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

Book promo

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. A COMMISSION IS EARNED FROM EACH PURCHASE.*Note that I haven’t read most of these books (my reading is eclectic and “craving led”,) and apply the usual cautions to buying. – SAH

FROM SARAH A. HOYT: Barbarella: The Center Cannot Hold #1

BARBARELLA IS BACK IN A NEW STAR-SPANNING EPIC!BARBARELLA SETS OUT ON A DESPERATE MISSION TO STOP INTERGALACTIC WAR BETWEEN GODLIKE BEINGS!Beyond the edge of known space lies…the Unnamable. Myth? Gods? Malevolent force? No one knows. No one but the one force in the universe that can stand against the Unnameable: the Architects, hidden guides of our galaxy for untold eons.Enter Barbarella, on a desperate quest to find and convince the Architects that a war with the Unnameable will spell the death of Every. Living. Thing.Get ready for tension, excitement, espionage, and the secret of how to defeat an empire. Fun, romance, and cosmic adventure beyond the furthest reaches of the galaxy!


There’s something about the Cowboy that speaks to us all. So it only makes sense that, as humans expand into space, they’re going to bring their Cowboys with them.Join 10 authors as they explore what Space Cowboys would look like, why we love them, and how they deal with the livestock that travels with humanity.

FROM M. C. A. HOGARTH: Who Is Willing

Alysha Forrest is looking forward to her assignment as the Songlance’s newest lieutenant, particularly when it gets her placed as the liaison to the ship’s water environment crewmembers. Interfacing with the mermaid-like Naysha and the alien Platies who serve as the ship’s navigators is an exhilarating experience, and all the other officers on the crew are eager to welcome her into the fold… all of them, except one.

Mike Beringwaite, the overbearing ensign who ruined their leadership retreat years earlier, has somehow made lieutenant too. When a routine problem in the water environment throws them together, Alysha has to decide how willing she is to forgive him for what he did, whether she can work with him again, and most importantly, if she can trust him–with her life.

The disaster at the leadership retreat is nothing to the one they have to handle now. If they can….

BY HENRY OYEN, BROUGHT BACK BY D. JASON FLEMING: Gaston Olaf (Annotated): The classic pulp adventure western

When big, boisterous Gaston Olaf François Thorson first set eyes on Havens Falls, it was just a little lumber settlement, like many others. Riverfront saloons, a dance hall, just the sort of place he needed after too many months in the woods alone with his buddy Tom Pine.

What he didn’t reckon on was meeting Rose Havens, or the changes she would inspire within him. He also didn’t reckon on Devil Dave Taggart, owner, by hook or by crook, of almost all the timberland within a dozen miles.

Least of all did he reckon on himself, Gaston Olaf of all people, becoming a force for law and order in a town that sorely needed it!

    This iktaPOP Media edition includes a new introduction giving genre and historical context to the book.

FROM TOM VEAL: Strange Tales for Strange Times

If you think you live in strange times, these tales will show you what strangeness really is
  • A down-on-his-luck pastor gets the miracle that he prays for and has to live with its consequences.A resort makes romance literally inescapable.On the universe’s last-born planet, its greatest thinker must choose or reject immortality.A being who dwells in the region beyond the Moon changes the Earth forever.The Presidential election of 2016 – but, no, that was indeed stranger than fiction. Here you can read a commonplace version (well, not quite).And then some book reviews, though the books in question were never written.And some more.
When you finish, the world around you will seem normal, if not outright dull.Introductory Special: In case you’re nervous about paying money for the work of a guy you’ve never heard of, you can get Strange Tales for Strange Times for just $1.49 – half its regular prince – from now through the end of February.

FROM LAURA MONTGOMERY: His Terrible Stall: A Science Fiction Lost Colony Adventure (Martha’s Sons Book 5)

On a lost and stranded colony world, with his brother’s family at risk, Peter Dawe will do what he must to protect them.

A lost starship’s settlers turn one valley on an alien planet into a terraformed replica of Earth. The rest of the planet offers only hardship and madness. Despite the oasis First Landing provides, the ship’s crew fled decades earlier with their fabricators, spacecraft, and knowledge when those controlling the valley threatened their freedoms.

The ship’s crew founded a separate colony on the southern plains. From there they spied on their former passengers, always fearful that the richer valley would come to take what they had. Even after a generation, the loathing persists.

A man in exile—

Peter Dawe faces an arid existence in a brother’s secret northern outpost. His work there has meaning and purpose, but when asked to journey to the southern settlement to help recover stolen weapons his brother needs, Peter has to defeat his own belief he shouldn’t expect too much from life.

A brother’s quest—

Determined to find the missing rifles, Peter works his way through supposed friends and allies to catch the real thieves. But can he overcome the prior generation’s ruthless plans to stop him when his own life hangs in the balance?

His Terrible Stall is the fifth book in the gripping science fiction colonization series Martha’s Sons. If you like driven heroes and strange worlds, you’ll want to throw yourself into this one.

Pick it up now to join the hunt! CHRISTOPHER WOERNER: 202301 Classified Struggling

A collection of the events of January 2023, interspersed by news headlines that are just as depressing. We’re still going down and there is no ground floor, so what are we going to do about it?

I’ve polished and edited the pamphlets I published this month, organizing the subject matter to cover the virus/vaccine, the insecurity our rulers have for classified documents, the various economic crises, describing our rulers and their anti-culture attitudes and whatever’s going on with foreign countries. I’ve even interspersed a few essays on pop culture, but keep that to yourself.

The B-side of the book is short but unusual. I’ve actually been creating comics on Paint, simple propaganda covering the struggle each of us is facing every day. The first fictional art I’ve created in years and this is what I’m stuck with? That’s the world we live in. We need to change that.

FROM LEIGH KIMMEL: The Sound of One Child Crying

Who is the child Reza can hear crying every time she goes to the new addition to the Royal Library? Her boss insists there is no child, that it is nothing more than her uncanny sensitivity to the unseen world making a nuisance of itself.

Worse, searching for answers gets her angry rebukes about respect for the dead. The further Reza goes, the more certain she becomes that someone is hiding an ugly secret.

It’s a secret that traces back two generations, to a dark period in this land’s history. A time most people would prefer to forget, not caring that denial doesn’t make a problem go away.

The truth may set you free, but not without a price. And Reza fears that death itself might turn out to be an easier price than the one demanded of her.

FROM NATHAN C. BRINDLE: The Lion and the Lizard

The Lion and the Lizard (Timelines Book 2) by [Nathan C. Brindle]

Thirty years ago, Dr. Ariela Rivers Wolff, M.D., Ph.D., AKA The Lion of God, had a pretty exhausting week.

Her world was invaded by time-traveling soldiers, she was nearly turned into human toothpaste by an experimental dimension jumper when she went to find her parallel “Dad,” who just happens to be able to borrow a Space Force fleet to come and take out her world’s invaders . . . and then she found out she was considered by those same invaders to be a saint in their odd religion, and one of the targets of their invasion. If that wasn’t enough, she nearly fell completely out of the universe into a time rift, being saved only by the skin of her teeth by her parallel “Dad”.

After all that, learning she was going to be the one to bring universal healing and long life to the human race in her particular timeline was just the icing on the proverbial cake.

Anybody else would go home, turn off their phone, pull all the blinds, lock all the doors, and take the rest of their life off. But Ari isn’t “anybody else”. And her cult of admirers across two timelines won’t take “nobody home” for an answer.

Fast-forward thirty years. Scientists have detected radio transmissions in an unknown language from several hundred light years away. And now she’s been asked to use her special “saintly” skills as demonstrated on her last “mission” to make first contact with whoever they are.

And that’s only the beginning.

Looks like Ambassador Dr. Ariela Rivers Wolff, M.D., Ph.D., is going to have another pretty exhausting week. Or six.

FROM PAM UPHOFF: Fall of Empire (Fall of the Alliance Book 8)

Igor’s back!And his Cyborg Buddy Murphy is in trouble.As the destabilized Three Part Alliance totters, Igor, AKA Axel Vinogradov has to decide whether to shore up the edifice, or complete the collapse. In the meantime there’s a couple of cross dimensional raids, a kidnapped class of teenagers, marooned women on a cross dimensional Tropical Paradise . .

FROM CAROLINE FURLONG: The Guardian Cycle, Vol.1: In Dreams and Other Stories

A man whose debts must be paid by vengeance. A woman desperate to save her husband. A grieving father finding a young enemy soldier on his veritable doorstep…

These fantasy and soft sci-fi stories wonder whether or not heroes need families. Are we not told that families slow the hero down? Is it not typically implied that they get in the way of the adventure? Are they a burden, or truly the greatest strength from which the hero and those he loves can draw?

Six tales in this collection center on family, faith, and self-sacrificing love as men and women fight for the ones whom they hold most dear. Whether the enemy is inner turmoil, a nightmare, or a demon really does not matter. If the threat seeks to harm a member of the family, it is going to pay dearly.

FROM ANNA FERREIRA: A Capital Whip: A Pride and Prejudice Sequel

An invalid for much of her life, Miss Anne de Bourgh has precisely one accomplishment: carriage driving. She is proud of her skill with reins and whip, and justifiably so.

But when another young lady moves into the neighborhood, and challenges Anne’s place as the most accomplished driver in Hunsford, Anne must prove to herself, to her beloved horses, and to her family that she is worthy of the name de Bourgh, and she does not shrink away from a challenge.


At the top of a tall mountain, there lives a dragon. And the dragon is the master of all animals.
Okay, let’s rewind that. Tom Ormson is a dragon shifter, the scion of a line that was created to rule both Chinese and Norse dragons. But he doesn’t want the job. He co-owns a diner with his wife, Kyrie, who is about to deliver their first child.
In fact, they just got married, when the entire shifter-world, which centers on their diner goes insane.
You see, it is a time of Ragnarok, which means all of the shifter clans are in turmoil, with changing leadership. And the lion clan, to which Kyrie belongs has just lost its leader. Poor Rafiel, too, is tormented by very strange dreams and premonitions. Also, the Queen of the Norse dragons has woken, and wants a word with the Great Sky Dragon.
Hold on to your hats. A wild ride is about to begin, with Tom, Kyrie and their friends at the center of it.
When it ends, the world will never be the same again.

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:fortunate

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

  1. The man? stood in the pool of sunlight in the strange forest, saying “You are fortunate that I found you. There are worse things than me in this forest.”

    He smiled showing his fangs.

    1. > “I might post a scene later.”

      Somehow, this feels more like a warning than anything else. This won’t involve another “Descartes before the horse”-level pun, will it?

      1. No, more likely a note on a quartet of Thunnus orientalis looms on the event horizon.

        Tastier than carp.

          1. Well, now I am, as finally it has crossed into time for afternoon tea.

            This one, of course, is special, as the plebeian sharks and groupers are excluded, and I have special guests. This will be the Four Tuna Tea for the ages! I have ordered from the Tako truck in honor of my guests.

            I will forbear from the full cascade of fish puns, as it leaves many of us floundering.

        1. I should warn you that since the “incident” in question I’ve been engaged in some carp-based mad science, preparing an appropriate response should your self-control lapse again:

          Not quite nightmarish enough yet, I think. More work is required.

  2. I am very fortunate in this-assuming we don’t get killed, I will be able to forgive Sayuri, since we are biologically immortal.

    It’ll take me about sixty or seventy years, but I can forgive her.

    It wasn’t that she dropped a chandelier on me, which is almost traditional for musical theater at this point. What she did was drop two chandeliers on me-separate ones, in separate ballrooms-during the fight that night.

    And the evening was going so well before that. Dinner was wonderful, Sayuri was a great person to share a dinner table with. Sayuri got to meet her current idol, Seo Katoka, who just happened to be at the same table with us. I got to see Sayuri have a full fangirl orgasm, which was extremely cute. Seo had to leave soon after dinner to get into makeup and costume, but I didn’t really notice during my particular “floating on a cloud” moment as Sayuri and I spent a whole hour on the dance floor. We were dancing pretty much non-stop, only stopping for the occasional drink of punch and to swap partners. We went through so many partners (and got cards from them all), we could have each started our own yuri harem anime with a full cast right then and there. And damned if we couldn’t have just asked and they would have all followed us home…

    And the show! The show did not disappoint-for a stage adaptation of Sailor Moon, it was spectacular to watch. They had some of the best wire work I had seen outside of Hollywood or Hong Kong wuxia special effects teams, and the costuming was dead-on. So, I was dealing with sensory and sensuality overload when we left the theater, and just was floating on cloud nine.

    It would be Sayuri that would notice the small gaggle of young women heading off deeper into the hotel, some of them in very…classical kimonos. She got curious, I got curious, and we followed them.

    And, in less than thirty minutes, we had to summon our Regalia and fight a whole pack of aonyōbō, who were living on the outskirts of the Imperial Palace and eating young girls to restore their beauty to catch new suitors. At least two of them had to have been old enough to have been around during the Sengoku Jidai. These were not easy foes to beat, and the secondary effects of our attacks are always messy. Which led to our having to fight in an empty ballroom and causing Sayuri to accidentally drop a chandelier on me. Okay, heat of battle, friendly fire always has right of way, etc., etc., etc. I can understand that.

    But, when we ran to Japan’s Solist-who was at the show, who was the show, with her Companions-and Sayuri had a full fangirl orgasmic meltdown when they met…she dropped the second chandelier on me.

    I can forgive her, I truly can.

    It is just going to take me a while.

    I wasn’t hurt, you understand. Just…the cliche was so irritating. All I am going to do is just tease Sayuri about it for a while, just enough to share. A decade or two, at most. I’m not going to punish her or be upset with her or anything else. It was understandable and as the old expression goes-shit happens.

    Ian isn’t going to be happy I haven’t done an after-action report on what happened and that there was a “malfunctioning pyrotechnics issue” at the hotel. But I’ll get him that report eventually. I just need to find my center and forgive Sayuri.

    But…two chandeliers?

      1. One of the running gags that I’m trying to establish is that Sayuri is convinced that Adelaide (the MC) needs supervision to avoid getting herself killed on a regular basis.

        Adelaide denies it, but chandelier #1 was her fault, not Sayuri’s or the vagaries of combat.

  3. On a dark and stormy night, far away and long ago, while forces good fought most valiantly upon the rocky, the dusty, wind swept plain, against the evil hustlers, meanwhile back at the ranch, the hungry magician spelled the gold an cash to cake and candy and a fortune ate.

  4. “Oh, wow, that is fortunate.”

    “Fortunate? That thing is a mangled mess, looks rather unfortunate.”

    “No, not fortunate, Fortune 8. We might finally know what happened to that probe.”

    “That was, what, 80 years ago? What’s it matter now?”

    “83 years ago. But.. well, grandpa worked on that, and always wondered. 1-7 we knew what happened – whether they worked or didn’t. 9 and on all seemed to go mostly right. 8? Well, 8 was just weird. It… disappeared… but only after they got TWO sets of signals… one impossible. They seemed to come from the future. So… finding the probe might answer some questions. And no, I am NOT going to just pick it up. Just in case…”

      1. The aardvark said he would be getting reloads after his coffee break. OTOH, Fluffy still has to roast the beans.

        I think everybody’s safe. For the while. 🙂

          1. Minor Nit, Babylon 1 thru Babylon 3 were destroyed and it was Babylon 4 that mysteriously disappeared. [Crazy Grin]

  5. @LEIGH KIMMEL – anyone who uses the Library at Trinity College for a book cover is a Cool Person.

  6. Lurie turned to her son and ordered him, “Go to your room. And don’t come out till I say so!”

    Mike sulked away and slammed the door. Jane stood waiting silently until Lurie turned away. The desolation on her face made Jane take her arm and lead her to the kitchen. “Where’s your tea?” she asked, putting the kettle on. Her friend sat at the kitchen table, not uttering a word until she took a sip of tea and finally burst into tears.

    “The police!” she managed, sobbing into the dishtowel Jane brought her. “How could he…”

    Jane waited for her to calm down and, gathering her courage, asked gently: “Lurie, can I say something? I know you won’t want to hear this, but I’ve been worried about Mike for a while.” Encouraged by Lurie’s nod, she continued: “You never turn him down for anything. He stays out with his friends without telling you, you make excuses for him. He asks you for money, you give it to him. Doug finally talked to me about it because he says he can’t talk to you, and when the two of you fight it’s always about Mike. I’ve never been able to understand it.”

    Lurie had slumped over her tea, but sat upright and looked Jane in the eye. “I told you what my life was like growing up, didn’t I? You had a house that didn’t have holes in the roof. You never went hungry. You had decent clothes and hot water. I didn’t have any of that. I told myself Mike was never going to grow up the way I did. We’ve been so fortunate, Doug works so hard…” she began to tear up again. “He’s going to be so angry. But I wanted Mike to have everything he wanted. I thought he would be grateful, I didn’t know this was going to happen.”

    “I don’t know if you ever heard Principal Anderson say that kids need rules? They need a framework. He likes to say his job is to civilize them.”

    Into the silence came the sound of Doug’s car engine and the garage door opening. “Hey, Lure, I’m home!”

    “You want me to leave?”

    Lurie sniffled. “Not just yet.”

  7. Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” was playing on the radio. Ted Alandale wondered whether that had been a deliberate choice on the part of the DJ, or mere coincidence.

    Several members of the household were not overjoyed at the early hour. Much as Ted sympathized, he didn’t want to take chances. They would be present and in line the minute the polls opened.

    Ted hoped that Governor Thorne’s precautions, including having a California National Guard presence at polling places all over the state, while Spartan was in Sacramento co-ordinating security operations, would discourage any “incidents.” However, given that the entirety of primary season had been marred by violence, his household would cast their ballots first thing, not let normalcy bias lull them into assuming they could wait for a more convenient time later in the day.

    The music cut off in the middle of a chord and the station’s news director came on the air. “We interrupt this broadcast for a breaking news bulletin. Bomb threats have temporarily closed two polling places on Long Island…”

    That’s Governor Liebowitz’s home turf. Ted remembered watching televised images of past presidential candidates making flying trips home to cast their ballots in person. Was this an attempt to attack Liebowitz? Or worse, a false-flag attack that would be blamed upon the Sharp Resistance, to get the silent majority to stand up and demand harsh measures against Sharps?

    1. I like! On a sadder note, I hate to contemplate how Election Day has devolved from a patriotic duty to a spark on the political powder keg.

          1. I had fun writing it. Especially Leonid’s observations on self-organizing Americans pitching in to keep the election going during its final hour, not waiting for directives from authority.

  8. “What’s wrong with my almsgiving?” Kathleen demanded. “Father Kelly said Lent was a time to help the less fortunate among us; shouldn’t that mean, above all, helping them become more fortunate?”

    “Maybe so, darling,” said her mother, “but that doesn’t justify filling your Rice Bowl with horseshoes and four-leaf clovers.”

  9. Isabella led them out, farther from the building as the wind buffeted them. Ava supposed it was fortunate that she stopped before the trees, though with this wind, leaves, branches, and boughs might be borne before the blast.
    Julian came up beside her, on the windward. As was only proper.

  10. Something sputtered electrically. Shattered glassteel tinkled and ticked with changing temperature. Groggily, Captain Zero removed the shattered visigoggles from his face, unstrapped himself, and began the process of crawling from his wrecked ship.

    Hollow laughter met him as he emerged from the wreckage.

    “So, you did survive,” came the voice of the thing that had once been Doctor Arcturus. “How fortunate. I want to watch my nemesis die directly, not at a distance.”

  11. A strange sort of bird. Fortunate that she had seen it by daylight, and could, even in the dawn, pick her way over.
    A snake hissed. And then a woman’s voice said, “Have at you.”
    Autumn looked at the nearest trees, walked up to one, and pulled on one of the lower branches, leafless from lack of sunlight. It came off with a crack. Then she forged toward the tree. She might have to try to stab the snake with the broken end, if the branches were thick enough.
    A fair-haired woman stabbed through the leaves. Her sword showed blood.

  12. Fortunate, perhaps, that he thought of that. It would warn him against making idle chatter that could reveal more, and more dangerous things, than that.
    “I trust you avoided wars.”
    “You don’t look like you fought in one,” said Kevin.
    “No, and I even managed to avoid seeing a battle.”

  13. The black dragon hissed. “I will destroy you. All of you! You have no plac—”

    Lady Kuanyin considered the limp form draped over the pristine tatami and obstructing the tea preparations. She allowed herself a tiny sigh. “How . . . unfortunate.”

    “I compliment your gift of understatement, Madame,” Captain Leiji said, then bowed.

    “Thank you.” The calico kitsune blew away the tiny thread of smoke rising from her claws.

    1. Puzzled Look

      I didn’t know that Japanese Fox Spirits came in calico. 😉

  14. Every hour, on the hour — for three long days now — the cacophony had roared across campus of Corfu Academy: a fanfare of trumpets followed by the ringing declaration, “Yngvar is a LOUSE!”

    Someone had hijacked the academy’s systems, so that the hourly litany blared in every room and played on every screen. And the pilot pods were no haven, as even that ostensibly impregnable system had been breached.

    “Yngvar is a louse!”

    There was no escaping the refrain. No one had yet been able to crack the hacker’s code. Baz flinched every time he heard it, and one eyelid had begun to twitch uncontrollably.

    He knew of only two people on campus who were capable of such a feat — and only two who were angry enough at Yngvar to do it. He couldn’t really blame them. He also couldn’t blame Yngvar, for his friend had done the right thing, if very much in the wrong way. Penni and Hana had to know it too, and Baz was sure they would come around…eventually. But for now he could only count himself fortunate that their ire hadn’t been directed at him.

    1. Mary Catelli, this is due to you, btw.

      Turns out Yngvar is a louse…depending on whom you ask…and I never would’ve known it if you hadn’t sent me looking for the source of that reference a couple/three weeks ago, which I hadn’t encountered before.

  15. “Fortunate” is when you want Car A, your wife wants Car B, your broke-down old Buick makes it the 11 miles to the dealer, and all they have is Car B…

    Because I’m not a complete dunce. And I know keeping the CINC happy is a greater priority than the color paint on “her” new car.

    “Fortunate” is another word for “Blessed”. Which I truly claim to be. And may all of you be “fortunate” throughout 2023.

  16. Continuing from a few weeks ago:

    In a way, it was fortunate the Hierarchy cruiser’s captain was so intent on battering the helpless Finlandia. Undetected, Dagger was able to lay a graceful hemisphere of plasma obscurant between the two vessels, while Stiletto launched a six torpedo spread.

    All six hit. The Hierarchy cruiser ceased to exist.

  17. The immediate threat gone, Dagger closed to rescue Finlandia’s surviving crew while Stiletto kept a wary orbit. After the few fortunate souls transferred aboard Dagger, the two destroyers set a course back to the rest of the fleet. They were interrupted by a message from Fleet Command: REMAIN ON STATION.

  18. The fetid swamp wasn’t quite the worst smelling place I’d ever sheltered in. It lacked the particular fragrance of excrement and decaying corpses that drenched the Whitetower drainage system. But it was a very close second.

    As Richard and Outia were occupied in seeing to Erika’s injuries, it fell to me to examine the corpses of our fallen foes. What coin I could find, I tucked into the shared purse. Other items I only touched with gloved hands, and very carefully. Particularly the small painted idols each carried.

    Once all the bodies had been searched, I took one of the figurines in hand and examined it more closely. Although it appeared humanoid at first glance, the bulging eyes sprouting from every square inch quickly ruined that image. It was grotesque and unsettling, and not only because the eyes gave off an unnerving sense of hungry awareness.

    I walked across the small island we’d found in the heart of the bog, and knelt beside Erika. Keeping my eyes on the stitching that Richard was working into her naked back, I held out the idol where she could see it. “I wouldn’t have expected servants of Al’zetar to carry such ugly trinkets.”

    For several moments, she made no sound but a brief grunt. I waited. She swallowed, and cleared her throat.


    I waited. She took a deep breath, then dry heaved for a few moments.

    “Throw those into the swamp,” she finally said, her voice hoarse. “Where they can’t see us.”

    Setting any further comments aside, I rose, walked back to the bodies, gathered the figurines, and committed them to the deeps. Then I returned to her side and waited some more.

    “Are they gone?” she finally asked.

    “Buried in the peat.”

    “They don’t follow the Shining Prince.”

    Richard paused in his stitching for a few moments, and I could practically hear her eyes roll.

    “Oh, very well,” she muttered. “Al’zetar. They aren’t his followers, those idols are of Medilos. The Prince of Avarice.”

    I raised an eyebrow. “The eyes?”

    “All he sees, he wishes to possess.”

    “Ah.” I shook my head, feeling the heavy step of doom approaching. “Please tell me we’re not being pursued by the followers of two demon princes now.”

    “Two? Oh, sweet child. Not two.”

    Erika started up sharply, several of her stitches snapping with the sudden strain. I whirled to face the speaker, dagger already in hand.

    A figure stood upon the bog, just beyond the edge of our island. It appeared to be male, but was quite clearly not human. In place of eyes he had a pair of flickering will o’ wisps that shifted from green to blue to violet with every passing moment, and swamp weeds hung from his head as hair, draping down his shoulders. Vines stretched from his back to the trees surrounding us in what was almost the shape of wings.

    “After what you and your companions did, they all pursue you. Great honor will be given to the one whose servants take you first.” His grin showed pointed teeth. “How fortunate for us all that I have found you instead.”

  19. It was indeed lucky the two destroyers weren’t needed in the main action – Earth’s battleships exploited the gap in the Hierarchy fleet’s line and completely routed their foe. But now Stiletto received a new, solemn order. Her skipper ordered the area cleared and requested a final spread of four torpedoes.

  20. Some mornings Birk wished he’d never bought that super lottery ticket. True, his mortgage was paid off, he had a reliable car, and a lot more friends. But the friends were iffy, his kids were getting lazy, and the unfamiliar job of managing his fortune ate most of his time.

  21. I’ve listened to the ten songs submitted for the contest, and sure that you will agree with me – there’s one clear winner. I admit that a ska- blues- string quartet- improv jazz- country- raga- fado fusion song is unique, but this composer nails it. Let us all vote for tune 8.

  22. As Marcus threw the body in, a trio of necromancers came up to Blaize. All women, all pale with pale hair, their black gowns without sleeves and with barely a strap over their shoulders, and a long golden thread connecting them. One held the distaff and spindle, the second held the thread, the third held a scissors.
    Marcus swallowed. They had asked for children before.
    “It was fortunate we heard from Morgiane,” said the spinner.
    “Did you really think you could keep them still, after they knew our secrets?” said the thread bearer.
    Blaize looked with narrowed eyes.
    “We will not have it,” said the cutter. She lifted the thread and cut off a length. “You must kill the youngsters who aided us, so they may not bear our secrets onward.”
    “You must endorse my getting new children.”
    The spinner sniffed. “We do not get more because of your demands. Every child cuts into those we can claim for death.”
    “I have never asked for your necromancy to aid in my work, yet you have asked for mine.”
    “Keeping children alive is not necromancy,” snapped the thread bearer, but her companions soothed, and agreed that they would support his claim.

  23. “And, by the way,” she lowered her voice as if to invite a confidence on a well-known but delicate subject, “do you hear very much from your brother off-world these days?” Lady Aureliana Wentworth-Davy, Hereditary President of General Nuclear Industries, averted her gaze for just a moment and only slightly before continuing, “Not to pry into any intimate family matters, now, my dear Prince Henry of course.”

    No, you don’t mean simply to pry, you hope to shove in a knife and then twist it about for a bit, thought Henry Windsor-Habsburg very much and quite strictly to himself. “Actually, we all do hear fairly regularly from William ourselves directly; if also frequently by, ah, more roundabout and public channels — but you know what he’d said before leaving, ‘Second son to a royal family, teats on a boar’.” And he smiled, disarmingly but also a touch vapidly. In a way that over the two and a half decades of his life had become quite as automatic as walking, or likely even sneezing.

    ‘Lady’ Wentworth covered her mouth with her free hand, and almost giggled. “So uncouth, so roguish, so… common. But of course, character will out.”

    You mean blood will out, Madame. You mean to splash what you so merrily toss at my brother onto my sister and me as well. But… so then, so what?

    “‘People are who they are and do what they do’ the old saying goes, Lady Wentworth-Davy. I’ve long got past the point of being unnerved by my own family simply being what people are. And while we’re on the subject, my sister’s doing quite well for herself too. Liking her new graduate studies on New Calydon nearly as well as she did college at Oxford on Old Earth, if also perhaps a trifle… differently.”

    “Yes, well, I’m sure that’s fine for her, being some sort of… academic. Someone has to do such needful things, I’m sure.” She sounds as much as if she’s talking about a plumber clearing the drain to her toilet. But of course, to her that’s probably all very much the same. And… needful, in truth, as you’ll find the moment you need yours to stop misbehaving. Henry gave her an almost-impish little smile. If a second son is just about like teats on a boar, to you too, what’s a third-child daughter?

    “Sometimes, Lady Wentworth-Davy, I almost envy him. Almost think it might be he who’s the fortunate son, not I. Forty minutes of time later, and it would be me freed to have all those nights on the town and flings with famous but willing women. Merely the luck of the draw, and this other twin might’ve been second. But here we are, here I am, stuck instead with settling for… all this.” He smiled sunnily, to take away all idea that he might truly ever envy his younger sibling… or, at least, most of it. Waved airily with his free hand, as if he believed it was all some day to instantly be his in more than name, not her corruptoligarchy’s in truth.
    (“Cheers for Far Saxony — the Ukraine of the Skies!”)

    And what did not show on his face, never came into the depths of his eyes, was the simple memory, of one night well-mediated by cinnamon tea and cinnamon schnapps. “You know, Henry, our world’s slid a bit by now, like our House has done now and then looking back. Bonnie Prince Chucky, George the Turd, all and more o’ that.” He’d winked, in that over-the-top but still quite sincere way he had, when his ‘public face’ was set aside. “But you still remember the Two Elizabeths, too, from back in the old-days in Britain far before there was a Far Saxony here.” And took a long swig of his tea. “And I figure, if we stick together and hang tough, between the two of us even on this sorry little rock and in these too-degenerate days, we can still make half an Elizabeth between us again.” And tossed off his glass of red.

    “Well, that’s a fine bit of humour, my Prince. But I see the Regent has a free moment coming up, so I must away.” She bent slightly, to peck the air with her lips a full formal foot from his actual cheek.

    “My best to you and Lord Wentworth-Davy, and congratulations on another suitably profitable quarter.” But she only nodded, as she was turning to her next and truest target; turning her face to the real power as a plant might swing from the secondhand glow of the moon to the fiery majesty of the dazzling and dominant sun.

    Another suitably profitable quarter for Jen-Nuke, who haven’t had a new or innovative product in fifteen years. Whose major competitor just came out with a power betavoltaic system, three centuries after the first slow steps toward that right before ‘Sputnik’ stalked the skies — two and a half kilowatts in a hundred-pound package the size of a two-gallon bucket, and costs as much as your lemon-size old-standby model, that makes five milliwatts instead, on promethium, not their nuclear-‘waste’ strontium. Kilopower, without the fission or the critical mass. That part of his last talk with Sarah strolled (restlessly) the rest of the way through his mind.

    “You know that old one about everything being 95% — cac? Well, not so far off, even at Oxford or the Regehr Institute; but what the old-saying does not say, is how often the 5% is mostly… pure gold.” She’d smiled, over their faster-than-light instacom, and impishly. “It still amazes me, how much old Crazy Years idiocy yet hangs on a bit here. But even though their ‘Industrial Management’ is mostly the cliches and rules of thumb and outright myths… they do get some of it right. And it does tell you real stuff, that, if you let it do. True and useful stuff.”

    Henry, Crown Prince of the Realm, watched Aureliana’s (ample and sturdy) retreating back. If she wasn’t ‘hereditary’ President, someone with as much business sense as my kid sister would surely have deposed her by now and put their company’s listing ship to rights. But, no, they’re the Fine and Upstanding People, everyone tells them so all day long. And found that, once again, there wasn’t exactly a line of people waiting to speak with him, instead of the people-power-magnet in the room, the Regent.

    Part of him wanted to sigh. But all of the rest of him, and perhaps quite unaccountably in any normal way… could not help but soar instead.

    The Sad But Dutiful Stodge. The Worthless Uncouth Rake. And the Bookish Virgin Nonentity. Henry let the deep smile bubble up like the tiniest pearls of air rising in his wine, even raised his glass the very littlest bit in salute to the Beautiful Ones in front of him. Enjoy it while you can, while my father and the Regency last, this old world that is your oyster. For when me and mine ascend, we mean to take your cozy little world, turn it upside down till all the fools fall out, and shake the caked dust away. So, so little do you understand, older and more childish now than William The Dashing Rake has ever known how to be.

    And almost-alone in all that formal crowd, he toasted once again the Clan and Crown of the Constitutional Monarchic Republic of Far Saxony. Words meant to mean something, words soon again to mean what they say. Found the flag of the Crown, the Lion, and the Stars, up there and even a touch lonely-looking in all the dusty rafters. Toasted it, with a little strike to attention all his own, quite overtly if surely rather subtly too.

    And if you’d only once seen what she’s really like, deep inside, where all that fire burns unceasing; just those few rare fugitive moments, but enough. He took a measured sip of the plain but half-sweet gas-charged wine. William and I’ve long hoped some day to make half an Elizabeth, somehow between us two; but quiet Miss Sarah Windsor, given half a decent chance for herself, can fair make a Third Elizabeth all on her own.

  24. Part of a parking structure in Milwaukee just collapsed under a heavy load of snow. Aren’t we fortunate that Global Warming has eliminated harsh winters? </sarc>

  25. Helena began to wake up when she felt waves of concern radiating from a source close by…concern aimed at her. Volatile salts stung her nose; she gasped and opened her eyes. Peter Myrth knelt beside her, holding something under her nose. She blinked, and stared at the object rather than focus on him.

    “You carry smelling salts with you in the head of your cane,” she said blankly.

    “It has proven convenient, at times. Miss Gladden, would you permit me to make a closer examination of your head injury?”

    She stared at him, connecting the waves of concern she had sensed with this…this meddling fop. He wasn’t smiling, and the sunset light from the window bouncing off the sharp angles of his face made him look far sterner and less foolish than usual.

    “I have no objection but…you are worried for me? Why?”

    Myrth handed her the cane, and she dutifully held it close to her face, so she could smell the volatile salts. He rose to his feet and bent over her.

    “Who wouldn’t be?”

    She winced a little as those long, cool fingers probed the sore place on the back of her head.

    “But I’ve felt so little from you before now,” she said, her head still throbbing. “Curiosity, irritation, excitement…my uncle’s death has been nothing but a game or an acrostic for you to solve.” She only realized what she had said, a moment too late.

    “Ah,” he said. “You are a Perceiver. I wondered about that, but I lacked the data to be sure of it.”

    “You – you aren’t going to tell my family?”

    “Your uncle’s family? If you have not, why should I do so?”

    He touched a sore place again, and Helena winced. She felt his concern flare again.

    “You are fortunate, Miss Gladden. You were struck from behind, as your uncle was, but at a glancing angle, and that mass of hair you wear up in a bun probably softened the blow.”

    “I thought I heard someone come into my sitting room. I started to turn round, and everything went black.”

    “Well, that would certainly account for the angle,” he said. “You must have moved at the same moment that your attacker struck. Yes, a most fortunate reflex on your part.”

    Helena should have found the warm flow of his emotions comforting, but mostly it felt strange, because other people so seldom aimed their emotions at her.

    “Most of the time, you feel so little for other people,” she said. “Why are you different…now?”

    “Have you read about Teape’s difference engine?”

    “Some sort of thinking machine, was it not? I understood that the engine was strictly theoretical, that Teape was unable to construct it.”

    “I’ve often thought it might be rather pleasant to be a difference engine,” he said dreamily. “No emotions to cloud one’s mind, no sensibilities to wound.” Then his voice turned bitter. “But we are only human, after all. Even me.”

      1. Hopefully yeah. It’s the first thing I’ve written of a fantasy mystery in a faux-regency setting, and it’s also the “welp we’re down to two suspects, because they’re the only ones with a motive to attack you” moment from late in the story, so no wonder it’s confusing.

          1. Heh, thank you for the encouragement. If I do manage to pull it off and get it onto Amazon, I will probably be trumpeting it from the rooftops, either here or on the mad genius club site. 🙂

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