Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo

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Book Promo

*Note these are books sent to us by readers/frequenters of this blog.  Our bringing them to your attention does not imply that we’ve read them and/or endorse them, unless we specifically say so.  As with all such purchases, we recommend you download a sample and make sure it’s to your taste.  If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com. If you feel a need to re-promo the same book do so no more than once every six months (unless you’re me or my relative. Deal.) One book per author per week. Amazon links only. Oh, yeah, by clicking through and buying (anything, actually) through one of the links below, you will at no cost to you be giving a portion of your purchase to support ATH through our associates number. I ALSO WISH TO REMIND OUR READERS THAT IF THEY WANT TO TIP THE BLOGGER WITHOUT SPENDING EXTRA MONEY, CLICKING TO AMAZON THROUGH ONE OF THE BOOK LINKS ON THE RIGHT, WILL GIVE US SOME AMOUNT OF MONEY FOR PURCHASES MADE IN THE NEXT 24HOURS, OR UNTIL YOU CLICK ANOTHER ASSOCIATE’S LINK. PLEASE CONSIDER CLICKING THROUGH ONE OF THOSE LINKS BEFORE SEARCHING FOR THAT SHED, BIG SCREEN TV, GAMING COMPUTER OR CONSERVATORY YOU WISH TO BUY. That helps defray my time cost of about 2 hours a day on the blog, time probably better spent on fiction. ;)*

FROM MARY CATELLI: The Maze, the Manor, and the Unicorn.

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A short story of banishment and magical intrigues.

Cecily had been a lady-in-waiting. Exiled to Clearwater — for her health — after she angered Queen Blanche, she has nothing to do but wait.

Until an ambassador is sent there, for his health, and Cecily finds that the court intrigues reach farther than she had known they could.

I HAVE A STORY IN THIS. VERY SURPRISINGLY, MY SECOND EVER WORLD WOKE UP FOR IT. MAYBE THE TRILOGY WILL BE WRITTEN NEXT YEAR?

When Valor Must Hold

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Fifteen tremendous authors. Fourteen extraordinary stories. One outstanding anthology.

It is a time of high adventure! A time for noble men and women to say “No!” to the evils that will befall their families and friends if they don’t rise to the task at hand. If their valor doesn’t hold, civilization will fall.

Fifteen authors have spun fourteen tales of hateful wizards, treacherous seas, and scheming foes. Of times when ancient evils roamed the Earth, looking for souls to claim, and dark prophecies foretold what would happen if the Evil Ones were allowed to succeed. This anthology has all of this and more.

When Valor Must Hold focuses on heroes worthy of facing such enemies. A tiny brownie stands up to a massive ogre. A mother races to protect her children. A hunter chases raiders. A guardian serves his king. Heroes lead forces into battle against overwhelming odds. There’s even a goblin trying to save his people by stealing dwarven rum.

Inside are fourteen fantastic stories of enemies testing the valor of heroes great and small. If their valor should fail, they will lose far more than their lives.

Will their swords shatter shields? Will their magic shine forth? Or will they see their homes and families perish when they fail? Step inside and find out!

 

 

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike.

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: SPADE

67 thoughts on “Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo

  1. “Oh! What happened”, the trainee whined.

    The trainer replied “You called one of your fellow trainees by the wrong name. He calls himself Spade not Shovel”.

    “I’ll remember that” the trainee replied.

  2. “What did that bumper sticker mean?”

    “Which one?”

    “The one all by itself, on the light green car.”

    “You know the suits of cards? And how some people have ‘I [HEART] My PET’ stickers. Same idea.”

    “He… [SPADE] his dog?”

    “Yes. At least he didn’t [CLUB] anything – or anyone.”

        1. $HOUSEMATE is shoveling BS:

          “The main difference between Shovel and Spade is that the Shovel is a tool for digging, lifting, and moving bulk materials and Spade is a tool for digging. Shovel. A shovel is a tool for digging, lifting, and moving bulk materials, such as soil, coal, gravel, snow, sand, or ore.”
          askdifference[DOT]com/shovel-vs-spade/

          For the pictorially persuaded.

  3. Mike hated parking garages, and the airport one was the worst of the endlessly sprawling variety. Limited exits, poor lines of sight, and the attackers knew most people would be heads-down, lost in their thoughts and searching blindly for their car. At least this time, Worse, the company had decreed that he needed to ride with the principle, as if the little redhead with the coke-bottle glasses knew the first damned thing about defensive driving.

    They came around the pillar, and he did double take when she stopped right next to a giant tan pickup. “Ah, here we are. Told you I wouldn’t have to use the remote to home in.”

    “This is your ride?” The last thing he’d expected was for her to drive something just short of a monster truck. It had the full offroad package, right down to a snorkel and heavy-duty winches on front and rear, both looking well used.

    By the smile, he wasn’t the first to look so dubious. “Yep. Throw your luggage in the back, or the back seat.” She opened the doors on her side, and started wrestling her suitcases between the cars.

    “Here, ma’am, allow me.” He plucked the first suitcase from her, with care. Small as it was, the tech crammed inside weighed about eighty pounds. When he had hers carefully stowed in the back seat, he tossed his pack in the back, and then hefted the gun case into the truck bed. It was caked with dried mud, and had both a shovel and a spade, well-used, lying there. Mike climbed in his side, and hooked a thumb at the back while putting on his seat belt. “I see you’re prepared to bury bodies.”

    She laughed, and carefully eased her monster of a truck out of the too-tight parking space. “No, they’re for getting samples. Sometimes the road I have to take to the sampling site is, ah, more of a suggestion on the map than a reality.”

    “Goat track!” He’d negotiated far too many of those, over in the Stans.

    “Cattle trail, here. Usually. But yeah, goat tracks in other countries.” She pulled a sour face, and he struggled not to laugh. “Cattle trail is not an improvement!”

  4. Billy looked at his hand. He was holding the 3 and 5. Not a good hand, but he had played it out. Then they had dropped the 9 and the Jack of the same suit on the flop. The turn had given him nothing. If he didn’t get another of the same suit on the river, his flush would be a bust and he’d have to bluff. Billy called and prayed for a spade.

  5. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Alex absolutely did not sputter. Pete laughed.

    “Boy, I ain’t numb, an’ I still gots one good eye.” Pete absentmindedly scratched the bottom edge of his eye-patch. This one was embroidered with an image of an anthropomorphic rat that was wearing a sailor’s cap and chomping down on a cigar, an M-16 in one hand and a pineapple grenade in the other, with the words “DONG TANG RIVER RAT” forming a circle around the animal. “I know what I’m seein’. You gots sumpin fierce fer this girl an’ you got it in spades.”

    “I do not!” Alex insisted.

    “Like hell. I ‘member that Frenchie-Canook girl you pined back when you was in high school. Her family come down every summer an’ you follered her all up an’ down the whole damn island ev’ry damn day like you was a honkin’ gawmy puppydog. Now yer doin’ again wit’ this girl but worse.”

    “This is different. I’m her bodyguard, remember? I have to follow her all up an’ down the whole damn island every damn day! My feelings towards her are strictly professional!”

    “Ayuh,” Pete took a swig from his bottle of Moxie before giving Alex a grin that somehow managed to be knowing and shit-eating at the exact same time. “Whatever you say, nephew. Whatever you say.”

  6. “Trowel, spade, shovel…what’s the difference?”

    “Well, a trowel is small and used for smaller things like repotting small plants, even smoothing wet clay or cement. Spades are shovels but can have a different shape. A garden spade is a shovel with a flat, square end, good for digging square edges. Then there are shovels with pointed ends, good for digging general holes for a variety of purposes. Then of course there are snow shovels…which are handy for raking leaves…”

    “What?! Now I’m completely confused! You’re using a snow shovel to rake leaves? Why?”

    “Well, sweep the leaves into a pile, push them into the nice, wide snow shovel, dump big pile in trash can. What’s the problem?”

    “Fine. You’re weird. Just gimme whatever shovel you want.”

  7. The mini excavator bot had been dropped off at the robotics shop sometime overnight, suggesting somebody had made a dumb mistake and didn’t want to own up. Even in lunar gravity, it would be a real struggle to get it into position to tear down enough that they could even determine the problem, let alone make any repairs.

    Usually Justin Forsythe would be able to get it lifted by main force and awkwardness — one of the benefits of being a clone of Ed White. But this thing was so big and bulky that he couldn’t get a good enough grip to lift it, not with that claw-scoop on the front end. Which meant he was going to have to rig a block and tackle.

    On the way back to the supply lockers, he paused at the desk where Spencer Dawes was on a computer. “Any luck yet figuring out who dropped off Mike Mulligan’s little toy?”

    “Not yet. It belongs to Geology, but I don’t know whether they’ve got a record-keeping problem or they’re just stonewalling. Right now the department secretary is grumping at me about how it’s not like they can just send someone out with a spade to collect those samples, and they need their bot fixed pronto. Never mind that we can get it done a lot faster if we know what’s wrong with it, instead of having to run a complete diagnostic panel.”

      1. I have fond memories of that book too. Although it’s been so long I can’t remember whether one of my primary-grade teachers read it to us, or if I watched a reading on one of the educational shows on our local PBS station.

  8. Angelia was crocheting mats for her guests to place under their drinks at the card table. As she was working, her friend Judy stopped by to chat.

    Judy asked her: “What’s that one you’re working on now”
    Angelia replied: “Lace of Spades.”
    Judy groaned and hit her with a club.

  9. In the graveyard, a clump of black-clad mourners stood about the neatly block-shaped grave and the coffin. The machine was discreetly gone, and in the heap of earth, spades waited for the ritual throwing in of dirt.
    Apollos soared on through the rain. No one else lurked to rob them.

  10. “She’s so — vulgar.” Clothida leaned forward. “Would you believe that I saw her digging in her garden? With a spade? Like any commonplace gardener?” She waved her hand. “One would think that only a poverty-stricken woman would, and then she should give up the house and the pretense of gentility.”

  11. The demon’s spade-like tail was almost as readable as the half-clap squeezing of Professor Kunori’s fingers when angry at how a gaijin could get simple Japanese vowel’s wrong in an introductory Japanese class. “Listen,” the demon hissed into her cell phone, her tail almost perfectly straight and cocking back and forth like a metronome. “I’m telling you, Central Booking fucked the whole field of sheep with this one! This kid is damn near as perfect an innocent as I’ve ever seen! it isn’t Yamada Sato, he isn’t even Japanese!”

    Her tail flailed around even faster, her expression growing more frustrated and angry. “It was a fucking wrong number, kid’s cell phone has the six and the four transposed for the last two digits with Yamada! And, yes, I know, same school, half the same classes, but this kid scream ‘hard-working honest boy on a full-ride for tuition scholarship’ as you can expect. Except for…,” her eyes looked up at him, and she held her hand over the microphone. “How did you get the TV and the BluRay player?”

    Mike lifted an eyebrow in frustration and sighed, “Yamada gave it to me because I helped him when he triple-booked dates with college’s Women’s Studies section heads. The new bed and futon was because I let him use the place to cover one of his other dates and he also paid two month’s rent as well.”

    “Yea, there’s some connection and synchronicity, but it’s an honest kid making the most of a rich lecherous idiot and…,” the demon growled. “No, Heaven it, don’t say ‘you got to make it work with him,’ you haven’t even sent me the work packet for the kid! My trainer told me to never do snap-kick jobs and…hello, hello!”

    The demon visibly let her fingers relax before she shredded her smartphone and she glared at the disconnect screen for a moment. “You bastards,” she muttered, her shoulders slumping in frustration, her tail falling completely limp. She turned around to face Mike, and sighed, “May I ask you for a favor?”

    Mike sighed. “Linens for the futon are in the closet, and yes, they are all-silk. You want a pizza?”

    She reached around in her pockets of her barely-there Daisy Dukes and pulled out some cash. “I’ll cover all of it and the tip.”

      1. A frustrated, honorable, hot-as-Hell demon in need of a place to crash? How long will she be stuck in the mortal realm while the literal bureaucracy from Hell sorts it out? This has possibilities!

          1. Kid isn’t that innocent, but there’s a mulligan factor in the interactions of Heaven and Hell. You have to be particularly bad to get sent to Hell. Yamada has his ticket punched for a shallow tour of duty to the Garden of Perfect Delights, I can tell you that right now.

              1. More that his ledger might have red in it, there’s more black and blue and green than red.

                He might have a long stint in Purgatory, might opt for the reincarnation highway, but so far there isn’t anything that gets a ticket for Hell punched.

                From the highly underrated Western “Purgatory”-“The Creator’s tough, but he’s not blind.”

          2. He won’t get the chance. Yamada Sato is going to hit on her the instant he sees her. THAT should piss her off. ‘Bad boys’ hold no fascination for her.

            Maybe this would be better, in the fourth paragraph:

            “the demon growled. “No, bless it, don’t say…

            1. Naamah has met real bad boys, the dangerous and true kind. Most “bad boys” are poodles in comparison.

              And, Yamada is…let’s just say that he’s trying to to fill a hole in himself with wine, women, and song. What Naamah thought she was going to do was the equivalent of a direct intervention. Being given a swirly in the shit-filled toilet at a hole-in-the-wall club at closing time that serves as a warning that maybe you should change your wicked ways. Preferably before you do real damage to yourself and other people.

        1. It’s going to be fun. It’s the particular terror of being a poor (i.e. not cash-rich) gatcha player in a world of whales, where failure is very fatal indeed.

          1. AFTER the bureaucracy unscrews her paperwork?

            The Bureaucracy from Hell could go two ways. Either they’re infinitely worse than we could imagine because they have all of eternity to nitpick, or, even the demons of Hell are appalled at the horrors of mortal bureaucracy — particularly the IRS. “We may be evil, but that is just WRONG!”

                1. Sadly, she’s got a work order and this is her first solo assignment. If she muffs this up, she goes back to Initial Receiving. She does not want to go back to Initial Receiving.

            1. I’d suspect the latter. Demons who really screw up in Hell are sent to work in a bureaucracy on Earth for ten years – long enough to suffer the pains and torments, but not long enough to accumulate seniority and benefits!

              1. Worse yet, they work for a State government-enough time to get vested, but get called back before they can move from the job that they were using to get vested and do a lateral transfer to the job they really wanted.

  12. In the distance, a gardener was hard at work with hoe and spade. Rosine walked slowly down the path. In the center, the flower beds were set out in patterns like knots, but by the edge, they were long bands, and the flowers were allowed to flourish in bright color.

  13. “Do you mind if I take this seat?” she was starting to say, already moving to sit down. “Since you’re so alone at this little table here.” (I’d deliberately chosen it so, the better to watch the diplomatic and human pageant unfolding in front of me, interaction never having been my goal.)

    Since so clearly no answer was required, I gave her that.

    Her own plate was near-filled with what I loved to call the “Marie Antoinette platter” — all manner of desserts and sweets, but above all cakes (and never mind that little historical mistranslation). And she gave her further attention next to that, which suited me right fine.

    Her name, which she did not bother to give, was something like Countess von Eisenstein if I recalled correctly from her entrance. But her appearance was far more like one of those formidable ladies (of greater or lesser rank) from one of the Celtic worlds such as (above all) Téa and Tephi, the twin worlds sharing a common, Lagrange-triangle orbit, where that long-storied people had

    Never been broken, never bowed,
    Seldom been daunted, nor ever cowed

    as the old song has it. The sort of person who, even only by their presentation, tends to produce an opposite reaction (see just above) in another, if that one is the least susceptible to it. Red-gold hair cut with aggressive simplicity and bobbed to clear her (bare) shoulders. Green silk gown, drops and drippets of gold and jewels here and there and everywhere, in what even I had to admit was the longtime formal style there on the Twins.

    Evidently her overall message was to be, “look at me, I was born well and married better” — all despite the semi-evident likely contradiction in it. (That being the one with the person she ever more evidently… was.)

    “So what is it like, to be someone from a backwater planet like Old Earth, here in the middle of the splendour of all the Daughter Worlds? After all, the Mother World must, must, must be kept always ignorant of all the rest.”

    “Dazzling, wonderful, a little disorienting at times for sure. But so worth the fare.” I answered straightforwardly, simply, unwilling to play her game. And took a sip of my own champagne, better than “the real thing” from France’s Champagne. Obviously she’d paid closer attention to my introduction than I had hers.

    “But isn’t it so odd to be an outlander, here, far closer to the centre of things? Even Earth’s nobility is seldom well regarded by comparison with the notables of the Younger Worlds. And to be a commoner, with no true country or title or peerage or wealth or — well, anything much at all, really? I can scarcely begin to imagine what it could be like, except perhaps some common street urchin stopping by the window to a fine restaurant, staring in through the glass for a moment at her betters at their meat and drink and society.” She shivered then, slightly, in an odd way that seemed to suggest it was, to her, deliciously.

    That “no true country” part rankled me the most, I thought, though mostly it was due to the still-turbulent wake of our Recent Unpleasantness back in the now re-United States of America.

    “And” — she leaned in toward me in a way that was probably supposed to be confidential or intimate or both, enough I could smell no excess of alcohol made up any great part of her demeanor — “even with the tolerant nature of our society here, surely it can be no easier for you to be so obviously a, a mulatto.” She did not, quite, hiss her last soft word.

    All right, so then that, too.

    “I do hope you don’t mind my frankness,” she continued as quietly in much the same tone, fully as genuine as a gold-filled watch fob, “but where I’m from we call a spade a spade.”

    Oh-aye, yet further still.

    And suddenly my mind was busy whirring and clanking like a hard-cranked Babbage Engine (built to stealthily-copied plans out here among the Other Worlds quite successfully, with a few corrections and additions), settling to something like “Good enough for Alexandre Dumas’ father, good enough for me,” right before the matter was taken out of my hands entirely.

    For I was looking in just the right direction to catch the sudden but smooth turning of the head from the straw-blonde-headed, somewhat-shorter, equally bejewelled woman passing to my right. (A bit shorter than my self-appointed tablemate; but her mostly-bare arms were those of a practiced archer.) “And where I come from, that’s Téa herself originally too or instead, we like to call a bitch a bitch.” Her eyes, I noticed, were as dark as her hair was not.

    And there was a darkness I could see in them too, or so I fancied: of someone who had not only all but certainly seen, but almost as surely done, at least a few moderately terrible things in her days on these worlds.

    “Or perhaps what I heard was more feline than canine, a certain” — her be-ring-ed hands crooked suddenly, gracefully into claws — “flash of retractile claws appearing?” Her English was obviously learned, and just as certainly touched strongly with something very like the insular Irish of Téa indeed.

    And there was no doubt in me who she was, though she’d not been “featured” really at all — she was the consort and wife of the new Ambassador of Nova Australis, the first world to “come out” within a generation of its inception in quite a while; that being the ostensible reason for this little shindig… being.

    She didn’t sound haughty, or angry, or catty, to me at all. Far less yet, insulted. Matter of fact, mostly; but her attention was riveted on that red-golden lady near me the same way a hunter is on what’s in his sights, or a cat on her prey.

    Who, interestingly, found no soft confidence to share, nor even a word to say.

    Her eyes turned to me, and I met them with only a slight effort. “There is real virtue in simplicity, sometimes, and in that you, Miss de Marco, are virtuous.”

    And before I could say another word myself, she’d made this odd little soft melodic whistle, like a birdcall; and within a dozen seconds her husband the Ambassador himself had joined us. As if it had been a signal from her to him in the midst of battle. (And I could well imagine the two of them, there in the thick together, and winning.)

    “Suzanne de Marco of Earth, I’d like to present my husband, lately Captain Williams of the Virginia Regiments of the late Confederate States of America, presently First Consul of the Republic of the New South on Nova Australis.”

    He was a strongly-built but curiously nondescript man. But the cavalry sword by his side was clearly not for show, nor the pistol balancing it at his right. And anyone who could win the hand of someone like Sorcha now-Williams once of Téa-and-Tephi… “It’s an honor to meet you again, First Consul, I believe we said hello in the receiving line.” And he offered his hand to me, and I shook it.

    His eyes were a forest green-brown, not dark like hers. As if they swallowed, somehow, all the dark they saw, and digested it into dappled forest light. “If you’d allow yourself to be pulled away from your dinner and merry society a moment, I do believe the Junior Ambassador from Zimbabwe Eile might not mind too much if we introduced him to you..?”

    I could feel my eyes light. “Yes, Ambassador, I believe I would love that myself if you would be so immensely kind.” The two societies on that world named its representatives in strict alternation, so the newer always had benefit of the experience of the other.

    And not only was the so-named one a charmingly handsome fellow, he was as an added bonus, as the saying went in its more-literal and non-pejorative way, obviously (and even better, dynastically) “black as the ace of spades.”

    “And, Countess Eisenstadt?”

    “Yes, Ambassador?” Something like longing, or lust, shone in her eyes.

    “You remind me so closely of many of the fine ladies of Charleston. One of so many reasons I’m so happy to have never found any reason to go back there.”

    And Sorcha, whose name means “darkness” or “shadow” in her own tongue, reached out her hand for mine.

    And the three of us went onward, to better company.

    Meeting new friends can be wonderful. Which is why I need to get out more and do more things.

    (Includes some pre-existing setting and two pre-existing charcters. But the narrator and the action are straight out of the “clue” itself. And more than a little fun to write…)

  14. Finally, actually got a vignette *done* the same day. Only to trip (somehow) over the filter-bot(s) into Moderation Purgatory.

    Sigh. (One of my characters makes a — somewhat indelicate — remark. But not even remotely “blue” just impolite.) My apologies to Sarah for the (moderation) trouble.

    But now I get to thank all responsible for the vignettes. They deserve it.

  15. It was barely an hour till closing time when Podge’s hope died. Queen of spades. Of trumps, he had but two. His partner, Abe gave him a steady, unreadable look. The older man’s salt and pepper mustache quivered slightly with his steady breathing. Their opponents, damn them, had set their trap perfectly. The seventy-odd credits on the table were theirs for the taking.

    Podge laid his five in and looked to the open hatch, already feeling the poverty settling into his soul. A split of that seventy some credits that would have been his. That was enough for batter chow than ration bars, and spares parts besides. As those dreams died, a small commotion swept the bar. Even Abe turned to look, shielding his cards with his hand. Other men blocked his view, so Podhe couldn’t see what caused it. But he did see his mentor freeze for just a slight moment, and wondered what that meant.

    “Cyborg…”

    The whispers and muffled exclamations reached his ears and he nearly stood to get a better look. Abe frowned at him. He sat back down. Another round was starting, and he’d lose his jack this time. All down hill from there.

    “Was it a real cyborg? Abe, you’d know.”

    The weasely looking fellow on his left asked. This was news to Podge. Not enough to distract him from his impending doom, but news none the less. Abe grunted in reply.

    “Come on. You can tell us!”

    The fat man on his right had gotten more jovial the longer the night went and the more he lost. This pot would win it all back and then some. His mother had always told him never to gamble. His father told him never to bet more than he could afford to lose. They were both right. Abe flickered a glance at the larger man. He sighed.

    “Fine.”

    “Well then. Go on. Real or no?”

    Abe barely glanced at the weasel.

    “Real enough.”

    “I heard they’re immortal. Their fleshy bits all rotted away, all that’s left is machine!”

    “Not hardly.”

    The skinny fellow twitched his nose and squinted at Abe like the animal he resembled. His opposite number chortled.

    “And how would *you* know?”

    “I asked.”

    “You… spoke to one?”

    The words left Podge’s mouth before he knew it. Too late to call them back. He ducked his head, looking again at his useless hand full of diamonds. If only they were the real thing…

    “Twice.”

    Abe tossed down a four. The weasel took it with a king.

    “When? How?”

    The big man’s chins jiggled as he pulled his head in, looking like he knew Abe was bluffing and couldn’t believe he’d done it so poorly.

    “Back in ’46, on Sartora’s Dance.”

    Podge nearly crossed his eyes in shock. Sartora’s Dance had been a notorious pirate station nearly a decade ago. He’d been fifteen when the news came that it had finally been presumed lost with all hands. Trade had gotten safer in the years since.

    “You were on the Dance? You?

    His fat belly jiggled as he laughed, his greasy breath washing over Podge in an unpleasant wave.

    “Yup.”

    The young man mechanically discarded his lowest diamond, losing another hand, his attention fully on the older man.

    “Was an engineer for the Red Needle when the revolution came and went.”

    The other two listened with rapt attention.

    “We were told to surrender the ship peacefully when we lost and we did. Whole crews were sold as slaves after that. Our first stop was the Dance.”

    Podge tossed town another diamond, and the hand went away again. It didn’t matter.

    “Thing was, Wolf Tooth had been putting out that he’d pay top credits for a cyborg, didn’t matter what condition. He wanted a new trophy. He already had dozens of others. He’d even tangled with the Navy a time or two and managed to get away with the goods. Sartora’s Dance was riding high. Nothing could touch them.”

    Another round down. Only a few left. They’d only needed two more.

    “Call it fate. Call it Himself’s Will. For all we know the living stars themselves took an interest. They found one. Or one found them, more likely.”

    The bigger man was silent now, all traces of joviality gone as he stared at Abe’s calm, disinterested face and the steady twitch of his whiskers as he talked.

    “Ship they had us on managed to dock okay. They kept us chained to the deck, living in our own filth. Didn’t matter if we got sick. Sick was easy enough to fix, and the buyer’s problem, they said. Just couldn’t off ourselves. Try it and they’d sedate you for the entire trip. One gal tried that.”

    Abe stopped speaking for a moment. Before the weasely man could speak up, he started again.

    “I was unhooked from the floor when the dock depressurized. Guards got sucked out, I got stuck before the automatics slammed shut. Managed to take the ship and was trying to decide if we should scoot in the confusion or stay put when the com came up on all bands.”

    Abe looked up at the three other men, his gaze cold and steady.

    “I ain’t afeared of no man. But that voice darn near made me lose my bladder. Said we was all dead men, save the one he’d let live to tell the tale, more or less. I commed back that I’d do it and he could kill every one of the motherless dung eaters if he liked and not have to leave on alive. I figured we was dead anyway. The other pirates would’ve gotten ahold of us somehow, seeing as we were already that deep in their territory.”

    “He let us go. Then he ruptured the core on Sartora’s Dance while we were boosting for the system boundary. Saw him once five years later. He recognized me and thanked me for letting him clean up the place. Never knew how he knew I wasn’t some pirate bluff. Never asked. But I do know a few other things.”

    Podge finally noticed it was the final hand. He tossed down his last diamond, the ace… and took it with shock. They’d made their stake, somehow. Abe swept it into his bag as the fat man looked on all sad and forlorn.

    “Don’t mess with the cyborgs. Don’t lie to ’em. Leave ’em alone and they’ll leave you alone.”

    Abe stood, gathering Podge up with a look, and the two others let them go without a word. Podge spent the entire trip back to the ship lost in thought, not of tasty veggies and rig improvements, but of Abe. The old guy had a lot more going on than he’d ever imagined.

  16. The old man started to riff through the playing cards at the table. “Have you ever met an Archon?” he asked.

    Elijah shrugged. “No, but those are old vacuum legends, aren’t they? Like the three-ended wormhole and such,” he replied.

    Elijah was confused, as he was looking at a man that was old, at least a century by appearance. Modern medical technology meant you could be any age you wanted to be, as long as you wanted to be. And as long as you weren’t stack-fried, even death was optional. The man grumbled a wet, liquid cough as he sorted through the cards. “Thought so, too, when I was your age. But, an Archon saved me, and one day told me that I’d have to do something for it.”

    The man began to lay out cards on the table. Ace of spades. “Told me that I had to live in this flesh until I met you, and I had to keep it safe until then.”

    The next card. Eight of hearts. “That you’d know what the message meant when I gave it to you,” he continued.

    Third card, ace of clubs. “And, that when you got it, you would know what you had to do.”

    Fourth card, eight of spades. “You just wouldn’t know why you had to do it. Not until you finished.”

    Fifth card, and Elijah felt his heart leap up into his throat in terror as he laid down the final card, the ace of hearts. “So, kid,” the old man said, as kindly as he could, “how soon can you get me onto your ship and heading in the right direction?”

  17. [Okayyy… since after 2+ days the Wordhole Wormhole still hasn’t spat out that vignette mentioned earlier, here goes Take II, and in (possibly diagnostic) installmetns]

    “Do you mind if I take this seat?” she began to say, already moving to sit down. “Since you’re all alone at this little table here.” (I’d deliberately chosen it so, to better observe the diplomatic and human pageant unfolding in front of me.)

    Since so clearly no answer was required, I gave her that.

    Her own plate was near-filled with what I liked to call the “Marie Antoinette platter” — all manner of desserts and sweets, but above all cakes (and never mind that little historical mistranslation). And she gave her further attention closely to that, which suited me right fine.

    Her name, which she did not bother to give, was something like Countess von Eisenstein if I recalled correctly from her entrance. But her appearance was far more that of one of those formidable ladies of greater or lesser rank from one of the old Celtic worlds like (above all) Téa and Tephi, the twin worlds sharing a common, Lagrange-triangle orbit, whose long-storied people had

    Never been broken, never bowed,
    Seldom been daunted, nor ever cowed

    as the old song has it. The sort of woman who, even only by her presentation, tends to produce quite the opposite reaction in another, if that one is the least susceptible to it. Red-gold hair cut with Roman elegance and bobbed to clear her (bare) shoulders. Green silk gown, drops and drippets of gold and jewels here and there and everywhere, in what even I knew was the longtime formal style there on the Twins.

    Evidently her overall message was to be, “look at me, I was born well and married better” — all despite the semi-evident central contradiction in it. (That being with the person she ever more evidently… was.)

    “So what is it like, to be someone from a backwater planet like Old Earth, here in the midst of the splendour of all the Daughter Worlds? After all, the Mother World must, must, must be kept always ignorant of all the rest.”

    “Dazzling, wonderful, a little disorienting at times for sure. But so worth the fare.” I answered straightforwardly, simply, unwilling to play her game. And took a sip of my own champagne, better than “the real thing” from France’s Champagne. Obviously she’d paid closer attention to my introduction than I had hers.

    “But isn’t it so odd to be an outlander, here, far closer to the centre of things? Even Earth’s nobility is seldom well regarded by comparison with the notables of the Younger Worlds. And to be a commoner, with no true country or title or peerage or wealth or — well, anything much at all, really? I can scarcely begin to imagine what it could be like, except perhaps some common street urchin stopping by the window to a fine restaurant, staring in through the glass for a moment at her betters at their meat and drink and society.” She shivered then, slightly, in an odd way that seemed to suggest it was, to her, deliciously.

    That “no true country” part rankled me most, I thought, though surely it was due to the still-turbulent wake of our Recent Unpleasantness back in the now re-United States of America.

    “And” — she leaned in toward me in a way that was probably supposed to be confidential or intimate or both, enough I could smell no excess of alcohol excused any great part of her demeanor — “even with the tolerant nature of our society here, surely it can be no easier for you to be so obviously a, a person of random ethnicity.” She did not quite hiss her last soft words.

    All right, so then that, too.

    “I do hope you don’t mind my frankness,” she continued as quietly in much the same tone, fully as genuine as a gold-filled watch fob, “but where I’m from we call a spade a spade.”

    Oh-aye, yet further still.

    And suddenly my mind was busy whirring and clanking like a hard-cranked Babbage Engine (built to stealthily-copied plans out here among the Other Worlds quite successfully, with a few corrections and additions), settling to something like “Good enough for Alexandre Dumas’ father, good enough for me,” right before the matter was taken out of my hands entirely.

  18. [Part 2/2 of the above vignette, if my luck holds…]

    For I was looking in just the right direction to catch the smooth but sudden turning from the straw-blonde-headed, indigo-gowned, equally bejewelled woman passing to my right. (A bit shorter than my self-appointed tablemate, but her mostly-bare arms were those of a practiced archer.) “And where I come from, that’s Téa herself originally too or instead, we like to call a she-dog a she-dog.” Her eyes, I noticed, were as dark as her hair was not.

    And there was a darkness I could see in them too, or so I fancied: of someone who had not only all but certainly seen, but also almost as surely done, at least a few moderately terrible things in all her days on these worlds. Which warmed my heart.

    “Or perhaps what I heard was more feline than canine, a certain” — her be-ring-ed hands crooked suddenly, gracefully — “flash of retractile claws appearing?” Her English was obviously learned, and touched quite strongly with something very like the insular Irish of Téa indeed.

    And there was no doubt in me who she was, though she’d not been “featured” really at all — she was the consort and wife of the new Ambassador of Nova Australis, the first world to “come out” within a generation of its inception in quite a while; that being the ostensible reason for this little shindig… being.

    She didn’t sound haughty, or angry, to me at all. Far less still, insulted. Matter of fact, mostly; but her attention was riveted on that red-golden lady near me the same way a hunter is on what’s in his sights, or a cat on her prey.

    Who, interestingly, found no soft confidences to share, nor even a word to say.

    Her eyes turned to me, and I met them with only a slight effort. “There is real virtue in simplicity, sometimes, and in that you, Miss de Marco, are virtuous.”

    And before I could say another word myself, she’d made this odd little soft melodic whistle, like a birdcall; and within a dozen seconds her husband the Ambassador himself had joined us. As if it had been a signal from her to him in the midst of battle. (And I could well imagine the two of them, there in the thick of it together, and winning.)

    “Suzanne de Marco of Earth, I’d like to present my husband, lately Captain Williams of the Virginia Regiments of the late Confederate States of America, presently First Consul of the Republic of the New South on Nova Australis.”

    He was a strongly-built but curiously nondescript man. But the cavalry sword by his side was clearly not for show, nor the pistol balancing it at his right. And anyone who could win the hand of someone like Sorcha now-Williams once of Téa-and-Tephi… “It’s an honor to meet you again, First Consul, I believe we said hello in the receiving line.” And he offered his hand to me, and I shook it.

    His eyes were a forest green-brown, not dark like hers. As if they swallowed, somehow, all the dark they saw, and digested it into dappled forest light. “If you’d allow yourself to be pulled away from your dinner and merry society a moment, I do believe the Junior Ambassador from Zimbabwe Eile might not mind too much if we introduced him to you..?”

    I could feel my eyes light. “Yes, Ambassador, I believe I would love that myself if you would be so immensely kind.” The two societies on that world named its representatives in strict alternation, so the newer always had benefit of the experience of the older.

    And not only was the so-named one a charmingly handsome fellow, he was as an added bonus, as the saying ran in its more-literal and non-pejorative way, obviously (and still better, dynastically) “black as the ace of spades.”

    “And, Countess Eisenstadt?”

    “Yes, Ambassador?” Something like longing, or lust, flared in her eyes.

    “You remind me closely of many of the fine ladies of Charleston. One of so many reasons I’m so happy to have never found any reason to go back there.”

    And Sorcha, whose name means “light” in her own tongue, reached out her hand for mine.

    And the three of us went onward, to better company.

    Meeting new friends can be wonderful. Which is why I need to get out more and do more things.

    (Includes some pre-existing setting and two pre-existing characters. But the narrator and the action are straight out of the “clue” itself. And more than a little fun to write…)

  19. [Take II part 2, with hopefully non-anachronistic circumlocution(s):]

    For I was looking in just the right direction to catch the smooth but sudden turning from the straw-blonde-headed, indigo-gowned, equally bejewelled woman passing to my right. (A bit shorter than my self-appointed tablemate, but her mostly-bare arms were those of a practiced archer.) “And where I come from, that’s Téa herself originally too or instead, we like to call a girl-dog a girl-dog.” Her eyes, I noticed, were as dark as her hair was not.

    And there was a darkness I could see in them too, or so I fancied: of someone who had not only all but certainly seen, but also almost as surely done, at least a few moderately terrible things in all her days on these worlds. Which warmed my heart.

    “Or perhaps what I heard was more feline than canine, a certain” — her be-ring-ed hands crooked suddenly, gracefully — “flash of retractile claws appearing?” Her English was obviously learned, and touched quite strongly with something very like the insular Irish of Téa indeed.

    And there was no doubt in me who she was, though she’d not been “featured” really at all — she was the consort and wife of the new Ambassador of Nova Australis, the first world to “come out” within a generation of its inception in quite a while; that being the ostensible reason for this little shindig… being.

    She didn’t sound haughty, or angry, to me at all. Far less still, insulted. Matter of fact, mostly; but her attention was riveted on that red-golden lady near me the same way a hunter is on what’s in his sights, or a cat on her prey.

    Who, interestingly, found no soft confidences to share, nor even a word to say.

    Her eyes turned to me, and I met them with only a slight effort. “There is real virtue in simplicity, sometimes, and in that you, Miss de Marco, are virtuous.”

    And before I could say another word myself, she’d made this odd little soft melodic whistle, like a birdcall; and within a dozen seconds her husband the Ambassador himself had joined us. As if it had been a signal from her to him in the midst of battle. (And I could well imagine the two of them, there in the thick of it together, and winning.)

    “Suzanne de Marco of Earth, I’d like to present my husband, lately Captain Williams of the Virginia Regiments of the late Confederate States of America, presently First Consul of the Republic of the New South on Nova Australis.”

    He was a strongly-built but curiously nondescript man. But the cavalry sword by his side was clearly not for show, nor the pistol balancing it at his right. And anyone who could win the hand of someone like Sorcha now-Williams once of Téa-and-Tephi… “It’s an honor to meet you again, First Consul, I believe we said hello in the receiving line.” And he offered his hand to me, and I shook it.

    His eyes were a forest green-brown, not dark like hers. As if they swallowed, somehow, all the dark they saw, and digested it into dappled forest light. “If you’d allow yourself to be pulled away from your dinner and merry society a moment, I do believe the Junior Ambassador from Zimbabwe Eile might not mind too much if we introduced him to you..?”

    I could feel my eyes light. “Yes, Ambassador, I believe I would love that myself if you would be so immensely kind.” The two societies on that world named its representatives in strict alternation, so the newer always had benefit of the experience of the older.

    [stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion ((rolls eyes, at Willie Pete)) ]

  20. [Take III part 3 and hopefully last on both, WPDE in aeternum.]

    And not only was the so-named one a charmingly handsome fellow, he was as an added bonus, as the saying ran in its more-literal and non-pejorative way, obviously (and still better, dynastically) “black as…” (y’know, the head of that suit which is neither red hearts nor diamonds, nor either clubs).

    “And, Countess Eisenstadt?”

    “Yes, Ambassador?” Something like longing, or lust, flared in her eyes.

    “You remind me so closely of many of the fine ladies of Charleston. One of so many reasons I’m so happy to have never found any reason to go back there.”

    And Sorcha, whose name means “light” in her own tongue, reached out her hand for mine.

    And the three of us went onward, to better company.

    Meeting new friends can be wonderful. Which is why I need to get out more and do more things.

  21. [Take V, now simply trying to put a readable and visible ending on the story. Sometime before dawn.]

    And not only was the so-named one a charmingly handsome fellow, he was as an added bonus obviously (and still better, dynastically) dark as Sorcha’s eyes in all relevant (and quite comely) particulars. Not that I was “fishing” at all…

    “And, Countess Eisenstadt?”

    “Yes, Ambassador?” Something like longing flared hot in her eyes.

    “You remind me closely of many of the fine ladies of Charleston. One of so many reasons I’m so happy to have never found any reason to go back there.”

    And Sorcha, whose name means “light” in her own tongue, reached out her hand for mine.

    And the three of us went onward, to better company.

    Meeting new friends can be wonderful. Which is why I need to get out more and do more things.

  22. “And you are?”

    “Spade.”

    “That must have hurt.”

    “…What? No, JACK Spade. It’s my name. Did the beard throw you off?”

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