so slightly too tight (causing a thrombosis in his feet that will eventually kill him – nah, just kidding, I put that in to make something happen!).

So Autumnwriting suggests that if the reader needs to participate in every meal the protagonist partakes of, you’ll lose your reader to a midnight snack.

Well hey!  I’ve lost a lot of things to midnight snacks (most significantly, my figure), but never yet a reader – midnight snacks are what helps me write!  But okay, okay…  I know how it’s meant.  Just to illustrate the point:

In the “Shooting Star” series, Federi breaks away irretrievably from the Solar Wind (he tries this repeatedly in “The Morrigan” and more seriously in “Nix Romipen” but by commandeering the Shooting Star, he eventually succeeds).

The Solar Wind’s crew feel this in a particularly bitter way.  They have been robbed of their master chef; the other two crew members who were really good with food, Paean, and Mindy Adamson (we meet her in “The Morrigan”), have joined Federi and are therefore not aboard either.  Galley work falls to the most unlikely suspect: The humble but somewhat creepy Lyr of Dome.  Having spent hundreds of years deep beneath the ocean surface subsisting mostly on “frutti di mare”, he doesn’t understand the advanced palate of the twenty-second century.

Lyr tries; he really tries.  Still, somehow, the crew is tough to please.

 

1.  Shoe-lacing Lyr’s cooking skills in “The Morrigan”:

Federi ground his teeth. Captain wasn’t making this easy!

What did Captain need him for? The cook was Lyr. The chars were the croaches. There were plenty of sharp assassins aboard. Ailyss, Jon… Able sailors? When last had they actually flown a storm? Quartermaster…

“ ‘s just a holiday, Captain,” he said sanguinely. “Showing Paean a few places.”

“And what does Captain say?”

“Nothing,” said Shawn with a grin. “And he also says nothing to having to eat sushi three times a day. I just can’t get the idea of cooking into Lyr’s head. Captain is in a very good mood. He keeps asking how many days to Christmas.”

“Shawn,” she asked suspiciously, “what have you done to Captain?”

Lyr cropped up in the galley door and lifted his nearly invisible eyebrows in surprise.

“I see you are making food!”

“Yup!” Paean glanced up at him and smiled. The tall gangly Atlantean smiled back, with too many irregular merrow teeth.

“But you’re not going to spoil things by cooking them,” he presumed.

“I am,” said Paean. “The crew wants a bit of a change from the whole-food diet. Come, have a seat, Lyr! Can I give you some vegetation to decapitate?”

“Vegetation has a central nervous system?” asked Lyr, puzzled. Paean laughed and pushed the potatoes his way.

“They even have eyes, sometimes,” she informed him as she picked up a peeler and showed him how to go about it. The next ten minutes, while she quickly fried up enough fish for the crew, she watched how the tall man struggled to get all the skin off that first potato he had picked up.

“Practice makes perfect,” she chirped eventually and sat down across from him, picking up more potatoes and pulling a Paean on them. Those potatoes didn’t know what was happening to them. A bit in the same line, thought Paean with a grin, as comparing Dana and Perdita playing poker.

“Captain, she made lunch,” said Lyr gravely. “She didn’t stay long though.”

 2.  And in “The Shooting Star”:

Lyr!” Ih yoy! Bad enough Virian on the bridge; bad enough Lyr in the galley! But Lyr, holding the bridge? “Where’s Captain?”

Lyr bared his teeth, with a tired, old smile. An Atlantean smile.

Tending to husbanding duties. Poor man.”

Federi hid his urge to explode into laughter. Aliens and their inability to understand about too much information!

Husbanding? That could take a while! Meanwhile the Shooting Star was calling him, crying out to him…

Keep an eye on this one, Lyr. If he moves in a way that bothers you, eat him.”

Federi, there is a moratorium on eating humans on this ship,” said Lyr. “Not that I did previously…”

First time for everything,” replied Federi lightly and teleported out. Damn, Lyr! Show some initiative! And then he remembered. Alien as the man seemed, he was actually human.

3.  Things come to a head in “Valleylon”:

“Federi,” said Lyr with an ocean-deep sigh, “they did not want to eat the good, fresh food I served them, the fruit of the sea. Rhine Gold told me to make spaghetti, and I’m doing that now, and they don’t want to eat that either.”

Federi peered into the pot that was boiling away on the stove. The pasta was already quite soggy and on its way to becoming paste.

“Got to drain that,” he instructed. “How do you make your sauce?”

“Sauce?”

Federi laughed. That explained it! “Can’t give them spaghetti without sauce! Course they won’t eat that! Observe!” He dug in the fridge. Everything was – this puzzled him – exactly the way he’d last left it. Except, freshly stocked. Lyr didn’t seem to have the courage to make any changes at all.

“But Lyr, all the stuff is here! Don’t you use it?”

“I don’t know what you keep those things for,” said the Atlantean. “Whenever I look, they need to be replaced because they have rotted.”

Federi snorted. “It’s not mine, Lyr! It’s there for the crew to eat! I don’t work on this ship anymore.”

Well, whatever. It came in handy. He pulled a few tomatoes, some mince, and a number of other ingredients out of the fridge and chopped them up with a flying staccato. Thirty seconds later to it’s own surprise a bolognaise sauce was simmering on the stove, not knowing how it had got there.

“See? There! Now they’ll definitely eat that!” Federi turned from the stunned Lyr to Vlad. “Say, Vlad, there’s something strange about Monica.”

[…]

He teleported out. Lyr turned to the Solar Wind’s eye, in the corner of the galley.

“Solar Wind, please could you replay for me what he did with that sauce? Slowly?”

 

I played unfair this time.  The books aren’t even out yet.  You can find “The Morrigan” and “Nix Romipen” on Smashwords as part of the Solar Wind series (the last parts in fact), but “Shooting Star” and “Valleylon” are not yet released.

Here’s the link to the series:

sw-series

 

 


There are some more cute little points to Autumnwriting’s post:

The number 5.

That’s just the perfect number.  Good blogging practices dictate (and I don’t like dictators so I don’t) that you 1) keep your posts fairly short; 2) structure them visually; 3) start your heading with a number (5) and a “magic word” (“secrets”) for a catchy heading; and the number 5 is a perfect balance.  2 hot parenting tips are barely worth more than a skim, right?  Whereas 9 ways of earning cash online are a tome and will take real commitment to read.  5 is the perfect balance.

Here are for instance 5 cool parenting tips of teenagers:

  1. is essential to make the others work.  Make them feel sorry for you poor overworked, over-stressed mom.
  2. Dishes:  Let them each wash their own plate and cutlery, Scouts-style, after every meal.  This will reduce dishes to near nothing.
  3. Clothes:  Make them responsible for washing their own clothes – but you check that it actually happens.  They need to sort out on Sunday what they’ll be wearing for the week, and stick it through the machine.  (Checking my privilege, this is for people who are not too poor to own a washing machine.)
  4. Bathrooms:  It is in any case good form that each teenager knows to rinse out the basin after brushing teeth, and to scrub out the bath after use.
  5. Give them chores, then let them off the hook.  That way, whenever you ask the correct kid to help you with e.g. washing up (just the pots obviously because everything else was taken care of by the each-for-themselves-system), you can remind them that actually it’s their kitchen rota and they’ve been having an easy time of it.  It saves tons of backchat!

If you can get these implemented even just 70% of the time you will feel a significant difference – and also with having resilient, clued-up kids.  Clearly nobody on the Solar Wind has cottoned onto these – slaves will still be slaves!

Now shoosh and go read!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/24238

~ gipsika ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

That rare moment (& another story post)

My head is in a weird space this morning.  I’m sitting here with deja vu.  Totally alone in a quiet house. The kids are all sleeping over elsewhere because of the concert in I played yesterday in Joburg.

The disturbing part is that this is probably the future.  Maybe a few more years of them being teenagers, but then I’ll be on my own. Then again who knows.  Maybe I’ll finally have enough time and space to plan how to move down to the sea into a little house overlooking the beach and the surf (sort-of in the line of Colonialist’s previous abode).

At any rate, I think I really skimped you peeps with that story post on Friday.  It may be long but it’s only a first chapter in a book, instead of fresh growth, W-I-P.  So instead, here’s a bit more from that being of pure magic, Nadisda.

Previous chapters are being summarized in an incomplete, growing free booklet (free until it is complete).

Here’s the link:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/634938

nadisda_sml7. Magic Realm

What can I do for you?” asked the Forest Fairy.

Ben glanced over the rim of his computer. Nadisda had disappeared. But her avatar was still there in the game, talking to him.

Mike, what’s happening?” asked Ben.

Damned if I knew,” replied the master hacker. “She was here a moment back!”

The game has resorbed her,” said Jen with a shiver. “We have to get her back out of there!”

Actually she is an original feature of the game itself,” said Mike.

But she lived and breathed and walked amongst us,” objected Jen. “You can’t just allow her to become a piece of programming again!”

Mike stared at his screen. “You’re right, I can’t. But she’s home. It’s what she wanted. What must I do?”

For now, let’s keep on playing,” said Ben. He focused on his avatar. The fairy was still waiting for an answer. He checked his questbook.

The Shadow Knight dug a small notebook out of his pack and opened it. Nadisda leaned over to see what was going on. In glowing letters, a quest was being written by an invisible pen.

The Moonstone,” read Nadisda. “First step: Find the Forest Fairy and ask her for a spell of clear sight.” She glanced up at the Shadow Knight. “Sure, Ben! No problem!”

I’m supposed to barter with you for it,” he said.

Oh!” Nadisda was surprised. “What can you offer?”

I have coins,” said the Shadow Knight.

Nadisda shrugged. “I don’t need coins. When you get to the real world, please tell Mike to send me Valentine. I must speak to him. Does that sound like a fair exchange?”

Fine by me,” said Ben equably. He glanced up at Mike. “Did you just hear that?”

Hear what? I’m trawling for Hugo in the town with my team,” said Mike. “We’ve already grown to ten warriors.”

She says she needs to speak to Valentine,” said Ben.

Give her a message,” said Mike. “Valentine will look her up just as soon as I’m done with this part here. Okay?”

Ben typed the relevant information into the game. The answer came back. The deal was done.

Nadisda collected the ingredients for clear sight from her store room and started preparing the spell. Eye of newt – that was a herb, by the way, goldenseal, eyebright… clear quartz for clarity… lucky the Shadow Knight wouldn’t have to drink this, she thought. The quartz splinters wouldn’t be good for Ben’s intestines at all. And then she remembered that apparently, the Magic Realms were only code in a computer… pixels on a screen…

Snow flickered across the screen. Mike blinked.

Ben, is the battery not fully charged?”

That’s not battery,” said Ben, getting up. “Is yours doing it too?”

And mine as well,” said Jen.

Mine too,” added Nancy. “What’s going on?”

Could be network trouble, or a short-circuit,” said Ben. He went around all the laptops and old PCs checking the cable connections.

Maybe that new video card we put in yours,” said Mike. “That’s all that has changed.”

And Nadisda’s computer,” added Ben. “It hasn’t been used in a while. It was unstable, remember?” He investigated the cabling on Nadisda’s workstation. “Guys, sorry, I’m taking her offline. Got to take a look at her computer first.”

The Shadow Knight winked out of existence. Nadisda looked up in surprise.

Ben!”

The grove exploded in a blinding flash of light, and everything went dark. Spinning dark, with a ringing, high-pitched buzz like tinnitus. Nadisda was falling through the void.

Reflexively she spread her wings to catch any kind of fall. Her sojourn in the real world had taught her that there was such a thing as pain. She didn’t want to be out of action again.

Slowly, stars winked on overhead. And – below! A landscape of stars, a whole sea full of it, lying below, with rolling valleys and dales. She gasped at the beauty of it.

What the heck is that?”

Danny, you should be in bed!”

But Mom! You must come and look at this!”

Angela Johnson peered through her little son’s telescope. That toy had been a birthday gift from his LA grandparents who didn’t get to see him often; it was an entry-level, real telescope. And right now it was fixed on a light that was travelling across the landscape.

A shooting star?” surmised Angela.

No, Mom! It’s a fairy!”

Her son had never been given to girly tales before, she thought with worry as she took another good look. And she realised he was right! The thing in the visor was a figure flying over the valley, with most exquisite blue wings. The wings were where the light was coming from.

She followed that little light until her son nudged her away from the telescope so he could look again.

It’s setting down!”

Wait,” said Angela. She peered through the telescope once more. “I know that place.”

A knock at the door.

Mike and Jen exchanged edgy glances.

They found us!”

Positions, everyone,” hissed Nancy, getting up from her PC and reaching for the heavy saucepan she always kept within reach during gaming sessions.

The trouble was that while they were online, there was always a chance – remote but present – that someone would be able to trace them, despite the security of the server and them using wireless anonymous connections. Police were wily, these days, and web-clued-up. Especially that Hero Hugo – Connor McNaught, the bull-dog-style relentless police hacker from Morris Park, NY.

Ben grabbed a brick he kept for such emergencies; Jen, who had a druidic streak in her somewhere, the heavy oaken staff she had fashioned herself. Mike grabbed his tazer gun and opened the door.

A speechless moment, then:

Nadisda! Come in! Quick!”

The fairy folded her wings down – as she did, they disappeared. She entered the house cautiously, staring wide-eyed at all the defensive weapons.

We have a problem, Valentine. My world has just disappeared.”

Jen made Nadisda some tea and sat with her, trying to calm her down.

You’ve been offline before, haven’t you?” asked Nadisda, upset.

Yes! Every day! We don’t play twenty-four-seven.”

And my world has never disappeared before.”

Could it be that you simply went dormant every time we closed down the game?” tried Nancy. “And now that you’re a player, you stay aware?”

No. My world carried on. You say Mike created all the code?”

Yes, he did,” confirmed Jen.

Then how didn’t he know that Faff is my mentor and I go visit him regularly?”

That’s weird,” conceded Jen.

More to the point,” Mike chipped in, sitting down next to Nadisda, “we’re glad you’re home! Don’t disappear on us like that again, ‘kay?”

She shot him a brief smile.

But that doesn’t solve my problem,” she said.

Fairy,” said Ben from where he had returned to fiddling with the computers, “I apologize, it was probably me. I took you offline because we were getting network problems.”

But that shouldn’t have made my world vanish,” said Nadisda. “Like I said!”

It will have kicked you back out of it though,” said Ben. He glanced up. “Mike, we’ve got a bigger problem.”

Mike got up and moved over to where Ben was trying to fix connections.

It’s bombed out on all of us!” he observed, shocked. “It’s never done that yet!”

Maybe you wrote one too many overrides,” said Jen with a smile.

I don’t think so! I know what I’m doing, sis!”

Course you do!” She got up too, followed by Nadisda, and wandered back to where the computers were littered across the furniture. “Sheesh! What is it, Mike?”

Mike had already begun to run diagnostics on his program.

No idea,” he said. “All is as it was. Still I think we should re-upload from the backup.”

You’ve backed up the most recent changes?”

He gave his sister an old look. “Sis, Bill Gates didn’t get rich either from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Course I did! I always do!” He closed down all computers over the LAN and started them all up again; deleted the current version of the game and uploaded the backup to all their computers. “Come. Let’s get back in there!”

I don’t want to restart the old computer,” said Ben. “In case it was that.”

The fairy can use mine,” offered Nancy. “I’m just the Perfect Princess, I’m in any case not a strong fighter. You need her more than me tonight.”

Tomorrow we have another machine,” promised Mike.

Bought, not stolen,” said Nadisda with a piercing glare at him.

“’Kay, ‘kay, fairy, definitely your way,” laughed Mike. “It’s easier anyway.”

Nadisda took over Nancy’s PC, and the four of them logged in. Nancy made coffee for them all and then made herself comfortable lounging on a couch, playing an idle little game on her cellphone.

Nadisda glanced at Ben. “Mind if I wait a bit with your quest? It could have been one of the ingredients.”

That’s okay,” said the ‘Shadow Knight’. “I think I’ll start a new character, because the Shadow Knight can’t move forward before he’s completed this quest. He’s sort-of frozen.

Go ahead,” said Mike offhandedly. “Join us against Hugo. You too, Nadisda.”

Where are you?” asked Nadisda as her grove opened on her screen.

Still in the town.”

Hang on.”

Her fairy wings extended and she started flickering.

Nadisda, wait!” called Mike. She glanced up from her screen. He jumped up and came to her, and placed his hands on her shoulders.

Don’t go!” he implored. “It’s blooming dangerous! What if you disappear into the internet forever?”

I’m not aware of doing it,” she replied.

Can I at least give you an anchor?” asked Mike. “Something you take with you from this place, so that you can find your way back more easily?”

I found my way okay,” she replied.

Just for safety,” said Mike and glanced around for something to give her to hold onto. He picked up a small 4GB USB stick that was lying around. There were only some shortcuts and hacks on there, nothing that wasn’t already part of his daily toolbox. He searched a bit and found some string in the kitchen, cut a length and pulled it through the hook of the USB stick, knotted it and put this make-shift necklace over Nadisda’s head. “Now you won’t get lost. ‘Kay! Shall we carry on?”

Nadisda’s hand closed around the small memory stick. How fitting: A memory stick, to remember where she could come home to! She smiled at Mike and at the others, got their approval, and they all returned to playing.

The town,” said Nadisda, focusing on the screen and stepping into her grove.

The Shadow Knight was gone. She knew this of course. Ben was logging in as another character. She was curious what he’d be like. She did a quick check of her inventory. The ingredients for the unfinished spell were still lying there; she’d get back to them. That was alright.

There was a soft, tinkling sound outside her cave, and a breeze that carried some subtle fragrance. She stepped outside, and gaped at the fairy facing her.

I’m Benita,” the wispy little thing introduced itself. She was clad all in pink ballet getup with a petal hood-and-cape from what had to be sweetpeas. “I’m the Sweetpea Fairy!”

Cool!” exclaimed the teenager in Nadisda. “Ben, that’s awesome!”

Oh, I’d rather you call me Nita,” peeped the flower fairy. “Send me a foe so I can show you what I do.”

If you’re a flower fairy, I’d assume you look after the flowers,” replied Nadisda.

Just that moment a convenient Lesser Stinkbug the size of a Maltese poodle dropped from one of her trees – who had allowed it into her grove? Nadisda was furious. The bug approached Nita with menacingly waving mandibles. “Click-click, zip-zip.” They sounded like someone sharpening a pair of knives.

Nita lifted her hand and flung something at the stinkbug. There was a bright red flash of lighting and a pong of undiluted evil, and the stinkbug exploded into myriads of droplets. Nadisda squeaked in disgust and instantly pulled a cleaning spell over herself, Nita and the grove. Stinkbugs didn’t smell good in any format.

So you do black magic?” she asked.

That’s the one magic where you needed some reinforcement,” said Nita.

Cool! Come and join me with Valentine against Hero Hugo!” Nadisda grabbed the flower petal fairy’s hand and unfurled her wings, and off they flew, direction town.

*

 

 

Enjoy!

~ gipsika ~
 

Friday – LONG Story Post (get coffee first)

I have to get this done early, as this weekend is jam-packed with complex logistics and concerts. I’m playing at Helpmekaar College for a fundraiser, with an orchestra assembled by conductor of the PSO, Schalk van der Merwe. That sounds so grand, but actually I’m only one of 6 first violins,:-) and happy to be so. We’re playing Mozart’s 40th symphony, excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite and Nutcracker, “La Forza del Destino” overture by Verdi, … (am I forgetting something? These late nights are eating away my short-term memory) and the Dingle Regatta by Holst. Wait – it’s actually called, St Paul’s Suite. Smashing good fun for the strings!

sw2flat400Well, seeing that Colleen, the sweetheart from Silver Threading review blog, knocked my socks off yesterday with her review of “The Assassin”,  I thought it’s appropriate to post the first chapter from “The Assassin” for today’s story post.

 

Part I: The Plan

 

1 – Land Wind

Jon Marsden looked up from the novel he was idly reading, that he had borrowed from Ailyss Quinlan. Interesting stuff. It drew you in. It took him a second’s orientation to come back to his cabin and realize that the phantom hanging in his doorway, that rag-tag apparition with the tattered bandanna and shirt still full of drying blood, was Federi.

“Come in, my friend.”

The phantom let itself into his cabin and closed the door.

“Done with your round?” asked Jon Marsden, closing the novel and putting it down. The gypsy nodded.

“Spoke to Captain, I see?” asked Marsden amiably. Federi nodded again. He drew his semi-automatic handgun and handed it over.

“What’s this now?” asked Jon Marsden, nonplussed.

“Want you to do me a favour, Jon,” said the Tzigan. “I’d like to catch some shut eye. There are people I need to talk to. But if anyone comes alive in this body while I’m not in…”

Marsden frowned. “You want me to guard?”

“If you’re not too tired, my friend.”

“I’m never too tired for emergencies,” said Marsden. “But…”

“If anyone takes me over, shoot me down,” said Federi. “I mean it. He’s on the loose.”

Jonathan Marsden stared at his friend. Federi looked drained. It stood to reason. The Tzigan had launched himself into the sea, in the middle of that hurricane-in-the-making, staging a one-man ambush on the Rebellion. He had refused to wear a life vest in that rapidly cooling sea and pelting rain; he had boarded the ship from the water and killed the whole enemy crew, one by one, in order to save the lives of Sherman Dougherty, Paean Donegal and Keenan Quinlan. It wasn’t the first time, but terminations took their toll on Federi.

The man needed sleep. Jon Marsden got up off his bunk. “I have a better idea!” He led the way to the infirmary, dug in the Doc’s inventory and located a vial of something. “Would you like that in rum, or in a dart?”

Federi smiled. Jon Marsden drew a relieved breath. His friend’s state of mind struck him as not quite stable tonight.

“You’ll guard anyway?” asked the gypsy.

“I’ll guard anyway. Where are you going to be?”

“The storage bay.”

“Aw no, Tzigan! Making it difficult for me! Then I can’t even read!”

“Bring a light,” suggested Federi.

*

The sea coming awake was one of Paean’s favourite rewards for being a sailor. She clung to the rail with her back to the mermaid figurehead and gazed at the lightening sky astern, past the sleek white sails and the command deck. Old Sherman Dougherty was taking the early shift on the bridge; Captain hadn’t yet arrived to take over from him. The ship was close-hauled, heading nearly into the wind, the sails at an acute angle with the keel. The huge kite that was used for flying, was stashed away in its chute under the deck; a taut jib stretched from the foremast to the bowsprit. The breeze was fresh, nippy in fact; spray from the prow wave showered Paean at intervals. It was fine. She’d change and warm up in a while. Right now the pearly sea was just too pretty to leave.

A short, wiry man with a black tangle of a mane tied up with a pirate scarf, emerged from the hatch, stretching. He moved along the deck, checking the tensioning on the sheets, and worked his way towards the prow where she stood. She watched him idly.

“All as it should be?” she asked as he moved up the few steps to the elevated prow and joined her at the rail.

“You’re up early,” commented Federi.

“Couldn’t sleep,” she said, and gestured at the sky and the sea. “Waste to sleep while all this is going on!”

The gypsy smiled and said nothing. She peered uncertainly at him.

“Feeling better today?”

Federi rolled his eyes. “If you’re asking whether anyone took me over and made me kill the crew last night, then no, he didn’t,” he replied. “’s a matter of time.” He shook his head. “I’m fine, Paean, I’m alive, and so are the rest of us. That’s as fine as it gets by Federi’s standards.”

She scowled. The sea had suddenly lost its glow.

“Got to get on with my studies,” she said and headed towards the hatch, aware of the Tzigan’s black stare on her neck.

*

Captain Radomir Lascek peered out over the deck where things were being cleaned, things were being adjusted and people were gazing at the cobalt-blue sea. The sun was shining this morning; there wasn’t much left of yesterday’s huge waves. The sea was a little choppy and the breeze fresh, but nicely so.

“That can’t go well!” His First Mate Jonathan Marsden pointed to the prow of the ship. Paean Donegal was busily washing down the storage deck.

Radomir Lascek peered at the small figure with an illegally green bandanna around her red curls. “What was that time-out Federi made you take down there, last night?”

“The usual undead stuff,” said Marsden with a shrug.

“I’ve put her in charge of observing his mental health,” said Lascek.

“Does he know?” asked Jon Marsden.

Lascek laughed. “Are you joking? Would you like to have a teen watch over your sanity?”

Marsden grinned and studied the crew out there on the deck.

“They’re excited,” he commented. “Restless. Can you spot it?”

“Wonder what the Admiral will say to the assault in Lake Gatun,” said Lascek.

“We can’t land at Honolulu,” Marsden pointed out. “Ailyss alerted the Stabs, yesterday before we caught her.”

“We could always sow Paean’s little green wonder bug in the harbour,” suggested Lascek.

“The reputation will follow us,” warned Marsden darkly. “We’re the pirate ship that bores people to sleep wherever she goes.”

Radomir Lascek chuckled. “Lends itself to abuse, doesn’t it! We put harbour towns to sleep, and then we plunder.”

Marsden laughed. “It’s no good anyway, for Hawaii. They know about the bug. I’m positive Ailyss has leaked it.”

“Leaky girl that! We’ll have to interrogate her quite a bit more,” sighed Lascek. “We should ask Paean to program a different one.”

“One that makes them sing and dance?” asked Marsden.

“Or walk in circles,” laughed the Captain. “But you’re right, Jon. We can’t land. Will have to think of a plan.”

“Prime Oil first,” said Marsden.

“Yes. Prime Oil tonight.”

*

Wolf looked up from the spy novel he was reading as Paean came in.

“Okay, buddy, time to make good on your promise.” She closed the door. Suddenly the infirmary was a lot smaller, and a bit claustrophobic, and somehow even more yellow. “First, let me look at that knee of yours.”

Wolf held his breath. This all sounded rather ominous. He wasn’t entirely sure that he’d have the nerve to give her what she was about to ask of him. It was a pickle – last night he had agreed to comply with a condition she hadn’t yet named, in exchange for a few hours on the deck amongst the crew. She knew how to abuse her position as paramedic!

Well, if she asked what he suspected she would, and if he found that it was too much, he’d simply have to be a pirate and break his word. Simply? Nothing was simple about this! He studied her pretty, freckled face and wondered.

Paean clipped the cast closed again with a smug grin.

“Finally that knee is looking better! Carry on like that! Maybe Doc will allow you up in a few days’ time. Let me see that cheek.” She inspected the scar. “Yup, that looks good too. Your beauty is undiminished.”

“Beauty,” grinned Wolf.

“Yes,” replied Paean. “You look even more like a highwayman.”

Wolf blinked and swallowed the barbed compliment.

“At least you don’t smell quite so dangerous anymore,” added Paean brightly. Wolf gasped. This was getting personal!

“Yup, I see,” she continued, motioning to the tools of personal hygiene that were sitting on the floor under Wolf’s bunk. Soap, towels and toothbrush in a compounding washbasin.

Wolf glared at her. “Did you only come here to yank my chain?”

“Actually,” said Paean, sitting down on the chair and locking gazes with him. “You have a promise to keep, my dearest Viking. Firstly, this is super-confidential. Your pledge that not a word of this shall cross your lips,” she demanded.

“Promise,” said Wolf warily, searching her face for clues. Lips, she had said. Hmm.

“Wolf’s honour?”

“Wolf’s honour,” grinned the Swede. Honestly!

“Good. Now listen. You work alongside Ailyss. Do you like her?”

Wolf frowned. “What do you mean?” What the heck did she mean? What did she intend? She ought to leave Ailyss out of this!

“I mean, Wolf: Do you like her? Do you see her as a friend? Ronan for example distrusts her completely, although he’s resolved to help protect her. And Federi would like to hang her from the rigging. Although he’s not going to.”

Wolf stared at her. “What!” That was bad news, the Romany feeling that way.

“Yes! Exactly. Now: Do you like her?”

Wolf rolled his eyes. “Paean, I’m not good with girls. I offered her my friendship and she turned it down.”

“When was this?”

“Shortly before she was found out.”

Paean laughed. “I’m sure you can work that one out yourself. Bright young nuclear engineer like you! She was trying to keep away from making friends because her mission was to kill us all. Can you give it another shot?”

Wolf pulled a face. Where was this going? “I can try.”

“Can you do this for me? This is your part of the bargain. Be nice to her every time you see her. Tell her something nice. Do something small for her. I don’t know. Just make her feel really at home. Be her friend. Without saying anything about it. Can you do that?”

That was it? The mystery condition? Being nice to Ailyss? Wolf wasn’t completely sure whether he was relieved or disappointed. “The way you did for me?”

“Och Wolf, would you kindly forget that? I just can’t stand seeing people suffer. Especially from boredom.”

“Boredom! That was not boredom, you little good-for-n…” Wolf petered out. No, this tack wasn’t going to earn him any points. “Sorry, Paean. I owe you a big apology. For everything. You’re the most competent fifteen-year-old I’ve ever come across. And sweet, and caring. And pretty in the bargain! Darned gorgeous!” He grinned and took in the shock in her eyes. Well, if she wanted to play with fire…

“No!” muttered Paean.

“In fact… ” added Wolf, enjoying her horrified expression. It was now or never! Time to be a complete pirate. He took a breath while he considered how to tell her this.

“It’s called…” interrupted Paean, panicky, “… it’s called … it’s called … it’s a common occurrence, you know! Happens all the time! Just ignore it!”

Wolf grinned at her. “What concerns Ailyss, you know.”

“It’s alright, you don’t have to tell me,” said Paean quickly.

“Now that she has been judged and acquitted, I suppose I can tell you,” he carried on unperturbed. “I thought I saw her getting up to things in the machine room. Those cables she was working into jewellery? Guess where she took them from!”

“Hells, Wolf, why didn’t you speak up?”

Wolf shook his head with a sad smile. “If it had been – say – Federi, for argument’s sake, and you had observed him doing something weird and illogical?”

Paean laughed. “Wolf, Federi is always doing something weird and illogical! ‘s the definition of who he is!”

“Yes, fine, but you know what I mean.”

“No,” said Paean, wide-eyed. “Not really. I’d have assumed he knows what he’s doing.”

Wolf shook his head. Wrong answer. She was being deliberately obtuse.

“Paean, think about it. We all know she’s a spy, and we keep a close eye on her, and she does nothing for a long time. And then suddenly she does something suspect. Or maybe not.”

“Make up your mind,” said Paean.

“That’s why I had to get up and check!” exclaimed Wolf, exasperated. “To find out whether she had really done something, or not! If I had sounded alarm and she’d been innocent, I would have incriminated her for nothing! Get that, Donegal numbskull?”

“Course I get that, Svendsson knucklehead,” retorted Paean. “The point is, then why didn’t you squeak up and tell little old Paean, your long-suffering paramedic? I’d have gone and checked for you, or called Marsden, or maybe Dr Jake, whomever you’d have preferred. Or Federi.”

“And Ailyss would have ended up on trial for nothing?”

“We’re damned well talking in circles here,” said Paean heatedly. “What it really comes down to, Wolf Svendsson, is that you didn’t trust me to keep a confidence. You didn’t think I could handle it with discretion and circumspection.”

“Exactly!”

There, it was said. Paean’s face fell.

“Well, boogie for you,” she snapped. “Regardless. You’re honour-bound, Wolf. You have to keep up your end. Whether you like to or not. That, or admit that you’re a whimsical liar and not the upstanding fine pirate you claim to be! And then I’ll give the task to Rhine Gold. I’m positive he’ll like it! He’s looking for a girlfriend. Blast, maybe I should have asked him first!” She looked around for a weapon. Wolf’s last disagreement had ended in his getting shot. He was clearly the type who sorted things with violence! How she could have thought so well of him a second ago, so very nearly even fancied him… to hell!

Wolf regarded her with a flabbergasted intensity.

“Hey, what’s got into you, kid?”

She had found her weapon. She loaded it and brandished it.

“Stay away with that green stuff,” warned Wolf. “There’s no call. Paean, where in hell are you suddenly? On which page?”

“You’re going to break the bargain,” she snapped. “Pointless lout!”

“The contrary,” said Wolf with a little smile. “It’s a nice condition! I’m actually surprised, Paean. You’re a lot more sensible and mature than I thought. I’ll make a point of being a friend to her. You can count on me!”

Paean halted. She became completely still. Stared at him, at his awfully beautiful green eyes. The activated Valeriensis in the syringe started dripping out of the end of the needle. Made slippery pea-green drips on the infirmary’s grey compounding floor.

“You’re going to?”

“Of course! Was going to try in any case! Content now, gorgeous?”

The wind had been taken out of Paean’s onslaught. These were unfair tactics. He had changed his tack so suddenly, she had slipped on her own rage!

“Well, good,” she said acidly and left, barely refraining from slamming the cabin door. Wolf looked at the syringe full of green stuff that had been flung down dripping into the kidney-dish with spent bandages, and shook his head.

 

*

Solar Wind, 16 May 2116

Hey Diary!

What is this Prime Oil they keep on about? I think I know! It’s a landmass of sorts! A volcanic island, maybe. Because I can detect it – the darned land wind!

Aargh! I could strangle that Wolf! He’s being a first-rate lout! But hey, Paean – learn this: Wolf is a blasted lout! And I can be sure that it’s land wind because it got the others, too:

Mr Marsden is prancing around with a ten-mile grin.

Ronan must have tried to open a tube of liquid compounding with his teeth, because he’s stuck to Rushka’s face.

Rhine Gold gives me these brainless gazes whenever our paths cross. It’s enough to make me want to jump overboard!

And Federi has the glooms. He always gets those close to land.

Oh hey but I’m unfair about Federi now! After what he went through yesterday.

You never know what it is to be sane until you are a sailor. I think, all the politics in Molly Street and in the pubs were all Land Madness!

Got to get back to work now, they’ll wonder where I am.

Kathal!

Paean D.

*

Federi glanced up from the deck where he was tightening the bolts on a cleat that had become wobbly. In the blue of the afternoon stood a windswept little figure, observing him. He smiled.

“Hey, Federi.” She hesitated.

“Hey, little luv!” He shook his head with a grin. “Sorry I messed up your sunrise this morning.”

“’s fine,” she muttered, sinking down into a cross-legged position to keep him company where he worked. “Feeling better now?”

He gestured at the sea and sky to port with his bandaged right hand. “All this,” he said. “See? Now stop asking me that! Feeling fine! You’ve swabbed down my thinking spot. Still not dry! Can’t take a break without getting my pants wet! Did you use a whole bathtub for it?”

She giggled.

“Bet you did it on purpose,” added the entertainer with a grin. He put down his spanner, fixated her with a dark stare and lowered his voice. “Tonight,” he said, “hang close to me, hai shala? Want to show you all of Prime Oil.”

“What is Prime Oil?” asked Paean.

“Ah.” He smiled. “A place. You’ll see. Anyway I’ve got to watch over your sanity, girl. Captain’s orders.”

“Hey!” She narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion. And then Doc Judith’s order came from the hatch. Paean jumped up and ran off.

Federi watched her go, and the sunshine fell off his face. Moments, pictures in the memory gallery. He ought to hang onto that. It was all there was, when the death date was only weeks away.

It wouldn’t be so bad, hanging there waiting to die. But the problem was, last night during his fevered dreams, guarded over by Jon Marsden with his own gun, the answer had arrived. And it wasn’t pretty.

But it was worth it. Her Bouncy Redheadity with Rhine Gold and Wolf mooning after her, was going to live. Well worth his sacrifice.

*

In the round control room with the central console, Vincent beckoned engineer Jan closer.

“See there?” He pointed to the console screen.

A smile started on Jan’s austere features. Vincent glanced at his colleague and saw tears brimming in her eyes.

“They made it,” she commented. “How could I ever have doubted it?”

“That’s Captain Radomir we’re talking about,” agreed Vincent with a grin.

“Well, after the way Federi bid us all farewell last time, he sounded so certain that they wouldn’t survive another round,” replied Jan.

“That’s right,” agreed Vincent. “He said they would die in Panama. Something to do with crossing over land, ship in sweet water. As though he hasn’t passed that way dozens of times!”

Jan laughed. “The superstitious old gloom-horse! Regardless, there they are! They’ll be here in another… what?”

“Three or four hours,” replied Vincent.

“Should we tell Michelle?”

“Nah. Let it be a surprise!”

*

The Solar Wind’s crew was gathered on the deck in the purple dusk. Federi had fed them their supper out here. Before leaving Dublin, Paean had had no idea how many variations one could get on fish and chips. They had restocked from the Rebel Schooner, but Federi had regarded those dried rations with disdain and muttered something about dehydrated cardboard.

He was keeping comparatively close, following her instructions, she noted. Good! Because Federi was far from out of danger. And life on the Solar Wind without the comical entertainer – her gentle friend – would be depressing. And fairly boring, if one discounted the antics of certain – highwaymen!

From her spot close to the sail house she studied the crew dynamics through the haze. Ronan and Rushka were sitting close together, talking softly. Shawn and Keenan were having an excited game of wit. Their bright twelve-year-old laughter echoed across the deck at short intervals. Paean was impressed how fast the little boy had bounced back from his ordeal with the Rebellion. Children seemed to sense instinctively that they were safe on Captain Lascek’s ship.

Ailyss was alone, sitting to one side studying the crew, a slightly dog-eared novel in her hand. Her eyes met Paean’s. The quiet brunette smiled. Paean knew who had made those dog-ears into that poor paperback! She had seen how the highway robber treated books!

And there he was, rats on him! Doc Judith had allowed him on the deck. Why now? Couldn’t the Doc have damned the lout to three more days down under? Paean made a point of ignoring the young nuclear engineer who was shooting her doleful glances. He had dug his own grave, she thought.

By now the crew was full of good food and nicely lethargic.

“Now, little jigster,” said Federi quietly, right by her ear, “go get your fiddle! Let’s have some real music!”

“We just had a Ceilidh yesterday,” objected Paean, surprised.

“There’s no upper limit,” Federi informed her. “What you were hired for! Got to earn your daily wage!”

“Och, alright! Anything for you, Federi!” she chirped brightly, catching the attention of quite a few of the sailors and causing the gypsy to recede a bit into the shadows. And off she ran to fetch her violin and Ronan’s guitar. The Clarsach would just have to come walking along by itself.

*

“Fun and games,” commented Marsden on the bridge.

Radomir Lascek glanced up from the console, following his First Mate’s gaze out onto the deck. He sighed, depressed, returning his attention to the infernal stuff that had come out of the two Unicate capsules. “My friend, how are we going to deflect this? We’ll never have our defences ready in time!”

“We’ve known for years,” said Jonathan Marsden. “It’s in their character.”

“There’s not enough time,” countered the Captain. He stared moodily at the deck.

Federi predicted that the Solar Wind wasn’t going to survive long enough to see the Unicate’s cataclysmic war. Three weeks was all he gave them. Federi’s finely tuned gypsy radar responded to subliminal cues. Though it appeared as though it might have a line to the future, Lascek strongly suspected that the Tzigan merely had a highly accurate intuitive ability to combine clues into a complete picture. With this came an extremely sensitive awareness of all the slight changes in the environment. Electrical signals and air pressure were things others might or might not notice; Federi seemed to pick them all up subconsciously and read them like a data file, and combine them into a hunch and act upon that. The Rebellion flotilla? Those ships all sent out electric signals to satellite. If the Solar Wind weren’t hiding from the satellite herself, she’d have picked them up too. A strong argument for completing the electromagnetic shield and the reverse signal refudgifyer.

Federi’s hunches were accurate. If he predicted that the Solar Wind wasn’t going to survive the next three weeks… Lascek frowned at the Ceilidh out on the deck. Let them sing and be happy while they were still alive! The Tzigan had done well when he’d talked him into hiring those three.

*

Paean’s fiddle earned a decent daily wage that night. She played Irish reels and jigs until old Sherman felt like getting up and dancing. Rushka sat by Ronan’s side. He didn’t mind too much playing guitar around her. At some point Ro would have to teach the Captain’s daughter an instrument, thought Paean, so he could lose the handicap again.

Wolf tried some discords on Ronan’s guitar, seeing that the Donegal couldn’t find all the pertinent chords anyway. Wolf was trying to teach himself flamenco. Very haphazardly, thought Paean unkindly. Keenan had taken an interest in the instruments Shawn was playing. Odd stuff. Ronan’s clarsach. The bodhràn. The ocarina. Luckily the Captain had placed a moratorium on the bagpipes! He and Marsden were on the bridge, navigating and no doubt discussing matters of great weight. At intervals Paean’s gaze wandered up to the bridge, wondering if they weren’t actually hiding from the commotion. And Rhine Gold sat a bit further away, peeling potatoes.

“One day we should really cook and eat some of these potatoes,” he loudly told Federi who was re-emerging from below the deck loaded with mugs of coffee.

“Why?” asked the gypsy cook quizzically. Paean grinned. They had just eaten fish and chips! What did this potato think chips were made of – seaweed? She moved over to them, wondering for a moment if she should give Rhine Gold the same task as Wolf. Set up some competition!

“Urgh, potatoes again,” she grinned. And it seemed as though she were getting her wish concerning Rhine Gold! Och, she wouldn’t! He didn’t deserve it! None of them did, blast them all! None was nice enough. Except Federi – and luckily he disliked Ailyss.

“I’ll try peeling carrots tomorrow, maybe that works better,” said Rhine Gold.

Violista! Get away! Shoo! Go play!” said the gypsy. “No time yet for a break!”

Paean wandered back to her sibs and let fly another reel.

“Can’t make Vodka from carrots, Rhine Gold,” said Federi quietly. “Be sensible!”

*

As the evening wore on, one by one the crew drifted into the boardroom. Shawn handed out decks of cards he had bought in Atuona. Jon Marsden came in to check on everything, and played a hand or two with them.

“These decks are stacked,” he commented. “Are these all decks on hand?”

“I could load you some dice, sir,” replied Shawn.

*

Dr Jake looked up from the computer terminal.

“Well, Ailyss?”

“Doc, I thought you might want to take a break and join the Ceilidh, and the gambling,” offered Ailyss. “I’ll take a shift.”

Dr Jake studied her critically.

“Doc, I wanted to apologize, too,” she added, sighing. “I’ve loaded such a lot of work on you! With Wolf out of action and myself not to be trusted…”

Dr Jake smiled. So the spy wanted to make amends?

“I’ve been working the machine room alone for many years before Wolf got hired,” he said. “For me it’s no hardship. I enjoy it down here.”

Ailyss didn’t look entirely happy about this yet.

“Ailyss,” said Dr Jake, “you are forgiven. I would not have spoken for you if I hadn’t forgiven you. When we’re at Prime Oil, I may need you to take a shift. Right now there are things I want to look up.”

She looked considerably happier, he thought.

“Go and have fun,” he encouraged her. “The young crowd is waiting for you, I’m sure.”

“Thanks, Doc,” said Ailyss and removed herself from the machine room. Dr Jake returned to his programming. It never occurred to him to second-guess her motives.

*

 

I’m also giving away a few free copies of “The Assassin” on Smashwords for readers to celebrate.  (I like Hobbit-style celebrations where the guests receive presents.)  Here is the link to the series:

The Solar Wind on Smashwords

And here is a are links to my other stories up there:

The Family Pool, The Racing Finn (Shortstories)

Arcana, A Friday Fairytale (by gipsika)

Enjoy!

 

“The Assassin” gets a gorgeous review by Silver Threading

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show?id=1642758380

Thank you, Silver Threading, for this lovely review!  And also, for posting it on Goodreads, Amazon and Smashwords.  You are amazing.

Colleen from Silver Threading is a fantasy writer herself, busy with her first book which I’m very keen for her to complete so we can read it!  Her beautiful writing style comes through in the reviews she writes, when she uses “lightning” phrases such as:

“gypsy love at its finest”

“burgeoning emotions”

“bewitched”

I had to post an excerpt:

The Assassin

sw2flat400Colleen Chesebro writes:

“…This is gypsy love at its finest, and I was bewitched by the touching love story that drew me deeper into the adventure.

The book is long but filled with so much intrigue and suspense you gladly read on to unravel the various mysteries that are part of the whole adventure aboard the Solar Wind. For me, this book delves deeper into the characters and gives you a glimpse into the mechanics of their personalities. I like these pirates. Their humanity speaks to me. I can’t wait to dive into the third book in the series, Freedom Fighter. Stay tuned…”

(Yes, LOL.  Who’d have thought, “The Assassin” is a love story!  True story.)

As a celebration, 10 free copies available at Smashwords!