Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Draft of Chapter 3 of the sequel to Cynthia

Family Matters.

Lord and Lady Wroxham sat in front of Admiral Croft's desk, while he read the report on them. To make it fully clear to the admiral that they were civilians, James wore his suit and Cynthia her dress. Captain Woods sat behind him and alternated between a stoic indifference and baleful glare as he thought about Cynthia.
Finally, the admiral looked up from the report and said, “This does make it difficult.”
He held up the top secret communication, printed on paper and thus only available for limited distribution, and continued, “The Cataxi have specifically asked for you, lieutenant.”
Cynthia ignored him until he said, “My Lady. The Cataxi have asked for you. Only you.”
“For what? I returned their stone and my husband paid the fines.” She squeezed James' hand.
“They want you to be the Terran ambassador. It's a several years posting.”
Cynthia looked at James and said, “I promised Alice a ride to Mars after our honeymoon flight. I’d like to keep that promise.” She turned back to the admiral and said, “As much as I'm honored, and it is a real honor, I have family commitments that must take precedence over your request. If you'll just rel-”
The admiral brought his fist down on the desk. “You gave up your rights to any family when you enlisted as a cadet.”
“No, my family sent me away. They were glad to be rid of a useless girl. James, well,” she paused, “I love him and he loves me. We're family now. His family is all the family I've got, and I intend to keep it.”
Captain Woods smirked and said, “Sir, I think I had best show her.”
“Show me what?”
He pressed a few commands on his controller and the wall behind them lit up. It showed a woman facing the camera and ready to speak. Behind her was a bright sunlit scene. Except for the sky being a little too purple and the plants a little too green, it could have been Earth. It was Zeta Cyngi 8, and the woman was Cynthia's mother.
Captain Woods said, “This is a recording, of course. It was.”
“Press play, show it!”
The woman in the picture began to speak.
“Happy 15th birthday Cynthia. I can't believe it's been five years since you left for the academy. We miss you and are so proud.”
Cynthia started crying. “I thought they didn't care.” The captain stopped the message.
“That's what you were conditioned to think.”
“Are there more messages?”
“Every year. Until, well, she died. She, they, followed your career.”
Cynthia's crying transformed into uncontrolled weeping. James hugged her and tried to comfort her as best he could. Captain Woods bluntly stated, “You gave that up, willingly when you joined.” He smirked as he added, “Shall I show you the contract?”
“No. I couldn't have. You must have tricked me. I have no.” Cynthia ran out of words, but not tears.
Both the admiral and the captain laughed. Captain Woods smirked, “I guess you're not so invincible now are you?”
Lord Wroxham gently untangled himself from Cynthia. He whispered to her, “This is more than enough.” Then he rose and grabbed the captain by the front of his uniform. Pulling him up so that the captain's face was only inches from his, he spat out, “This is ungentlemanly behavior. I'm calling you out. That is if you have the courage to face me.”
Cynthia stopped weeping and looked up at James. She said, “James, No. Don't.”
“Listen my love. There's damn all I can do in this world. You showed me enough that I can pilot your ship, in a straight line with you by my side making sure I don't blow it up. At least I can still defend your honor.”
Captain Woods was speechless. So James continued, “What do you say, or are you really a coward?”
He released the man, who crumpled back into his seat and added, “Swords or pistols?”
Captain Woods caught his breath and said, “Racerships, single seaters around the Orts. We'll see who is fastest.”
“You’re on.”
Cynthia looked at her husband, and said, “James, you can’t fly.”
“You’ll just have to show me. I presume there’s one of those blasted AR units on this craft.”
Captain Woods gasped, “Surely, Lord Wroxham, you don’t, won’t do this. It’s extremely difficult.”
“Cynthia, love,” James continued, “How does it compare to riding a horse?”
“Once you understand the controls, it’s easier, if anything. They won’t balk and dump you in a stream.”
“Just make sure I hold onto the reins?”
She laughed, “I’ll show you.”
Captain Woods looked askance. “What's this about reins?”
Cynthia replied, “The first time I tried riding a horse, I dropped the reins.” She noticed a puzzled look from both the admiral and the captain, “Those long bits of leather that go to the bit,” she paused some more, “Almost control the horse. Tell her what to do. She ran off with me on her. It was dashed embarrassing.”
An hour later, James was strapped into the AR unit and his tuition in racers started. Cynthia watched his progress on a monitor, nervous that he should learn, and worried that he wouldn't. It wasn't going well.
James sat, or felt like he sat, astride a warm metal tube. In the real racer, that was the engine. He held a stick in front of him and several gauges where in front of his eyes as was a cross to instruct him on where he was headed. He would push the stick forward and it would take off with a jolt, then he'd reflexively pull back and stop. It didn't help his confidence that he had crashed into a virtual planet almost as quickly as he started the first several times he tried to take off.
“James, can you hear me?”
“I've patched into the unit. It's going to feel weird for a second, but I'm going to teach you directly.” He could feel the ghostly sensation of her hands gripping his. She continued, “Put your feet in the stirrups. Toes down. Grasp the engine with your knees.”
The ghostly hands pulled his legs into position. Cynthia continued, “It really is just like riding a horse, except you use your feet on the controls.”
“I think not.”
“Yes it is. Now let’s start. Push the bar forward.” He timidly pushed it and jumped as the ship lurched. He wanted to pull it back, but the ghostly hands pushed it farther ahead.
“Too fast!”
“No. Too slow. Can’t maneuver well if you’re not moving”
“We're going to hit that thing.”
“Push your right foot back and pull the stick over.”
The hands made him do what she said, and the ship spun. He instinctively pulled the stick to the center and returned his feet to normal. The object was gone.
“Good. Now let's hump this bugger. Push the stick.”
He didn't need the hands this time. Another rock appeared in front, and Cynthia said, “Left.”
He tried, and just grazed the object.
Cynthia said, “Don’t worry, a miss is as good as a mile.”
They practiced until he was relaxed enough at the controls that he could enjoy it. “Cynthia, love?”
“This is fun.”
“I told you it was. Now for some real action. Full speed ahead.”
“There's a rock.”
“Do it.”
He did.
Cynthia's voice said, “Watch the proximity bar. When it starts to get orange, pull back as hard as you can on the stick and put your feet forward.”
“What's going to happen?”
She was quiet. He followed her instructions, and the ship tumbled backward until it was pointing away from the rock. He automatically pushed forward and the ship accelerated.
“What now?”
Cynthia said in a quiet voice, “Time to try for real. Take the ship back and land. I'll meet you in the ready room.”
“Can't I just stop now?”
“You need the practice.”
Lord Wroxham flew the virtual ship back into its hanger, popped the catch and stood up. The world around him cracked apart and he was back in the AR unit. The attendant unhooked him and said, “What now,” he gave an exaggerated bow “My Lord?”
“Where's the ready room?”
“Are you serious? You can't be.”
“Of course. Can you show me?”
“No. Next level down, three lefts, a right and then back up.”
“Ah, right.” James was dubious about the directions.
“Can't miss it.”

When Lord Wroxham finally found the ready room, Cynthia was waiting for him. She was wearing a pressure suit, it fit her body snuggly, but that was not what he noticed. “You've cut your hair short.”
“I liked it the way it was.”
“I can grow it back later, but short like this is what I need for the pressure suit.” She pointed to a rack on the side of the room. “The men's are there. Get it on.”
“Over these?”
“Take them off first. No one but me is watching, and” she blushed, “I've seen you. Besides, you'll need to be hooked up. It's rather personal, intimate as it were, and I think you'd rather I showed you how to do it than some tech you don't know.”
A quarter of an hour later, with various catheters, tubes and bags attached, James stood there. He was ready to put on his helmet. He said, “That was unusual, to say the least.”
Cynthia replied, “Once I seal you in, you'll be self-sustaining. It'll pong like all heck after a couple of days, but you won't notice.”
“Oh.” He paused, “Have you?” then stopped unsure of how to ask.
“Have I used one of these for that long?”
He nodded to her.
She paused, “I told you, or was it Alice? About fleeing Xyluberth.”
“I think so, you said you built a ship.”
“I was in one of these for a year. Not pleasant, but I made it.”
James looked a bit worried. She pulled his face into hers and kissed him. “For luck, and don't worry about it. You'll only be a couple of hours. Just drink from the tube and try not to think about where it came from.”
“The future is thoroughly disgusting.”
She put his helmet on and sealed it, then hers. “Radio check.”
James jumped, “I can hear you.”
“Excellent. Now for a pressure check. Make sure you're sealed.”
After the checks, they walked to the dock and boarded two racers. The dockmaster reminded them, “You don't have enough fuel or shielding to make planet, and the weapons are disabled. So don't try anything daft.”
“We won't.”
He gave them clearance and they shot into the dark void of the Ort belt. The sun was just a slightly brighter star than the rest of them. If you didn’t look in the right place, you’d miss it.
James cautiously pushed the stick forward, with his feet in the stirrups the way Cynthia had shown him. He saw her waiting beside him, and heard, “Move it, slowpoke.”
He pushed harder and shot ahead. The real sensations weren't as jerky as the AR and he found he reacted better in real life than he had in the simulator. That is until the other ship bolted past him with what seemed centimeters to spare and Cynthia laughed at him in the radio. “Come on.”
She surged toward one of the rocks in the cloud, then pivoted and shot back at him. It looked like she was going to hit him dead on, then she did something and her ship danced around his in a corkscrew. She pivoted again and came up beside him. Waving, she said, “That was a blast. Want to try?”
“Yes you do. Flying slowly in a straight line is boring. Follow me.”
She accelerated smoothly away, slowed down to wait for him to catch up, and then wiggled the back of her racer in his face.
He muttered under his breath, “Bloody woman.” Then he pushed the stick to catch up. She kept just ahead, veering in, out, up and down around the rocks that littered their path. Then, suddenly, she was gone and there was a large rock straight ahead of him. The proximity bar went orange, then red, and finally he pulled back on the stick and controls to flip direction, then pushed hard forward to get away.
“Blimey you left that close, James.” There, ahead of him, was Cynthia.
“You're right, love,” he said, “This is fun.” He pushed the stick and caught up with her. “How did you do that corkscrew?”
“Right hand is stick all the way right, pedals the other way. Left the reverse. Shall we?”
They danced together through the darkness until their ship's fuel monitors told them it was time to return.
Admiral Croft and Captain Woods had watched them practice on the scanners. As they returned to the ship, the admiral turned to Captain Woods and said, “Silas, are you sure you want to race him? That was damned good flying. He'd easily rate first class as a pilot.”
Captain Woods remembered that it took him several embarrassing tries before he 'rated' and first class rating still eluded him. “Sir, what should I do?”
“You should apologize. It is the gentlemanly thing to do.”
“What about Cynthia and the Cataxi?”
“Persuasion, not force is called for. I may boot up her companion and talk to him.”
“That program?”
“He knows her as well as anyone who will talk to us.”
“If it's willing to talk to you, sir. They tend to get a little stroppy and loyal to their people.”
“We'll see. In the meantime, Captain, please try not to get into any fights with either her or that man.”
Captain Woods stood and started to salute his admiral when the Cataxi engineer called the admiral.
Admiral Croft gulped, the Cataxi being decidedly non-humanoid, and asked what was the trouble.
“Have you retrieved Cynthia?”
“What was going on with those racers? We should not stay in this time long.”
The Cataxi's carapace turned bright orange, which should have alerted Admiral Croft to his displeasure, but didn't. The creature said, “Do not tell me tales. There were two humans on that ship. Who is the second human and why were they racing around outside just now?”
“Ah.” Admiral Croft was stuck for words, but Captain Woods was able to answer.
He said, “It is somewhat my fault. Cynthia has attached herself to a male human and”
“And you argued with them. I fail to understand you humans.”
“It's just that we understood you wanted only her as an ambassador.”
“They are both on board?”
“Good.” The engineer turned away from the screen and said something in an incomprehensible series of clicks, whistles and grunts.
The ship jerked and a few moments later reappeared at the border of neutral interstellar space at the correct time.
While the admiral and his captain cleared their heads, the engineer continued. “The council specified Cynthia. I have exchanged messages with them and we agree to her mate accompanying her. Indeed, we insist on it. It seems that the Xree worked on her, as we expected. When you say 'attached' does your species physically attach like the Archex?”
“No. It's a figure of speech.”
“Figure of speech. I shall have to remember that.” The engineer clicked his mandibles together, chuckling at the thought. Then he rudely shut off the communication.
Admiral Croft glared at his captain and said, “Insufferable creatures. The sooner we're rid of them the better.”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book Review: A mom's point of view

Heartfelt clear and useful advice for young adults that reflects a mother's love and concern. “A Mom's Point of View” covers many of the things you need to know when you're starting out on your own. This book can save the reader untold headaches, and her parents untold panicky late night phone calls for help. Its strongest section is on financial advice. It describes common pitfalls involving credit, loans, and other financial facts of life, and suggests realistic strategies to avoid falling into them.

Another place where the book shines is in its advice on food, kitchens, household items and meal planning. Having seen my share of college dorms and student kitchens, the book ought to be on the required reading list at many universities.

Near the end, she says “Smiling is Essential.” I cannot think of any better advice for living. 

Available on Smashwords, Createspace and Kindle.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Second chapter in the sequel to Cynthia

How it Happened.

Lord Wroxham married his pretty visitor in all the style that his position warranted. There was a little difficulty in finding someone to give her away, and there was rather more difficulty in deciding which parish they should post the banns. In the end it was easiest for him to apply to his bishop for both an ordinary and a special license.
His good friend the reverend Graham Johnson had barely pronounced them man and wife before she led him off on a honeymoon to see the solar system. Lord Wroxham spent the morning in the AR suite learning how to pilot the ship. She spent the time trying to convince her ship’s control program, Chris, to turn the gravity off for a few hours of fun. That was when the trouble started.
“Chris come on, James and I would like to try the zero-g club.”
“You remember what happened the last time you tried?”
“Yes, but it’s different this time. James knows what to do. He’s not going to end up covering the controls with-”
“Please stop. I don’t know about this.”
“You can always turn your camera off.”
“Chris, this was largely your doing, wasn’t it?”
The silence was disturbing.
“Chris I know you set James and me up. It’s fine. It worked. I’m very happy with the result. Now we’re married and sex is part of marriage. Get used to it.”
“Yes Miss.”
“Not Miss, right?”
“Yes Lady Wroxham.”
“Thank you. Chris, given the work you put into it, you should be proud.”
“There is another reason for my concern, My Lady. Your husband is not used to zero-gravity and may be ill on his first time. Not the best thing for a honeymoon, is it?”
Cynthia laughed and put her hand to her forehead, then said, “Oh, I'd forgotten my rides.” While the academy didn't use an antique airplane, the alliterative name “vomit comet” had stuck to the training flights. “You're right as usual. Still, he and I would like to try. Just”
Unfortunately her arguments were rendered null and void by the snapping into real-space of a Terran warship. A cube that was nearly a kilometer wide, itself, it was barely two kilometers off. This was much too close for comfort. It hailed her immediately.
“Chris, communications on, and wake James.”
“Yes, Mi- Ma-, Lady Wroxham.”
The visual screens came on. There was a uniformed officer, a young man whose medals and service ribbons belied his apparent age. “Lieutenant Cynthia, we read two humans on your ship.”
Cynthia pressed a button on her console, “Backup Chris, take a dump.” Then she looked up at the display and smiled. A small yellow pellet landed in her lap.
“Captain,” Cynthia paused then remembered the man’s name. “Captain Woods, my husband is on board. You cut it far too close. What the hades were you doing jumping only a couple of klicks away?”
Captain Silas Woods, then Cadet Silas Woods, had a thing for the pretty young cadet at the academy. He still had fond memories of her. Memories that were undimmed by her passing the exams to be a scout pilot. Exams he, like most of the Earth-born cadets, had miserably failed. “It’s good to see you again Lieutenant.”
Cynthia practically spat at the screen. “I’m no longer a Lieutenant. I handed in my papers years ago, the microsecond after I was able to pay off my ship.”
“You are recalled to active status.”
“I’m resigning again. I promised my husband a chance to see part of the galaxy, and I’m not going to spend the rest of my life playing soldiers with you lot. All that pointless saluting and hierarchy.”
He said, “Lieutenant, you know that you are not to fraternize with the locals on a pre-space planet. I can have you demoted to ranks for that.”
“Not if I resign first. I’m one of the best pilots there is, and I’m sure I can find a berth on a commercial ship.”
“Not if we revoke your license.”
His threats were interrupted by the captain’s superior. “Captain Woods, have you contacted Lieutenant Cynthia yet?”
The captain snapped to attention. “Sir! We were just discussing her status when you called.”
Another window was presented on the screen. It was Captain Woods’ superior, Admiral Croft. He said, “I heard, and you nearly provoked her to do something stupid, like trying to out-jump us. Ms. Cynthia are you prepared to come on board?”
“If you insist.” Then pressing the button again she said, “Chris can you move us away?”
Chris was gone, and the inflection-less voice of a new machine said, “Maneuvering thrusters are under landing approach control.”
“I guess not.” She released the button and said, “Why did you do that to my companion?”
“Did what?”
“Reset him. He was a friend.”
“We didn't reset him, just loaded the backup. He can come back, if you cooperate.”
“Darn.” Cynthia's conditioning hadn't completely worn off, and, in any case, she'd learned to be more circumspect in her language.
Lord Wroxham stumbled over, “Cynthia, love, what is happening?” Then he looked at the view port and shouted “What in the Hades is that?”
“A Terran cruiser. Welcome to my nightmare. They're about to pull us aboard.”
“Your nightmare?”
“I'm being recalled to active duty. I don't know what they are going to do about you, James.”
“But can't you do anything?”
“They've taken control. I can still do this.”
She stood and hugged him, then gave him a passionate kiss. She whispered as she passed him the small yellow pellet Chris had dropped in her lap, “Hold on to this, it's a backup of Chris.”
“A backup?” James came up for air, then renewed their embrace.
“A copy of him, I hope just before they took control of my ship. Insurance.”
“I think I understand. I'll keep it safe.”
She nodded to him, and after they detached from each other she turned and address the com-link, “Catch all of that Captain?”
“I did. What did you pass to that man?”
The captain nodded, then replayed the picture. “See right there.”
“That thing.”
“Where I hold his hand. Haven't you ever held a woman's hand while you kissed her?”
“No. That thing.”
“What thing?”
He told the image to zoom in. “There. That yellow bit.”
“James, he's spotted us. Put it on the table.”
“The backup, whatever that means?”
He reached into a pocket and pulled out the yellow pill on the counter in front of them. “Is this what you want?”
“What did you call that Cynthia? Vitamin E?”
The captain asked, “A frickin' Vitamin pill?”
Cynthia winked at him and laughed, “I want my husband to be at the peak of his powers.” She turned to James and said, “Why don't you take your pill?”
“If you insist.” He reached down and put the backup in his mouth, then swallowed. She squeezed his hand, and whispered, “It's waterproof and will come out in the end.” He squeezed back, and whisper, “No it won't. Used to do this with my medicines when I was a boy.” He coughed the pill back into his hand and dropped it into hers.
The captain said, “We'll just wait, shall we? It will come out in the recycling.”
Cynthia replied, “Video off. My husband and I would like to get changed for your reception.”
The screen went blank. James asked, “Is it off?”
“Probably not. They can override it if they want.”
“I’m sorry, but this ship is going to be disassembled. There are bits of non-Terran technology that they will want to see. We might get some credits for it, but they’ll find a way to offset any payments with a fine. I want to keep my wedding dress, and you should take your suit.”
“Shouldn’t they let us keep them?”
“Should they, yes. Will they? No. But they won't take them if we’re wearing them.”
“I see. Not the nicest situation, something like piracy.”
“I’m the one they called the pirate, but you’ve got it. Oh, and my love,”
“What else?”
“They may insist on putting you in quarantine.”

Chris, or what was left of him, maneuvered into the landing bay and set down on the dock. Cynthia stood with her husband by the door and anxiously held his hand. “I'm sorry James, I don't know what will happen. Don't trust these swabbies, no matter what they say.”
He slipped his hand up and pulled her close for a hug, then a kiss. “I know. It's something like a press gang isn't it?”
The door opened after the landing bay was re-pressurized and they walked out. It was either that or wait to be brought out. As they walked toward the reception party at the far end of the deck, a medical crew came over and started to carry Lord Wroxham away. Cynthia turned to them, and started to shout, “Stop!”
They paused for a moment and the crew chief explained, “He needs his shots. You will too, but only boosters. We've had a bout of the spotted fever on board.”
“Spotted fever?”
“It came with the Cataxi who are supervising the drive.”
Cynthia had a bit of a double-take. If the Cataxi were on a Terran ship then something had happened in her absence.
Lord Wroxham gave her a panicked look so she said to the medical officer, “Let me come with him. I'm his wife and.”
“And Nothing!” The loudspeaker announced. “Lieutenant, you will report to check-in immediately. Your passenger will be returned to you when he is cleared.” Cynthia could see the shore patrol running her way, just in case she was difficult.
She gave James a wry smile and said, “It looks like I don't have a choice. It will be fine.” Then she turned to the medical officer and said, “My ship's records will show that he is up to date on the standard shots and otherwise healthy. There shouldn't be any cause for a long delay.”
The woman saluted her and replied, “Lieutenant. I'll make sure your,” she couldn't bring herself to say husband, “partner is well looked after.”
“James,” Cynthia added, “I'll wait for you on the other side of reception.” Then she strode to the reception area.
The officer at the counter demanded, “That memory dump, please.”
“The little yellow thing you have in your bag.” Cynthia pulled it out and handed it to him. He put it in a disposal unit and with a green flash it was gone. She winced at it.
He continued, “Thank you Lieutenant. Now for the other one.”
“What one?”
“In your mouth, under your tongue. That is unless you've swallowed it.” She put her hand to her mouth, then handed him the pill. It met the same fate as the first one.
“What's in the heel of your shoe?”
She handed him her right shoe. “I mean the other one.” She handed him that too. He pulled out another pill and disposed of it, before returning the shoes.
“Anything else?” she asked.
He intently studied at her body scan, then finally, after a few moments said, “No. You're clear.”
“Thank you.”
“You're also beautiful. How about it?”
She slapped him, hard.
“You could have just said no.”
Before she walked past him, and into the cleared area to wait for James, she turned and looked back at her ship. The alien artifacts and survey crew had already started to take him apart. She shrugged, and started to slowly walk off. Then she turned and shouted to them, “Couldn't you even wait to let the engines cool?”
It wasn't clear they heard.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sequel to Cynthia

This is the start of a sequel to Cynthia the Invincible. Not so many ******* words (because they aren't needed for the story).   A first draft, with all that implies. <> stands for some alien-sounding string I have yet to figure out.
They get described later in the book, but the Cataxi are definitely not humanoid. Sort of a cross between an Oyster, a Lobster and a squid.



Cynthia shouted at her ship. “What do you mean I’m grounded? This is Catelexit, it’s not in the Terran space. I can’t stay here.” She paused, “We can’t stay here.”
Chris calmly replied to her. “Madame Ambassador, what did you expect?”
“I don’t know. But not this.”
“You’re definitely pregnant and you cannot fly, at least not interstellar flight. Do you want to lose your child?”
Cynthia stopped for a second, then in a low voice said “No, of course not.”
“Then you’re grounded. For at least a year.”
“Chris, what am I going to do? I’m sure James will be happy, but the Cataxi?”
“Ma’am, if I might remind you why the Cataxi asked for you, specifically for you, to be the first permanent Terran ambassador. It’s a great honor.”
“Right, punishment because I stole the Xree.”
“No. It’s because they think it worked on you and Lord Wroxham. Because, although you stole it, you respected their religion in the end. In their eyes it wasn’t theft if you were using it for the proper religious purpose. They expect it to pull you here so that your first born can be part of the circle of Clix-at-ticth.”
“Do we know anything about their reproductive biology?”
“It doesn’t matter, Madam. They are going to be excited about seeing how humans reproduce.”
“Christ, Chris. I really don’t want my child’s birth on their television.”
The screen clicked into live. It was the Cataxi Prime Minister and his Gotha translator <>. “Madam Ambassador” <> said.
“Our sensors indicate that there are now three humans on Catelexit. That is one more than we agreed to.”
“I know. Can you explain to the most honored minister that I am with child?”
< > turned to his minister and with a series of clicks and whines translated what Cynthia said. The Minister bowed and her carapace turned bright green. < > replied to her, “Madam Ambassador, my honored minister expresses her deepest respect. She did not realize that you were in the breeding season.” There was a further stream of clicks. “She continues, do you need a nursery for your egg?”
“Can you tell her that I will carry my child inside me?”
“I will. May I add my personal congratulations? I hope that Lord Wroxham and you prosper. That your child is healthy and brings happiness to you.”
“Thank you.” The Gotha were one of the few truly honest races in the known galaxy. Physically, if they kept their clothes on, they could pass for human. Unlike humans, they had a well-earned reputation for accuracy and truth. As such they made excellent translators. You knew that if they made an error in translation, it was an honest mistake or an untranslatable concept. Galactic diplomacy, and for that matter the galactic police, depended on the Gotha.
< > turned to the Minister and explained as best he could what was happening within Cynthia. The minister clicked away and then < > expounded, “We are truly honored that your eminence chose to bear her young on our planet. May they enter into the cycle of the stars and live a proper life.”
Cynthia bowed, the minister used the formulaic greeting that implied an honored birth. She was really stuck here now. “I hope that he or she may be worth the honor you imply.”
The Minister clicked a few more times at his translator. <> turned to Cynthia and said, “My Minister would like to be a member of the party that delivers the T'cha to you. Would you be agreeable to that?”
“Can you give me a moment to decide?”
“As you wish.”
Cynthia hurriedly asked Chris, “What the heck is a T'cha?”
For once, Chris was at a loss, “I have no idea Ma'am. This is probably a ceremony involving birth or fertility, but that is a guess.”
“Can you raise James from the AR? I think I'll need him for this ceremony.” Her husband was being force-fed the things any educated man would know in 2350. It was rough for him, but necessary. What took Cynthia ten years of intensive training in the academy was being force-fed to him in the course of a few months.
“Yes, Ma'am.”
Cynthia addressed <>, “I would be honored if your elegance would attend. Could you explain to me what is involved?”
<> clicked away to the Minister, then turned to Cynthia and said, “Madame Ambassador, the T'cha is a gem that signifies your status as a mother. There is a religious ceremony where it is presented to you.” Cynthia nodded, despite being a highly advanced civilization, the Cataxi embedded everything in religion and ritual.
“Please tell the Minister that I am truly honored. My husband is currently in the AR unit, but he could be ready at short notice. How long do we have to prepare?”
The Minister, who fluently understood Terran, but used the translator for protocol's sake answered directly, “Ch'tl ahul”
Cynthia replied,“An hour. That should be fine. If you would allow us to prepare.”
The screen went blank.
James, Lord Wroxham, entered the room. He was bleary and more than a bit disorientated. It was never pleasant to be pulled out of the AR unit mid-lesson. He said, “What's happening?” while he was trying to clear his mind.
“You know how we thought I might be-”
“I am, Chris just confirmed it and the Cataxi detected it. They're making an official call to celebrate.”
“Oh.” James stiffened. The Cataxi were so alien to humans, that he had nearly run when he first saw them. While his AR-training had filled in many of the blank spots in his knowledge, he still felt uneasy in their presence.
“It will be fine James. The Minister likes you.”
“I know, it's just that she still gives me the willies.”
“That will pass as you get used to them. I thought this would be a good time to trot out the formal wear.”
“Not coveralls?”
“Get your suit. I'll wear that dress.”
“Your wedding dress?”
“Why not? I never would have thought it, but it is comfortable. I've grown to like dresses, and I'm going to need something loose soon enough.”

The bell to the Terran residency rang. When Lord Wroxham opened it, he was greeted by ten Cataxi priests. They were all in their second instar and dressed in their ceremonial orange robes. They danced and chanted, while the aroma of a burning resinous incense filled the air. Two mature Cataxi priests, dressed in the green raiment of T'cha ceremony followed them, and finally, walking with a measured dignity came the Prime Minister and translator.
Lord Wroxham bowed and gestured for them to enter the room. The young priests split to make a passage and the three mature Cataxi entered. Then the young followed them. Cynthia stood before them and waited for James to stand beside her. She put her hand in his, and whispered in his ear, “It isn't that bad, is it?”
He squeezed her hand, and said, “They are an acquired taste. I am glad you're next to me.”
The Prime Minister took a package from one of the other adult Cataxi. After much bowing and what seemed an interminable chant, the Minister pulled a small necklace from it. Cynthia bowed her head and the three adults put the necklace on her. The green gem that formed the pendant on the necklace began to glow. Cynthia started, and quickly asked Chris “Will this harm my baby?”
“No. At least I don't pick up any radiation, so it should be safe for now. I'll check the chemistry later.”
The chanting stopped, and all but one of the priests filed out. Only the Prime Minister, the translator and the young priest remained.
The Prime minister sat and indicated with a gesture of the secondary arms that this was now an informal visit.
Cynthia and James joined her and pulled up chairs so that they could converse in comfort.
“My Lady,” she began, “Can I present one of my fry, only a male but one who shows some promise, to you?”
“Please.” Cynthia nodded her acceptance to the young Cataxi.
The young fry nodded back, but said, “Gracious mother, they are so ugly. How can you stand to sit so close to them?”
The minister clicked her mandibles, the way the Cataxi chuckled, and said, “I must apologize for his frank speaking.” She turned and addressed the child, “Son, it takes some practice, you may not believe this, but if you watch the tall one, he is equally out of ease with us.”
The fry intently studied Lord Wroxham and asked “He is? How can you tell?”
“See how his head keeps turning and his limbs are moving, that he doesn't simply look at us and sit calmly?”
“But his eye stalks, where are they?”
“If I may,” James said in his halting Cataxi, “When I first saw your kind in training I wanted to run.” He pointed to his eyes. “My eyes are here, not on stalks.”
“Ew, how odd. Honored Mother, may I rejoin my pod? I will be missing my lessons.”
“Not yet, young one. Watch and learn.”
The minister paused for a moment, then said, “We know so little about human life. Where is your egg?”
Cynthia looked at her husband, who nodded back. Then she put her hand on her dress over her lower abdomen, just below the navel. “Inside me, about here right now. It's not an egg, it's attached to me and growing.”
The minister looked shocked, “May I?”
She reached over and placed a tentacle on Cynthia's belly, about where Cynthia pointed. Then after a few moments she said, “Yes, I feel it. Another pulsing. Another 'heartbeat'? Did I get that correct?”
“Yes, honored minister,” James replied, “Our.” He stopped, out of words, then continued in English, “Our medical unit confirmed it this morning.”
“How did it get there?”
Cynthia blushed, discussing human reproduction with the head of the Cataxi council was not something she ever expected. James came to her rescue, “I think we can find a book on that, if you can read Terran?”
“Yes, thank you. I gather from your color that this is an embarrassing matter.”
“Not embarrassing, just private.”
“Private. That is an interesting concept.” She turned to the translator, and asked him, “Could you explain?”
They clicked away in High Cataxi. James looked at Cynthia and said, “Can you understand them?”
“Only a few words, I know the informal language, a smattering of the formal language, and none of the high version.”
The minister suddenly stopped and returned her focus to them. “This concept will take some study, but may explain why we have such trouble with your species.”
“Honored minister,” James replied, “You just exhibited it yourself, by using the 'high' language.”
She clicked in amusement. “So I did. I must be returning to my duties.” She started to rise, but was interrupted by her son. He lowered his carapace and said, “Gracious Mother, my honored teacher sent me a message. She said I must learn from these aliens. I was to ask how they came here. I must learn to overcome my fears.”
Cynthia filed away in her mind the information that the Cataxi were using embedded com-links. It was one of those little details that could save your life.
The minister sat back, “Yes that is worth hearing.” Then she waited for her son to speak. He stepped forward, lowered his carapace to Cynthia and said, “Honored Ambassador, how did you return from your planet.”
Cynthia looked at James who smiled at her and said, “You'll have to tell them. I'll help if you get lost, but much of what happened is still a blur to me.”
Cynthia said, “Well, it was like this.”

Monday, January 5, 2015

Start of the Third Installment of "From the Ashes"

Still don't have a title yet, but this is the start of book 3.

Sally, Mary and Anne had just sat down to eat when there was a knock on the door. It was followed by a man's voice saying, “Is that chicken I smell?”
Sally rose, took her plate and ran out the back of the house. Anne said, “What is going on?”
It's Reverend Pottle.”
Mary rose and started to walk to the door. “He doesn't like 'niggers', and that includes my sister. Please don't mention Sally.”
I won't. What does he think about Yankee's?”
Not much either.”
So I should keep my mouth closed.”

The Reverend Edward H. Pottle accepted Mary's invitation to dinner. It was hard for her to do other than extend her hospitality, once he made his presence known. Seeing as he was already inside the front parlor and complimenting her on the smell of the chicken. He followed her to kitchen and bowed to Anne.
“And who might this delightful young woman be?”
Anne's reply could have frosted the Yellow River on a hot day in August, “Mrs. Oates, Mrs. Anne Oates.”
“Y'all are not from 'round here are you?”
“Atlanta lately.”
“I hear a touch of a buckeye twang in your voice.” He smiled and put a copper Indian-head penny on the table. Then pointed at it. Anne stared at him for a few awkward moments and then said, “No.”
Her response didn't seem to bother the reverend. He returned the penny to his pocket and asked Mary, “Where's your servant?'
“She's eating in the barn.”
“Excellent. That's where she belongs.” Anne shot a look at Mary. The reverend continued, “I think your brother's in there too. He followed my from town for some reason.”
Anne broke in to the conversation, “Is that Sam, the clerk from the hotel?”
“Why yes, Mrs. Oates. Who else?”
“If you'll excuse me for a few minutes, I need to ask him about my bags. I think I left one there.” Anne rose, and despite her being a Yankee, the reverend rose as well.
Mary gave her a pleading look and said, “You will be back, soon, please.”
“Mary, you can come with me if you wish, but I do need to check with your brother.”
Mary rose as well, and said, “If you'll excuse me Reverend, I should accompany my guest.”
“Are you sure, there is something private I want to discuss with you. Something close to my heart that I need to say.”
Anne stopped, and noticed the distress on Mary's face. She said, “Is this a frequent occurrence?”
Mary said, “He's been most persistent.”
Anne thought for a few more moments, weighing the consequences and what she knew of Mary. Then she spoke the fatal words, “Reverend Pottle, you should know that Mary and I are soon to be sisters. My brother and her are engaged, and I am here to help with the arrangements.”
The reverend sat upright, “Is this true Miss Cummings?”
Mary nodded, then said in a quiet voice, “Yes, it is.”
“Is this brother one of those Yankee's who came through town a couple of days ago? The one your brother was going to horsewhip?”
“Yes, he is.”
Reverend Pottle stood and stated, “Ever since I commanded the 1st Georgia Militia, back before I saw the light and was called to ministry, I have detested Yankees. If y'all are going to be kin with one of them I shall depart.”
Anne clenched her teeth and said, under her breath, “Good riddance.”
“Mary I am sorely disappointed in you. Not just turning down the hand and heart of an honorable man, but accepting those of a Yankee vandal.” He took his napkin, Mary's actually, and the piece of chicken. Then he turned in a reasonable approximation of an about face and walked out.
Mary looked at Anne and said, “Thank you, Annie.”
“For what? That was craven.”
“Acknowledging me. Now the fat's in the fire.”
“What do you mean?”
“He's a grand dragon. We'll have visitors tonight.”
“Is that bad?”
The look on Mary's face answered her question better than the words she tried to say.
“I still need to see Sam, and Sally. Come” Anne strode out to the barn.
When they arrived, or to be more accurate, when Anne arrived with Mary trailing behind her, Sam was sitting in the corner of an empty stall and shaking. Sally was trying to comfort him, and not succeeding.
Anne bluntly walked to him and said, “Mr. Cummings, what seems to be the matter?”
“Don't you know?”
“I can guess, but you need to tell me.”
“They visit me.”
“My friends, their ghosts. In my dreams.”
Anne looked at Sally and Mary. Then she said, “Is your brother often like this?”
Mary said, “Every few months. Since.” She couldn't continue.
Sally answered for her “Ever since 'the massacre'. When your brothers' troops were camped here. Sam's the only survivor.”
Anne nodded. Then she simply said, “The war. I'm sorry.” After a few moments she sat next to Sam and held his hand.
“Sam, or would you prefer I call you Mr. Cummings?”
“Sam, tell me what happened.”
Sam couldn't, at least not at first. He just leaned on her shoulder and cried. Anne hugged him and patted his back, simply saying “There, there,” and “It will be alright.” Eventually he stopped, and said, “I can't. Not yet.”
“That's fine Sam. I'll wait. There's no hurry.”
“Yes there is.” Sam jumped up. “I'll show you.” Anne, Mary and Sally struggled to follow. He ran out to the plot where several of his friends were still buried. Six graves remained from the war, the others had been claimed by their families. The six remaining graves, including Mr. Fair, their teacher, were left to honor the dead on the battlefield where they fell. It was also because there wasn't any family left to move them.
He stopped and scanned the place. “There, them Yankee's were camped there.” He pointed to the yard. “Mr. Fair, he had his orders. We was to form up behind those trees and walk our horses silently. Then we would charge. Kill 'em while they slept.”
Anne asked, “Where were you?”
“I was too small, so he had me climb that tree. Keep an eye on the blue-coats and signal the militia once we started the attack.”
Mary was startled, “The militia? Where were they?”
“Up back. I signaled, they.” Then he stopped. He started to cry, again. This time Mary comforted him. While she was comforting her brother, Sally asked Anne, “Mrs. Oates, how'd you know to do that? That's more than Sam's ever said about it.”
“Call me Annie. Please. What do you think I did in the war?”
“I don't know,” she paused, “Annie.”
“I was in the Sanitary. There were plenty of boys who simply saw too much. I learned the knack of getting them to talk. Don't cure it, but it helps. Still get letters from some of them.”

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Generating a cover.

This picture I found with Google's image search. It's of a CD cover, but the image is that of the princess the story needs.
Using Tineye I found this image.

The Welsh Dragon,

and finally the cover. (after selecting, rescaling and using the unsharp mask enhancement in the GIMP.)

Bacon and Walnut Stuffing

This is from new years day where we had a chicken, bread and no sausage for a traditional stuffing.

Cut in pieces and fry 2-3 pieces of bacon (streaky bacon in the UK).
when they turn translucent add a handful of crushed or chopped walnuts, and cook until the bacon begins to brown.

Chop up one medium onion and add to the mixture. Saute until the onion is translucent.

Season with:
pinch nutmeg
2 pinches ground ginger
3 pinches sage and thyme (I suppose in the UK "Mixed seasonings" would work here).

Tear enough bread for the bird into chunks, add the bacon, onion, walnut mix + its drippings to the bread. Then add an egg and mix thoroughly.

Stuff (dress?) the bird and bake the way you normally would.