No Known Cause

Monday morning.

Dropped my son off at his school this morning; saw him stop and stare at something there at the cars.  I saw a little child sitting on the sidewalk there, between some people (his mother, obviously, and some school children).  My son then walked on and went to class.  I looked more closely as the kiddie got up – he didn’t seem hurt, but by now I could see that there was another person lying on the sidewalk who had been shielded by him.  I got out to offer my help; thought maybe there had been an accident of some sort.  A little surprised at my son for walking away (he does First Aid), but I was about to understand, why.

There was a girl on the pavement having an epileptic seizure.

I asked if there was something I could do to help, and eventually there was, no matter how small: I could go and inform the lady at the office that they were bringing a girl to the sick room.

What I knew about seizures, was diddly squat.  I offered to call emergency services and the mom declined.  I saw in her eyes, her whole demeanour, that she is no stranger to this scenario.  The two little brothers were helping here and there make their older sister comfortable, but the family interfered minimally with the seizure, basically just putting the girl in recovery position on her side repeatedly.  One of the little brothers checked that the friend was okay who had caught his sister’s fall.

I mean, these kiddies couldn’t have been older than maybe eight or nine.  Still the calm and strength that they projected, really shook me.  The mom comes across as an absolutely rock-steady being, a veteran.

First-aid wise, there apparently isn’t much you can do for someone who is having a seizure.  You catch their fall, if you happen to be next to them if they collapse.  You basically make them comfortable, put them on their side (it opens air passages) and cushion their head with something if you can.  I didn’t know this or I’d have offered my jersey.  And you move them away from danger if they are, for instance, in the middle of the road when they collapse; but that’s the only reason to move them, to protect them from injury.  Otherwise, you move objects out of their way rather than move them.  Work gently with them, and time the seizure (if it lasts beyond 5 minutes, call the ambulance).  You never put a spoon in their mouth or hold them down.

Some good guidelines at this link.

What causes epilepsy?  According to this link, 70% of cases have no known cause.  The other 30% are from previous brain injury of some sort caused during encephalitis, or trauma during birth, accidents etc.

No known cause? 

They said that for the colic of my first baby, too.  And after months of misplaced trust in a medical profession that was basically just telling me to wait it out (colic moms will understand how this can make you lose your faith in the med profession), a homeopath fixed the problem in 24 hours.  From fully-blown colic to a healthy baby, in a day.  No:  That was certainly not her “outgrowing” the colic.  It was from 100% to zero.  I don’t know.  When the medical profession says, “no known cause”, the researcher in me is triggered.  Someone said: A scientist is a person who believes in the ignorance of the experts.

A second thing that I then encountered (when I went to alert the office) was another child who was asking the office for help because she had difficulty breathing.  The office has no emergency asthma medication, in fact they have nothing – legally they are not allowed to keep any medicines.

Asthma?  I do know about asthma!  My son has had asthma since he was small.  He carries a pump with him; this is an essential, a potential life-saver.  Unlike in the movies, asthmatics don’t wait until they are lying unconscious on the floor; they use their asthma pump when their chest begins to tighten.  But you never “lend” your asthma pump to another person experiencing an attack, because 1) you don’t know how they will react to the medication and 2) you don’t know if they will have an allergic reaction to your spit of which there are always traces on the asthma pump.

Asthma isn’t one of those “no known cause” ailments.  It has too many known causes.  The mechanism is well researched; the trigger can be anything from an allergen to an infection to, in severe cases, emotional strain.  Exercise can trigger asthma.  (However, swimming is apparently excellent to help asthma sufferers build lung capacity.)  Asthma sufferers need to record what triggers their attacks; whether they are more sensitive to dry or moist air, cold or warm.

The only thing the school can do to stave off such emergencies is to employ a trained nurse or have a school doctor on the premises.  I know that this is a luxury these days; a generation back it was standard practice.   There’s something wrong with this picture.

Friday Story Post

As promised, your story!  (Not “A Friday Fairytale”, that one is back in the workshop.)

But first:

I am totally surprised and bowled over that one of my posts was elected by WordPress.  And I’m glad it wasn’t one of my rants. (I would have had to pull it!)  One doesn’t expect that sort of thing.  And I know of a whole lot of blogs who would distinctly deserve this kind of highlight more.  Here are a handful of them:

 

This is to name but a few; I could easily add ten more without even having to think. If you’re looking for inspiration, you’ll find it there!

Anyway, the story:

From “Vanya the Terrib”.

What happened before:

  1. Chapter 1: Vanya the Terrib
  2. Chapter 2: Michayl Ran

Vanya, high-ranking mutant agent, is briefed by head quarters to collect intel on a criminal human, Michayl Ran.  Before she can even begin, she is abducted by higher-level agents and brought to the dreaded planet that serves as a Death Row prison for the most serious of criminals; the burnt-out and nuclear-poisoned Earth.  And she finds herself in the company of the very criminal she is supposed to be investigating.

 

3. Prisoner

Vanya looked around in the room she had been assigned. A fairly bare room; uncluttered by such frills as carpet, wall paint or window blinds. The decor scheme was grey cement. A simple bed with a metal frame was posing as a place to sleep, furnished with a flattish mattress, a single pillow in a hospital-style white cover, and a grey woollen blanket over a crisp white sheet. Well, Vanya’s usual style wasn’t much more elaborate than that, so she accepted this prison cell with a shrug. It was clean, if somewhat cool. The absence of blinds worried her for a split second – in the City, you didn’t simply let everyone see what you were doing. But once she glanced through the not over-large window, the fear of being observed left her. Outside there was nothing. And nobody. Only sand and rock; and a bit further away, a green halo which might be some sort of vegetation.

It could be that she and that Mick Ran were the only humans alive on this planet. She hadn’t missed how fast the police shuttle had left again. It was probably the air. She felt horribly uneasy breathing this Earth air. It felt heavy and damp, full of gases. She could smell them. They didn’t have the usual chemical tang of the City’s air; they smelled older, somehow wilder. No less poisonous. She inhaled against resistance.

There was a knock on her door, and Michayl Ran’s voice.

“Is it a good time to speak to you, Agent V?”

A good time? What did it matter? Apart from studying her surrounds, she hadn’t even put down her handbag. If she didn’t find a way to escape Earth, she only had three weeks to live in this poisonous atmosphere. There was no ‘good’ time in any of that.

“Come in,” she invited. “It is your place.”

Mick Ran entered. Once more she saw just how huge the man was. Greying hair, incongruous with the vitality of the rest of him which dated him to perhaps, his mid-thirties. Probably the grey was a result of spending time on the toxic planet. Ageing was something humanity hadn’t been doing in centuries.

She touched his mind lightly, and blinked in surprise. The man was not a mutant in any way; yet she couldn’t gain any access to his thoughts. It was as though he were an automaton – their thoughts were inaccessible too, but that was because they were programs, not real thought. He was certainly fully human though, no artificial intelligence.

“I thought that would surprise you,” said Mick with a superior smile. “It baffles most mutants.”

Vanya’s momentary smile vanished. She didn’t like the superiority this human displayed towards a second-level mutant.

“You’ll have to resort to old-fashioned questioning,” said Mick with a condescending smile. His eyes were grey-blue; a murky, old-fashioned colour, not like the mutant range which went from infra-red to ultra-violet, through all the pure shades of the rainbow. “But I believe I have the first right to questions. So: Do you find your room adequate?”

Vanya cast a glance around. “I only miss a place where I can wash,” she observed.

Mick moved past her and opened another door. She hadn’t realized that it was supposed to be part of the prison cell. She had a look. A shower head stuck out of the wall; there was what could only be an old-fashioned flush toilet; and there was a serviceable hand basin. A white towel and a facecloth hung over a metal towel rail; on the basin, in a crude metal cup, sat a sealed toothbrush, still in its packaging, and a sealed packet of tooth powders.

“I apologize for the lack of – whatever it is,” said Mick with a shrug. “We don’t entertain guests too often.”

Guests? For crying out loud!

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’d actually like to find out what I’m doing here. Why was I arrested?”

“Abducted,” corrected Mick with a grin. “You shall find out in due course, agent Violet. It must be strange to be on the other side of your own coin.”

He moved over to the window and checked on the barren landscape outside. Vanya followed his gaze. The lowering sun lit up the sand in glorious reds and browns.

“How long do I have?” she asked.

He smiled. “Well, that depends, you see.”

Once again she tried to read his mind and found a wall. Not that he was blocking her at all; only that his mind was structured in such a foreign way that she couldn’t gain access. His low chuckle did its part to rile her.

“I think you must be quite hungry,” he added.

“I had a pasty, not too long ago,” said Vanya pointedly.

“Ha, yes,” laughed Mick. “That should keep you going for another three weeks. You mutants thrive on being minimalists.”

“It’s a point of pride,” she replied with dignity.

“Still, you won’t deny my hospitality,” he said. It was a command. Vanya compliantly inclined her head and followed him out of the bare room, through some more cement passages, back to the wonky elevator.

If trying to feed her fat was supposed to be some kind of torture… she smiled cynically. Mutants didn’t get fat, didn’t this human know that? They simply increased their metabolism by the correct number of notches to deal with the excess. Annoying, sure, but torture? Not really. But perhaps the program was to poison her, or drug her? To get her to reveal secrets. Yes, undoubtedly.

Mick turned to her with another amused smile. He seemed to find everything funny. She wondered how that tied in with the wanted criminal he was. Her security briefing by head office had been – too brief. Altogether insufficient. She knew nothing about him.

“No such sinister motives,” he said. “I don’t need to drug you to get behind your secrets.”

This was wrong! The hand-link chain and its electrodes had been removed from her hands before she had even left his office. So how could he read her mind, when he was the monster, the unimproved human, and she was the second-degree mutant?

“Monster indeed,” said Mick softly, to himself, for once not amused. “Monster, indeed!”

She had to be more careful now than ever before.

*

Mick led her to another room, which looked like a down-town canteen. Except that they were alone in it; those cheap gloss-veneered tables looked dusty, as though they hadn’t been used this century. Except for two. Behind a counter with no more glass there were empty pans that in their day must have held some kind of cooked food.

The place looked deserted; yet delicious, unfamiliar smells filled it. Some or other food. It did trigger her hunger.

“Do have a seat,” urged the human and motioned to one of the tables. “I should have laid a table cloth, but Nell is not here, and in honesty I have no idea where she keeps them.”

Ah! The mention of another. Vanya wondered about Nell as she sat down at the indicated table. Was Nell another inmate? Probably another poor City mutant, abducted by this Michayl Ran. Vanya scowled. Was that perhaps what he was wanted from – she stopped short. Halt! Caution! No thoughts at all of home. Perhaps the walls were laced with hypno-enhancers; she couldn’t imagine how else a human would be able to pick her brain like that.

Mick vanished behind a wall, and returned with two identical plates piled with strange-looking food. Vanya’s eyes stretched. He put the two plates down, one in front of her.

Vanya smiled. And switched the plates around.

Mick laughed. “How would you know that that’s not exactly what I predicted?”

She stared at him uncertainly, then switched the plates back.

Mick laughed even louder. “Come now, Agent V!” With great care, he took half of the food off the one plate and swapped it with half of the food on the other. He even cut the strange brown lumps of substance in half and exchanged their halves. “There is no poison in this food. No need.” He sat down and picked up his metal knife and fork. “Please, go ahead. I’m too hungry for manners, if you’ll excuse me. It’s been a long day, laying a trap for an agent of your level.” And he started in on his food.

Vanya cautiously picked up the knife and fork he had handed her, polished them with her shirt, pointedly ignoring the keen interest with which the human monster watched her, and tried a very small bite of the green stuff. It could be plain vegetables, if she were lucky.

It was. Though they tasted sweeter, and very appealing. Sensational. She had never experienced such great succulence in vegetables in the City. Their beans and peas, and sweet corn, all tasted the same. Of brine.

This was so nice, it could become addictive! Vanya savoured another forkful of the vegetables, then put her cutlery down to think.

“Enjoying your food?” asked Mick, his mouth full.

“Thank you,” she replied. “It is lovely.”

“Good!” He never allowed speech to slow him down between bites. This was mildly offputting; but she had too much training to take offence at anything a human did.

He was by now chewing on that brown, gummy lump, cutting large bites off and shoving them into his mouth. A consideration crossed Vanya’s mind, and this time she asked instead of trying to mind-fish it. A surprising concept, really.

“So… are you actually a prisoner too?”

The great jaws stood still as the grey eyes stared at her, baffled. Then Mick retook his chewing, while laughing around the food.

“Touché!” he said. “Eat, Agent V.”

“What is that substance?” she asked, pointing to the fibrous, gummy brown lump on her plate.

“Bush meat,” he said. “Fried for you on an open fire.”

She shook her head disbelievingly. Open fire? That was prohibited in the City, it was highly toxic. He had to be joking. Anyway, meat looked different! Meat was pink, never brown with a reddish centre! And it was smooth and tasted of nothing, and she didn’t particularly like it, it did nothing for her. But she didn’t particularly like food, to begin with. It was only energy to recharge her. A necessary evil until a more efficient way of refuelling was designed. Most mutants felt that way.

“It’s meat,” insisted Mick. “Earth meat. From an Earth animal. A sheep, if you need to know. Try it. You may have to use your teeth for once.”

Vanya cut a small piece of the lump off. It gave resistance. She put it warily into her mouth. It was delicious. But Mick was right: She had to chew. The stuff chewed back.

Mick was by now through most of his food. He eyed her strangely as she put her cutlery down and folded her hands.

“Have more,” he urged.

“It was enough, thank you,” she replied.

Mick shook his head. “Well, if you really don’t want it…” He reached over and took her plate, and finished her portion too. Then he sat back and stretched. “That was great!”

Vanya inclined her head and smiled. “Thank you,” she said again.

Mick jumped up. “I have just the thing!” He disappeared behind that partition again and re-emerged with two stemmed glasses, containing some red substance.

She was instantly back on guard. Stemmed glasses were only used for addictive and dangerous substances, such as the blue star daisy extract that made one see visions. And then, usually, there was only half a mil or so at the bottom of the glass; these two glasses were half full. What was in them? It was luckily too purple to be blood, she thought with a shudder. But you never knew.

“In case you worry,” said Mick and poured liquid from one glass into the other, and back, “no poison.” He handed her one of the two, then clicked his glass to hers. She watched, bewildered. And she followed suit, tasting. It could be berry juice.

Within a split second she knew the stuff was poison anyway. Her mouth spat it out before she could even think; and her stomach followed it up by upending the few bites she had eaten, and the bit of ring pasty, onto the floor. She stared at Mick with wild eyes, watching as he put his glass, which he had been sipping, down. He came over to her side of the table.

“Agent V, I’m sorry! I forgot that you are a mutant. You can’t take alcohol.”

“What is that substance?” she asked, tears of embarrassment and physical misery her eyes.

“Only port wine,” he told her. “A very nice vintage, too. I was saving it to share with a worthy person.”

Wine. She allowed him to lead her back to her room, and assured him that she was fine before waiting for him to leave so she could lie down. Her metabolism had just shut down; she needed sleep. Her high-level detoxing systems would start kicking in once she slept.

So the torturing had begun. She was being punished for being a mutant; the human was homing in on her rare physical vulnerabilities, such as the alcohol response. Who knew what was going to be done to her while she slept? But she didn’t have enough energy left to care.

She had to restore herself and not take in anything more until she managed to escape this planet; that was her last thought.

 


 

Book links:

pkaboosite

 

 

 

Goodnight

I had to do this once!

Goodnight peeps, friends and bloggies.  See you tomorrow for the Story Post (still mulling which story to post for you).  Here’s a song I’ve been wanting to link forever:

 

And remember the coupons (expire 30 August) :

Solar Winds 3 and 4 full discount coupons on Smashwords, plus Arcana:

Solar Wind 3: Coupon code RW100
Solar Wind 4: Coupon Code CF73X
Arcana: Coupon Code LJ36P

Links:
Solar Wind series:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/24238
Arcana: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/627617

Hope you enjoy!

… gipsika …

Thank you, WordPress!

What a surprise this evening to discover my post on “Discover”.  I was bowled over.

(Here’s the post: https://skrikvirniks.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/we-gather-our-past-in-clutter/)

And of all the posts I’ve written, the better and the lesser ones, they picked the one on clutter!  :-D  Oh my oh my!  Now the whole world knows about my messy home…  it must have spoken to someone.  Well, I must say, this is probably also true for fictitious characters:  Their most endearing qualities are often their failings.

Federi’s inability to count backwards from twenty. Paean’s bossiness. Vlad’s duplicity.  Harry Potter’s internal torture when he starts thinking he’s a minion of Voldemort.  (Wow.  The spelling checker didn’t even complain when I wrote “Voldemort”.)  Hermione’s know-it-allishness.  (Ok, now it did complain! 😀 ) The reader’s response is:  “Wait, I know someone like that…”

Anyway this is just a note, to the boss blogger at WordPress who thought my post was discover-worthy.  It is very much appreciated! 🙂

Coupons, peeps, coupons!

Seeing that we’ve survived the past few months somehow, it’s now time for gear-shift.

I need a new “normal”.  Not yet in the house, preparing to move out of the flat, but not being able to pack up and go yet, I have to reinvent routines.  Homeschooling my Wildest One is easier while I’m writing, blogging or doing my admin.  I remember now.  I wrote most of the Solar Winds while homeschooling.  It is astounding that one has more time for things like that while homeschooling, not less.

P’kaboo was developed while homeschooling.  I taught myself html and then css while homeschooling, and designed the P’kaboo site (and a few more).  By now the site needs an overhaul, to make it mobile-friendly.  It is also on my list.

So now, while my youngest is tackling math and natural science with gusto (something that homeschool can create, but school – not so likely), my own next project is to learn proper cover design.  It is something that’s always holding me back when in the publishing process – having to outsource the cover design.  There are guidelines; by now I know some very well, and am studying the rest.   My aim is to do a number of short courses for it, online.  (One tip:  It still has to look good and be legible as a thumbnail image.)

In the meantime, here be coupons!  Please feel free to share them or send them to friends.  I understand coupons are one of the ways people become rich – by using coupons to take advantage of special offers.


Smashwords book coupons:  (All valid until 30 August only)

Blank bookcover with clipping path

RW100 – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “RW100” to receive 100% discount.

 

raidersmlfront

Raider!

CF73X – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “CF73X” to receive 100% discount.

 

arcana-jpg

Arcana

LJ36P – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “LJ36P” to get a 100% discount.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating Compelling Content Continuously

One of the tricks of web-marketing is as per the heading of this post, to “continuously create compelling content”.

Watching the stats on Smashwords, that is exactly what drives views, and ultimately sales.  It’s eye-opening to observe every time I upload another free shortstory, how the interest in the other (priced) stories also increases.  Good blog posts that link, can also drive some traffic, but the main driver is uploading new content.

The only problem I can see with this approach is this:  I’m speaking to fellow bloggers, so you know exactly how exhausting it is to try and create compelling content, continuously!   One runs out of fuut*, and the content created continuously stops being quite that compelling.  And if you carry on creating content, eventually you’ll just be making noise…

So, in summary, while this approach seems to work while it works, it can run out of fuel (the fuel being fresh stories from you, the “content creator”).  And the second you stop putting compelling content out there for a week or two, your readers drift away towards someone else’s compelling content.

Having shared this snippet of philosophy, I’m now going to put my (subconscious) mind to how to work around this phenomenon.

In the interim, while you’re waiting for more compelling content from me, please feel free to click any of the below links.   I am once more experimenting with limited giveaway copies of  priced books.


Smashwords book coupons:  (All valid until 30 August only)

Blank bookcover with clipping path

RW100 – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “RW100” to receive 100% discount.

 

raidersmlfront

Raider!

CF73X – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “CF73X” to receive 100% discount.

 

arcana-jpg

Arcana

LJ36P – When purchasing this book, enter the coupon code “LJ36P” to get a 100% discount.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inbetweener

Just an update.

For the next Friday Story Post I’m not going to post “A Friday Fairytale”, because I’m editing it.  I’ll be posting something else.

Winter has given way (finally!) to hayfever season (oof!). 😀

Homeschooling has been tightened – more is expected of little Miss Dream-Dreams. Luckily she is quite up to it.  The positive effects of not having to go to a hostile environment every day at dawn are clearly visible in her improved health and emotional levels.  Another thing that has taken a leap is her violin technique – because she is actually practising more effectively now.

We’ll be homeschooling for at least another 2 – 3 years.  It’s pointless doing it shorter than that.

September 3:  “Jipsy Jangles” is playing as “wandering minstrels” at a Medieval Fayre, here’s the Facebook link:

facebook.com/MedievalFayreSA

September 10:  Both the Strings Ensemble and Jipsy Jangles will be playing at a house concert in Faerie Glen.  For both groups it is our first concert.

The Strings Ensemble plays Mozart, Pachelbel (at the request of the celli) and two modern songs which I’m not giving away right now.

Jipsy Jangles is us – my 3 children and I (the Wild Ones on instruments and my oldest sings).  It’s pretty much a parenting milestone when your kids become versed enough on their instruments to play alongside you at gigs, or even take the lead.

September 17:  The inevitable Oktoberfest (I’m not going!!).  It puts part of the family out of action year after year.

That would leave September 24 for a Studio Concert if it weren’t Heritage Day and therefore a long weekend (expect low attendance).  Also, the 30th is an option, right before the holidays – perhaps I ought to do that, rather than after the holidays in October.  There will always be excuses.  People will always find reasons not to come, even if nothing else is happening.  The committed ones will find excuses to be there.

The jury is still out on the Studio Concert date therefore.

So much for muchness, see you later.

Friday Story Post,

…and Malcontents

Before I post the story I wanted to get a little thought in edgewise because my brain is weird these days, it never faithfully delivers blogging material except when I’m about to post something else! 😀

I watched a short vid last night about a guy tirading against pot-smoking.  (Well so do I, especially if one of the kids were experimenting with making Mac’n’Cheese and forgot and ran away and the next thing, there’s a pot smoking up the whole house.)

This man actually let himself be talked (against his principles, he says) into smoking a “joint” with an old friend.  (Let’s not get into the company people keep…)  He then proceeded to take the friend to a 5-star dinner and Richard Strauss opera (as he’d planned to do), and both experiences were incredibly deep and amazing.  The most profound music he’d ever heard; the most tastebud-explosionary meal he’d ever consumed.

On the way home, he heard some banal little jingle on the radio, and it became the deepest, most profound music he’d ever heard.  And he and his old buddy stopped at a fast-food place to get some cardboard burgers and chemical cooldrink (did anyone mention that apparently drugs give you the munchies?), and that became the most taste-boggling meal he ever consumed.  At which point he “got it”.

Hubbs and I have observed many times how people on “pot” seem to have no drive, no motivation to get things done or better their circumstances (which are usually atrocious).  Here is the answer, as this guy in his video also explained:

If chewing a piece of gum is the best meal you’ve ever consumed, if watching ads on TV rates up there with the best movies, if cuddling the Maltese poodle is as profound as exploring the mind of a soulmate, then – who needs bother go to the trouble to find the “real stuff” – genuine music, genuine stories, genuine people?  A cardboard box or a mansion, it’s all the same, it’s “awesome”.

That explains the inertia and lack of motivation.

But:

While I don’t recommend that everyone should go out and get some “zoll” now, I do want to highlight another little quirk.

Humankind did not arrive at civilization by being content.

Look at a tribe of chimps in a forest.  Well, if they’re not just-then under direct attack from relentless humans driving them out to chop down the trees for profit, they usually are quite peaceful.  They hang around in the trees, grooming each other, nursing babies, being “chill”.  Look at most mammals and you’ll have a fairly similar scenario.  Life’s good; no work pressure, no drive to “improve” what is already pretty great living.

Now look at humans.  We didn’t want to be attacked by predators, so we tamed fire.  We didn’t enjoy our food cold, so we started cooking it.  We were discontented with having to chase animals, so we tamed them and invented farming, and we were unhappy that we couldn’t always find the plants we liked eating, so we started growing them.  (By the way the prime motivation for growing grains, 10 000 years back, was apparently beer.  Bread was an incidental by-product.)

We got tired of running on foot so we tamed horses.  We didn’t like the draughts in our caves (which furthermore were never where we wanted them to be) so we learnt to build houses.  All of civilization is based on the human drive of discontent.  Today, people drive themselves crazy looking at faster, richer lifestyles – having such a lot and still discontented!

Discontent can have a very detrimental effect on a person though.  It turns one negative, especially if you set your goals so high that it takes years, and endless effort, to realize even just a little part of them.  And being driven like that, we get sick…  emotionally, mentally and physically sick.  We start being critical of each other; we shoot at our own relationships, or say scathing things about others who don’t appear to be as driven as we are.

So how to escape that negative, judgemental cycle?  How to avoid the “Cat’s in the Cradle” syndrome, how to avoid missing one’s entire life chasing after tomorrow?

What the Yogis teach us:  Get centred in the moment, and learn to be content.  Learn not to worry.  Be thankful for what you already have, and appreciate it – or them.  Enjoy the experiences you seek.  Be Zen, be at peace.

Whoa – that sounds like the experience of that pot smoker!

😀


 

Anyway here is your story:

(Please remember, this story has not yet been “doctored”.  It is as you find it.)

Here is the link to the rest of the story:

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

And the previous chapter (I’m running out of time, will update the Smashwords file tonight:)

https://skrikvirniks.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/friday-story-post-6/

And here is the next chapter:

 

12. Set-up

Connor McNaught slammed his front door behind himself as he came in. He took off his vest and his gun belt and dumped them on the kitchen floor with a grunt, made a beeline to the cupboard and poured himself a double Jack Daniels on ice. He stumbled into his front room and crashed down into his settee without bothering to first switch on the light, and released an abysmal sigh that tore some online worlds asunder.

He was beat. He also felt beaten. He had returned home shortly after clocking in at the station, ostensibly to pick up a forgotten file, but in reality because he wanted to steal some minutes with Nadee… and he’d found her gone.

She’d promised him that she wouldn’t leave him! He had returned to work broken-hearted and dragged on through the morning, feeling as though the sun had gone down – only to discover, when calling Henderson in Detroit, that Nickells and his accomplices had been released, based on a false arrest. He had spent some time stripping himself in anger, until his colleague Charlie had taken him for a beer to calm him down.

“You know, you’ve got a bit of an obsession with that hacker,” Charlie had observed. “This morning you waltzed into the precinct as though you were in love – and now, when you find out he’s been let go, you’re acting like a jealous rival!”

“You’ve got that so wrong,” Connor had growled, but he couldn’t find a more convincing reply. He had looked up the files. There were no files on Mike.

Obsession? He couldn’t even tell his friend Charlie why it was so critical that he got the hacker back to New York, back under his control. It may look like an obsession to others, he thought, but he himself had no choice about it. Obsessive behaviour? Probably a good cover, he thought. Let them think that. Let them in fact think whatever they wanted!

“Here’s trouble,” Charlie had informed him after lunch – a lunch through which Connor had worked, glumly, thinking of an empty apartment and a spellbinding dream that had been far too short. “They’ve put you under investigation.”

“What?” Connor’s jaw dropped. “Me? What the hell for?”

“Cooking up false charges against Nickells and his team,” said Charlie darkly. “And cyber-theft, of all things! Cyber-theft? Intentional damage to computers via a virus? How imaginative is that! Hang in there, buddy, we’ll clear you in no time flat! They have no leg to stand on!”

“That’s Nickells,” growled Connor. “Unbelievable.”

“What a crook,” said Charlie with feeling. “That’s the thing with catching a snake. Sometimes it bites you.”

Bad news upon worse news upon atrocious news, thought Connor as he sat down in his lounge now with that whiskey in his hands. But none of it had the same deep impact as Nadee deserting him. He thought back with an ache to those moments this morning in the sunlight. And he swigged that Jack Daniels and nearly choked. The stuff tasted of blooming daisies, no alcohol in it at all!

And she stood in the doorway from the back rooms. Barefoot and in her fairy dress as she had been last night, shimmering slightly in the semi-dark as if by an inner light.

“Are you alright, Connor?”

He came to his feet. Oh hell, she was supernaturally beautiful! His worries melted away as she drifted into his arms, welcoming him home. The next few minutes neither of them had any inclination to speak.

“Where were you this morning?” he asked eventually, cautiously, keeping her in a close embrace in case his words upset her. “I thought you had run away.”

“I only went out a bit,” she replied, suddenly very serious. “Oh, Connor, there is work to be done…”

“You let Nickells out, didn’t you?” he challenged, letting go of her. Her ephemeral blue wings withdrew from embracing him and folded away, and her face fell.

“It wasn’t right, Connor. I knew you wouldn’t do anything to clear him and I couldn’t just let them all rot in jail!”

“So you picked him!” he snapped irrationally and turned his back, moving to the kitchenette. His head was fizzing; his blood was pounding in his ears. He couldn’t think straight.

So she’d let Nickells go.

He knew his jealous reaction was not rational. He fought it. She didn’t carry a torch for the young hacker. But his own emotions aside, there were deeper ramifications to her irresponsible act. Oh hell, this was not good! She had no idea what she’d done there. How could he even explain to her… this would become a serious problem, he realized. On every level. It would destroy him, and it would destroy her too.

“No!” She was right behind him, her hand touching his arm in a placating gesture. “It’s not like that, Connor. Mike is a friend. How can I not care about him, and Jen, and Benita, and Nancy?”

“So your friend presses charges against me, and you’re content with that,” he retorted, facing her, bitterness all over his eyes.

“I’m not!” she replied and reached for him. “I’m not!” Kissing him was probably not the right answer either, but still, it silenced him. “I’m not, Connor,” she repeated when she was once again safely in his tight embrace. “If I can get him cleared of charges, don’t you think I can do the same for you?”

She thought she was omnipotent.

“Oh Nadee…” He gazed into her eyes that seemed luminous in the semi-dark of the kitchenette. “Why do we have to be on opposite sides in this battle?”

“Why must there be a battle?” she asked back. “Why is Mike such a threat to you?”

He glanced up. “What on Earth have you done to my kitchen?”

The whole place was one mess of tangled vines, strewn with white starflowers.

“And my lounge is a jolly impenetrable rose hedge,” he added.

“Oh!” Nadisda waved the plants away with a careless flick of her hands. “It sort-of – just happens. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize!” he muttered, kissing her forehead. “It’s who you are.”

We have to go online,” she said urgently. “We have to play the game tonight.”

The game! He’d nearly forgotten about that disastrous game. But if winning her over entailed settling things in the game once and for all – which, in fairness, was her home world –

That part really bothered him. He had to somehow extract her from that place, or else make it independent of Mike Nickells’ game. Perhaps duplicate it after all, or maybe just a small private version of it, for exclusive use, on his computer.

Perhaps she was only a gamer… he thought of tangles of roses and starflowers. Right, a gamer with wings, and PSI? How the hell was she making it work in this world, anyway? Was it all illusion? Was she an illusion? Had he finally cracked?

I have no computer,” he reminded her. “Something popped the power box.”

I fixed it,” she said chirpily, and swatted the birdies away that had started twittering around both their heads. “Go home, you lot! Shoo!”

You fixed it?” He followed her to the study, still too rattled about the disastrous course things were taking with Nickells, to focus on any of her magic effects.

There was his computer, already up and running and online, with the game loaded. The original, not his version. He sat down, intrigued, taking the mouse and logging in.

*

“There she is!” cheered Valentine as the Forest Fairy came gliding across the meadow, her blue wings fibrillating.

He, Benita the flower fairy, Jen the practical heroine and Nancy the Fairy Princess had rounded up considerable forces of beta-players, all set to meet and punch up Hero Hugo. This time, the levels were better balanced. The troupe of beta-players ranged from levels twelve to fifteen; still not a real force against a level twenty-nine, but with that army they had better odds than last night.

“I’m here on borrowed time,” Nadisda told them. “Our success hinges on whether Hugo can make the transformation.”

“So aren’t you going to curse him?” asked Valentine in surprise.

“I bloody did,” she reminded him. “No thanks to you, Valentine! He’s so cursed…”

“That bombed out on us,” replied the Villain. “I don’t think that spell even worked.”

“Anyway, he’s already cursed in real life,” said Nadisda lightly. “Poor fiend! With a name like McNaught, who will ever want to marry him?” She laughed.

“McNaught,” repeated Jen and laughed loudly. “You’re right! That’s funny!”

Nancy giggled too. And she granted a whole lot of the mercenaries upgrades to their armour and weaponry.

“I’m going back to bring you Hero Hugo,” said Nadisda. “Remember, the idea is not to kill him, just to beat him into submission until he makes the transformation.” She lifted off.

*

Mike glanced at his friends over the rim of his laptop.

“Did you copy that?”

“She was doing what she always does,” said Nancy lightly.

He shook his head. “She’s blooming fallen for him. See how she hedged about that curse?” He scowled. “Damn! Should have known! Should have stopped her from going back.”

“So what do we do?” asked Jen.

“She’s still acting like she’s on our side,” said Mike. “We’ve got to be careful. Here’s what: We take down Connor but make sure we don’t hurt her.” He started hacking away at his keyboard. “I’m reducing her powers so she can’t turn on us… Maybe I should pull her out of there and put her back in her grove. I don’t think she’s got the stuff for being a double agent.”

No,” said Nancy. “Don’t! You’ll delete her personality.”

Let her do her thing, Mike,” said his sister. “C’mon, she’s still on our side. She’s just trying to bring McNaught round. Who knows, with her fairy magic, maybe she’ll get it right.”

Yeah, really likely,” grumbled Mike as he reduced Nadisda’s mana levels.

*

Connor looked around his study for something to use as a second chair. He’d given Nadisda his large, black-leather boss chair, the one that swivelled and tilted. He’d already logged her into the game. It occurred to him for the first time that he wasn’t exactly set up to have anyone visiting in his study.

He found a small metal filing cabinet full of case studies and dragged it closer to the desk. Then he dug in his study cupboard and unearthed a second set of controls and plugged it in.

“I’ve got to hand it to Nickells,” he said as the interactive window popped up, asking his game identity, “this is a nice game. Makes allowance for multiple players on the same system, as long as each has his own set of controls.” He logged in as Hero Hugo.

“I have to do something,” said Nadisda, pulling the keyboard closer. “Sorry, Hugo. I’m the Forest Fairy. I’m setting you a challenge.”

“What challenge?” asked Connor.

“The name of the challenge is ‘Truth’,” she said and started hacking away at the keyboard at high speed. A programming window opened; she minimized it.

“Hey! Do you program without even looking?” asked Connor, surprised.

“Wouldn’t be much of a challenge if you could see what I was doing,” she commented. “Now, Connor, the first thing Hugo must do is find me in my grove. I have this quest for him.”

“First, before anything else?”

“That’s the deal.”

He glanced at her, sitting so close to him, the blue light of the screen lighting up her opalesque eyes even more intensely. She was truly exquisite, with those black tendrils of hair curling against that bone-pale skin. Those words sat on the tip of his tongue, but he never spoke them. He just wished she knew.

Forest fairy or none, they had a lot in common. She was game-mad. A real tech-junkie. As was he. Her eyes flicked to meet his. She was so serious!

“You have to trust me,” she said. “Promise me?”

“Sounds ominous,” he smiled. And glanced uneasily at the ceiling, from where vines were starting to drop down, their tendrils moving around searchingly.

“They will try to break you, Hugo,” she told him. “Stay close. Trust me. And focus on your quests. Okay?”

He nodded. The excitement of the game was allowing him a break from relentlessly agonizing over everything that had happened today, and the consequences it was drawing in its wake. He’d unwind for a few hours, playing his favourite game together with this lovely co-fanatic here. And let tomorrow’s worries take care of themselves, tomorrow.

She was right: They would most definitely try to break him, even in the game! And Nickells, his sister and the other two programmers did stand a chance – if they did what they always did: change the program in mid-flight. One aspect that kept this game brilliant, was that its creator was in it, changing the rules as you went. It made for very advanced gaming. He loved it.

But they could technically simply delete his avatar and block him. It would be what he would have done, had the roles been reversed. Somehow, Nadee had got them not to do that.

“Before we get too involved in gaming,” he said, pulled her close and kissed her. A black rose creeper silently started wreathing its way up the back legs of the desk. Vines reached for him from above. Gossamer blue fairy wings spread out and folded around the two of them.

*

The forest fairy took stock of her grove, and the ingredients for Ben’s spell which were still lying there. She put them away. It would be a while before the Shadow Knight quest was going to be called on again. She fleetingly recalled the handsome, mysterious Shadow Knight. But now that she had met Connor, all the games characters seemed shallow and limited to her in comparison.

She picked up the pieces of where the other spell had blown apart some of her crystals and tidied those up too.

There was a crunch on her moss.

“Valentine!” she greeted the Villain with a quirky smile. “How’s the round-up going?”

“We’re thirty strong now,” he said proudly and disentangled himself from the slightly thorny vines that came down from the trees to check on him. “Nadisda, are you sure you can do this?”

“Course,” she assured him.

“Don’t you rather want to wait outside until we’ve pulled him apart?” he asked. “Are you sure you can handle this?”

“You misunderstand,” said Nadisda. “We’re correcting the flaws in his character. By fixing Hugo, we’re giving Connor a chance to make up for what he did. Now remember, I’ve got to set Hugo up. Give me a bit of space. I’m sending him into the Dread Wastelands, level thirty, and you guys will have to find him. Be prepared.”

“And then we clobber him to within an inch of his life, and downgrade him to level six,” said Valentine with a big smirk. “You say you cursed him? What did you do?”

She shook her head. “That’s still lying ahead.”

Valentine gave her a long, scrutinizing gaze.

“Fix Connor’s character? The guy’s a swine! You have no clue, fairykins! Be very careful when you deal with him. He’ll eat you up for breakfast, chew you up and spit you out.”

“Why do you let him be a beta-player in your game, if he’s such a threat?” asked Nadisda. “That’s been puzzling me!”

“The most vicious hackers are a game’s best test,” said Valentine proudly. “Friendly beta-players find glitches and so on; but enemy players actually try to destroy or rip your game. Like he showed me. Right now I’m patching the gaps as we’re playing, like you won’t believe. I’ve found the spot where the virus got in. It’s fixed.”

“So in a way he’s doing you a favour?” asked Nadisda.

Valentine grinned. “And how! That should piss him off like crazy!”

“So… it won’t help you if I break him tonight?”

Valentine hesitated. “Whom are you breaking, Nadisda? Hero Hugo, or Connor McNaught?”

“Both, it seems,” she said.

“Break Connor,” replied Valentine. “Leave Hero Hugo his own arrogant self. I need him vicious and ambitious, the way he is. Connor is an ace gamer. But as a cop he is getting too dangerous. Are you sure you can cope?”

She rolled her eyes. “Just play,” she said.

“Let me rally my troupes,” announced Valentine with unconcealed glee. And he walked off back in the direction of the meadow, leaving footsteps of wilted plants behind. Nadisda waved her hand, undoing all the damage he’d done to her grove.

*

“Hold on,” said Nadee and bent over her keyboard, programming like mad. Once again with a minimized window.

“What are you doing?” asked Connor.

“Creating something,” she replied vaguely, then looked up. “Connor, do you love me?”

He gasped for air. “I’m sorry, I’m – I’m not ready for that question!”

“Sorry I asked,” she said and returned to her programming. The tangle of black roses around them became an impenetrable thicket; the creepers from above thickened into gnarled, woody ropes that strangulated each other. An owl hooted somewhere close by; something rustled in the undergrowth. She didn’t seem aware of any of this as she hacked away furiously at the keyboard.

Connor turned to her and lifted her face in his hands. He couldn’t just leave this where it was. Her fingers on the keyboard stilled. Her eyes avoided him; he thought he saw something shimmering in them.

“Do I love you? Do I! Nadee, I didn’t expect the question, that was all.” He gathered her close and kissed her, blind with hunger.

She was not real! She was from a world that could disappear in a blink; programmed by a very dangerous young gangster. She could change, or fade away at any moment, at Nickells’ wish. The fact that she was still here told him that Nickells had an agenda. He should be fighting what he was feeling; he was walking open-eyed, deeper and deeper into a trap – one that probably, Nickells had set for him. But he couldn’t.

“I don’t ever want to be without you again! I want to keep you, forever. Do you understand that? Is there space for that in your strange forest fairy heart?”

She nodded. Black roses? He was learning to read her signals. The black briar roses were an expression of her despair. It reflected his own.

“I’m creating safe spots in the game,” she said. “Doesn’t matter which level you’re in, if you get into real trouble, come to my grove. It will be there on every level. I’ve moved it between levels. Then wait for me. You realize they are after your blood, don’t you?”

She had hoped that by kicking Hugo out of the game, Mike would let go of his revenge against Connor. But she had just learnt that it wasn’t enough.

There was no telling what damage Mike, the first-rate hacker, could do to Connor. If she herself, a complete novice, had found it so easy to hack around in the police files… she only hoped that she could assuage Mike so he could let go of his anger.

She looked up at her love without hope. She would probably end up betraying him tonight. She was as cursed as he was.

Here we go,” she said resignedly, closed the programming window, flickered and disappeared into the game.

Nadee, wait!” exclaimed Conner in dismay.

*

Friday Story Post

I’m a bit early with this, tonight.

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In the meantime, thank you peeps for downloading the shortstory “Suzie” (wow, what a wave!), and thank you Janni Styles for the virtually instant review.  What a sweet surprise!

 


A Friday Fairytale is available at this link, up to this chapter.

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And here’s the new chapter:

11: Cyber

Someone was prowling around the house. Nancy hid in the bedroom, with its curtains closed. She had returned after a few hours at the library, first cautiously, but when she saw no cars around the place, more boldly. If she kept a low profile and escaped every time a car stopped, she’d probably be fine. Except that right now, she was caught in the house. She’d have to hope for an unattended moment and slip out of a door – front, back, it didn’t matter. And take the Dell and external drive with her.

She hoped the police would go easy on Mike, Jen and Ben. After all there was nothing Mike had committed since their last conviction that could in any way be proved. Sure, he’d nicked food and stuff from stores, and she had no idea where he’d ‘found’ that video card for Ben’s computer. But his main efforts had been entirely on creating that game; a project that was meant to boost them all into a legal lifestyle.

There was another thing that weighed on her. She was worried how Nadisda was holding up, right in the stronghold of the enemy. She had tried to find her in the game a few times this morning; but clearly the fairy was not asleep, and was caught in the real world. Maybe she’d have to help her with a jailbreak too.

“Fairy!” came the bright voice of a small child. “Come out, fairy! We know you’re here!”

She peered through the curtains, trying to see who was stalking around the house.

Only a small boy with his mother.

Nancy considered. If she were to help Mike in any way and get them all back out of jail, she’d have to make contact with the outside world. She had thought of getting at least one of the net-worthy laptops to some repair place, having some wiz resurrect it, and reloading the game properly online, making contact with the betas and rallying their support. But without Mike there to direct their play and overwrite the code as needed, she doubted that she’d cope. She’d be hunted down so fast by that scumbag in New York.

She needed to get a message to Mike. He’d know what to do. But she couldn’t do it herself, because she’d just be arrested too.

Was there any way in which she could persuade this kid here to drop off a message at the police station for a jailbird?

They hadn’t called her, though she knew that each of them had the right to one call. She suspected that Mike didn’t want to expose her and make her vulnerable to be tracked down. Still she needed to speak to him!

Well, perhaps she could charm this woman here into giving Mike a message. It was a risk. But she had to take it. She slipped out of the back door, rounded the house and approached the mother and son from the garden.

“Are you the fairy?” asked the little boy, running towards her. “You don’t dress like a fairy! Where are your wings?”

Act like a fairy, she thought and dropped to her knees to get to eye-level with him.

“You can only see them in moments when you really, really believe,” she said with a mysterious smile. And she glanced up at the mother, and got back to her feet, surprised.

That woman was looking at her as though she, too, believed Nancy were a fairy!

“Your secret is safe with us,” said the woman. “I’m Angela, and this is Danny. We saw you. You can tell us. Are those wings electronic?”

Nancy smiled and shook her head.

“I don’t know what you saw, lady,” she said.

“We were looking through a telescope and saw you fly in from the hills over there,” Angela pointed, “and we saw you land here, at the door. It was impressive, it looked like real fairy wings, so whatever it is you have here…”

“There is nothing electronic, I can promise you,” said Nancy.

“Mom, she’s just an ordinary girl!” said Danny, disappointed.

“I saw her fold her wings away, and they disappeared,” replied Angela. “That means, you must be some sort of mutant, right, girl?”

“It’s Nancy,” Nancy introduced herself.

“Can’t you open your wings for us just once, please?” begged Angela. “For Danny. You know, he lost his father last year, and every little bit of hope and belief I can give him, is a good thing.”

Nancy shrugged. “Sorry, lady, I really don’t know what you saw. Could it have been a trick of the light?”

Angela shook her head. “I definitely saw a fairy. So did Danny. We can’t both be crazy.”

Nancy shrugged again. “Actually, if you want to help me, I’d be very thankful.” She nodded at Danny. “There’s a wonderful grove around the back,” she said. “And he’s also welcome to take some of the fruit.”

“Yay!” shouted Danny and tore around to the back of the garden with a lot of noise.

“Maybe we can come to an agreement,” said Angela. “I help you with – whatever it is you said, and you agree to show your wings to Danny?”

“There’s a problem,” said Nancy, thinking very fast. The cooperation of this woman was worth gold. Was there a way of getting it without lying and pretending to be a fairy?

They had spotted Nadisda, this was pretty clear to her. But Nadisda was gone. Flew right into the lion’s den in New York, thought Nancy uneasily. Well, at least she was alive!

It all hinged on Mike. She needed to get to him, break him out of jail come what may. The first step was to send him a message. She thought frantically, while Angela studied her intently.

“Let’s sit down,” she invited, motioning to the steps up to the veranda. “This is complicated.”

They both sat down, Angela on the steps and Nancy on the low red wall flanking them.

“I’m no fairy,” she began.

“But -” protested Angela, but Nancy held up a hand.

“Still, what you saw was real,” she confirmed. “It wasn’t me, though. And the whole thing hinges on a friend of mine, and here is the problem – he’s…” Could she trust this woman? “He’s been locked up on false charges.”

“He’s in jail?” asked Angela, taken aback.

Nancy nodded. “They came and raided us and locked him and our other two friends up. Maybe they wanted to steal the fairy,” she fuelled Angela’s fire.

“So the state is already onto you kids!” said Angela in disgust. “You find an alien, and instantly the CIA…”

Nancy shrugged. “It’s how it goes. Would you do me a favour please? I only got away by luck. I can’t go and contact him. Can you give him a message from me? If we can get him and the others cleared, he can probably get the fairy back.”

“You mean, you guys had a real alien…”

Nancy nodded gravely. “You saw her. It was supposed to be a secret, but she got out somehow.”

“But where is she now?”

“Only Mike can find her,” said Nancy. “If he can. We are all extremely worried about her, but now because of the cops I can’t even try to go search for her.”

“I’ll bring him your message,” said Angela indignantly. “I’ll organize him a lawyer, too! And I’ll take it to the newspapers! Time the CIA got exposed in their nasty little games!”

Newspapers? Hell, no, thought Nancy. Please not!

“If you contact the newspapers, the CIA will be here in no time flash,” she pointed out. “Rather please help me get a message to Mike.”

“This is here at the police station down at the corner?” asked Angela.

“Yep.”

“Tell me your message,” said the woman. “I’ll give it to him.”

“Wait here, I’ll bring some paper,” said Nancy. “He must be able to give me a message back. Please just ask him what he needs. That is the only thing. I don’t know what else to do for them all. He must write the answer down for me or draw it.”

“Sure I’ll do that,” said Angela and waited for Nancy to fetch a pen and paper out of the house.

“Please tell him from Nancy that I’m okay,” said the Goth girl, handing them over to her. Angela called for Danny and set out for the local jail.

Nancy went back into the house, stocked her backpack with food, packed the Dell and the hard-drive and got ready to bolt.

*

The crazy spinning stopped; reality gained traction. The apartment in New York materialized around Connor and Nadisda through a haze of blue light. Morning sun still poured in through the window. Connor touched the gossamer blue fairy wings that had wrapped themselves around them both. They withdrew in shock.

“That’s real?” he asked in wonder. “You actually have wings?”

“You know I do,” replied Nadisda. “You know it from the game.”

“And they can actually teleport,” added Connor in amazement. “You really are a being from the Magic Realms?”

She folded her wings away, self-conscious.

“You have me caught in one tangled web,” said Connor softly, touching her face. “Wish I didn’t have to go to work today.”

“But we must,” said Nadisda urgently. “You have to get Mike and his team free!”

He shook his head sadly as he went to retrieve his bullet-proof vest. Work was work, after all. “I don’t know how, Nadee.”

“At least you have to try!”

He glanced at her, and suddenly there was that flinty hardness in his eyes.

“And I don’t know if I want to,” he added impatiently. “In this world, Nickells is a cyber-criminal, Nadee. He has stolen and looted. I’ve spent months tracking him down! In this world we have laws, and I’m there to make them work.”

“Connor!”

The despair in her voice went like a shard through him. He came back to her, caught her face in his hands and kissed her gently.

“I’ll do my best,” he promised against his better wisdom. A promise he knew he couldn’t keep, even if he’d wanted to. “But you must promise you won’t leave me.”

She nodded.

“You’ll stay here and wait for me?”

She nodded once more. “You too have secrets,” she reminded him darkly.

More secrets than she could guess! “Right. I’ll see you after work, Nadee. Please – can you trust me?”

She nodded again. That wordless sorrow in those opalescent eyes… he very nearly didn’t leave. When he did, he felt as though he were floating.

Nadisda went into the kitchenette, found the drinks cupboard and turned all the whiskey and brandy bottles into dandelion tea. And then she idly returned to his study, to investigate his computer.

*

Angela talked to the police chief while Danny, an inconspicuous child, walked up to the holding cell where all three gamers were locked up.

“I saw your fairy,” he said innocently. “She said I must ask you what you need.”

Mike came to the bars and went down to eye-level with the young child.

“Anything on which I can program,” he said. “Really, anything with a screen and buttons.”

“I have a McDonalds toy,” said Danny and handed a small toy wristwatch to Mike. It did have a screen… and two buttons, one that programmed the time and the other that lit up a tiny light…

“Hmm, I can’t really use this,” said the hacker. “It doesn’t really have enough buttons… a cellphone or a DS or PSP will do it.”

“Got a DS Nintendo,” said Danny and pulled it out of his pocket, handing it to Mike.

“Cool! That’s a great machine,” said Mike as he paged to the programming screens within seconds. “Say, can you go online with this?”

“Sure!” Danny pressed a little button on the side of the DS, and it connected to the internet.

“Give me a minute,” said Mike as he started pressing away on the limited buttons of the DS at supersonic speed.

*

Nadisda felt a tingling sensation in her brain. It felt similar to… when Mike had reprogrammed her with memories! She listened into herself. Was he removing this dreadful curse? Nothing happened about the way she felt about Connor – enslaved, unable to escape – but she suddenly realized she had programming skills.

“Mike, you genius!” she whispered to herself. This was glorious! She could make alterations to her world, add things that weren’t there before, into the actual structure, not just by ordinary magic… she could dig into other games and make programming changes! She could hack into real-world systems… Oh glory, what a time she’d have of it! Could she program changes into the fabric of the real world? Would it turn out that this world was based on some sort of arcane programming too?

But that meant that she could… delete the curse herself! Her thoughts went to Connor and her heart contracted. No. Whatever the reason, that curse had chosen its own course; she wanted to see where it led… bull dung, she didn’t want to lose Connor! The memory of his kisses lingered. It occurred to her that she’d have to make a choice – for Connor, or for Mike. They were enemies, not only in the game, but bitter rivals in the Real World too. And she had chosen Mike’s side, long ago, and she was sticking by that. It was right that way, even if he was the misguided teenage hacker who had – but wouldn’t anymore – dug in other people’s pockets. Mike was her responsibility. She was righting his ethics and teaching him better ways; she felt very protective over the young game creator.

But still, she didn’t want to lose Connor! What she had found there, between them, was entirely something else… so raw, so rare, so totally elemental… she wasn’t even aware of the white starflowers that were pushing up through the carpet.

Wait! By now her metal plant minions had fixed both the exploded power point and the plug. She plugged in the computer and switched it on. It booted up without a hitch; the download was stuck mid-way, with a warning message not to go offline. She clicked it away. The download had failed.

She connected to the net and hacked out Connor’s password into the police network. It was easy, she only had to think about him… “Everrealms”. Correct. And she accessed the files on Mike, Jen, Ben and Nancy and deleted them all from the network. Then she opened Connor’s email program and jumped into it, sending herself to the police office in Third Ave, Detroit. Not realizing that she was leaving a tangled grove of black roses behind in Connor’s apartment.

*

Police Chief Henderson blinked as another young lady walked into his police station to plead on behalf of the newly convicted cyber-criminals. She argued that the tip-off had been a ploy, that there were no genuine charges, and that the entire history of Nickells and co was a confabulation by a cyber-rival.

Henderson shook his head at her fervour but opened the files on the system to show her that the charges were in no way invented – and failed to find the files.

A faint blue mist seeped over the police station. Henderson started doubting himself. Had he actually seen those files, or had he seen a clever construct by another cyber-thug? But wait, it had been a tip-off straight from Connor McNaught… or had it? He was confused now. Connor’s voice had sounded odd, on the phone. Maybe it hadn’t been him? What on Earth? He peered at the absence of files. Connor wouldn’t leave loose ends like that. The cyber-rival story began to sound much more likely. He’d been duped.

Another few minutes, and he unlocked the cells of Mike, Ben and Jen, apologizing to them about the misunderstanding.

“So, son, do you still want to press on with those other charges, against the policeman in New York?” he asked Mike.

“Definitely,” said Mike angrily. “He had us arrested under false charges, and he’s stolen my game and wrecked our computers! Piracy and wilful damages. And abuse of his position as police officer.”

Nadisda gaped. She hadn’t expected this.

“You’re suing Connor?”

“That pig’s going to rot in jail,” spat Mike, then looked up sheepishly at Henderson. “No offence, sir. We only call officers ‘pigs’ if they break the law.”

Henderson laughed. “I know you don’t, you little louse! Now go home! Keep on the straight and narrow, kids! Sorry about the scare and the uncomfortable night.”

“All forgiven,” trilled Jen before her brother could utter anything more damaging. “Thank you, officer!” And she herded the boys, Nadisda and Angela out of the station, the latter having picked up Danny.

*

Nancy couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the group approach, in broad daylight.

“Ben! Mike! Jen!” She ran to meet them, and gave Nadisda an extra hug. “Oh, it’s so good to see you, fairy! Did you survive the lion’s den?”

“What?” asked Mike sharply.

“I was caught in a loop in the game,” said Nadisda with a warning glance at Nancy. “Your programming got me out of there.”

“Oh! Well, good.”

Nancy turned to Angela.

“How on Earth did you get that right?”

“It was Danny,” said Mike. “He lent me his DS so I could program. You did it, Danny!”

“It was the fairy!” piped Danny. “She put a blue mist over the policeman and next he let everyone out!”

“Blue mist?” asked Nancy quizzically.

“So he wasn’t thinking straight.”

Nancy beamed.

“But does that mean that we’ve got another jailbreak on our records?” she asked.

“It just puts us where we were before they came for us,” said Jen with a philosophical shrug.

“Actually, no,” Nadisda corrected her. “I fixed the records so the charges were dropped. I also fixed the police chief’s memories.”

You fixed the files?” asked Mike admiringly.

“You did give me programming skills,” she replied with a broad grin. “Thank you for those!”

“Just how fast do fairies fly?” asked Mike. “I had barely finished giving you those skills and you arrived.”

“We fly fast,” agreed Nadisda. “But I sent myself by email. It’s faster. Valentine,” she added urgently, “I need you to get the game back online. Come hell or high water. You four must play tonight.”

“But our computers are rotten with virus,” objected Jen.

“Let’s see about that!” Nadisda led the way into the house. She glanced about the commune. Too shoddy. With a flick of her hand, she cleared away any clothes and stuff that lay around. She repainted the walls and ceilings in white, making Gothic black roses wreathe all over them. She turned the boxes they had been using to put their computers onto, into coffee tables with intricately carved legs. She fixed the broken couches and the tattered carpet, giving them all a brand-new, homey finish. If Connor the Cop could waste all that kind of luxury and style on living alone, why should her friends not live in beauty too?

“Impressive!” said Mike approvingly. Danny, who was holding Jen’s hand, bounced up and down in excitement.

“You really are a fairy!” he peeped. And he turned to Nancy. “Wish you were one too!”

Nadisda looked at Nancy and smiled. With a wave of her hand she conjured the Goth girl a pair of wings of black lace. Nancy flapped them experimentally, and gasped.

“I can fly?”

“Shall we try it out together?” asked Nadisda. “Bit later though.” She pulled a fairy wand out of nowhere and handed it to Nancy. “There, now you can grant wishes.”

Nancy stood speechless.

“High time the Perfect Princess becomes a Fairy Princess,” commented Nadisda. “Right, Valentine?”

The programmer grinned broadly.

Angela took a seat on the newly redone couch, with Danny on her lap. Nancy waved her fairy wand and an espresso machine popped up in a corner. She waved the wand again and a shelf with mugs appeared. From that, she started serving people the best coffee she had managed to make in an age.

“You’re the best, Nadisda,” she beamed.

The forest fairy had something else to do though. First she resurrected the computers with magic, so that they would at least boot up. Mike connected the rescued hard drive and copied the program back onto his laptop, agonizing the whole time about the risk of having the disk infected.

With Mike’s programming enhanced with Nadisda’s magic, the four computers were up and running again in a fairly short while. Mike scanned intensely for virus and malware, then he cautiously opened the latest savegame. The last backup had not been destroyed. It took them right before they met Hero Hugo in the town. Nadisda flew her avatar over the lands to check for yellow fog. So far there was none.

“Get online and get playing,” she encouraged the four players. “I have somewhere I have to be.”

“What? I thought we’re doing this together?” asked Mike with a worried crease in the middle of his forehead that strengthened his resemblance to Valentine the Villain.

“I have to be somewhere,” said Nadisda. “I’ve set it up for you. Gather as many beta players as you can, and back up in two different places, and alternate them. Help Ben find the moonstone. I have a mission.”

“What mission?” asked Mike quizzically.

“A curse for Hero Hugo,” she replied with a grin. “Tonight we kick him – not only off the gameboard but out of reality. Sorry. You’ll have to create a new heroic hero, Valentine. This one went bad.”

“Fairy,” said Mike seriously, catching her by her wrist, “just remember please. Doesn’t matter what he’s done. You can’t go after Connor and kill him. In this world, that is murder, and they’ll never stop hunting us down for it. And besides, it’s evil. It’s the worst evil we’ve got. It turns you evil, and I don’t want that for you.”

She smiled at him and gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

“Who said I’m going to kill Connor? It’s only Hero Hugo I’ll kick so hard he’ll be able to say his name backwards.” She paused. “Actually, that metaphor doesn’t really work. Oguh.”

“Adsidan,” grinned Mike. “Sounds middle-eastern.”

“Enitnelav,” she retorted. “Sounds slavic. Could you minimize the game for a second and open your general google? I’d like the maps.”

“What do you do with the maps?”

“I find my position, and then I become that little yellow person and drop down there. It’s safer than emailing me from your computer.”

Mike laughed and opened his browser on Google Maps.

“Be good, girl!”

“Later!” She vanished into his screen.

“Mark the spot!” exclaimed Jen. “We’ve got him now! She’s shown us where to find him!”

Mike turned to her with a scowl, then to Nancy.

“Spill it, kid. Where is the ‘lion’s den’ you two were conspiring about earlier?”

*

Nadisda’s heart was beating faster than her wings. She had to get back to Connor and warn him… how the heck was she going to tell him that Mike wanted to sue him for false arrests and cyber-theft without letting on that she’d hacked his systems herself, freed the hacker and cooked the police files? And yet! It wasn’t right. Connor shouldn’t be sent to prison. Something told her that that was the worst thing that could happen. She wasn’t sure if it was only the curse singing in her ears.

*

“So, where is it?” asked Mike.

Nancy shrugged. “She somehow managed to break into McNaught’s apartment and stop his systems from copying your files.”

“Brilliant!” exclaimed Mike, slapping his thigh in excitement. “Anything else? – Wait! Don’t tell me. She also broke into his own files and deleted us from the police profiles! Course! What a girl! She emailed herself? She gave us everything, Nance! Everything! We can trace his computer, we can find him online, and we can find him physically by looking where on Google she went. What a genius!” He bent over his keyboard and opened a programming window. “Time to strike back,” he muttered.

*

*


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A Friday Fairytale (free on Smashwords, updated to the chapter before this one)