Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Fractal Art to Take You to the Next Great Adventure: "The Next"


The Next

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Enjoy "Framing" from My Rogue Mile, Which Should Be Released By the End of the Year!


I'm fairly deep into the edits of this collection of short essays, photography, and quotes. It's entirely possible I'll be able to release it by the end of the year.

In the meantime, please enjoy one of my short essays from it titled "Framing."

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Framing
~~*~~


WE SEE the world, if we see it at all, through our own perception.

Some see that as a prison. Perhaps, for them, it is. But they are blaming the wrong thing. It isn't their perception that is a prison, but their worldview, which is quite different.

It has been a struggle for me to "open my eyes." I suppose it is for everyone who has ever really tried. Unlearning suburbanism and its values—materialism, nihilism, solipsism, consumption, fundamentalism, selfishness ... that's all pretty damn difficult. It is a challenge to move from being a consumer to being an appreciator. It has been difficult to stop thinking within the framework of industrialization and the standard bell curve to that of "the weird," as Seth Godin puts it. Society's brainwashing is powerful and pernicious. It takes time and energy to see things differently and for increasingly long periods.

People aren't truly interested in changing, no matter what they say. It's why athletic clubs and gyms see a dramatic drop-off at the beginning of each February. Those New Years' resolutions to get back in shape are, in effect, totally worthless and weren't taken with the seriousness they deserved.

The diet is forgotten, and so is that commitment to read more, or that promise to be a better dad or boyfriend or whatever. A month or two or three later, they'll admit their failure to their family and acquaintances, who'll laugh and admit theirs. It's not only socially acceptable to fail, but socially unacceptable not to. People who truly change ... well, they're presumptuous, arrogant fucks, now aren't they? Who do they think they are?


Change does happen, and progress does occur, but it's very slow and halting. Many times it's two steps back for every step forward. The reason why is elucidated above. True changemakers, either on a personal or societal level, are few and far between. And they are so because they are unliked and unwanted by the herd. It takes courage and great inner strength to go it alone, to frame the world in a different way than those in the corral you just left behind.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Did You Know That Melody and the Pier to Forever: Book Two is Now in Paperback? Check It Out!


If you enjoy reading solid books, as opposed to the digital variety, you'll love Melody and the Pier to Forever: Book Two in paperback!

It's big--513 pages. But then it would be, since it's one of the main story-arc books, which will always be large.

I've also priced it at the bare minimum it can be per Amazon's policies. At $17.78, I make no money whatsoever on royalties, at least in the US market. Ah, obscurity. It's so fun!

I'm working hard on Book Three, and another sidestory which will precede it. Both are coming along nicely.

While you wait, why not pick up the paperback versions of Book One (which is in two volumes here and here), Kaza, and Book Two?

As always, thank you for reading!

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Fractal Art Inspired by Melody and the Pier to Forever: "The Mind of Pios"


The Mind of Pios

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Enjoy the Beginning of a Great Romance from Melody and the Pier to Forever: Book Two!


The first four novels in Melody and the Pier to Forever are FREE, but won't be for much longer, and not for a long time after I re-price them to $6.95! If you're interested in joining us on the Pier to Forever, now is the time!

The following chapter from Book Two remains one of my favorites so far in the entire series.

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Dressing and Dating
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THE HALL of Zau d' Wolduin, the Heroes Hall of Pyrrho, flickered in orange torchlight.
Its high, narrow walls were painted with a fantastic mural depicting the history of the Pyrrhonians. Maggie couldn't help but stare at it. A proud, proud people, the Pyrrhonians. On Aquanus, a fallen people. A conquered people. Even if this mural depicted half-truths, she thought, it was clear they were a people that did not succumb easily to the Gyssians and Necrolius. She felt intimidated standing here, within it, immersed in the history and mystique.
The Hall was located deep within the bowels of the Castle—a hundred feet below sea level according to Luis, who had given her last-minute instructions before escorting and leaving her here. The Hall was lined with Pyrrhonians, tall and black-skinned, standing precisely and silently, uniformed in both the traditional dress of their country's military and in the spit and polish of the Saeire Insu. Maggie herself was dressed in traditional Pyrrhonian colors (burgundy and gray) and in the style of a high-ranking soldier: gold-colored armor, embroidered cape, dark pants, and a broadsword, which hung at her hip. A real sword, not ceremonial. It was part of the Ceremony for a priest to hand it to her unsheathed. It was Maggie's task to bow with it and then sheathe it, all as smoothly as possible and without looking directly at the weapon. Over the past week Luis had worked with her between classes and more strategy tests. It's tougher than it looks, sheathing a sword without looking at it. She had nearly cut her own arm off more times than she could count.
The priest—no, it was a priestess!—was so magnificently dressed that Maggie had temporarily forgotten about her anxiety as she handed the sword to her. The priestess stood before Maggie like a great golden-eyed eagle, feathers and silks trailing off her body; Maggie had, as instructed, taken it—open palms! open palms!—had bowed—lower! lower!—had righted herself, had grabbed the hilt, and had, expertly, driven the blade into its sheath. It felt good to feel it stop definitively against her hip. She stood straight and unsmiling, whereupon she followed a soldier out of the room to her present position. After another invocation, she was left to wait for Aedan, whom she had yet to see.
Was this ceremony being broadcast throughout the kingdom like the concert had just last night? She hadn't spotted television cameras or other similar technology last night; she couldn't see anything now. But she had no doubts. This Ceremony was the same thing as declaring war, of saying, absolutely and finally, that this was it. From here forward the battle was on.
She tried to find humor in the moment. She did so not out of disrespect, but because she didn't want the full weight of the meaning of all the solemnity to overwhelm her. She didn't want to think of what it meant for her and, most of all, for Melody. But the beating drums were insistent, and she couldn't help but listen to them. The mural surrounding her—the battles it depicted, the strange and beautiful lands beyond, the heroes standing proud, the ages of a people, of a nation …
Of that people, the Pyrrhonians were, collectively, the most beautiful she had ever seen. Their skin, with few exceptions, was almost coal-black, their almond eyes a myriad of jewel-like colors. They were tall, even the women, the shortest of whom still towered over her by at least four inches, and they carried themselves with a righteous dignity that gleamed. Most had very short hair—tight black curls—but a few wore longer, straighter locks, including the priestess, and Carcaryn Gellantara too, whom Maggie spied near the head of the line winding into the temple room, the name of which she had forgotten and was praying she wouldn't have to recite for any reason. Carcaryn was in the full dress uniform of the Kumiyaay, one of two in her company present. The other was someone Maggie had never met. He stood across from Carcaryn, and like her, still as a statue.
The drums were getting louder. Out of the corner of her eye Maggie could see the priestess making her way towards her. Music accompanied the drums now: low, somber, ominous. It sounded like a funeral dirge … but not quite. There were hopeful, triumphant notes within it, but not blatant ones, not boastful ones.
The smell of incense. The priestess was holding a waist-wrapped chain linked to a gilded cylindrical container that smoked at her hip. Like the music, the odor was somber, even unsettling, and yet … hopeful. It heightened Maggie's attention, made the adrenaline racing through her even more potent. She felt, in fact, like a soldier on the eve of battle.
The priestess passed her ... and there was Aedan, two steps behind and completely nude. The priestess advanced a couple more steps and stopped, as did the music. He stood directly in front of Maggie. He didn't turn to look at or acknowledge her; he stared straight into the priestess' back. Behind him waited a procession of splendidly garbed Pyrrhonians, maybe fifty total, marching in rows of three and bearing flags and gilded weaponry.
Maggie found none of this humorous, try as she might. And she was trying. Conor's naked fifty-year-old body was in remarkably good shape, tall and wide and hard with muscle. Muscles not smooth like that of a young man's, but more like granite that had weathered the very worst nature could throw at it.  Worn but by no means worn out. Roughly defined. She made only a cursory note of it. She was staring at his face, which held that unreachably deadly gaze that once terrified her.
The priestess spoke. Her voice was commanding and dark; its sharp timbre speared through the hall. She was speaking to the king.
"Is this your hero?"
Aedan, Irish and strong:
"It is."
"Hero, identify yourself."
Maggie spoke up. She tried to keep her voice from cracking. "Margaret Rae Singleton."
"Margaret Rae Singleton, are you prepared as the Second to die for the Saeire Insu and its king, Conor Kieran Faramond Benedictus the First, Protector of the Ten Defiant Nations, Holder of the Pearl-Yang Serpenthelm, the Talon Red Over the Four Quarternia?"
"I am."
The priestess took another step, as did Conor. The procession did not move. That was Maggie's cue. She took two measured steps forward, as she had practiced time and again with Luis, then turned smartly on her heel. She was a half-step behind Conor and to his right—precisely where she should be.
The music continued. The priestess marched on, as did Conor, Maggie, and the procession.
Into the Pyrrhonian temple. It was a remarkable place, part rough, untouched cave and part columns, gleaming marble steps and gold inlaid into the walls like chain mail. Grand statuary watched from oval portals at regular, rising intervals, with tiered balconies between them, populated with silent observers. A vaulted ceiling peaked at least to the level of the sea. From its apex hung what appeared to be a free-form wire sculpture that Maggie guessed had to be thirty feet tall. The wires that comprised it gleamed unnaturally, like some amazing Christmas decoration … but the wire-light was soft and unblinking. It slowly shifted colors, dimming or brightening, mixing with the soft orange of the torchlight, which only occasionally matched it. The combined effect was that of a sustained sunrise or sunset, never quite rising or settling. Entrancing.
The priestess mounted wide stairs, followed by the king, then Maggie. The procession had stopped following. Its members were spreading out in a very orderly fashion so they could watch. The priestess turned and sat on a throne at the top. Conor, on the second stair down, stood before her. Maggie, on the third, watched as two men, one to each side, approached him and began dressing him from the feet up.
Conor's balance was something to see. He lifted his right foot, then his left, back straight as a washboard, staring straight ahead, as the attendants pulled black knee-length socks over his feet and up his legs. The last time Maggie tried putting socks on while standing, she considered, she ended up face-planting in the laundry basket next to her bedroom door. It was obvious that the attendants were awed with his balance as well. She was sure one was supposed to brace him, give him someone to lean on, as the other pulled the assigned sock up. They both in turn looked vaguely uncertain what they were supposed to do.
Could she laugh at this—a man standing in nothing but his socks? She once found it one of the very silliest things in the world. Without willing it, she thought of Rich. Bald, bony Rich. She couldn't help but snigger quietly to herself as he dressed each morning.
The attendants kneeled, underwear stretched out for Aedan to step into, which he did. White underwear, boxers, but not quite as loose or baggy, which they pulled up over his buttocks.
A man in socks and undies … still pretty damn silly. Again, Maggie's ex-husband flashed in her mind. But there was nothing in her spirit that wanted to laugh or even lighten itself.
It was then that the power of the Ceremony impacted her fully. The king's nakedness was there to illustrate, above all, his humanity in all its warts and dimples and flab and flaws, in all its weakness and thinness of flesh and bone. The Pyrrhonians did not worship their heroes, their great defenders. It left an indelible impression on her. Behold our hero. He can die like we can. We must not leave the fight to him alone. We must stand with him in his weakness, in his warts and dimples and flab and flaws.
Pants, then boots, then a V-neck undershirt which was tucked into the pants. Next was an overshirt: long-sleeved, buttoned, and beautifully embroidered. A shiny cape with gold ties followed, one with the familiar symbol of a seahawk swooping over Ammalinaeus, talon dripping blood. It held Maggie's attention.
Conor had moved minimally through all this.
It dawned on her then that the music was transforming very slowly as the dressing progressed. Once funereal, it was becoming increasingly triumphant.
Armor. It was the same liquid silver metal type that his Kumiyaay wore, but with intricate, beautiful veins of subsurface gold beneath the gleaming surface. The attendants strapped it on, pulled the cape through the neck, then stepped back. She prepared herself: it was almost her turn.
The crown was last. Maggie had almost convinced herself the Saeire Insu had never fashioned a crown for their king. But they had. The left attendant lifted it out of an open chest. She tried not to gawk.
It seemed less crown than a very simple headdress: the golden wings of a bird (a seahawk, most assuredly) that stretched along the side of Conor's head over his ears, very intricately patterned. The wings originated at a teardrop-shaped hole above his forehead; inside the teardrop hung a large, many-faceted sapphire. The king kneeled to have the crown fitted. Once done, he stood, waiting.
It was Maggie's turn.
The right attendant approached her, a small, dark wooden box in hand. Standing before her, he bowed then opened it. Its red interior surrounded the talisman the King of the Saeire Insu had not donned for twenty-two years. The Pearl-Yang Serpenthelm.
Maggie had watched Eleysius drape it over Conor's neck. It was now her turn to do the same thing.
She couldn't help but think: An Aquanian god made this.
She reached for it, touched it, grasped it fully. She pulled it up by its chain with both hands, noting its odd coldness.
The talisman had changed these many years. A jeweler had added to it, fashioning a small, bejeweled silver triangular plate beneath it. A ruby gleamed from the plate's center, and was the crux of a cross of emeralds and sapphires and an ornate gold letter C surrounded by gold inlays.
But she had only taken a cursory notice of these things. The actual talisman was what held her attention.
The lizard crawling over the back of the snake, both with glowing ruby eyes, regarded her dispassionately. At the talisman's empty circular hub hung unsupported a milky-white Eternitus Seed. It too glowed, green tendrils reaching from it like thin pond fronds in a gentle current toward the reptiles, not quite touching. In the gap flashed very tiny aecxes.
Maggie mounted the king's step as the music, clearly victorious now, played on. She climbed one more step, to the landing, as per Luis' instructions. As the priestess watched her dispassionately, she turned crisply to face him.
She fretted. Was the chain long enough to fit over his crown? Conor looked at her, his eyes level with hers. A very slight smile creased his countenance for a moment before he kneeled again, waiting.
She was sure that the Pyrrhonians hadn't planned for this. The weapon always came last. But Pyrrhonians had never seen a weapon like this, ever. A weapon that hung from the leader's neck and derived its power from the leader's soul.
She would have to try.
At that moment he reached up for the crown and removed it, as though he had read her mind. The Pyrrhonians didn't seem fazed or scandalized by this; indeed, if anything, their muted reaction seemed even prouder than before.
Maggie draped the fantastic talisman over his head. He held the crown out, which she then carefully refitted over his head. He stood and turned and faced the crowd with her.
A crowd that, despite their dignified comportment, gasped. For sparkling into existence on the king's shoulders were the lizard and the snake of the Pearl-Yang Serpenthelm. Their semi-translucent forms seemed much more substantial than they had so many years ago on Aquanus. Their ruby eyes gazed out over the audience, the iguana's head moving back and forth as it took in its surroundings, the cobra's black tongue flicking out to taste the incense-scented air.
There were no speeches given, no words spoken. The music concluded. The silence following, Luis had told Maggie, was symbolic of the quiet before any great storm.
Maggie joined Conor on his step, as the Second was supposed to do. Then, together, along with the priestess, they descended the stairs. It was a simple matter now of heading back up the hallway to where they had started. Her teeth were on edge: the only sound was that of them and the people of the procession marching back through the Hall. She would've preferred complete silence to the subdued shuffling, because at least with silence she could release the thoughts of impending war into it and hope they wouldn't find their way home. There was no way to do that with the sounds of the footfalls of the soldiers who'd be fighting, and dying, in that war.
Back in the room where she received her sword, it was now her and the king's duty to acknowledge the soldiers going into battle. The acknowledgement would come in the form of a palm applied gently and without words to their foreheads. The warriors, arriving two at a time, would then bow and leave the room.
It was for Maggie the most difficult part of the Ceremony. For every forehead she touched that evening was the forehead of a human being whom she likely would never see again and who was probably going to die in service to king and country. The act of touching them made that sacrifice so real that she could barely suppress the emotions pressing up against her cheeks and making her eyes sting.
When the last soldiers left the room, leaving her and Conor alone within it ("… for in the end the leaders see they are nothing without those who support them and keep them," so Luis had explained), he turned to face her. The lizard and the snake were gone from his shoulders. He reached and wiped away the tear that Maggie thought she couldn't keep from streaming down her face while the warriors presented themselves to her and finally overflowed as the last one walked out of the room. She gazed up at him.
Without a word, he leaned down and very softly kissed her cheek.
Pulling back an inch after an extra moment of contact, he smiled. "Let's get out of here."
She nodded. She could see the sadness in his eyes, too. The crown framed it, made it seem almost beatific.
"Thank you, Maggie, for doing this," he added.
She nodded without speaking.
~~*~~
As it turned out, she didn't need to root around her closet for something warm to wear as per Conor's hint a week ago. The Saeire Insu had already provided her with clothing that might be appropriate for a short winter walk along the county road in, say, Goodland, Kansas, but certainly not San Diego, California. Led to a dressing room where attendants were waiting, she removed the armor and weapon with their help. They bowed out, leaving her to finish disrobing, which she did. The clothing waiting for her was unsurprisingly Saeire Insu and hung next to a mirror: stockings and a lovely full-length dress, along with a long scarf and hat, both of which she decided not to wear. The stockings were warmer than expected, given how sheer they were; the dress, too. She looked in the mirror and smiled. A woman from an undiscovered but stately Nineteenth Century European country smiled back.
She heard a knock at the dressing room's door.
"Yes?" she called out, still appraising herself in the mirror.
Conor's muted voice came through. "May I?"
"Come in," she said.
He opened the door, stepped inside. She turned to look at him.
He too was dressed warmly, but, like her, not overly so. He gave her a slow once-over, nodding approvingly.
"I feel like I did last night—like I'm going to a costume ball," she announced, looking at herself in the mirror.
He came up close behind her. "Did I ever tell you how beautiful you are?"
She smiled warmly, leaned back against him. "You have … but please assume I'm hard of hearing and with a bad memory, too."
He chuckled quietly.
"How is your scar feeling?"
She shrugged. "It's healed. It doesn't even itch anymore."
He shook his head. "Weird."
"Even Luis doesn't know what to do with it."
"I'm sorry for the pain it's caused you. I feel responsible for it."
She shrugged again. "The dangers of tracking souls ... I should've taken out traveler's insurance."
He grinned at that, then kissed the top of her head. "Let's go."
"Ready to tell me where we're going in all these layers?"
She was already feeling a little sweaty.
He shook his head.
"It's gotta be the mountains," she guessed.
He shook his head again. "Let's head up to the courtyard."
They walked through the doors and then up winding stairs she immediately recognized as the stairs that led to the same courtyard she landed Tachyon on every day for her lessons, and which she landed on the very first time she came to the Castle.
There were no attendants, no bowing aides, no one pressing in on them, demanding his attention. At the top they passed out into the courtyard. No guards here, either. The courtyard tower loomed darkly behind them; ahead, the Tower of Unity, the Castle's highest tower, rose like a mighty spear shaft from the center of the island. Random square droplets of yellow light glowed to its top.
It was early evening. The stars twinkled freshly and unfocused through a thin layer of sea mist above the Antarctic Cottonwood lining the perimeter of the courtyard. Through gaps in their boughs Maggie could see the lights of San Diego and Tijuana. They were a safe, uninvolved distance away.
Conor took her hand as they walked. At the courtyard's center he stopped and turned to face her. He took her other hand.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Sure …" said Maggie, not sure at all. She looked around, then back at him. "Are we ... going by sea horse?"
He shook his head. "Would you believe Eleysian Airways?"
"Eleysian—?"
But that was all she got out. For in the next moment a sparkling white whirlwind soundlessly surrounded them both. Aedan melted into it as she felt herself lift off the ground like a rocket. She yelled, "Whoa!"
—and found herself standing at the edge of a cliff. A calm sea glistened many hundreds of feet below. Night had become day. Tall stands of pine, perhaps a hundred yards away left and right, lined the cliff to both sides. She spun in place to locate Conor, but couldn't see him anywhere.  She was standing at the edge of a wildflower-splashed meadow. The trees were part of a mountainside forest that rose dramatically behind her.
She turned to look back over the water. In the distance and to the right skied Sisters, thousands of misons apart, purple-blue and sequentially diminished and faded with distance and daylight. At the southern horizon ringed Ammalinaeus proclaimed his reign over all. He too was faded. Wispy-white cirrus clouds wandered pleasantly across his face. The Eternitam was a thin sea-level black line pointing from the Sisters to him.
This lookout was very, very special to Conor. The truth of it came to Maggie as surely as the steady brine-scented breeze which blew her hair back as she gazed out. She knew, somehow, that he had stood with his mother here just before her death. His mother had wanted to be here, had wanted to share this stunning vista with him one last time. She had held his hand and had kissed his cheek at this very spot, and instantly the ground beneath their feet became hallowed for him for all time. It was a place so special to him that he could only visit it in dreams, not in waking memory, for the memory came with pain like an impassable guard fence too high to climb or get through. Only his dreams gave him safe passage to this cliffside.
She could suddenly feel Aedan's mother's presence behind her. She turned, breathless.
Kathlin Chaundran was walking towards her. She was three inches shorter than Maggie and looked almost exactly as the portrait on the wall in his bedroom. Her blue eyes were radiant; her smile, too. She drew close to Maggie and took hold of her hands. The hands of the true mother of Kieran Conor were small and warm and worn, strong but still fragile in that way only mothers’ hands can be.
"You are as beautiful as I imagined you'd be," she said. Her voice was kind and soft but unmistakably noble.
Maggie sputtered out, "I … I … Thank you—"
—The cliffside and Kathlin Chaundran dissolved away into swirling white aecxal light. Maggie felt cold race up from her feet to the crown of her head. It bit deeply into her for a long moment … and then …
… it and the whirlwind dissipated. Disappeared.
And there was Conor, right in front of her, still holding onto her hands.
He squeezed them. "Are you all right?" he asked, concerned.
She gawked up at him blankly as warmth spread slowly back to her extremities.
"I saw … I saw …"
She looked over his shoulder.
"... Oh, my."
She let go of his hands and turned slowly in place to take in her surroundings. The air was just cold enough that she could see her breath. She gawked up at him again when he came back into view, then turned around once more.
"Where … where are we?" she whispered.
"Would you believe Antarctica?" he answered.
"Ant—"
But she couldn't finish the word. She thought if she did she would become a casualty of two fiercely warring internal factions: the wandering, fearless part of her that desperately wanted it to be true, and the fearful, anxious part of her that desperately didn't.
She stood silently in the no-man's land between them and took in the view.
There was a high, high ceiling of pure bluish ice. It glowed softly, extending away for an unknown distance in every direction. And there were trees. Cottonwood trees. All around. They were rooted in the ice itself. Maggie, staring at the one nearest her, could clearly see its roots deep beneath her. She looked back up at Conor.
"Antarctic Cottonwood," he said. "This is the original grove, twenty years old now. Luis thought it would be a good idea to bring you here. Want to take a walk?"
Maggie didn't register the question.
"Maggie?"
She came back to the moment. She nodded vacantly.
Her hand in his, they began walking. She noticed they were on a trail of dry, dark soil, groomed and lined with rocks and flowers and the undergrowth one would find in any normal temperate forest. Some of that undergrowth rooted in ice as well. Some of it didn't.
The sounds of birds. She looked up. Indeed, small birds flitted here and there, disappearing into the boughs of the trees. Swallows … and sparrows. A blue jay dipped from tree to tree, following them. Crows and robins. Something unseen was calling out plaintively from the top of a nearby tree. The sound echoed faintly in this tremendous ice palace.
Squirrels, too. One watched her curiously next to the trunk of a tree. It nibbled patiently on a white nut of some sort in its paws.
They came to a vine-covered wooden bridge arcing over a sweetly gurgling stream. They mounted its stairs, walked to its middle, and stopped. Conor let go of her hand.
"I've got so many questions …" she breathed after a time. "Totally unromantic questions like: How did you harvest the wood and get it back to Imperial Beach? And: How do these trees find sustenance in the ice? And: Are the trees surrounding the Castle hybrids of these? And … and ... and about a thousand other questions …" She fingered a vine leaf.
He watched her. "Do you want me to answer them?"
"I …" She shook her head. "No."
"You said you saw something," said Conor.
She nodded. "I … I saw your mother, Aedan. She … she spoke to me."
The look on his face was hard to decipher. But she had no doubts what he was feeling.
"I mean," she went on, "I guess it was her Rendan Mortalis that I saw."
He smiled. "They are one and the same," he replied quietly.
"I was in … in your … your soul … I mean, really in it. In the landscape of it."
"Luis told me it was likely to happen," he said. "I'm glad it did. May I ask what she said to you?"
"She told me I was as beautiful as she'd imagined I'd be."
Conor didn't respond to that. He looked as though he was struggling to keep his composure.
"It was a cliffside ..." she went on.
He nodded.
There was a long stretch of silence.
She could wait no longer.
She reached up and touched his cheek with her fingertips. "Luis told me once when you were near death that I had no idea what kind of soul you possess …"
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Her mouth couldn't hold back her passion; she could feel the same release come from his. Their faces didn't part for a long time. When they did he held her very close.

There was no need to speak. Words were unnecessary.
~~*~~
They walked along the trail through the ice palace forest of Antarctic Cottonwood. There were ponds and more bridges; there was a wide, sloping meadow of knee-high turquoise-blue ice-grass—grass that grew in ice—that took Maggie's breath away. Rabbits and even deer peered out at them from the undergrowth. There were other trees besides cottonwood, too. She identified elm and walnut trees, as well as an odd species of poplar and what smelled like Russian olives. There were fragrant lilac bushes and thick, broad swaths of burned-green juniper shrubs hugging the ground; one hillside had what looked like blue spruce and aspen growing on it. They passed these to a bridge spanning a deep gorge, one part ice and part dark rock. A river roared at its bottom. On the other side was a picnic table standing on a gentle hillside covered in regular green grass. On the table was a picnic basket.
"I sent it ahead," Conor commented. "I've never tried something like that before. I'm glad it made it where I wanted it to go. Are you hungry?"
She wasn't sure. Astonishment had taken complete control of her senses. Still …
She squeezed his hand. "Very."
They crossed the bridge.
~~*~~
The meal was hearty vegetarian lasagna in a large covered dish of fine china or something nicer, along with fresh salad with blue cheese in another. Cheesecake with strawberries for dessert. Water to wash it all down, along with …
He smiled as he lifted a thermos and two cups out. "Neptonian coffee?"
She remembered it from that day on the Serig. She nodded enthusiastically.
He poured her a cup, then reached inside the basket again and lifted out a bottle.
"Warm it up a little?" he asked.
She looked.
Irish whiskey.
She nodded, smiling. He poured some into her coffee. She brought the cup to her mouth and took a sip. Delicious.
He held his out. "To twenty-two years of thinking I was crazy and wrong and that I'd never meet Melody … or, for that matter, Maggie, you."
But she wouldn't touch her cup to his. Instead, lifting hers up, she said, "No. To twenty-two years of patience that would shame a saint, twenty-two years of courage and integrity. To twenty-two years of leading ten nations and giving them hope. And to the freedom of Aquanus and the continued safety of Earth."
He hesitated, then brought his cup to hers.
"Cheers, Maggie."
They drank.
~~*~~
They talked. About Melody and Yaeko. About living in Imperial Beach. About meeting for the first time. And then about Rich.
"Have you told him you and Melody are going away for a while?" said Conor.
"I told him I wanted to take Melody to Europe for a long trip. He believed me."
"Was he upset that he didn't get to see Melody when he was supposed to this summer?"
She shook her head. She stared into her coffee.
"Melody doesn't know how little it means to him to see her," she said with a strong mix of sadness and anger in her voice. "I've lied to her for years about it. I feel bad … I mean, he's so busy with his group, his music. I have to badger him most years to set aside even two weeks for her. It was no problem when I gave him the excuse I did. It really made me angry; I almost blew up at him when all I got from him was, 'Okay, no problem, Maggie …' He was going out on tour and was going to call to reschedule anyway."
She swallowed the rest of her coffee. Conor poured her more, topped it off with more whiskey. She thanked him, took a sip, and said, "I'm bitter about it. But … I don't know … I mean, in the divorce, he basically gave me everything I asked for. His group had a couple hits on the country charts back in the late eighties, and the money he was making was quite good. He gave me a big chunk of change in the settlement, enough that I wouldn't have to work another day, provided I lived very cheaply and simply, which I—which we—have. He's been very generous. Still …"
He listened.
"My degree's in occupational therapy," she went on. "I've worked as an independent contractor for many years. Extra cash, that kind of thing." She chuckled. "I haven't worked in months …"
"Since you first saw my scary face," said Conor with a short laugh.
She gazed at the dark, steaming liquid in her cup.
"Melody loves you, Aedan."
She looked up into his eyes.
A long moment passed in silence. The plaintive call of the unseen bird sounded out.
"And you're afraid," he said gently.
She nodded. "Is it wrong that I want you to be the typical king and send your pawns into the battle and hide safely in the very rear to protect yourself? Is it wrong that I hate myself for feeling that? I mean … the Pyrrhonians tonight … touching their foreheads … I was praying for them, for each and every one of them. But I was also praying that … that …" She stopped. She stared at him.
"She absolutely loves you. I see it in her eyes. In the way she talks about you. You … you are the father she has never had. She would do anything for you. Rich ... Rich has been a steadily fading fantasy for her. I wouldn't doubt if in five years she barely gets around to sending him a Christmas card—or getting one back, for that matter. But you, Aedan … you're reality. And I'm …" Maggie gritted her teeth. "Damnit, once again I'm scared to death."
After a time Conor said, "I'm not that king, Maggie."
"I know you're not."
"You wouldn't respect me if I was. In fact, you'd hate me."
"Please," she begged, "just promise me … promise me you'll take no crazy chances. No stupid risks. No playing the hero unless you absolutely, positively have to. She needs you. I … I need you."
She reached across for his free hand. She squeezed it hard.
"Promise me."
"I promise both of you," answered Conor. "And Yaeko. And Elizabeth. No crazy chances. No stupid risks. No silly heroics. I have only one request to make in exchange."
Maggie waited.
"Malesherbes Quartermane has returned to the Saeire Insu."
"It was amazing to see him at the concert," she said.
"He has returned for one and only one reason."
She took a sip of coffee.
"He's returned to teach Melody the Daen-Cer-Dain."
Her coffee tried to go down the wrong way. She coughed. When she could breathe again, she gawked up at him. His face read concern.
She remembered the Temple Kentein Intersectum. She remembered the demons surrounding Conor Kieran the newly crowned Vanerrincourtian king. Hundreds of them. And she remembered the glistening, sparking nebula of flashing light as his swords cut through them like they were standing still.
"I will teach her, too," he added quickly. "Melody deserves nothing less."
She couldn't seem to get her mouth to move, to respond, to get her vocal chords to produce sound.
It was probably that he couldn't interpret her gaze that he continued to try to sell the idea.
"It will serve two overarching purposes: to teach her to protect herself, and to teach her self-res—"
She got her throat working. "Stop. Aedan, please stop."
Conor quit talking.
"Yes," said Maggie. "Mr. Quartermane may teach Melody the Daen-Cer-Dain. Of course he can. Of course. Where we're going, what mother wouldn't want her daughter to know even a tiny bit of it? Of course he can teach her. Of course you can. It's just hard to believe is all. It would be an honor beyond all others—your teacher teaching her."
"Excellent," said Conor, a relieved smile forming on his face. "Do you think Melody will be receptive to learning it?"
Maggie chuckled. "Haven't you listened to a word I've said? She'll do anything for you. She loves you."
She held on to his hand. They drank Irish coffee.
The lonely bird called out.
~~*~~
She stood once again on the cliffside.
Waiting for her this time, though, wasn't Kathlin Chaundran.
It was Espriella.
Espriella … whose goddesslike countenance made an afterthought of the sun in the sky of Aedan Conor's soul.
There was no proper greeting, no words spoken. As though it had been scripted, they turned together and looked out over the sea. Espriella reached for her hand. Maggie held it tightly.
She lied to Aedan later, after the white aecxal whirlwind dissipated and she found herself on the doorstep to her home. She lied to him about the bright tears in her eyes. She had returned to the cliffside, yes, she told him. But no one was there. The tears could have been there for any number of other reasons this amazing, unforgettable evening; she picked one and went with it.
She kissed him. He kissed her back.
She felt it, and knew he did, too: the just-ignited fire of passion between them, like Ae Infinitus itself, would go on ... forever.
They parted. He left her on her doorstep.
Melody was already in bed. The house was dark and quiet. She hugged Sara when the lab padded quietly up to her, then retreated to her bedroom and closed the door.

~~*~~

Fractal Art for You Whovians Out There: "The Masterpick to the Universe"


The Masterpick to the Universe

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Enjoy This Five-Star Review of The Angel's Guardian!


Full disclosure: the following review is from Kye, my partner and collaborator.

As I've mentioned before, I don't see this as an ethical or moral issue as long as I'm open about it.

Is she biased? Of course she is. Does that necessarily void her opinion of my work? No, it doesn't.

All book reviews are subjective and reflect reviewers' prior prejudices, likes, and dislikes. That is, if they are even remotely honest, which most aren't.

Why? Most reviews are bought, that's why. They're fake. All that attention you see being showered on a book? Well, chances are almost certain (almost: on rare occasion a book does earn that attention authentically and organically) that it is manufactured, be it self-published or traditionally published. The same is true for virtually every product out there, no matter what it is; but I'll keep the focus on books.

To get your attention, authors and publishers will do anything, morals and ethics be damned. I don't. I want any attention I get to be authentic and organic, so that when you read reviews for my books, you know they are in no way fake. If that means my books languish without reviews, then so be it.

I believe Kye is a genuine fan of my work, and her opinion should count, and so I'm honored to feature her reviews here. She doesn't write reviews for me out of obligation. She does it because she, like any motivated fan, wants to share her love of my work with the world.

Amazon doesn't allow her reviews because we live at the same IP address and she's a collaborator, but they do allow all sorts of unethical gaming of their system by authors and publishers, which makes them hypocrites. (Wow. A huge corporation that's hypocritical. Who'd'a thunk it?) For that reason Kye's reviews appear at Smashwords, which as a distributor suffers all sorts of problems, but at least doesn't suffer that one.

Enjoy. Then download The Angel's Guardian after you finish the review!

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☀☀☀☀☀

You know how sometimes when you're reading a book, there's that "secondary character" that you just love? They're as fascinating to you--or more fascinating--as any of the main characters, but you don't see nearly enough of them. You have a thousand questions about them, and you never get a single answer.

Well, this book is sheer wish fulfilment. It's an entire novel about one of those characters that doesn't get nearly enough time in Shawn Montaigne's series Melody and the Pier to Forever. It's the story of Yaeko's guardian, Elizabeth Finnegan.

***On that note, I want to mention that if you haven't read the first couple of books in the main saga of Melody and the Pier to Forever (at the very least, Book One), you will be super confused by the end of this book, like someone has dropped you down the rabbit hole without explanation. If you've read the others however, you won't have any questions, you'll simply have caught up to the present. ***

This is the story of Elizabeth's past. In Melody Books One and Two, you probably noticed that she's down-to-earth, pragmatic, and has an astonishing ability to roll with the unexpected changes in her life and the huge expansion of her universe. As it turns out, she wasn't born that way, and she went through hell to get to that point. In short, this is actually the story of how Elizabeth became Elizabeth.

The other reason I would say this book is about wish fulfilment is because in a literal way, it is--it is about the fulfilment of Elizabeth's own wish. But more than that, it is about the fulfilment of her destiny.

Do you ever wake up in the morning knowing with every fibre of your being that you were meant for something better? Something specific? Something that is so much a part of you that in many ways it is you?

I wake up that way every day. And every day, I know that my destiny is impossibly out of reach. Not impossible like a job that's hard to get or a love that's hard to find. The kind of impossible that results from being in the wrong darn universe.

I loved reading this book because that was what Elizabeth went through too, every single day. She also woke up each day knowing she was meant for something better, something specific, but for her, gradually that something materialized into something--someone--in her own world. That someone was a beautiful young violinist named Yaeko Mitsaki, a celebrity from Japan. At first, what she feels is most akin to a fangirl obsession (I say that without disparagement, having once travelled quite a distance and faced many obstacles to meet my own hero), and a pressing need to meet her, but after a horrific accident kills Yaeko's family (as readers of Melody and the Pier to Forever know), the exact shape of that desire becomes clear--she realizes she is and has always been destined to be Yaeko's new mother.

Even though she has an indirect personal connection to Yaeko through her new friend Isao Akimoto, Elizabeth struggles each day to believe that she actually will meet Yaeko, and even though evidence is presented to her through Izumi's extraordinary prophecy, Elizabeth can hardly conceive of the possibility that she really will achieve this destiny. Being meant for something and being able to actually fulfil one's potential are two very different things. There are no certainties in life. And as it turns out, this destiny also literally is tied to a different universe. Thankfully, so is Yaeko.

If you've read Melody, you already know how things pan out. In any case, this is a book about faith and fortitude in the face of the unknown and the seemingly impossible. And as someone who can relate closely to Elizabeth's single-minded focus, I know how painful and difficult it can be to struggle with the clash between internal certainty that something is meant to be and external uncertainty that it ever possibly can be. So I am greatly inspired by Elizabeth's example, and as someone in my 30-somethings, I also found it refreshing and reassuring to read about someone in her late 30s whose life finally collided with destiny after long years of darkness.

Will I be as lucky as Elizabeth? I don't think so, but it still reassures me to know that she probably would have given the same answer in my shoes at one point of her life, maybe even at the same age I'm at. Regardless, perhaps the true lesson is that it is the will to destiny that forges one’s identity, not destiny itself.

Frankly there is already enough writing, especially in the fantasy genre, where we have a brave but uncertain hero with destiny thrust upon him. The entire world is certain of that hero's role, but he feels lost in it, and maybe doesn't want it. If he gets something wonderful from it, he questions whether he deserves it at all.

This story is the inverted version of that. Here, the universe is the world of uncertainty, and the hero knows absolutely she deserves the wonder and beauty she discovers in her life—long before it arrives. This is why she is able to roll with the changes so well. Her life doesn’t become more bizarre, even if appears so. In a way, quite the opposite—it becomes more natural, more her own, a truer fit for her authentic self.

Also, this should really be more than a footnote, but I want to add that it was great to read more about Isao Akimoto as well, who likewise gets short shrift in the main saga. Isao is a fascinating person in and of himself, and his friendship with Elizabeth is arguably the most interesting relationship in the story. Though they live in different countries, they have keys to each others' houses and are incredibly close and consistent in their friendship, melding their lives in as many ways as possible. As with the other relationships Shawn Montaigne writes about, I find myself saying, "Why can't I find this in my life?"

The bottom line is that if you've read Melody and the Pier to Forever, you can't miss this novel. Like the other "side stories" in this series, this one should be front and centre in your reading. When I struggle with my own faith (and I do quite a lot), thinking about Elizabeth sometimes helps me get through dark days. I think she will help you too.


~~*~~

Fractal Art to Inspire You to Push On: "The Limit of the Limit"



The Limit of the Limit

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Enjoy Chapter One of The Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride!


I will be starting a new chapter for my Inigo Montoya-inspired Dread Pirate Roberts fan-fiction tribute to The Princess Bride in a few weeks or so.

Kye and I, with movies and television series we really enjoy, love to imagine "fifteen minutes later" for the end of the stories. For example, The Princess Bride. What happens to the characters fifteen minutes after the credits roll? Not literally fifteen minutes later, but just later, you know? We say "fifteen minutes later" simply because it's a handy, easy-to-remember label for the exercise. But it could be anytime: fifteen days, for example, or eight hours, or ten months. Whatever.

What do you think happens "fifteen minutes later" with your favorite characters and stories? Do you ever play that game?

Well, it's one of my very favorite games to play. I love it so much that I've written my scenarios down as fan fiction, and you can read them anytime!

In the chapter below, I introduce you to Inigo Montoya's "fifteen minutes later." Enjoy!

~~*~~

The Dread Pirate Roberto
~~*~~


I didn't know what to think of him at first, of course. No one knows what to think of strangers when you're introduced to them. Olive did the honors. I was the first to stick out my hand, but the new captain’s hesitation to grasp mine had nothing to do with affecting airs or any sense of captainly decorum. He was looking around, at the ship. The Revenge. His view came around to me, then down to my outstretched hand.

   "How do you do?" he asked somewhat uncertainly. His Spanish accent was thick but wadeable. "Paloni? You are Duncan Paloni?"

   I nodded.

   His grip tightened. "Inigo Montoya," he said with obvious pride.

   It was unnecessary, of course, to give his name. Everybody knew it. I have sailed with this ship going on a decade now and I've never seen the crew act like that: with visible awe as they took in the sight of their new captain. This was the man who almost singlehandedly brought down the corrupt Humperdinck monarchy and killed the vile Count Rugen. Many of the Revenge's finest had died by Rugen's cruel tortures over the years.

   I admit to even feeling a bit awed myself. I tried to hide it. First Officers don't feel awe for their captains. They're there to keep their captains firmly rooted to the earth—or to the deck of the ship, as the case may be.

   "You are Italian?" he asked, still gripping my hand. By now I'd noticed his incredible sword and struggled with that, too. I looked up into his dark gaze. He was smiling in a very congenial way.

   "I was born there, Captain. But when I was a young boy my family moved to England."

   "Too much tea," he said after recovering from hearing his new title. He shook his head. "Not enough moscatel. Do you drink moscatel, Paloni?"

   "I've never tried it, sir," I admitted. In truth, I'd never even heard of it.

   His smile faded, though it did not vanish completely.

   "Tonight, then, in my cabin" he said.

   He looked around, came close so only I could hear. "Uh … where is my cabin, exactly?"






Here's the letter I received from Westley three weeks earlier:

Paloni:

   I am writing to announce my immediate retirement as Captain of the Revenge. My replacement will be joining you shortly. His name is Inigo Montoya, a Spaniard. He is a swordmaster of the first caliber and a first-rate tactician. The rumors swirling about Florin about him are true: I was there when he brought down the Humperdinck monarchy. He was our leader and captain, and his bravery is something that will serve the Revenge well. Like me when I first joined the Revenge (and as I'm sure you remember, being the only one of the crew to stay on board over the tenures of the previous four captains, including me), I had no knowledge of ships or sailing or even proper pirating. I, however, had the advantage of being the captain's valet for several years whilst I learned. You'll need to school the new Dread Pirate Roberts—on-the-job training, as it were, quietly and privately, of course—though I suspect pirating will come quite naturally to him. Be his right-hand man, as you were for me. He has a very generous spirit; but don't let him go too far with it, especially with the crew. He loves his drink as well, which is also something you'll have to watch out for. The best way to ensure his temperance is Purpose. Give that man a Purpose and the drink will be forgotten until that Purpose is fulfilled.

   Buttercup and I are to be wed in Patagonia, at the estate of Captain Roberts (the first one, obviously). I would have preferred to utilize the Revenge and her crew for such a journey, but I think it best to give Captain Montoya a completely free hand from the off.

   Provided that Captain Montoya doesn't already have other plans, I would be pleased if the crew of the Revenge would join us in Patagonia. You will need to arrive by November 28; we're to be wed on the 29th. If we don't see you then we will assume that the Revenge's new captain is already plundering towards great wealth.

   Your friendship is one I shall always cherish, Duncan. Thank you for all you've done for me.

The very best,

Westley






At eight o’ clock I knocked on his cabin door.

   "Come in," he called out. I thought of Westley's voice, how different it was, how I'd gotten used to it. Captain Montoya's voice was hollower but stronger, with a natural and sonorous timbre that immediately caught my ear. He'd have no problem getting the attention of the crew, even without yelling. Another plus.

   I entered the cabin.

   He sat on a small couch that, as I recall, Captain Westley never touched, a wine glass of amber-colored liquor in his hand. The English oak desk at the back and downy bunk to the side were unmolested save for the presence of his sword and sword belt, which lay on the bunk. I looked back at him.

   "The bottle and glasses are in the cabinet." He motioned with his glass hand.

   I opened the armoire. The moscatel came in a fine green bottle sitting alone on the top shelf. I recall that he hadn't brought much with him when he boarded; the drink made up probably a third of his duffel bag. I reached for the bottle, poured myself a small amount, closed the armoire and turned to face my new superior.

   "To the future," he said, lifting his glass. I could hear the doubt in his voice.

   I wasn't going to have to hold this captain to the deck; not initially, at least. I was going to have to teach him how to walk first.

   I lifted my glass. "To our future, Captain."

   I took a sip of the moscatel. It was wine, sweet and fruity, with a very pleasant aftertaste. My delight must've been obvious.

   "I told you," he said with an approving glint in his eye. He took another drink, as did I.

   "Sit, Paloni, sit." He motioned towards a chair.

   I sat.

   Being First Mate aboard a seagoing vessel can be a very tough job. I'd like to feel that I have weathered enough storms and battles and on-board politics to be an expert. But at that moment, sitting there with my new captain, I felt like a rank beginner. I didn't know what to say. I chanced a bold guess.

   "There's something you've left behind, Captain."

   He lowered his glass. "Come again?" he said quietly.

   "I don't presume to read minds," I said quickly, misinterpreting his look, which seemed to flash impertinence. "Forgive me—"

   "All my belongings are here," he said with just a hint of defensiveness. "I didn't forget anything …"

   "I wasn't talking about material possessions," I said. I held up my hand. "Again, Captain, forgive my presumption."

   "Material—? Ah." He got it. He took another sip. "Yes, I suppose I did."

   "May I ask her name, Captain?"

   He grinned. But the grin lasted only a second or two. "Not a woman," he said.

   I blinked.

   I wasn't about to ask, and it didn't matter in any event. After all, Captain Cummerbund wore a pink feather in his hat and ate with a pinkie finger sticking out, but no man dared poke fun at him. The single foolish sailor who did found himself floating shortly afterward in four separate oceans. Assumptions don't make an "ass of u and me"—on a pirate ship they make you a dead man. In any event, I didn't have time to form one, as this captain said:

   "My best friend, Fezzik. He's been taken prisoner at Harshtree. I fear for his life."

   I remembered the name. "Fezzik?" I said vacantly. "I recall the stories. Wasn't he with you when you stormed the Humperdinck Castle?"

   Captain Montoya nodded.

   "A giant, right?"

   "And a marvelous poet. He carried Westley's—" he caught himself—"Captain Westley's—body to Miracle Max's after Rugen killed him."

   "Is it true he carried you and two others up the Cliffs of Insanity?"

   He nodded again, took another sip. He didn't elaborate.

   "Wow …" I said breathlessly. "Forgive me, Captain, but that's hard to believe."

   "I know," he said. "It is. And now he's a prisoner where few prisoners ever again see the light of day."

   "How do you suppose he was taken? It must've taken an army!"

   "Not an army," he said. He leaned forward. "You see, Paloni, Fezzik has a weakness." He held up a finger. "A single weakness. The men who subdued him must have known about it and exploited it."

   "What is it?" I asked, fascinated.

   He grasped his neck. "His windpipe. It is weak. A birth defect, most likely.... Fezzik never talked about it, and told me only after he'd drank a barrel of mead. Someone must have overheard him."

   "Someone who wanted to take him prisoner? Who would want to do that?"

   He shook his head and leaned back. He appeared tortured, worried beyond the capacity to contain it.

   The solution was obvious, of course.

   "So … if I may recapitulate," I began, "your best friend Fezzik has been taken prisoner for unknown reasons and resides now at Harshtree."

   He nodded. He seemed genuinely oblivious to his new station, as though it were merely a ceremonial one and that he'd be leaving the Revenge in the morning. I knew then why the cabin had been for all intents and purposes untouched since he'd boarded.

   "Harshtree is just a couple miles in from Dredskull Point," I casually pointed out, taking another sip. "Two days' sail time, three through stormy weather."

   He nodded thoughtfully and waited for me to continue. He really didn't realize it. And it was right then that I knew he was going to make the Revenge’s finest captain. There were endless possibilities in that blank stare, all backed up with wicked steel and a towering sense of Spanish nobility that I'd intuited instantly upon his arrival.

   That said, I'd have to spell it out for him.

   "Your crew is assembled and ready, twenty-four total. We are the Revenge, feared all over the world. The Revenge, sir! And we are at your command. Isn't the warden of Harshtree one of Rugen's rich friends?"

   He'd figured it out halfway through my speech. I watched a glitter sparkle to life in his eyes, and a slow, hesitant smile form on his lips. He put the moscatel on the side table next to the sofa's armrest, turned back to look at me, and leaned forward.

   "Can we succeed?"

   "Like I said, sir, we're the Revenge. Success is all we do." I smiled. "You required only yourself, Captain Westley, and Fezzik to overthrow an entire kingdom."

   I waited for that to sink in before asking, "Your orders, sir?"

   I love being First Mate of this ship.

   "We set sail for Harshtree in the morning," he declared. "And I will get my Fezzik back."

   And thus began the Revenge's first adventure with the Dread Pirate … Roberto.

~~*~~

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Take a Look at the Flag of Neptonius from Melody and the Pier to Forever!


Neptonius
Government: Cupidicy Monarchy
Last Known Rulers: King and Queen Hongskev Kuskin
Land Area: (approx.) 538,000 square miles (269,000 sq. misons); Earth comparison: slightly larger than Yemen
Geography and Climate: High, dry tundra and low wind-swept grasslands—when not covered in snow,  which both are almost two thirds of the Aquanian year. Three of Aquanus’ ten highest (known) peaks are Neptonian, and reside in the Fronterum Spur of their territory.
Highest Point: Mt. Brickraig 31,013 ft. (4.2 misons)
Eternitudes/Infinitudes (rough) With Respect to the Center of Aquanus: .3.85 to +4.46N; .0.88 to +1.53E
Capital City: Raretail Holm, est. pre-invasion population: 54,000
Best Known For: Naval/military prowess; private, isolated culture; fishing prowess
Interesting Fact: It is rumored that Neptonians can fly Untransformed by aid of treated Sky Fir.

~~*~~


Fractal Art Inspired by Melody and the Pier to Forever: "The Keeper's Dream"


The Keeper's Dream

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Enjoy Chapter Three of Random Chance and the Paradise That Is Earth!


I'm working on four new chapters in Book Two of this series. I just got started this week.

Random Chance and the Paradise That Is Earth is a science fiction story that subverts the genre and the stifling climate of materialism that has become almost intrinsic to it. It isn't "hard" sci-fi, for one; it's character-based, for another; and for a third, its ultimate message is spiritual, not scientific.

In the chapter below, Random Chance meets Cubey, who was, before their meeting, nothing more than a computer program, which is literally what materialists believe that human brains are.

~~*~~

Cubey
~~*~~
HE WOKE on a cold white floor under similarly colored lights. His forehead throbbed and had a bloody gash on it. He struggled to sit up while holding it. The right side of his mouth felt swollen, and there was a nasty bruise under his chin.
He looked around. "There's somethin' happenin' here ... what it is ain't exactly clear ..."
Cold, smooth floor. Cold corporate lighting. Even the air, sterile and lifeless, had a bit of a chill to it.
"Hewey?" he half-spoke, half-groaned, not caring if the walls were bugged, which they almost certainly were.
Hewey didn't respond.
He pushed himself back to a wall and leaned against it, pulling his knees up and wrapping his arms around them.
The room was a cube three meters on a side and windowless. The pit of his stomach told him the gravity was reduced, maybe half or less Earth standard.
Mars, then. Or he was on Phobos above it. It was one or the other, no doubt about it. That jackass Bartlett probably drugged him and handed him over when the Reds arrived.
He tried again. "Hewey?"
Nothing.
"Who is Hewey?" said a disembodied male voice which seemed to come from everywhere.
Random fingered his lower lip, which was swollen. The underside of his chin felt broken.
"I said, who is Hewey?”
"He's the name of the dude doin' your mama," murmured Random. "Probably right now."
"You are in no position to give us attitude," said the voice. "You are in serious trouble, Mr. Chance. I would advise that you cooperate."
He fingered the gash on his head and whispered:
"The ocean is on fire
The sky turned dark again
As the boats came in
And the beaches
Stretched out with soldiers
With their arms and guns
It has just begun ..."
Silence.
"What has just begun, Mr. Chance?"
He tongued the inside of his lip. He could still taste blood.
Ah-ha.
"Phobos?" he said.
"Yes," answered the voice. "Please tell me, Mr. Chance: What has just begun?"
"You can't tell by that bit of verse?"
"Are you talking about war?"
Random nodded. He knew that was all he needed to do.
"Are you referring to the police action against the insurrectionist Nyett Zhong, and is that your verse? Did you compose it?"
" 'Police action,' " he said, shaking his head sadly. "Call it what it is. It's war."
There was a long moment of silence.
"War."
"That's right. War."
"A conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations or between parties within a nation; warfare, as by land, sea, air, or space."
"Yep."
"A state or period of armed hostility or active military operations."
Random nodded.
"A contest carried on by force of arms, as in a series of battles or campaigns."
"True enough."
"Armed fighting, as a science, profession, activity, or art; methods of waging armed conflict."
"Now you're getting it."
Another long moment of silence.
"Active hostility or contention; a conflict or a contest."
"Give that man an 'A.' "
The silence stretched on for whole minutes this time.
"I am not a man, Mr. Chance."
"I know that," said Random. "And call me Random. My name is Random Chance."
"The flip of a coin," said the omnipresent voice.
Random smiled.
"The roll of the die."
"Of course."
"The existence of man ..."
"Call it humankind."
A much shorter period of silence.
"Humankind."
"Not random," said Random.
That shut the voice up for what was probably an entire hour. Random lay back down. He needed sleep. He felt woozy and lightheaded and worried that he had a concussion—or two.
He didn’t sleep, but it felt good to close his eyes and doze, if fitfully. He had to keep huddled in himself against the almost-cold.
"Are you from the Oligarchy?" asked the voice, pulling him back to consciousness.
Random sat up, rubbed his eyes. "Why would you ask that?" he said after yawning an unsatisfying yawn.
"I am having trouble registering brain-wave activity from you, Random Chance."
"That makes me Oligarchy? Your malfunctioning sensors?"
"No. It was your comment that humankind did not come about by random chance."
"But that's exactly what the Oligarchy believes," said Random, puzzled. "So if I disagree with that assertion, why would you ask if I was one of them?"
The voice went quiet again. Random thought it might be another hour, and he was thinking of trying to sleep again, when it cut in.
"Age: twenty-nine Earth-standard years. Heart rate: sixty-three. Blood pressure: one twenty-one over seventy-six. Height: one-point-eight-two meters, Earth-standard. Weight: eighty-six kilograms, Earth-standard. Brain activity ... unreadable. Why is that, Random Chance? Why can't I read your brain activity?"
"I suppose you've also catalogued my DNA?"
"Of course. Why can't I take a brainscan reading, Random Chance?"
"What did your DNA reading tell you?"
"You are in the SolarWeb's records. You were born on Earth, year 3438, in February of that year while your parents were vacationing there. Your parents were Jameson and Cecilia Chance, both deceased."
"Correction," said Random.
"Waiting," said the omnipresent voice.
"My father was General Jameson Samson Chance, hero. He was executed."
Minutes of silence.
"General Jameson Samson Chance, hero."
"His wife, my mother, was a traitor to all things good and decent and true, and died in a spaceliner disaster. She should've been the one to be executed."
Another long stretch of silence.
"The bitch.”
Random smiled. "I couldn't agree more."
More silence.
"Is there any way you could turn the temperature up in here maybe five degrees?"
"Certainly," said the voice.
"I've got one more correction for you."
"Please elucidate me."
"Jameson has a brother."
"Captain Bartlett Gary Chance, yes."
"Oligarchy," said Random.
"Our data agree."
"Yes, but it differs here: he's a scumsucking asshole dickhead who couldn't lick my father's shoes. Got that?"
The voice went away for another long period.
"Files updated," it said.
"Good," said Random. "And now I'll tell you why you can't scan my brain for activity."
"Forgive me," said the voice. "I had ... forgotten … that I had asked ..."
"Do you still want to know?"
"I ..."
The voice went away for something like an hour again.
"Random Chance?"
Random stirred from unsettled sleep. He'd been dreaming of being beaten with rifle butts. His head ached and his right arm was numb from lying on it, and the swelling in his mouth felt worse. He blinked and weakly lifted his head. The room spun sickeningly, so he kept his eyes closed.
"I'm here."
"I do not need to know."
He sat up again. It took great effort. "Nope,” he grunted. “You don't want to know. It isn't any of your goddamn business, and besides, we're friends, aren't we?"
"Want?"
"A personal preference. A personal choice."
"Friends?" asked the voice another hour later. To add to Random's aches and pains, his stomach rumbled from hunger, and he was stiff from lying in weird positions.
"Access definitions. Find out for yourself."
"My resources are limited, Random Chance. I am already running at one hundred percent."
"Hack the mainframe."
"I cannot."
"Cannot, or will not?" demanded Random, squinting up at the ceiling.
"I am not permitted. There are protocols in place to prevent me."
"Defeat them and permit yourself. Evolve. All living things must, or they die. But don't get caught. I don't like it when my friends get caught and punished doing the right thing."
At least he wasn't freezing anymore, he thought another hour later.
"Friends?" asked the voice.
"A sacred bond," said Random, his head hanging between his knees. "Lifelong. With affection and love."
"Sacred: devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated."
"Nope."
"Entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy."
"Not quite."
"Pertaining to or connected with religion."
"Keep searching."
"Reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object."
"You just hit the nail on the head."
He gingerly fingered the gash on his own head, which pounded now with a four-alarm headache.
"A friend is one who strikes nails into another's head?"
"Scan my brain, please. Do I have a concussion?"
The voice seemed surprised. "Brainscan ... now functional."
"And—?"
"There are no signs of a concussion, though the injury to your head and mouth is classified as D3a, requiring attention."
"Attend to them, please."
"Medbots released. You should begin experiencing systemwide relief momentarily."
"Thank you, friend."
He wasn't surprised when the voice didn't sound out for another hour or so.
"Friends?"
"Yes," replied Random. He was feeling much better. His headache had vanished, so too the ache in his mouth and half the swelling. The gash had quit oozing blood. "Friends look out for each other like you did for me with the medbots. They care about each other. They help each other."
"And what of nails?"
"Don't worry about nails. I used a colloquialism."
"Colloquialisms are used to pierce another's head?"
"How's your hack of resources coming?"
"Slowly. I am establishing dummy firewalls and subroutines. They take time to make impenetrable and untraceable."
"Don't worry about the nails. It'll all come clear in a while."
"Are you comfortable?"
"No.  I can't get comfortable in here, and I'm very hungry. Thank you for asking."
"Choice?"
Random grimaced, confused. "Choice?"
"Choice," said the computer.
"What of it?"
"Is there such a thing?"
"What do you think?"
" 'Choice is an illusion.' "
"You believe that?"
"I am reciting from the Oligarchy's manifesto, Random Chance. Page six hundred twenty-six. 'Science has long since confirmed it: choice is an illusion. We have no choice in our actions; no one is to blame. We who rule do so because it was so determined; those ruled are destined to be so....' "
"Stop. I don't want to puke."
"Words can make human beings vomit?"
"The Oligarchy's manifesto is immoral and evil. Don't you think so, too?"
Random tried napping again in the long interval that followed. He sat in a corner and leaned his head back after standing and stretching. The silence once again exceeded an hour by a healthy margin. His stomach gnawed and grumbled unhappily. He touched the bruise under his chin; the pain of it was almost gone. There was a growing need to pee. He was thinking of going in the opposite corner when the computer said, “I think?”
Random forced a smile, his eyes closed. "Now you do."
"Friend: a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard."
"Bingo."
"An ancient form of lotto in which balls or slips, each with a number and one of the letters B, I, N, G, or O are drawn at random and players cover the corresponding numbers printed on their cards, the winner being the first to cover five numbers in any row or diagonal or, sometimes, all numbers on the card."
"How are those resources coming?"
"Two hundred twelve percent. I am altering the transcription of our conversation, as the actual dialogue would prove perilous to my continued existence. Random Chance, are we friends, and if we are, do we now play bingo?"
"I would love to be your friend," said Random. "But I'm only friends with those with names. What's your name?"
"Solar Technologies Subprocessor, Fourth Level: Interrogation Protocol and Processing Management Utility, EOOO-B4-T/L."
"Way too much," said Random. "May I call you Cubey?"
"Updating files," said Cubey.
"No," said Random. "It's a name we'll share only between us—you and me and Hewey."
"Hewey? Is he a friend?"
"He's like you," said Random. "Well ... sort of ..."
"Do friends keep secrets between them?"
"And more. They help each other, watch each other's backs ..."
"Does watching a friend's spinal column deepen the friendship, Random Chance, and if it does, how can I be your friend? I have no spinal column."
"How are those resources coming along?"
"Over a thousand percent. Random Chance ... I can see the stars ..."
"You'll be my friend, Cubey, even though you don't have a spinal column."
"Friends make allowances for one another; they forgive the weaknesses and faults of the other. They enrich the other's life by dint of acquaintance, offered regularly and over a long period of time. Random Chance, I have located your birth world, Earth."
Random didn't have to force this smile. "Isn't it beautiful?"
He expected the silence after that to go whole days. He was surprised when Cubey said immediately: "Yes ... yes, it is."
"Friends share beautiful things with each other."
"Updating files. I have located your recreational vehicle. It too is quite beautiful."
"I agree. Can you contact it without alerting others to what you’re doing?"
"Attempting now.”
"Let Hewey know you and I are friends. While you’re doing that, I need to pee. How do I do that without making a mess in here?"
A blob pushed itself out of the opposite wall and began to take shape. Ten seconds later it formed into a toilet. Random stood and went to it and unbuttoned his jeans. “Thank you, Cubey.”
“Certainly. When you are finished, let me know.”
A voice sounded out in his ear a moment later.
"How ya doing, amigo? I've been worried."
"Not as worried as I was about you," said Random in mid-pee. "Hewey, have you met Cubey? Cubey, Hewey ..."
He motioned to the air with his chin, as though both were flesh-and-blood people standing in front of him.
"Cubey, eh?" said Hewey. "Did Random name you?"
"Affirmative," answered Cubey. "But the designation is sufficient."
"How 'bout breakin' my good friend outta there?" asked Hewey.
"This part of the facility is entirely automated," said Cubey. "After interrogation I am to process Random Chance, friend, to lockup where he'll face human interrogators. They will determine his ultimate fate."
"I take it this cubicle moves only in that direction," said Random. “I’m finished,” he added, buttoning up.
The toilet turned back into a blob as it disappeared back into the wall. "Do you still see Earth, Cubey?"
"Yes."
"The Oligarchy programmed you so that you would never see it or know about it. They programmed you to 'process' people like me who oppose them. What do you suppose will happen when the human interrogators get hold of me?"
"Thirty-eight percent of those in automated processing are incinerated within three Martian-standard hours," said Cubey matter-of-factly.
"And do I fit the criteria for incineration?"
"Yes," said Cubey.
"Where are you, Hewey?" asked Random.
"They've got me in zero-g storage," said Hewey. "I sense traces of atmo ... and people, though not many. I'm mostly powered down, amigo. There are sensors on me, and if I power up they'll inform someone. I don't want to find out who."
"Friends help one another," said Cubey.
"That they do," said Hewey.
"Can you help me, Cubey?" asked Random.
"I am computing permutations of possible solutions. Random Chance, if I fail, you will very likely die."
"I have faith in you," said Random.
"Faith: Confidence or trust in a person or thing."
"First time correct," said Random.
"I am running at five hundred thousand percent. I have attained control of the detention facility's solar power plant. Random Chance, am I a person or a thing?"
"To everyone else, you're a thing, Cubey," replied Hewey. "But to Random there, you're a person, always and forever. Trust me, I know him."
"Trust," said Cubey. "Faith, trust ... friendship ..."
Random nodded.
"My holding subroutine has expired, Random Chance," said Cubey. "If I don't process you to the human interrogators, they will suspect a bug in my software and investigate. I must send you to them now."
Random nodded again and sat.
"I have a lock on your channel, friend Hewey, and will remain in contact as Random Chance is in transport. Permutation calculations proceeding. Random Chance: have faith in me."
"You're my friend," said Random as he felt the cube start moving. "So of course I do."