For your amusement

Having finished “A Friday Fairytale” and being really unwilling to go and rewrite it from the point the characters start misbehaving (it was already a rewrite, from stopping them from destroying the actual plot), I was rifling through some old “starts” looking for some inspiration.  I stumbled upon this weird little piece (written in 2005).  It’s a first chapter.  It’s been written so long ago that I remember nothing about it and was quite surprised by it.  It predates the “Solar Wind” by about a year.

I’m posting it here for your entertainment.  (I sincerely hope my style has evolved since then!)


 

Chapter 1 – Angie’s Wedding Rehearsal

 

“Well, yes, I suppose you could call him sort-of handsome in a Dracula sort of way,” commented Jeanne with a wrinkled nose, glancing at the person in question, “definitely sharp teeth. And brows like the wings of a vulture about to land. Well, at least it’s not a unibrow. I wonder if he plucks them. No, actually I don’t want to know! My goodness, Angie! You’d have to really stretch the meaning of the word handsome. His nose is rather hawkish too, if you like the Shamanic look about people. Looks like it may have been broken during a school rugby session when he was a kid. Well, maybe not. Perhaps it’s a birth defect.”

Angie giggled. Jeanne wrinkled her nose some more, scrunching up several freckles that had, to her annoyance, put in their appearance only this summer. She felt too old for freckles. But the South African sun was a natural force not to be ignored.

“There’s another look about him though,” she continued, scanning the victim of her observations across the room. Smoking had been outlawed in public places for a while, but that did not stop Angie’s lounge from being so blue that one could start a gambling house. “He looks like a penny-pincher. You know, uptight. Anal-retentive, I think, is the Freudian term. Actually, now that I look closely, he looks quite grim. Can’t see what you find to drool over.”

Angie giggled some more. She looked like a sugar-plum princess today, at her wedding rehearsal which had accidentally turned into quite a party, with somewhat more free-flowing booze brought by her anxious father-in-law-to-be than everyone had bargained for. Said near-future father-in-law was smoking one cigar after another with the groom and Angie’s own father, and the three men had withdrawn to sit around a coffee table more or less central in the room, from where they were politicising and generating the gambling atmosphere.

“I must introduce you,” said Angie. “I knew you’d like him. I think Ronnie brought him especially for you.”

Like him!” Jeanne gasped. “I haven’t even met the man! Who is he anyway?”

“I thought you’d never ask! He’s the Best Man. Ronnie’s best friend.”

“Looks more like Ronnie’s Beast Friend,” mumbled Jeanne. “Say, Angie, just because you’re getting married, that places you under no obligation to get me a ball-and-chain!”

She glanced back to the stranger they had been discussing. Angie had indeed caught her out studying him: He seemed wrapped in a cloak of midnight blue, so intense was his aura. And just then he looked up and caught her eye, and stared right back at her. Jeanne quickly turned back to Angie.

“He seems anxious to meet you,” teased Angie. Jeanne could understand her friend’s giggly mood – barely; too much champagne, a touch of nerves for tomorrow… Ronnie’s best friend! Men did not have best friends! What they had were buddies. And this – necromancer from another dimension – did not look as though he knew what the term “buddy” meant. The Best Man? Or the Worst?

“Poor Angie,” Jeanne teased right back. “If Ronnie gets nerves and runs away before tomorrow, tradition demands that you marry that thing there. The Best Man.”

When she glanced back, the “thing there” was still staring at her. As their eyes met she felt that pull, as though she was being dragged towards him, into another dimension. She pulled away as though electrified.

The “necromancer” came ambling over, bringing his midnight-blue aura with him. He was tall, but he did not, as Jeanne had briefly feared, lurch. He ambled, in a way that suggested that the world belonged to him. He lifted one of the vulture-wing eyebrows at Jeanne, and addressed Angie.

“How’s the beautiful bride today?”

“Excellent,” gasped Angie, apparently suddenly short of breath. “I must go look after Ronnie. This is Jeanne, by the way. She does photography. Excuse me.”

With that, the breathless bride hurried off to hover around her hapless groom for a while, with many a nervous, giggly glance backwards to see if her two elected victims were yet romantically involved.

The necromancer allowed his eyes to insolently travel down Jeanne’s entire person, and back up. To his credit he did manage to tear his gaze from her plunging neckline and fix it firmly in her face. He lifted the other eyebrow at Jeanne. “Pornography, did she say?” he asked coolly.

Jeanne burst out laughing.

It served her right. She had insulted him behind his back in conversation to Angie, and now she got it right back.

“Did Angie say that?” she asked back, wrinkling, once again, her freckled nose. “Or is it the dark and dangerous places of your mind that twist the meaning of things?”

“What is it that you do then?” asked the man.

“Use your imagination,” Jeanne shot back before she could stop herself. “But I don’t think we’ve been introduced?”

“I understand you are Jeanne.”

“That’s great, you’re a bright lad. And you are -?”

“The name’s Coombes,” he said in a resonant bass voice. “Raymes Coombes.”

Jeanne’s mind did a double take back to when she was seven. “Bond, did you say?”

“All right,” laughed Raymes. “Now we’re even. Did Angie say you’re a photographer?”

“That’s more like it.” Jeanne studied him. The intense blue aura seemed to have lifted a bit, as though a sunbeam had found its way in. He looked a lot more likeable when he smiled.

“Will you be taking the wedding photos?” he enquired.

“Not officially – I’m here as her friend. Look for the worst dressed person tomorrow and you’ll have found the photographer. I don’t know why male photographers dress so sloppily for weddings; perhaps they know that they’ll always be behind the camera, or maybe they feel it will enhance the other guests’ appearance.”

“Why, pray tell, is Angie so anxious for me to meet you?” Raymes pierced an extremely sharp-edged glance at Jeanne.

“She wants me to marry you,” Jeanne shot back with a careless little smile. “Misery loves company.”

“And do you?”

“Do I love company? Sure I do! Best of all my own – I have not yet found anyone with whom I can have wittier conversations than myself.”

Raymes shot her another finely honed look. “Are you inclined to want to marry me, is what I am asking.”

Jeanne smiled sweetly. “Are you proposing?”

“Don’t twist my words. I’m merely asking about your disposition.”

“As in, am I anxious to throw myself at mysterious strangers I have just met. Why? Do I look desperate?” She paused in order to scrutinize him with her glance. Another possibility occurred to her. “Or is there something specific going on here? I know of a friend who married an American immigrant so he could get a work permit. Of course they have agreed to a temporary marriage, with divorce after citizenship is granted. They don’t even live together. Are you in a similar fix?”

“Are you offering?” asked Raymes with a mysterious smirk.

“What, to help you out?” She paused to think, and when she continue, she spoke slowly, carefully, so that he could not misinterpret her meaning. “That’s a tough question, Mr Coombes. I’m an altruistic person, I do sometimes help others. But of course marriage is quite a big step to take just to help someone out. I’d have to know you quite a bit better and of course we’d have to agree that the marriage would be strictly on paper, meaning that we don’t start staking claims on each other when someone better qualified comes along.” Jeanne laughed and shook her fiery red locks. (They were out of a bottle. Several bottles in fact. She had finally gotten sick and tired of her own limp mousy-brown hair that morning; she had marched into the hairdresser’s and plonked herself into a chair, announcing: “Do your worst!” And they had. Layers upon layers of highlights and lowlights bounced around in her newly-permed hair. The account had been budgeted over six months.) “What are we talking about? Either this is the weirdest banter I’ve ever engaged in, or it’s not banter at all.”

“What if I am serious?” There was no telling from his feral smile how she was to read this last question. She decided to take it, for now, at face value.

“If you are in fact serious, then I should say we need to discuss the entire thing quite a bit more,” she suggested. “But not here. This is Angie’s party.”

“You are absolutely right,” said Dracula. “Your place or mine?”

Jeanne laughed again, a bit nervous this time.

“Oh no, my friend, not so fast! Neutral ground. I would suggest a House of Coffees or something of the sort.”

The Count glanced at his watch. “I bet they haven’t counted on this party carrying on so late. It’s nearly suppertime! Go get your – whatever it is you need to get – and let’s go.”

“What, right now?”

“How late did you wish to leave?” he asked politely, showing a single glittering vampire tooth in a taunting half-smile. “Anyway, see how your friend has time for you.”

Jeanne’s friend was indeed deeply involved in snogging with her husband-to-be. Jeanne strolled over.

“It’s getting late,” she said. “I should get on.”

“Thanks for coming,” said Angie brightly. “See you tomorrow. Don’t mind if I don’t show you to the door – I would, you know, but…” at which point Ronnie took it upon himself to kiss her silent.

“You’re welcome,” muttered Jeanne, collected her handbag and followed Count Dracula out of the door.

A short time later she was sitting in a comfortable Greenfields chair, sipping a moccachino and studying the Necromancer’s face. He was in turn gazing at her; she had the impression that both of them were a bit at a loss for something to say. The previous conversation had been so absurd, so bizarre, that now she didn’t know where to pick up the threads again.

“It’s nice here,” she said eventually, adding, “thanks for the coffee.”

“You’re welcome,” replied Raymes. “Have you thought about it?”

“You can’t mean –“

“Yes, I’m referring to what we were talking about. Would you marry someone you’d just met.”

“This is a trick question.”

“Just pretend it’s not.”

She took a calculating sip from her coffee, buying time while scrutinizing his face for clues. Eventually she answered.

“All right, let’s assume you are the one who asked me to. Honestly, that depends on the circumstances. Like, am I being pursued by the police and need a very fast change of identity. Or, does the person in question have a really pressing problem that might quite easily be solved by a paper marriage. Would I consider it – probably. Would I actually do it – I really don’t know. I would have to learn a lot about the person very quickly.”

“What would you need to know?”

“Just about everything. Does he have a criminal record. Or a history of psychiatric disorder. Is the family kosher. What’s his occupation, and does he have any really unsavoury hobbies. Most of all I would need to know why. Why so suddenly, why so indiscriminately. Have you no girlfriend?”

“I did,” replied Raymes, to her surprise. “She would not have been – quite suitable.”

“Suitable for what, Mr Coombes? You can’t mean to say you are indeed proposing to me?”

“If I am?”

“Well then – then – “ She petered out, hands raised in confusion.

“I have no criminal record. There is no history of psychiatric disorder in my family. They are very nice by the way, regular people, but they are in Cape Town. I am by profession an accountant, and I love making money. Lots of money,” he emphasized, lowering his voice meaningfully. “My wife shall not lack for luxuries. Irritating character traits – I don’t know; I’m not obsessive about anything so I may be a bit messy, but the butler takes care of things, so don’t be worried. Unsavoury habits – I don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t do drugs and don’t philander. And I don’t ever leave the cap off the toothpaste – that one seems to bother you ladies a lot, so I trained myself to always replace it. But I do have one rather strange diversion – the supernatural. I’m a practicing mage. If this clashes with your belief system, better not consider this deal at all.”

Jeanne closed her eyes for a moment as a wave of sheer pleasure rolled over her. She had felt like an island so long with her second sight, her clairvoyant dreams and her influencing the weather, that she had begun to believe she was the only heretic on the planet! To finally have found a friend who dabbled too -!

“I see a response to that information,” said Raymes. “But I don’t know how to read it.”

Jeanne opened her eyes. She was beaming from ear to ear.

“Great,” she said. “I won’t be the only weirdo!”

A cloud of tension seemed to flow away from Raymes. He relaxed visibly.

“As for your last question,” he continued, “why? Why so suddenly, why yourself? Well, I’ll have to be straight with you, it’s a sudden decision because the thought arose while we were chatting there at Angie’s party. I suddenly realized that being married might present the answer to a challenge I’m facing.”

“A challenge,” echoed Jeanne with disbelief.

“Just so.”

“And – the details of that challenge?”

“Not up for discussion,” said Raymes. His look warned her not to push.

Jeanne mulled about it in bed that night. He had given her three days to consider, which she considered generous of him, taking into account his domineering manner.

Three days to consider something that had been on and off her mind for the last seven or eight years. She was twenty-nine going on fifty, and never once had she been serious enough about any boyfriend to consider marrying them. On the contrary, mostly she had opted out of each relationship (and there weren’t that many to start with) right at the point when the male part opened his mouth to ask any Big Question. She had fobbed them off; she could not imagine being committed to any of them.

In her mind she ran through all those had-beens. There had been Pete. She smiled a half-smile. Dear sweet Pete, who had been quick to take her to fancy places but slow to share in paying the bill. In fact, more often than not she had put the fuel into his car to get them there. Pete, of course, had been an unemployed wonder.

Then there had been Perseus. She had at some point extracted his real name from him, but his monumental ego had not allowed his own name, which he disliked, to be used on him. The same ego was the reason for Jeanne running a mile before Perseus got any bright ideas.

There had been Larry. Sorry Larry. Oh boy! Even thinking about this one was embarrassing. Larry, despite his ponytail, actually had a job. Well, sort-of. What he earned wasn’t half bad, to be exact; however he had been so full of moans and complaints about everything, and so full of excuses why he would not change anything, that sending him packing had been a real relief to her. He had threatened her with suicide when she left him. She had answered, rather flippantly, that he was far too selfish to ever go through with it, so she wasn’t worried. He’d live. People like him always did, she had added cruelly, more’s the pity!

One or two short flings did not count at all in her books; they had been committed for fun, and had been aware of this. And then there had been John.

She shivered. If John came back tonight and swept her up in his arms and begged her to forgive him, she knew that she would in an instant. Not that she wanted to; but she wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. The chemistry between them had been complete. He had felt like the one and only. But he was a philanderer of format. He must have cheated her dozens of times, and eventually she left him because she couldn’t put herself through the devastation of yet another heartbreak. She had been reduced to feeling worthless.

Yes, John. If it weren’t for John, these three days might have been a lot easier to decide on. That night she dreamt of him. The next morning she picked up the phone and dialled Raymes’s number. She had her answer.

*


(Today I’d sit that younger me down and ask:  Really??  You just take his word for it?  What are your backstops?  He sounds as though you will end up in the cooking pot first thing!  Never trust a man who calls himself a “practicing mage” – it’s a cover-up. He’s a psychopath.  Or something.  Don’t go with him, Jeannie!!…  aaaarrrggh…)

 

Sop alert

I’m not entirely sure how to proceed with my experimental “A Friday Fairytale”.  In the “chilly hours and minutes” of sitting with a nasty bronchitis, unable to do anything except sleep and write, I finished the story.

  • Storyline complete:  Check.
  • Characters coherent:  Check.
  • Lots of magic and a bit of real-world blood and thunder:  Check.
  • Gaming bits in there:  Check.
  • All wrapped up and most logical glitches (hopefully) ironed out:  Check.

So what is bugging me?

What started out as a vendetta has partially turned into moosh.  Magical moosh but moosh nevertheless.   And that’s what I get when I take my fine control off my characters and allow them all to play.

Some, like Paean, will discover a lab and clone weird and wonderful monsters.  Others will fall, they will fall so hard they splinter into thousand shards, in love.  That in itself is one thing, but they don’t keep it to themselves!

I’ve written sop before, I’ve written romance before, but I’m not sure if I should allow readers to pass who have hoped that “A Friday Fairytale” is about gaming, hacking and other piratical activity.

So I think I’ll take the cop-out and ask your opinion.  Seeing that this story has taken an unexpected turn slipping on a bar of soap, should I keep posting its episodes here?

What say you, do you like reading soapy slippery slopies?

banksy

Story post, and a bit about the “Paleodiet”

Udo Pollmer, food scientist, discusses the “Paleodiet”.

The principles of the Paleodiet are basially to eat a lot of meat, not consume grains, and limit the intake of other veg and fruit as veg and fruit are thought to have been scarce in “paleo” times.

Udo Pollmer explains (with the use of about 6 different reference books) what “paleo” humans and “nature cultures” really ate.

In the first place, let’s investigate the fruit and veg side of it.  “Roots” looked a bit more like tree roots.  Wild carrots are basically sticks, without taste (or if anything, with a bitter taste) and without much nutritional value.  The same can be said for wild “field fruit” which also tend to be small, bitter and fibrous.  Any mom who has battled to get her kid to eat his veggies, will understand the concept that humans didn’t exactly eat a lot of that stuff.  Our veggies and fruit of today are deluxe foods.

However, what Pollmer’s sources do point out is that whenever a fruit was wriggling with larvae and worms, that was when humans tended to eat it with great gusto.  Insects have a high fat content, and are good protein.

Now as for the meat.  Humans are not, and have never been, particularly efficient predators (take the hunter’s gun away and see how he does).  A lot of their meat was scavenged; once again, the more worms, the more delightedly they would eat it.  The worms were guaranteed to be fresher than the meat.  There was even a North American tribe that used to drive the buffalo across frozen rivers so that the buffalo would break through the ice and drown; then the tribe would follow downstream to see where the animals would wash ashore, and leave them for a little while until they were nice and bloated, and then open them and eat the green stuff.  Protein would already be putrefied and broken down to amino acids, to a large extent, glutamate; it is no accident that humans have a “sweet tooth” for glutamate (aka MSG).  Amino acids are a lot more accessible and easier to digest than proteins.

Among others, concerning the limiting of sugars:  There was a tribe of Native Americans (even named after their habits) who spent several months a year collecting honey.  This honey would be eaten in pure form, and in large amounts, to no further detriment of the tribe.

Therefore, if you were to look for the genuine elements of the “paleo” diet in shops, you’d struggle to find them (putrid meat?  Wormy fruit?  Roots that look like sticks?).  It’s also questionable whether a modern human would even survive such a diet.   What is sold as a “paleo diet” in today’s health freak circles was not even in existence back then.  It is simply another modern food fad.  Enjoy!

On that delicious note, and the one that the original diet followed by William Banting was in fact a kilojoule-controlled, high-alcohol-low-everything-else diet (his carbs were “restricted” to four slices of bread per day), I’ll leave you to munch, and I’ll post a little bit more of “A Friday Fairytale”.


 

 

(Find the beginning of the story at this link)

nadisda_sml

From “A Friday Fairytale”:

8.  Invader

As they flew high above the meadow towards the town, Nadisda saw something disquieting happening to the place.  A yellow fog was wreathing its way along the valleys and gulleys.  It had almost reached the town gates.

“What do you think is that?” she asked Nita.
The electronic-turned-fairy shrugged.  “Never seen it before.  Maybe one of Mike’s tricks?”
“Hope so,” said Nadisda.  “Hope he’s aware of it.”  She set down at the town gates with Nita following suit.  They entered by Nita giving the poor gates a good blast of black magic to open them and Nadisda decorating them all over with black roses from the fright; then they went searching for Valentine’s party.
The yellow fog had started seeping into the town too, wreathing low between the cobbles.  Where it touched, things went a bit fuzzy.  Nadisda tried not to step on it and found that she had to fly low over the ground to avoid it.
“I don’t feel easy about this,” said Benita, who had taken to low flying as well.
“I think you need to tell Mike about it,” suggested Nadisda.  “In his world.  I just want to know that it is something he planned.”
Nita froze.  Nadisda waited.  The fairy unfroze again and reported back.
“Mike says he’s coming over to look.  It isn’t in his part of the game.”
“Let’s find Valentine so long,” suggested Nadisda and carried on along the cobbled streets, passing dozens of disinterested-looking citizens.  And she heard the commotion up ahead.
She flew faster and arrived in the town square, and saw what it was about.
A group of twelve assorted low-level warriors had surrounded Hero Hugo.  Amongst them were Valentine and the Heroine; but both seemed to be frozen in time.
“Mike says his system is frozen,”  Nita reported back.  “He can’t move.  He’ll have to restart, and if he does, he and Jen both get cut down.”
Nadisda flung a fistful of fire at the evil Hero Hugo, who laughed and pushed his way through the valiant low-level fighters, cutting them down with a single blow of his sword for each.
“So now you show your true colours, fairy!” he said triumphantly.  “I was wondering about the tricks you played on me yesterday.  So you’re fighting with the evil Villain?”
“You’re not talking old-fashioned anymore,” observed Nadisda. She saw that there was a red circle around Hero Hugo’s feet, marking him as an attacking enemy.
“And you have become a player,” added Hugo.
“Stop killing them,” demanded Nadisda.  “You’re a hero, not a villain!  Stop the slaughter!  Good guys don’t do that.”
“Good guys sometimes have to cut down crooks,” replied Hugo.    “Sometimes they have to stop people from thieving and breaking into other people’s treasure chests.”
Benita launched a ball of pure undiluted evil at Hugo.  It was impressive; it hit the mark.  His shield splintered dramatically into thousands of shards that disappeared in mid-air.
And the yellow fog wreathed around Nita’s dainty fairy feet.  Its tendrils caught her and enveloped her; at the same time they swallowed up the heroine.  Jen and Nita both fell into death-like rigidity and then crumbled to dust, that blew away in the wind.  Valentine still stood frozen with his sword lifted high.
Hero Hugo glanced at Nadisda’s face, then casually turned to Valentine and struck him down with his sword.  The Villain’s form collapsed to the cobblestones.
“Valentine!” exclaimed Nadisda and rushed to his side.  The avatar was dead, and already going transparent.  Behind her, Hero Hugo laughed.
“You can pour as much healing magic on him as you like, forest fairy,” he said.  “He’s out of the game.”
“But – that’s not possible,” she gasped, staring at Hugo, her hand on Valentine’s shoulder.  That shoulder became unreal under her touch, and when she looked, Valentine’s shape disappeared completely.  He was gone.
Shaken, Nadisda got to her feet, fending off the yellow fog with a white shielding spell.  Around her, the fog had conquered buildings and roads, and everything started crumbling and falling apart.  Where buildings disappeared, dark voids gaped.
“What have you done?” she whispered.  “What’s happening to the town?”
“Not just the town, fairy.  The entire realm.  Everything.  I’m taking it over, and I’m rebuilding it my way.  That yellow fog is a virus that is destroying the program.  But before it deletes it, it copies it to my hard drive.  So eat your heart out, fairy.  You’re not even going to be in my version of the game.  I’m calling it ‘The Everrealms’.”
“You can’t hijack it!” objected Nadisda, upset.  “Mike programmed it and Jen created the artwork.  You can’t just – steal it from them!”
“Ah, but you see, I can,” replied Hugo.  “Because they are villains, and I’m the hero.  Or in real-world terms, I’m a cop, girl.  And they are juvenile delinquents, hackers, jail-breakers, on the run.  The one riddle I’m still trying to decipher is where you fit in.  Mike gave you the forest fairy for an avatar, that’s very unusual.  He had the forest fairy as a fixed feature of the game.  So who are you?  Another thief?  A hacker?”
Nadisda shook her head.  “You can’t do this!  Good guys don’t do this!”
“So you think good guys hack into people’s bank accounts and steal their money?” challenged Hugo.  “Tell that Mike from me that his game is up.  The virus has a tracker in it too.  I know exactly where he is, and he won’t be there for much longer.  He’ll be behind bars, where he belongs.  In state penitentiary.  He’ll be a guest of our president.”
The fairy in Nadisda wouldn’t have understood a single word; but the juvenile delinquent memories Mike had so kindly endowed her with (no doubt gathered from his own) interpreted everything perfectly for her.  Hugo’s words chilled her to her bones.
Still, it was deeply unfair.
“He’s turned over a new leaf,” she protested.  “We’ve got him on the straight and narrow.  You can’t take the game away from him!  It’s his ticket to an honest life!”
“Yeah – created on stolen equipment,” said Hugo scathingly.  “Girl, or guy, whoever is behind that fairy avatar, I suggest you log out now before your computer gets wrecked with my virus.”
Nadisda’s patience was up.  She launched herself at Hugo like a cat, her fingers spraying sparks of fire and ice magic, and clawed at him.  The world went up in smoke around her and Hugo’s avatar disappeared, and she fell into the void.

*

Mike swore heartily at the computer that would simply not restart.  Ben, Jen and Nancy all battled along with him; but the whole system was down, every last machine connected to the LAN had shut down.
Ben was the one who voiced the dreaded words.
“It’s a virus.”
“Trojan, more likely,” said Nancy.
“Whatever it is,” growled Mike, “it’s destroyed all our computers!  Lucky that I took the external drive offline before we restarted.  Who knows what it could have done to the backups?”
“So we need to check if the backups are alright,” said Jen urgently.  “Reload it, to get Nadisda out of there.”
“Reload, on what?” asked Mike.
“Let’s try the old Dell,” said Ben.
“That’s what knocked the program out last time,” objected Mike.
“But at least you can check if your backups are still there,” said Ben.
Mike shook his head.   “No ways.  Not risking that.  I’ll check on the library’s computer tomorrow.  Nadisda organized me a friendly relationship there, I’ll go in and return the book and ask them a favour.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Jen.  “So what do we do in the meantime?”
“You mean, except trying to resurrect our systems?”
There was a knock on the door.
“Positions!” hissed Nancy, but she herself dived for the external drive, slipped it into her pocket and left through the back door.
“It’s Nadisda,” said Jen.
“We can’t be sure of that,” said Ben.
Mike was already at the door, opening it.
Two large police officers pushed their way into the room, one immediately handcuffing Mike.  It went so fast that the programmer still had his mouth open trying to formulate a protest.  A third one followed the first two.
“Hey!” exclaimed Jen.  “On what grounds are you doing this?”
“You are under arrest,” the officer who had got a hold of her, told her in a bored voice that had recited these words far too often.  She was handcuffed too.  “You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can be held against you.”
“I have a right to know my charges,” she snapped angrily.  Ben had been immobilized by now, too.
“Theft, cyberfraud or accessory, and jailbreak,” said the policeman coldly.  “Now be quiet.  You should never have broken out.”
“I’m a digital artist,” she said indignantly.  “I was arrested under false charges the first time too!  I’ve done nothing!”
“You broke out of jail,” the police officer replied.  “That’s a criminal offence.”
“Some justice system!” she snorted derisively as the three policemen bullied her, her brother and her friend out of the house to the police van, and into its back.
Something gave her hope.  Nobody had asked about Nancy.  Maybe the Goth girl would get away.

*

This time, as she fell through the void, Nadisda spread her wings immediately to break her fall, and grabbed the USB stick that hung from its string around her neck.  She focused on Detroit and Mike’s place.  She had to warn him.  But instead she landed with a bump before her wings could find a proper air current.  It was dark, but not that dark.  She was inside a room, on someone’s carpet.
She folded her wings away, got to her feet and took a critical look around.  She was certainly not in Mike’s house; the traffic noise and din of a big city came from far below.  She went over to the window and took a look outside.  It must be an apartment on the twentieth floor, or something.  She turned and studied the room in the sparse city light that fell through the window.
It was nicely balanced and well furnished with a high-class leather settee in a dark colour with some light scatter cushions on it, a low TV shelf housing an enormous plasma screen and the necessary paraphernalia underneath with a few little controller lights glinting green and red, a glass-topped coffee table, a deep plush carpet which she had fallen onto, and not much else.  No clutter.  Feng shui.
She had to find out where she was.  She lit a small mage-light from her fingertips and investigated the flat she found herself in.  From the balanced lounge, a door led away into a passage which ended in two rooms, a bedroom and a study.  The bedroom resembled the lounge in its very Zen and peaceful furnishings, with a  kingsized poster bed of dark wood, made perfectly with luxurious beige linen; a dark wooden bedside table with a very modern-looking white reading spotlight, and a well-worn Dean R Koontz novel lying on its face.  She looked more closely.  Twilight Eyes.  She hadn’t read that particular one, which meant that probably, Mike hadn’t.
Beige curtains were open to reveal the panorama of an endless sea of lights, a large city by night.  She went over to the window and peered down here too, this time taking a closer look at the kind of street scene underneath the flat block, and found that it was not so great at all.  This flat may be well furnished, but it was positioned in an iffy neighbourhood.  That was odd.
She turned and went to investigate the en-suite bathroom.  The colour theme continued:  Beige, dark-brown and black.  It was a very stark, male design.  She peered into the mirror cabinet and found shaving cream, various shaped razors including an electric one; hair-clipping equipment; dandruff shampoo, a nail clipper, mouthwash and toothpaste, and that was it.   The electric toothbrush lay on the rim of the basin, next to a small cake of soap.
Not a hint of a feminine presence.  No make-up, perfume, anything.  Could it be a single man lived here alone?  She left the bathroom and returned to the bedroom, and followed her nose to the study – the second bedroom.
Once again the stark dark wood theme was there; but the neatness was missing.  The large, dark office desk was littered with papers, except for the PC screen and keyboard sitting at close reach slightly to the left.  Whoever lived here, used his computer and his papers with equal intensity – and that was a lot of intensity.
The PC was only sleeping.  She touched the mouse, and the screen came into life – showing folders open, and an action window that reported that something was being copied at the frantic pace of several GB per second.  She read the file names and gasped.
‘Mike Nickells’ version’, read the one, and ‘The Everrealms’ was the name of the file being copied to.
“What,” asked a menacing voice from the doorway, “are you doing in my apartment?”
She turned and stared into the mouth of a handgun, and into the angry face of the man she had never yet seen but still recognized.  Connor the Cop.

 


More fresh crispy reads here:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/24715

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Friday Story Post: Nadisda

I thought it may be time to visit the Friday Fairy Tale again.  Last, the teenagers gather around the table to play a networked game.  Here’s the link to the story as it goes so far:

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

And here is the chapter:

 

7. 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 reabsorbed 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 the 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, spread underneath, with rolling valleys and dales.  She gasped at the beauty of it.

*

A little boy at his window, peering through his toy telescope.
“Mommy!  Come and look at this!”
“Danny, you should be in bed!”
“But Mom!  You must come and look at this!”
Angela Johnson peered through her son’s telescope.  That toy had been an eighth-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.  Some contraption, some toy?  It looked pretty convincing.
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. “Maybe he just forgot?”
“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, old 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.

 


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A Friday Fairytale

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