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

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 PAM UPHOFF: Exzy (Wine of the Gods Series Book 54).

Exzy, that charming little redheaded baby wizard, is about to launch into a series of adventures.

Those rats in Grandfather’s attic? Could they be intelligent?
And a pack of school bullies just might play a trick that gets really interesting.
Cats and Crows should not be given magic potions magic potions . . .
Friends, foes, and foals are an interesting mix
Not to mention rescuing a Prince.
And rats interrupting his studies.

Eight stories

FROM MARY CATELLI: Fever and Snow.

A short story of a curse, a king, and a child.

A warlord of fire can lay curses of fever. A woman of snow can freeze a man to death.

Pierre, knight of the king, is burning with fever from the curse of the warlord when he learns a possibility that might save him — and the kingdom. It turns on a child.

FROM ALMA BOYKIN, THE FIRST TWO FAMILIAR BOOKS ARE NOW IN PRINT: Familiar Tales #1: Familiar Tales and Strangely Familiar Paperback.

Welcome to a world of magic and mischief, one enchanting yet strangely . . . Familiar. Rosie Jones, a 120 lb. skunk. Smiley Lorraine, a wolverine with reading glasses. Accidental curses, unplanned transformations, coffee-warming salamanders with explosive appetites, and a society mother who won’t take, “Mom, I’m not thirteen anymore” for an answer. Adventure, magic, taxes, excessive shedding, a police prairie dog baseball addict . . . You never know what might happen in Riverton. Contains the first two volumes in the Familiar Tales series.

(Two book set)

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: GATHER

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

  1. “Tell me Mister Wizard, if I gather together all of my dead-tree books, can you convert them into e-format books?”

    “Well my boy, I am able to convert them into e-format books, but you might not be able to access them.”

    “Ah… No thank you.”

  2. Lars Solar drew his ray gun and shot Phil.

    Stella asked Lars; “Why did you kill him, we just met him?”

    Lars replied: “As you well know Stella, on this police state planet, spies and informers are everywhere, you can be sure to find one whenever more than two gather.”

  3. The snow started early and heavy this year; measuring in feet instead of inches per storm. And cold in the frigid, negative single digits. Wildlife had it even rougher. Critters couldn’t move through the deep snow to find food. The deer gathered into yards like they hadn’t done in decades.

  4. In front of the fireplace, Trina was oblivious to the snowflakes outside as they slide side to side and settled on the ground, one flake at time. Her head bowed as she grasped the checkered material in one hand, while sewing the gathers together. It would only take minutes to sew the apron together. Minnie would look so cute in it tomorrow.

  5. “I greet you, Great Kali,” said Mable, the Goddess of the Loyal. She swept off her hat and bowed deeply. “I rejoice to be in your presence once more.” That last was added dryly. Her face did not support the assertion either, her disapproval plain.

    “So cheeky,” said Kali quietly, shaking her head with dismay. “I should turn you over my knee.”

    Siska glared daggers at Kali and shifted her weight to a fighting stance, but said nothing. Mabel had been working with Siska on her temper, and tendency to hit first and ask questions later. Much progress had been made, as there was no screaming and smacking Kali with a handy lamp. Alice was impressed and gave Siska a thumbs up.

    “I await your convenience, Great Kali,” said Mabel, then sat down at the table without even looking to see if a chair was present. Siska had provided one as soon as the movement began, fulfilling her role as Apprentice to the Goddess. “Thank you, Siska,” said Mabel, eyes never leaving Kali.

    “My pleasure, Holy One,” said Siska darkly in her Dutch accented English. “Will there be anything else, ma’am? Coffee, croissant? Plasma gun?”

    “Perhaps in a moment,” said Mabel and turned to grin widely at Siska in enjoyment of the joke. She gave her a wink and turned blandly back to Kali. “You were saying, Great One?”

    “I was saying it has been long indeed since I have beheld the wayward daughter of my heart,” replied Kali, taking Mabel’s hand and kissing it.

    Mabel gathered Kali into her embrace and held her close for some time without reply.

    “Coffee then,” said Siska with a bit of ill grace, and turned to go to the ordering counter.

  6. Loyalty

    “She is pack. Pack stick together.”

    Bare minutes had passed since the storm hit. Snow driven by howling wind swirled in to the cave, lightly dusting the large, scarred gnoll and the smaller white cloaked figure.

    “As are the rest of us. Should we not stay together, too?”

    “Pack is safe. She not.”

    “How do you know? She could have found a place of safety on her own. Stay. Please.”

    “No.”

    With that, he left. The sound of the wind soon washed away all other sounds. In ten steps the light of the cave vanished. In twelve, the figure left behind lost sight of even his giant form.

    “Pack… should stay together,” she whispered. Then turned away and stepped further into the cave.

    * * *

    Tales were told among the pack of the gnoll’s uncanny ability to track anything. Cubs often boasted that he could track a trout through the lake, or a bird on the wing. Nonsense like that. Calo the gnoll had good ears, too. He heard these things. They were not true.

    What Calo *did* have was skill backed by years of hard earned experience. Not just how to read tracks, but how to read the land. Where prey would go when wounded. Where a panicked pack animal would flee, even on shifting sand and hard stone. Where people would go when they wanted to hunt you. Or flee when panicked.

    A finely tuned memory was also important. One had to remember the lay of the land already crossed, how it looked coming the other way, too. Folk tended to go low in the snowstorms, he had found. Under trees and such to get out of the wind. And to keep the snow off. He remembered the last place he knew she had been, and decided to start there.

    It was a little hollow off the main trail where they had stopped to rest. The storm hadn’t showed itself yet, and there had been hopes of making good time. By himself, the trip was much faster. A little snow was nothing to a gnoll of the Northern Wastes. A lot of snow could be difficult, but doable.

    Though the world was already hidden in darkness and snow-fog, he increased his pace slightly. The only sounds in the world were the wind, the cracking of trees, and his own body. Calo smiled. It felt good to run again.

    Miles passed. The storm grew.

    * * *

    The drifts grew past two feet by the time he reached the clearing. The packed down area where they had rested was only a little lower than the average now. Stumps that had been used as seats stood out, as did the lean-to where wood was stacked for the next time it was needed. Trees sagged, heavy with snow.

    A pack on the move did not travel as soldiers did, in tight groups with one’s own feet stomping into another’s footprints. Folk wandered about. Carts laden with goods followed the path, but individuals tended to be merely close-ish, most of the time. Calo tended to lag behind. He watched out for those paying attention to his pack. He watched out for his pack, trying to keep them in sight. Losing pack was not something he took lightly. Greater pack was safe. Little pack was not.

    Calo took a small clay jar from his sling pouch and cracked the lid open slightly, inhaling. Scent. This was the other thing Calo knew well.

    Most would only smell cold and trees. And to be sure, there was a lot of that, too. Snow covered the ash pile, but the smoke had gotten to the trees. Smoke smell was right. No one else had used the fire recently. There were also pack smells. Sweat and body odors. A smidgin of weapon oil. A bit of the smell of the cookpot. The pack had excellent cooks. It was always tasty.

    Calo ducked into the treeline around the camp, circling it slowly. Smell lingered longer than most folk thought. It helped him remember more clearly. Quick sniffs helped him find the right spot. Little pack had been right about… here.

    He knelt, sifting his hands through the snow carefully. Long, slow breaths. He sifted through the smells as well, a light breeze compared to the storm in the open. Snow melted in his palms. He breathed.

    Little pack had been here. Something else, too, had been close. Something wrong. Something faint, but not pack.

    And the scent went deeper into the woods.

    * * *

    There were three. Three smells. Little pack, frightened. Calo charged through the forest, leaping fallen trees and streams. Three had tried to follow in the river upstream. Foolish. Scent did not lie. Also through a pond, hitting both sides and attempting to lay false trails. Scent did not lie. Calo followed the warmer one.

    They expected to be followed. Hoped to throw off pursuit. So, ambush. Strangely, no leather and oil. Scent was strange. Smelled dry. Dusty, almost. Not like folk. Not like beast. Could be magic. Magic could be bad.

    Calo followed the scent over the next hill and down through the woods to a new trail. Rather an old one, but new to him. There was stone here. Trail markers every twenty paces or so appeared out of the swirling snow. A road, then. The drifts passed three feet. The storm grew.

    Not like a Northern storm, one that could freeze a bear where it stood, solid. Northern storms could whip up in minutes and cover the whole of the mountains in drifts taller than Calo. Cold so sharp it could cut. Ice drakes that would soar out into the storm, seeking frozen corpses to munch on. Glaciers that could shave mountains. This was a storm, but not a bad one by those standards.

    By any other, it was notable. Enough to make the whole pack take shelter in a cave. It was good to have pack, but sometimes they were soft. Not enough fur. Not enough tough. Calo would watch over them.

    The road ran straight to a ruined gate and into a mountain. Here would be an ambush soon, he thought. The scent was stronger now. Alive, if such dry things counted. Little pack, too. Still scared.

    Calo assembled his spear. A long bladed spetum, made to punch right through things without letting them get to him. The prongs could slash, puncture, trap a weapon or shield, too. Heavy enough that only Calo and a few others in the pack could even weild it. A good spetum did its job well. Stabbing, slashing, smashing things.

    Into the mountain he went. Calo shuffled forward, muscles loose and relaxed. Tense muscles reacted poorly, or so the Warmaster said. He followed the scent.

    * * *

    The ambush came swiftly once he left the storm behind. They were only two. The first fell because without wings, one cannot easily change position and direction in the air. It leapt at him silently from above. Calo knew it was there, heard the slight rustle of movement, and stabbed it on the way down. The second rushed at him while the first was getting its taste of steel. He lashed out with a foot. It crackled like crumpling paper when he connected, but still manged three shallow cuts with its claws. Calo crushed it with the butt of the spear before it could recover.

    There was no blood on the corpses. They did not look familiar to him. Something like insect chitin covered their bodies, but in wrinkled folds around the joints. No heads, but something like a mouth in their stomachs, and no eyes, ears, or noses. Strange things. They made no sound as they attacked and stayed silent as they died. They did not smell of undeath, or even regular death. The falling one was heavier than it looked as well.

    The wound on his leg was minor, but he bound it anyway. The smell of his own fresh blood could call out to foolish predators from far away. Best not to tempt them overmutch.

    He continued further in, still following the scent to a stone door that stood slightly ajar. Through it came sounds. Little pack, afraid and crying. Something else, a low, rhythmic, gutteral chant. Sounded like magic to him, but what would he know? Calo the gnoll had no magic. He did have a spear.

    He paced forward, spear low. Something lit the hallway that wasn’t torches, but smelled a bit like rancid meat and burnt metal. It flickered from stone bowls higher up, with shiny brass plates reflecting the light. The walls were close in, too close to effectively use his spetum. He hoped the next fight would happen elsewhere. Not that the dry beings seemed overly tough, but anyone could get lucky in a fight. Or unluckly.

    The hallway ended in a ramp going down into a large space sparsely lit by the strange glowing bowls. Stone pillars held up to roof, but were scattered like forest trees, not ordered like most Folk would do. On each pillar were carvings that Calo did not want to look too closely at. When he tried, his head began to pound and a strange high pitched ringing noise began in his ears. He continued downward. Suddenly there was not the scent of one dry being somewhere in the room, but many.

    They rushed towards him out of the flickering shadows. Calo leapt down to meet them.

    He slashed at the first one, sending it tumbling into its fellows. Three went down into a wriggling heap as the other two attempted to extract themselves. He swung back dropping another, and a third with a quick stab into its mouth area. It fell clutching at the spetum without strength.

    The first one to reach him was kicked back hard enough to trip another one, which he promptly stomped on, ending its cares for this life. The next one he stabbed got caught somehow on the blade, so he used it as an improptu long handled hammer to sweep these strange foes aside. This dislodged it and allowed him to stab into the pile until two more broke free of the blockage and spread out to flank him. This only allowed him to dispatch each one unsupported.

    One he had missed managed to latch on to his left leg. Sharp teeth bit into his pelt and blood began to flow as it tried to chew, but its mouth would not open wide enough. Calo helped it with that by ripping its jaw off. He had to temporarily drop his spear to do so. This was a mistake.

    For them. With is greater size, Calo’s reach far outstripped the smaller monsters attacking him. His claws ripped and shredded anything that got close enough. After a moment of one sided slaughter, the surviving monsters drew back. Perhaps to try some new tactic or stratagem, perhaps to flee, it would never be known. A moment later, Calo reached them, and then they died.

    He quickly bound his wounds to slow the bleeding. The leg was stiff and painful, but he could walk on it for now. Little pack was in here somewhere.

    * * *

    An ugly looking stone altar was where he found her. There were perhaps a dozen of the things in a circle, and in the middle of that circle was a shimmering tear in space, like a ragged painting. Save the picture moved. On the other side was a world of red and gray, with pink skies and rusty looking mushroom-like plants on the other side. Some things moved over there that he did not get a good look at. Nothing seemed interested in coming through though.

    Little pack was gagged, blindfolded, and lashed down like a crate of chickens. He said as much as he freed her eyes, then her mouth, then her hands and feet. She stared at him in open mouthed shock for a moment before lurching up. He caught her as she immediately fell.

    “Calo!”

    She cried as she hugged him tightly. Little pack was a gnome, so she was very small. The top of her head only came up to his belly button when he was standing. But her grip around his neck was strong. That was good. He carefully hugged her back. It would not do to squish one of the pack.

    “You came! You found-”

    “You are pack. Pack stays together.”

  7. There had to be some reason why they gathered so many high-ranking officials. Mere dragon-slayers could be greeted by royalty or feasted by dukes, but so many officials were up to something. He did not need to see their glares or know that the king was dying without an heir for that.

  8. “Yes, this is very exciting data, but before we go public, I want it double and triple-checked. Using telescopes on the Moon and Mars as a single array is still too new for us to be releasing conclusions before we’ve verified the numbers behind them. Even a slight error in our calculations to compensate for relativistic effects would invalidate everything.” Ursula Doorne stopped, realizing her Earthbound colleague wasn’t understanding.”You’re just enough younger that AXIL was before your time. I was starting grad school when the news came out about the problems with its sensor systems. Multiple papers had to be withdrawn because they depended on dirty data, and some very senior scientists lost face as a result. I do not intend to have our names associated with a fiasco on that level.”

  9. A knock rapped on the door. Courteous, thought Rosine, but was glad that Gormain went to answer it.
    A guard stood there. He looked them over and nodded. “Good, you are all gathered. Your attendance is required at the castle.”
    Ellyn looked sulky, but they needed the castle’s good will.

  10. “Come along,” said Brian. “It’s one thing to get out and another to avoid notice. Best where people gather, where you are just another face in the crowd.”
    She tried to walk, and not gawk at the buildings in their bricks of rose red, and blood red, and faded gold.

  11. As Ava obeyed, Isabella reached for the teapot. “Have some tea while we wait. Your fellow pupils will join us shortly, and I will wait until we are all gathered. You will find this unlike your governess. If also unlike the village school you probably saw.”
    Ava took the cup.

  12. I gather up all the clothing I threw around the room in a panic. What the…fuck…did I do?!? I think, grabbing the fake black patent leather heels from in front of Doug’s bed. Somewhere deep in my skull, I want to be sick to my stomach, throwing up. Doug might have been a terrible human being, a horrible boss, and a nightmare for any competent HR department, but I didn’t want to kill him.

    But everywhere else I can only feel a bone-deep warmth of satiated as a long dribble of Doug’s cum starts to run down the inside of my right thigh. His erection is still hard as a rock, even though he’s stopped breathing and I can’t find a pulse. All I know is that the little black dress is there, the cheap satin panties are there, the dime-store stockings are there, the little black purse/backpack that I got for “my girlfriend’s cosplay” is there and I need to collect any evidence I was here before I leave the room.

  13. Looks like WP ate my earlier attempt. Shame, since I rather liked it. I guess I’ll just have to try again. Maybe if I’m lucky, it’ll show back up eventually and I’ll have two vignette challenge responses.

    1. Is why I put my text in OpenOffice first now. Trust but verify, yes? You never know when it’ll be something that resonates with another person. Stuff I toss off in ten minutes gets attention, stuff that gets ruminated over for half a day flops. Just got to keep refining, trying new things. Can’t get better if we don’t try.

  14. The main concourse of Nelviran Station was filling with people, and from what Mikhail Semyonov could see on the surveillance cameras, they did not look happy. He turned to his Chief of Security. “I presume you have an explanation for this.”

    “It appears there was another incident. This time someone hacked the holo-projectors and directional speakers to create the illusion of a human being, in order to mouth off at someone. Guy didn’t realize he’d been suckered, so he swung a punch and slammed his fist right into a structural pillar. He’s in Medlab now, and Medstaff thinks they can put his hand back together.”

    Semyonov considered the situation. “Any idea if this is the same people with the mouthy mean-girl robot?”

    “Uncertain at the moment.”

    “Then call IT and tell them to get their networking people busy finding that hacker. We’ve got to get a handle on this business, ASAP if not sooner. Those people are not happy. If that guy’s someone significant in their culture, they’re going to expect recompense, and just nano-healing his hand may not be enough if they believe that hacker’s made him lose face as well.”

  15. “Louie!”

    Luigi ‘Legbreaker’ Calzone entered. “Yeah, Boss?”

    Anthony ‘Big Tony’ Pomodoro was, and was seeing, red. “Gina’s taken off.”

    “You want me to find her again?”

    “Dis time she’s taken da books. And was hinting at talkin’ to da feds. I want you to find dat skirt and gat her!”

    1. Sorry WordPress hasn’t allowed me to comment on your blog for two or three days. Just rebooted my computer and decided I would see if it would work now without wasting time writing out a comment.

  16. “Gather ’round and I shall tell of a most mythical, utterly fantastical thing-”

    “Not a story about you or of your kind. We know you already.”

    “No, not about me, or my kind. Something so strange I didn’t believe it when first I saw-”

    “Pictures or it wasn’t!”

    “Very well. Here you go.”

    1. Trump sure did bring a lot of extreme leftists into the Grand Old Party.

      These days it seems that being left enough to oppose Trump means wanting to kill tens of millions of Americans.

  17. (Once I realized the underlying subject matter of this one, I had to wonder if I was doing proper justice to it. Then I figured I ought to post it, just in case…)

    “Gather round, and listen close.”

    The familiar old words felt comfortable on his tongue, though there was little need to emphasize the point — the night and the cool winter weather did that, though it was not so cold as it might be, just before the solstice. Already most people around the blazing Yule-eve fire, four-foot split logs leaning up against each other in a round pyramid, had found their own personal orbital station within the “Goldilocks zone” it made in the middle of the star-spangled night.

    “This is the story of the Bright Winter, how on the eve of the Sun-Turning the people of our great land started to come together to do what their ‘leaders’ mostly could not… stand up together and do what was needed, to not stand by idly and watch everything we loved most be lost.” Over the time he’d said that, the crowd’s noise had diminished to a hush broken only sometimes by the cracking of the fire as it softly roared.

    And on poles that rose above the trees into the cool but sometimes fresh wind, snapped (every once in a while) two flags — tonight the Red and White (but no blue) of the borrowed We Are Never Alone flag (recursively showing a crowd carrying a red and white flag, with a crowd carrying…), and the classic old Deplorable Snake flag, with its ought-to-be-obvious motto.

    “This is the story of how the Big Cheat was followed by the Big Squeaker and then by the Big Tantrum, and how we all, by the skin of our teeth and the grace of all the Good Gods, held on to the best of our country.” And Frank took a tiny sip, the better to speak but also in honor of those who’d not finished the trip.

    “But now, I think we should all start with a song, to warm us up some more.

    “So what do you want to sing first, children? ‘Sol Invictus’? ‘Loki’s a-Comin’ to Town’? ‘God Rest Ye Merry’?”

    “Yes, that one, ‘Rest Ye Merry’!” called a young girl from right at the front, which settled it just that easy. The little cross hanging in front of her coat gleamed brassy-yellow in the firelight — which might well have struck someone from the beforetimes as odd, here on the eve of a major pagan feast.

    But deep their shared faith went, beyond religion or its tolerance. They were all Americans together, and that meant… what it did. Including what it had done.

    When the Great Conjunction had been in the sky, they had come together as they had long before, down here on Earth — having to either re-light the flame of freedom together, or else watch it gutter out one by one. No third choice.

    After all, most of the ‘Christmas traditions’ were really pagan from way back anyway, borrowed by the new kids on the block. Like neighbors coming for a cup of salt or a quart of flour, because they needed now and didn’t have.

    And if Frank Blake put a little more edge into the words, a little more snap in the way he sung them, sharp as a glass microtome blade in places or hard as cloven diamond, well, that was his right, he’d lived through the Bright Winter and what came after it too. So they meant what they did, for him too.

    “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
    Let nothing you dismay,
    Remember Christ our savior
    Was born on Christmas Day,
    To save us all from Satan’s power
    When we were gone astray,

    Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,
    Comfort and joy,
    Oh, tidings of comfort and joy…”

    And the offered and shared comfort and joy blazed bright as a Christmas star, on the clear eve of Midwinter’s Day. As the bright sparks flew upward, as if to remind us we are all born to trouble, even if we are Americans.

  18. Light Of Freedom Station was not a station, as such. It was composed of twenty-four devices, each about eight feet square by twenty feet long, arranged in a ring fifty thousand kilometers across. They maintained their position automatically, seventy million kilometers from the sun and twenty degrees north of the ecliptic. They projected a gravity lens which gathered the intense sunlight and beamed it out-system, to be captured by a similar arrangement, directed back to the ecliptic, then redirected again and regulated to nurture a new civilization. Technically, Liberty was a Kuiper Belt object, not a planet, but that didn’t much matter to the people living there. The sunlight also looked quite natural to them.

    The A.I. which managed Light Of Freedom had been tracking an unidentified object for days. Now it had reached a critical distance. Time to take action.

    “Attention unidentified craft. You are approaching the Light Of Freedom Station exclusion zone. Alter course.”
    The warning was sent out in six languages, on multiple frequencies.

    Two minutes later the signals reached the ship. Two minutes after that, the A.I. heard…nothing. The ship remained on its improper course.

    The message was repeated every minute for an hour, with the same lack of results. The ship drew closer, until it reached the next boundary.

    “Warning. You are approaching the Light Of Freedom Station exclusion zone. Change course immediately.”

    That message repeated every thirty seconds. The ship still seemed to pay no attention. Soon it was too close.

    “Intruder! You have reached the Light Of Freedom Station exclusion zone. Final warning. Reverse course immediately.”

    The ship began to accelerate — towards the Station.

    Sufficiently advanced artificial sarcasm can be indistinguishable from the natural type. “Make peace with whatever gods you believe in. You are about to find out if they exist.”

    The A.I. shaved off about a billionth of the sunlight it managed, for a few milliseconds. There was a bright flash, and then no ship.

    Its routine report to Liberty ended with, “Spectroscopic analysis revealed substantial quantities of uranium, plutonium, polonium, deuterium and tritium. Presence of thermonuclear weapons inferred.”

    Admiral Archer, head of the War Department, shook his head sadly. “They still haven’t learned a thing. If our ancestors hadn’t gotten out of that place…”

    General Tucker shook hers, too, in commiseration. “There’s a country down there called the United States of America, but their Constitution is a dead letter and it’s been more than a hundred years since their elections were anything but a farce. And even now, after all they’ve destroyed, they still call themselves ‘Progressive Democrats’!”

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