Book Promo and Vignettes 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

AGAIN, SOME AUTHORS AND THEIR SELF PROMO!
WITH STORIES BY BOTH DANIEL M. HOYT AND SARAH A. HOYT: both of which are probably the start of series, and Sarah’s being one that you maniacs wished on her. (The muse murder mysteries. I blame you.):


FROM ROB HOWELL WITH STORIES BY DANIEL HOYT AND SARAH HOYT:
Bonds of Valor

A private eye saves his dead friend.

The Black Company deals with something fishy.

Deathmages, space mages, and forgotten magic.

It’s all here in fourteen stories of valor, heroism, and bonds that tie folk together, for good or ill. There are bonds of love, oaths to gods, and life-long friends.

Will the old, crusty worn-out veteran find his new partner just might be something? Will the knight learn humility from those who serve him? Will Indrajit and Fix restore the path of true love?

Or will the bonds between characters break under the pressure of evil wizards, ancient enemies, or massive dragons?

FROM CELIA HAYES: Lone Star Blood: Another Volume of the Entertaining and Mostly If Not Always True Adventures of Texas Ranger Jim Reade and his Blood-Brother Delaware Scout Toby Shaw

The Continuing adventures of Texas Ranger Jim Reade and his blood-brother Toby Shaw in the days of the Republic of Texas! A pair of eccentric English explorers ask for a guide into a dangerous country, seeking not a fortune … but something more! There is the mystery of a haunted house on Galveston Island to unravel, and the safety of a beneficiary to an unusual will — and more! The old wild west rides again in this continuing set of adventures from the pen of historical novelist Celia Hayes!

FROM J. L. CURTIS: Nothing but Time

Old habits die hard.

Life at the Frog Pond Bar was usually quiet, aside from a few Marine versus SEAL fights. Its owner, Hal Gleason, referred to it as the best way for him to slowly go broke in retirement.

But trouble doesn’t just happen on deployment, and when the wife of an active duty SEAL comes to him after some toughs try to kidnap her daughter, he starts getting the team back together again.

The more he digs, the more he finds that the kidnapping attempt was just the tip of a star-spanning criminal cartel. They have untold money, guns, and drugs… and Hal has old age, treachery, connections, and more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

They shouldn’t have disturbed the still waters…

20000 word novella

BY GEORGES SURDEZ, BROUGHT BACK BY D. JASON FLEMING: Ladies of the Legion (Annotated): Two French Foreign Legion Pulp Adventures

A short novel and a short story exploring two very different effects of the feminine element on Legionnaires, told by the master of Foreign Legion adventure!

Lady of the Legion

She came in over the wall of a lonely French fort in the Sahara one night. And the commander decided to sacrifice himself and his men, rather than give her up to an Arab bridegroom.

Madame Takes Over

Rules Of Engagement don’t apply to the widow of a Legionnaire…

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

FROM C.V.WALTER, D. LAWDOG AND OTHERS: Space Cowboys 2: Electric Rodeo

Something about the rugged individualism of the cowboy strikes a chord in us all. A certain romanticism exists in the feeling that cowboys inhabit a simpler world; one that’s clearer, brighter and makes more sense than our day to day existence.

Cowboys have a certain reckless reputation and that doesn’t fade away when you move them into space and onto alien worlds. Men and women who face hardships and rope a living out of an unforgiving landscape without waiting for orders from a distant authority. They do what needs to be done and take care of their animals, their people, and themselves.

Join us for ten more stories about cowboys who have headed for the stars and distant planets.

FROM PAM UPHOFF: K.A.T. Antiques (Fall of the Alliance Book 11)

In a brutal cross-dimensional Empire where everything is about ownership and control, and the strongest mentalists rule . . .
Karl Traeger has a problem.

His elderly father has died, and sixteen-year-old Karl is going to be at the mercy of very unsavory relatives.
And since he’s the oldest of his generation—ahead of his cousins in the line of inheritance—he knows his uncle will never Present him: never allow him to demonstrate his fitness for the title of Lord. No, he’ll be one more brain-chipped servant.
But maybe if he moves quickly, before anyone knows his father is dead . . . he can save himself, then get to work saving the people he cares about—maybe even save his budding antiques business.

A stand alone novella in the Fall of the Alliance Series.

FROM ALMA BOYKIN: Language of the Land: A Steampunk Fantasy

Antalia — Where queens and Huntresses rule.
Antalia — Where magic is anathema and men obey women.
Antalia — Where land, water, and people tremble at the break-point!

Since the Conquest, queens and their Hunters rule Antalia, banishing all magic in favor of technology—steam and sparks. Men, too impulsive and irrational to govern, live in respectful obedience lest more disasters befall their people. Andre Kalisson, an engineer and hydrologist by trade and dutiful royal employee, tumbles into a secret that could unmake his world. The people who once lived in Antalia used magic, magic that threatens to break its bounds and destroy the land in the process.

Antalia — Where an unwilling mage, a printer, and an archivist can change everything!

FROM C. V. WALTER: Healed by His Alien Nurse

Captain Michael LaGrange and Damina have been negotiating over their future together since the day they met. Both stubborn, both cautious, neither wants to make a decision either of them will regret. Desire and friendship build into a need they can’t ignore any longer.
Unfortunately, duty has to come first and they find themselves on a good will tour prior to the Prince’s wedding.
When something goes wrong at an event, they’re forced apart, and into the machinations of a shadowy conspiracy. Kidnapping, injury and a mysterious illness conspire to keep them apart. To get together they’ll have to get away but they’re surrounded by enemies and good allies are hard to find.

FROM KARL K. GALLAGHER: Swim Among the People (Fall of the Censor Book 5)

Fiera’s victories angered the Censor into deploying the force needed to retake his lost worlds. Marcus Landry is now trapped on an occupied world, trying to fight back against the Censorate. Can he win without hurting the innocent civilians trapped in the crossfire, including his wife and child?

FROM LEIGH KIMMEL: The Other Side of Midnight

Life has been a nightmare for Mitya ever since he was arrested on trumped-up charges and exiled to Siberia. But this labor camp in the far north of Magadan Oblast hides a secret far more terrible than the merely human evils of the Great Terror. For the universe we know is not the only one, and there are places where it interpenetrates with universes where the laws of nature as we know them do not operate, where humanity has no place. Worlds inhabited by beings ancient and terrible, to whom humanity are slaves, playthings, food.

FROM PATRICK CHILES: Escape Orbit (2) (Eccentric Orbits)

A Thrilling New Space Adventure

Five years ago, astronaut Jack Templeton took the spacecraft Magellan to the farthest reaches of our solar system, never to be heard from again.

Until now.

When the Magellan suddenly reappears where an undiscovered planet was suspected to be, it poses more questions than answers. How did Jack survive all this time? Can he make it back to Earth before his life support runs out? And what is the object long thought to be the elusive “Planet Nine”?

In a race against time, Jack’s former crewmate Traci Keene spearheads a desperate effort to outfit a rescue mission. But she has competition. Agencies of both American and foreign governments have their own agendas, and saving rogue astronauts isn’t among them.

And at the edge of all that is known, a gateway to the unknown awaits.

FROM MEL DUNAY: Spider Starhttps://amzn.to/42FOLBq

Jetay must destroy the Spiderstar…with or without his new allies! The psychic warrior Jetay has freed himself and his brother from slavery, and joined Lady Lanati and the Partisans in their interstellar war against the evil Red Knights. Unfortunately the Partisan military is an undisciplined, poorly led force, and the Red Knights grow ever closer to their goal of unleashing the ancient, deadly weapon known as the Spiderstar. Lanati has a plan to destroy the Spiderstar, but it would force Jetay to choose between love and duty. Even worse, he might have to use the same memory removal techniques which were once used against him….

FROM MARY CATELLI: The Princess Seeks Her Fortune

In a land where ten thousand fairy tales come true, Alissandra knows she is in one when an encounter with a strange woman gives her magical gifts, and another gives her sisters a curse.

And she knows that despite the prospects of enchantments, cursed dances, marvelous birds, and work as a scullery maid, it is wise of her to set out, and seek her fortune.

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: DIVERGENT*

*I swear I thought I’d put it up, but I’m on four hours of sleep and things slid. Of course you can carry on with silliness!

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

  1. Uh, your evil space princess, was it intentional to leave the writing prompt blank as a method of messing with us?

      1. You can still come up with a vignette based on the blank prompt if you want.

        For example, here’s mine:

    1. I really enjoy that poem. Short, sweet, and a little bit creepy. And I’ve heard it end two ways, used to describe different characters’ approach to the subject:

      “He wasn’t there again today, I wish that he would go away.”

      vs.

      “He wasn’t there again today, I wish that he would come to stay.”

        1. Quite. The second, as I recall, was weirdly heartwarming in context. It was an old Father Brownmovie with Alec Guinness playing the priest/detective. He and some policeman were discussing Flambeau, with the good father delivering the second line.

  2. “My Lord Ancient, how can we fight something that you can’t tell us anything about?”

    “Sigh, I was hoping that you Youngers could figure out a way. “

    1. Oooh, interesting. I could see this happening in response to some Eldritch Abomination that gains power the more frightened people are of it/people know about it/when facing people who know their name/etc.

      Which could be really cool, if done right…

      1. The First Reason, in the Monster Hunter series. Why MCB intimidates witnesses. The second and third Monster Hunter Memoirs books show why it’s a valid concern. And that even so, MCB is full of assholes.

        “I warned your agent not to get too close, but when have you assholes ever listened to us?”

  3. “What is our writing prompt?”
    “Nothing.”
    “Then what should we do with it?”
    “Worship it.”
    “Why? Is nothing sacred?”

  4. “Master, what is today’s writing prompt?”
    “Nothing, grasshopper.”
    “What should we do with that?”
    “Whatever you wish. Write of it, ignore it, worship it.”
    “Worship it? What, is nothing sacred!?”

  5. “Your prompt is the sound of one hand clapping. Your prompt is the whisper of the wind. Your prompt is to gaze into the abyss.”

    “You forgot to do a prompt, didn’t you?”

    “Shut up.”

  6. “Hunt Master! It looks like the Prey is going on divergent paths, but there are the same number on both paths and both numbers are the same as what we saw when we started the Hunt!”

    “That’s impossible!”

    “Yes Hunt Master but even you said that these were cunning Prey”.

    1. “They must have gone down one of the paths. Find out which one!”

      A voice responded, “Actually we didn’t go down either path and we’re behind you.”

      And the Hunters quickly died.

      1. People don’t give illusionists enough credit. It’s always Fireball, Fireball, I cast Fireball. . . so dull. So unimaginative.

        A truly creative illusionist can break a man’s mind with a cantrip and a 1st level spell slot.

        (Minor Illusion doesn’t require concentration, Silent Image does. Minor Illusion can produce noise. Combine the two, and you can create just about anything so long as it fits the area constraints and the target doesn’t touch it. A little girl singing about death with pitch black eyes, a black fire whispering in Abyssal and slowly creeping nearer and nearer, a black candle with a green flame that grows larger and larger as a ragged tear opens in the universe beneath it…)

        1. The finest wizards in the world have failed to understand the Power of the Dwellers.

          All, they know is that the Dwellers of the Forests easily defend the Hearts of their Forests and do not meddle in the affairs of those who live outside of their Forests.

          While some have managed to negotiate passage through the outer parts of the Forests, nobody living knows what the Dwellers look like.

        2. Not quite what you’re thinking of, but I once came up with an idea for an illusion/summoning spell that could have been something right out of Tomb of Horrors.

          Basically, it summons monsters that look and sound slightly wrong, giving them away as illusions. The catch is that it’s only the flaws that are illusory; the underlying creatures are quite real. If you successfully disbelieve them, they become invisible and inaudible to you…

            1. I did mention my minor in arch-villainy, didn’t I? 😈

              Perhaps it’s best I was driven away from TTRPGs before I got the chance to DM much. That sort of thing is so unfair that actually using it on your players could get you hurt, and I’m not sure a jury would convict.

              1. But it’d work pretty well in a book!

                I tried something in a one-shot that I thought was rather clever. Mirror maze villain lair + flying swords (that use blindsense to attack, not traditional sight) + illusionist wizard boss.

                Then the game got bogged down with disadvantage rolls and double-disadvantage rolls, the good guys had no real likelihood of winning if I put any effort into playing the villain, and I realized clever ideas like that work beautifully in my head… just not mechanically in combat. Some book, someday.

  7. “We the unwilling, led by the incompetent, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, that we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing, forever.” 😀

    1. So much practice getting stuff done with broken and useless equipment that they’ve become gods, crafting universes from spare elements and gravitational anomalies.

      1. Cuts a bit too close to the truth, eh? BTDT. Have a closet full of the tee shirts.

        Sanity, I think, can be found in personal integrity. Upper management- heck, middle management might be functionally insane. BUT. If you do right by your people, your customers if/when you have them, if you can keep your word, work hard, and keep your head when everyone else’s is on fire…

        Well, that’s a fine thing, I think. Just got to keep your focus and grunt and smile at the right points.

          1. Yep. The curse of competence is that the reward for a hard job well done is another hard job, with less time and supplies/equipment/people to do it with.

            I just got done explaining to a crowd of middle managers so new they squeaked that, no, what’s listed on my job description is NOT what I do all day. Fifteen minutes into the explanation of what I actually do, they were already asking, “what, you do ALL of that? Every day?”

            The next half hour of the day job decision tree was, shall we say, “instructive.” When we got to the occasional, the things that happen only once every couple of days or so… Well.

            Some eyes were opened today. At least I so hope.

  8. “Divergent thinking isn’t exactly a skill taught in Soviet cadet schools or officer candidate courses.” Admiral Chaffee looked around the room. “Needless to say, that’s rubbed off on the way they handle their space program and the training of their cosmonauts. The Mercury Seven may have spent a lot of time complaining about being ‘Spam in a can,’ but the only reason Yuri Gagarin had any control over his Vostok spacecraft was a key that Korolev slipped him moments before he ascended the gantry. I have no reason to believe that’s changed in the two decades and change since, so we’re going to have to expect a very cookbook approach from the cosmonauts at the Soviet moonbase.”

  9. I’d already thought up a response for the blank space before the actual prompt was edited in, so here it is (also from the same story):

    Valery Mishin eyed the thermometer with an uneasy gaze. Everyone tended to think of space as cold. Even the authors of that Young Pioneers on the Moon novel had fallen into that fallacy, with a very tense scene of the protagonists struggling to keep their emergency shelter warm, ignoring that it was the middle of lunar daytime.

    In fact, space is neither hot nor cold. Instead, it’s an insulator, like a giant vacuum flask — so the biggest problem of any human facility in space is not keeping warm so much as heat management. You need to make sure it’s where you need it to be or go, and a lot of solutions to those problems that are familiar on Earth don’t work in orbit or on the Moon.

    At least here on the lunar surface, a moonbase had one advantage over a spacecraft in orbit — it could use the Moon itself as a heatsink. However, that assumed that your heat-transfer systems were working. In the wake of the failure of the ammonia cooling loops, they had no idea whether those systems had been compromised as well.

  10. The ships spread out of the initial formation on divergent courses, like a blossoming flower. “Standard Alphas fist formations,” Admiral Vi noted. “Three and one, even if it’s just three destroyers and a light cruiser. What’s their light lag?”

    “Half a minute,” the sensor operator replied. “Ours is four seconds. We’ve been picking off their drones with very high confidence.”

    Vi swiped her fingers through the tactical hologram and started picking out formations. “Tell TG 11.3 and 11.4 to begin firing their torpedoes in stealth mode and pick these formations off. They wouldn’t break up like this if they thought they’d be facing bombardment ships and I want those capital hulls blown up or lamed. Have TG 12.1 and 12.2 stay under stealth for now but keep getting close. We can’t let any of these ships get past us-not even a destroyer.”

    Commander Prael nodded. Standard Alpha tactic in a losing battle was to inflict attritional population damage on habitable worlds and a 9,000-ton destroyer slamming into a planet at a significant fraction of the speed of light would make even a failing antimatter containment bottle explosion appear puny.

  11. The usual crowd, skipping around in time a bit for this one.

    “Still not drinking anything stronger than soda today, Vincent?” the bartender asked, regarding the young man with amusement.

    “No matter how much alcohol I drink it doesn’t affect me so I might as well stick to what I like the taste of.” he shrugged, waiting for the man to fill his order.

    “I’ve got to give it to you, I don’t think anyone else could do the whole brooding stranger in a bar thing with just a glass of soda the way you can,” Eike the bartender remarked with a chuckle, returning with a large glass of cola for the Undying soldier. “Is Brad coming, too?”

    “He should be unless Dr. Blomgren sprang some last minute work on him,” Vincent replied, taking a sip of his drink. “You know he doesn’t like to miss Klaudia singing.”

    “More like he doesn’t want to miss whatever outfit she squeezed herself into for the evening,” Eike said with a chuckle. “Well, brood away while you’re waiting for him, kid. He’s not the only one looking forward to her performance this evening.”

    Vincent simply nodded as Eike attended to his other customers, glancing at the stage every so often even though he knew it’d be at least 30 minutes before the performance started. If it wasn’t Brad’s favorite bar, and if Eike wasn’t easy to talk to, Vincent probably wouldn’t come here as often as he did, especially on nights when Klaudia Glöckner was on stage. She didn’t have the regal violet eyes and their facial features were fairly different but her dark hair and hourglass figure reminded him too much of Carys. Their lives had gone down divergent paths the moment he and Lionel had decided that they knew better than their teachers and whenever life brought them back together it was always on opposite sides of a war. He wondered how long it would be before that happened again.

    “Yo, Vince! Sorry I’m late!” a voice rang out. Vincent turned around to see Brad scrambling his way to the seat next to his. “I didn’t miss Klaudia, did I?!”

    “No. The performance doesn’t start for another 10 minutes.” the Undying soldier replied, chuckling slightly at his cousin’s clownishness.

  12. I’m not DIVERGENT, you are!

    I may be a Boomer; but the so-called Democrats of today are the same folks the Democrats of my youth called communists. And the Republicans of today are far to the left of John F. Kennedy and his crowd.

    I remember John Glenn and the rest of our Astronauts making us so proud. And it wasn’t a man thing or a white thing it was an American thing.

    I don’t know if America can be saved by us; but she is worth saving if we can.

  13. Eyeing the boids while standing, beer in hand, on da corner of toid and toidy toid in old NYC, Brooklyn Vito , coiling his lip, told Vinnie: “Da ting is if we wanna catch a unicorn, we don’t need da virgin, we just gotta go to da right divergent universe.”

  14. Jane and Lurie usually met up in the morning to walk their children to school. This morning was no different, except that the school’s principal Dr. Anderson was posting a flyer on the announcement board outside his office. June had often wondered how the man could maintain such a serene appearance when surrounded by well over a hundred small children every day of his working life, but on this morning he looked more ruffled than usual.

    June stayed to chat with him for a moment while Lurie read the flyer, which was fresh enough still to smell of mimeographed purple ink.

    “Ah, good morning, Mrs. White,” he greeted her. “Everything going well with you?”

    “Yes, thank you. I can’t believe Thanksgiving is almost here – ” she replied but was interrupted by Lurie’s gasp.

    “Is Susan Becker behind this?” she demanded. “I’ll just bet she is.”

    Jane looked at her, surprised. “What’s the matter, Lurie?”

    “That announcement says the PTA leadership committee wants a reorganization. All the committees would have to report to some ‘reviewer committee’ before they can present at the meetin’s and they’re going to vet all of our plans. It sounds like they’ll have to rubber-stamp everything before we can even vote on it! They say it’s going to be more efficient but I bet they’re annoyed because you came up with the idea for Games Night without running it past them first.” She gave Dr. Anderson an accusing look, to which he responded with a shrug.

    “I cannot refuse to publicize PTA policy. Unfortunately there is what you might call a, ah, divergent faction emerging in the association. I believe their goal is to increase their influence in choosing school activities, and also to gain more control over who is elected to leadership. The outcome will likely be to minimize the number of new ideas that are adopted for parental involvement in the school. I admit I have concerns,” he concluded in a lower voice, as Susan Becker joined the group.

    “Hello, everybody! I see the announcement is up. Thank you, Dr. Anderson. So nice to see cooperation from the school leadership.”

    “And as we discussed, this new policy is still a proposal and will need to be voted on. We’ll need to ensure the best attendance possible at the meeting,” Anderson replied.

    “Well, the date is in the flyer…”

    “In small print.” Anderson flashed a glance at Jane and Lurie, who was quick to respond: “Oh we can take care of that for you! It wouldn’t be any trouble at all!” She gave Susan Becker her brightest smile and thickened her drawl. “We’ll spread the word faster than grass through a goose!”

    The PTA head stiffened in annoyance, while Anderson’s eyes twinkled in appreciation. “If you’re sure it isn’t too much trouble…”

    “Glad to help,” Jane responded, picking up her cue. “We’ll get that done and dusted for you.” Before Mrs. Becker could respond further, the school bell rang and put an end to the conversation. With a final smile, Jane and Lurie hastened away.

  15. Nothing really made an impression on her as they went through the ball. She said the right things at the right times, and accepted the right dances, remembering to dance three times only with Julian, who properly asked her for the dances. Not even the most sparkling music to the liveliest dances affect her much, though she remembered the fondness she had had for them before.
    And then, with the sunset beginning, they all went their own ways in their carriages, and Ava, with relief, sat down and realized they would expect her to know them again, at the next.

      1. But if you’re bad with names and faces, you get to meet new people all the time. 😛

  16. “So, what am I looking at?” Jimmy asked.

    “Everything.”

    “Huh? I don’t see anything.”

    The wizard smiled. “Congratulations. That’s the first step.”

    “So what do I do now?”

    “Keep looking. If it helps, close your eyes.” the wizard hinted.

    “Yeah, seeing with my eyes closed, like that makes any sense.”

    1. “Oh, that’s interesting. The e-mail had a complete blank where the prompt goes. But the web page says DIVERGENT*.”

      “Yeah. Either there wasn’t one when it was sent, or the app stripped it out.”

      “Probably stripped out. See that asterisk at the end? Interpreted as a control character I’ll bet.”

      1. Sarah admits that she didn’t post the promo at first.

        She edited her original post.

  17. “It gave you something,” said Lucie.
    Autumn choked down the impulse to say it was nothing. Lucie had fought beside her, even if Autumn had come to her aid, and had seen the thing fall. Besides, she needed to know what it was, herself.
    “Sunlight might help,” said Autumn. She brought it out and they looked: a metallic egg. Clearly of clockwork, with no visible key or other means to start the gears in motion.
    A mysterious, perhaps magical egg, while she was stuck in the forest with no path. A mysterious crossroads where the choice of paths was between life and death would be easier.
    “Perhaps the key is in the nest,” said Lucie.
    Autumn blinked. That was not a path her thoughts would have taken. “I think it vanished with the bird.”
    Lucie shrugged. “Quick to check now. Coming back would be much harder.”
    She started to climb.

  18. His father’s eyes opened, and he stared at the apple. It reflected in his eyes.
    He coughed. “Where are your brothers?”
    “I have not seen them,” said Liam. True enough. When his father did not speak again, he said, “We went by different paths from a crossroad.”
    That, too, was true enough. The inn had been at a crossroads. And if they had not gone by a different path, then, they had done so before.
    That was nothing. Now he had to heal his father.
    “Should I cut the apple for you?” he said.
    His father gave a little laugh. “I can eat an apple yet, my son.”
    “Should I help you up? Or have the servants do it? I know they must be better at shifting you after these sad months.”
    Two menservants were beside the bed, moving pillows, before the words had quite finish. His father sat up.

  19. “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, of course,” explained the inspector. “So this should be pretty quick. If you’ll sign the affidavit, I’ll run it over to the boss.”

    Colin felt a rush of relief. Going to the demonstration had been risky, but apparently the police didn’t care that much.

    1. Being somewhat paranoid and overly fond of imagining clever bad guys, I’m really worried that this ‘signed affidavit’ is, well…

      Take it away, Admiral Ackbar.

    2. It felt like an hour at least, though Colin wasn’t sure, as there was no clock in the Inspector’s tiny office. Finally, the Inspector appeared. “Oh, hey,” he said affably, “Boss is in a meeting. Shouldn’t be much longer now! Just sit tight!”

      Like I have much choice? Colin thought.

      1. Another hour passed. The inspector let Colin use the restroom. “The boss is reading your affidavit now,” the Inspector said. “Just sit tight. Not much longer now.”

        “Is anything wrong?” Colin asked.

        “No,” said the Inspector, “but there were some really bad actors at the demonstration. He’s being extra thorough.”

  20. “Rig the storm sails!” called Captain Emerson, striding towards the wheelhouse. “Get the hatches battened, too. Looks like quite a bluster.”

    The crew turned from gaping over the port bow to stare at him instead. He looked back at them evenly, silence stretching over the deck as swiftly-growing waves battered the sides of the Indomitable. The black sky to the east flashed and growled hungrily towards its approaching prey.

    The silence was broken by the sound of heavy boots clomping up a ladder, and the First Mate emerged from below-decks like a ghoul from his grave. A surprisingly well-dressed ghoul, actually, in full dress uniform and feathered cap, ceremonial cutlass hanging by his side. After casting a casual glance over the ship’s deck, he tromped his way over to Emerson, holding out a much larger hat with a collection of feathers stuck at a jaunty angle.

    “Your cap, sir, as requested.” With barely a glance towards the crew, he shifted from polite deference to roaring command in an instant. “HOP TO IT, ye lazy band of mongrels, or I’ll give ya something to stare at!”

    The crew quickly set to their tasks, although an air of disbelief still hung in the thickening air.

    Emerson took the cap reverently, placing it on his head at a rakish angle. “Much as I appreciate it, Jenson, I don’t think I requested this.”

    “Captains shouldn’t go down capless, sir. It ain’t right.”

    Emerson shot his first mate an amused look as the pair started towards the wheelhouse. “And your cap?”

    Jenson gave his amused grimace. “For when I got me own ship, sir. Looks like that ain’t gonna happen, but I’d rather be keelhauled than let it go to waste.”

    “Good man.” As Emerson swung the wooden door open, he glanced back towards the man again. “And the dress blues?”

    “Might as well get one use out of ’em.”

    “Better to greet the Underworld prepared, eh?”

    Emerson whirled to face the unfamiliar voice, staring for several moments at the figure standing over the collapsed form of his navigator. The man looked like just about any crewman, a few dark hairs escaping from a black bandana, in a battered old uniform with newly-polished buttons. Somehow contriving to make parade rest look truly casual, he offered the captain a wry smile.

    “I can respect that effort.”

    The captain straightened, looking him up and down carefully before extending a hand. “Captain Robert Emerson, sir.”

    The man raised an eyebrow. “I’d be a poor crewman, captain, if I didn’t know your name.”

    “I’d be a poor captain if I didn’t know my crew, and you’re no man of mine.”

    The stranger smiled and turned to face the prow. “Quite a storm brewing, there. I’d set a divergent course, if I were you.”

    Jenson snorted. “It’s bearin’ down on us like Dev’el himself. If ye’ve any suggestions, then out with ’em, but don’t waste the captain’s time.”

    The man gave him a sidelong glance, a flicker of sardonic humor glittering deep in his dark eyes. “Interesting choice of metaphor…”

  21. The corpse lay cooling on the dirty linoleum floor. Detective Inspector Vermille (‘call me Ver’) thought it odd, having this tuxedo-clad body in such a slum. He glanced at the witness – another high society, fancy-dressed swell. His assistant brought the witness into the kitchen, saying “So here’s D.I. Ver, gent”.

  22. If the magic let him see better, it did not grant him understanding. They could be doing nothing down there, or at least futile attempts to ward off the inevitable defeat.
    The children started to run, this way and that, screaming in terror so loudly their voices could be heard.

  23. Graceful slow swirls of sweet-smelling incense drifted in the nearly still air. (Sweet, or at least not too obnoxiously cloying.) Soft string music, some exotic or unfamiliar instrument, played far off in the background.

    The Seeress spoke, “Your world-lines now are very… divergent. Make only a small change in what you do, and very large changes are almost sure to follow. So step carefully and look as far ahead as you may.” Eyes closed, body at rest under the heavy brocade robe the Seeresses here had all worn.

    “Always the same old stuff,” said James Abernathy behind a hand, voice a bare touch above inaudible. “The future is a ‘fan-shaped destiny’ and all you have to do is pay attention and act, to end up where you want.”

    The Seeress pried open her left eyelid wide, moving (or so it seemed) only that part of her tranquil self. “Not as cliche as all that, son of Judah. You’re mixing me up with the ‘entertainment’ you get at the county fair, every October where you grew up. This is not Raintree Valley, and I’m not some ‘fortune teller’ — I got hired for this job the old-fashioned way. I got drafted, sitting where your ample butt is, six long lovely years ago.” And smiled. “Though last I hear, the Skylark of Valerian is still keeping my seat warm, for someday.”

    She shifted a little on her red-velvet cushion. “This ain’t Delphi, then or now, Brother Abernathy. I ain’t its Pythia, either; I’m a Jump pilot from backcountry Farnham’s Free-for-All. So when I say your world-lines in the present are very divergent, that’s for all three of you individually and severally, and I mean more than usually and for more than you lot in consequence. You’ve got yoursel’s a fresh idea like a bone in your teeth, and you’re runnin’ with it like the cleverest three little dogs ever. But you can do a lot of good or ill with it, for yourselves and for others; and I’m the messenger-girl here to tell, warn, and beg you to take better care. If there were such a thing as a Lyapunov exponent for luck and destiny, yours would be off the charts right now.”

    She closed both eyes again a moment, breathed deeply in and out, then her eyes opened and her face went (by comparison) almost animated. (It was at least a bit odd, that the swirls of blue smoke somehow never quite seemed to reach her.) “There’s another way ‘divergent’ can be taken, though I’ll leave it to you to guess whether that’s more like the infinite series

    1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + …

    or the one that starts more gently as

    1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 +… ;

    either way, you do not add up a number you can count. Now, I’m not telling you your individual or collective futures are ‘destined’ to end up haring off to some nonstandard-analysis infinity — that’s not set at the moment either, which is of course the whole point. I can tell you that if even one of you jumps up and runs off and dismisses this whole thing as a crock of warm fertilizer, you’ll not all three likely be breathing this time next month. You’re about to shake a whole lot of trees and maybe blow down a lot of houses, and the Big Bad Wolf ain’t so popular always.”

    Estelle Lee’s chuckle was soft, but also very loud. “You do talk right like a Jump pilot, Seeress. And like someone I used to know, who’d bite off and chew up fake ‘fortunetellers’ for sport when it suited him.”

    “You’re truly starting to annoy me, young lady. For all the hype and buzz around you and this Temple here, this stuff is getting way too much for me, so, Albert and Estelle, if you’ll excuse me…”

    “James Jacob Abernathy, sit down. This is not a revival, this is not your Sunday school class. And if you’d really prefer a moment like Jonah on the run, or Saul on the road to Damascus, that can be arranged.” Suddenly the Seeeress’ voice did not sound much like a cocky Jump pilot’s at all.

    “Jimmy, if you will. I paid some good money to hear this, I’ve been more than a little unsettled at some of the things I’ve seen and guessed these past three weeks, myself.” Albert Brookheimer’s voice was soft, like the Seeress’ had been. “I’ll promise to do no more than take your, let’s call it report of consultancy, under advisement, my dear Seeress. But in order to do even that, first I must fully receive it.” He shot a quelling look at James, fuming with a don’t-pay-me-enough, devil-take-this-goatfart expression still on his dark, unsmiling face.

    But the Seeress wasn’t, apparently, much listening. “You’re sure? So just like that?” Her voice was crisp and brisk and not warmly enaging like it’d been. As if she wasn’t even talking to them, any more.

    And she unfolded her arms and stuck them out to either side, and snapped her fingers both hands at once. Then she was still there, and they were still there, but everything else had changed. Where the Temple tent had been, was an open field with lazy blue sky above. Where they sat on their four cushions was not a rug but a soft carpet of grass. A sound of running water came from behind them…

    “Crap. You drugged us, didn’t you?” James said accusingly. (He didn’t add “bitch” out loud — but it hung in the air, half-said, half-heard.)

    “Nope,” said Estelle, unexpectedly. “Just a shift in perception, right?” She said it brightly and inquiringly. As if she almost-wanted to applaud.

    “Yes. Call it the Shamanic State of Consciousness, if you want to look it up when you ‘get home,'” said the Seeress-pilot. “Sorry to cut loose from you guys this way, but I wasn’t getting through so well, and the people I work for” — she pointed in front of her and behind them — “really, truly want ye-all to listen.” Her voice shifted again, that earlier way. “Goin’ all old-school Norse on ’em, now, huh?”

    Estelle had turned around, and you could almost hear her gulp. “I, ah, believe I’m most honored to make your acquaintance. Ladies.” As fair as her skin naturally was, you could almost see her pale.

    “Is there an off-ramp to this hallucination? Not really asking.” His voice had gone tight and close to truly angry.

    “James Jacob Philosophia Abernathy. Did your gran-pappy tell you someday I might be comin’-a-callin’?” The speaker was there now, behind the Seeress. Slim and tall, in a rainbow-hued skirt with a shirt, vest, and jacket. And a bowler hat, ringed in copper for a hatband. “How your family’s long owed me a favour, how someday I might come to you to collect?”

    Now he looked like he’d seen a ghost. “You got words for me?”

    “Yes I do, sweet baby James. ‘The Lady of the River and the Wind has come to ask you for aught. But when the River and the Wind rise, not always is it to drown or to blow away.’ Your gran-pappy give you enough of an idea that — ‘attitude’ of yours just now — is not a good look on you?”

    “Yes. Yes, he did.” Chastened. And awed.

    “Then walk a while with me.” Offered her arm.

    Estelle was loooking half-stunned, too. Oya? she mouthed, almost beyond speaking. The Lady in the bowler hat just winked.

    James got up, and took her arm…

    “Albert and Estelle, be welcome to us here.” The speaker was a young girl with tatting in her hands, in her lap. Sitting by a spring-pool that was the source of the sound. “Forgive our precipitate introduction, but…”

    “But we really, really did not,” said her older sister, standing by the pool with arms crossed, “want to have to spend the next century or three pooper-scooping the mess you three can make of all this, what you’re all now about. Because you can make such a wonderful job of it, if you will; or instead screw it up not just royally but imperially.” Her lithe fingers moved deftly, thrice, in a rude gesture not so much merely suggestive as downright obvious.

    The oldest sister, with the platinum hair, simply smiled.

    “Ladies, you have my respectful attention.” Albert Brookheimer looked as carefully neutral as one can, while still being… awe-somely tickled pink.

  24. “AAAAH! YOU STUPID BLOODY BALL OF DIRT!”

    Recently freed prisoners and, let’s be honest, future sacrifices looked on in growing concern as their rescuer screamed at the ground beneath its (his?) feet. Or roots. Whichever one it was this time.

    “Is he…?”

    One of the braver sorts spoke up. Annika sighed.

    “He will be fine. Nothing to worry about-”

    “GIMME BACK MAH XP, YOU DIRTY THIEF!”

    “Your rescuer is just a bit-”

    Powerful blows ripped furrows into the dirt as the man with the bark skin and leaves for hair hurled further invectives. If it weren’t for the pressure waves of Qi and, well, the decaying corpses of an infernal warlord and his merry band of slaving cannibals it would look more like a child’s temper tantrum, she thought.

    “-upset.”

    Annika’s green eyes closed as she rubbed her temples, trying and failing to ease away the growing headache. She’d known that becoming bonded to one of the invaders was supposed to be a punishment. She’d even started to accept that she might be tied to some minor demon or lich or something for a time. Allowing your chosen to die tended to come with consequences, after all.

    But this?

    “THAT WAS MINE! I WORKED FOR IT! NOT YOURS!”

    It was probably a good fit on paper, at least. A fae and a sentient plant. As the plant grew, so would she. A possibility of redemption, of a sort, maybe if one looked at it sideways with a bit of a squint.

    She glanced back at the newly freed people. Concern was beginning to show on several faces. Others were still looking about in disbelief and wonder that they were still alive. One very small child was observing her charge throwing a fit and laughing and giggling, thrashing in her mothers’ arms.

    This would not do.

    “Alright people! Yes, all of you. Listen to ME for a minute, not the yelling idiot behind me.” She faced the crowd with a stern look, using the big voice that her mother had taught her held attention.

    “Before you are two divergent paths. On the one side, you have the ability to leave this place. Freely. Go your own way in the world and do as you will.

    “You already know it’s dangerous out there. This planet has been invaded four times now. But sure, you might find a hidden enclave out there that somehow survived. And somehow convince them to take you in.

    “That’s assuming you survive the roving bands of slavers, the invading demons, the fourth wave I mean, and the defending demons that are looking for any way to hold their stolen land. You could do that.”

    She held up a hand, waving towards the shattered gate that their assault force of two had entered through.

    “That’s the way out. Good luck to you, if that’s your choice.”

    “On the other hand-”

    Annika winced as something large, heavy, and probably made of metal crashed to the ground behind her. She winced. This was not a good look.

    But, needs must she would soldier on. Even in the face of the most irritating being she had ever shared five minutes with, let alone the rest of his life.

    “On the other hand, he’s usually not this bad. And I promise he doesn’t want to sacrifice you or your children.”

    1. I like this girl. And does the gentleman think he’s been transported into a game of Minecract or D&D? You said sentient plant, but I’m not sure what to think about someone in-game complaining about allocation of XP loudly enough for NPCs to hear him…

      1. LitRPG/Gamelit genres are the ones with the “system” in them that records the protagonist’s data in a game like fashion. For a while it was one of the fastest growing subgenres in fantasy on Amazon.

        This one’s from a little world that I absolutely am not writing in, because I’ve got another one that needs to be finished first.

        The natives already know about XP because they have their own little system screens that tell them their strength, wisdom, and so on scores, with abilities, spells, quest log, affinities, and suchlike. The plant man is pissed because the planet absorbed a rather large portion of the experience points he would have gained upon defeating his foe… Except he was too low level, technically, to even THINK about fighting the boss.

        Essentially, he cheated. Used an exploit. Gamed the system, as it were. Or, in his mind, intelligently used his few strengths in a targeted manner against the weakness he could perceive in his foes.

        The PoV character is something like Tinkerbell or Navi. She’s also, technically speaking, an isekai character, as this is not her home planet. She royally botched her last assignment, but in her defense, the boy was an ass.

        So she’s done the “bonded companion to the hero” thing before, but now she was supposed to be a bonded companion to one of the invaders. Only her invader was actually a ringer slipped into the wave by Primal Chaos, so now she has… other issues.

        Again, totally not writing this one. Really. Promise. At least, not yet.

        1. Sounds fun, though. Let me know when you do get around to writing it!

          (In a fight to the death, there are no rules. Cheat ’till you win. But I’d also caution against expecting any prize beyond survival. :wink:)

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