Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: Another Roll of the Dice

This story began as a response to the latest Flash Fiction Challenge from Terrible Minds, but it didn't go where it was supposed to go. The genres were supposed to be superhero and conspiracy thriller, and the required elements were a bottle of rare liquid and a perilous journey. Most of that got totally lost. Here's to not following the rules:

"But I'm a Superhero!"

"'You're going to need braces,' he says to my mom, all calm and collected like he's not scared I'm going to punch him through a wall. I've never wanted to break the code so badly in my life!" Shawna grabbed a chunk of granite and squeezed it to sand while her cousin Alison lounged on a nearby boulder and smirked.

"Oh yeah, your life is so hard; cutting class to save lives, being awarded medals and the keys to - how many cities is it again?"

"Thirteen and a half."

"A half?"

Shawna scowled.

"Yeah, Spokane wanted to award me and Roddy both for that Sasquatch incident and you know what happens when that little assbite has to share the spotlight."

Alison rolled her eyes.

"Of course. So, you need braces, it's not like anyone's going to dare tease you about it. Was that all you flew me up to this mountaintop for?"

"Maybe." Shawna sighed, blowing Alison's hair back in a gust. "Oops, sorry."

"Whatever. Come on, if we leave now, we can make it back before dinner." Alison stood up and gave Shawna a hug before hopping on her back. "Giddyap!"

"If you say that one more time, I swear I'll drop you in the Grand Canyon!"


Hey S,
Saw this ad and thought of your issue - you can take the pain, so why not get things done quick?

Shawna clicked the link and gasped. Orthodontics for Super People! No way! Why hadn't Doc Quigley mentioned this option?

"Mom!" Shawna yelled, shaking the house on its foundation.

"Modulate your voice, dear," her mother said when she came to the door.

"Mom, look! One visit and they'll have my teeth straightened and I won't have to wear braces, please, please, pretty please with sugar on top?"

Her mother scanned the website over Shawna's shoulder.

"They'll have to put you under general anesthetic. I'm not sure I like the sound of that. They might not even be able to knock you out with the constitution you have."

"Can't we just visit them?"

"I suppose it won't hurt- oh!" Shawna picked her mother up and twirled her around the room.


"Young lady, put me down."

Shawna did, smiling so hard that the room was noticeably brighter.


Shawna flew her mom's car over two states for the appointment. Shawna and her mother entered a dusty looking office building. The business listing in the lobby had more blanks than offices. Insurance, lawyer, lawyer, accountant and the offices of C. Soto, DDS, MS, room 211.

The door from the hall opened directly into the doctor's office. Framed diplomas and certificates vied for wall space with pictures of toothy white smiles in beaming young faces.

"Welcome, hello, hello. You must be Shawna. I've read so much about you- so many exploits for one so young. Truly, you are super, my dear. And I will help you have a super smile to go along with your super abilities, yes? Please, sit," said the doctor, a small woman wearing dark framed glasses. Her accent was faint, just tinging her words with the music of another native tongue. Shawna noticed that she dyed her hair, but it wasn't to cover gray. Instead, Shawna's penetrating vision discovered blonde locks under the seriously dark hair.

"We haven't actually decided yet," her mother said, clearing her throat. "This is just a consultation. I'm particularly interested in what kind of sedative you think will allow you to work on her."

"Oh, that, my dear, is the beauty of it. There will be no need for a special sedative. I have a technique that will allow me to manipulate the girl's energy levels in such a way as to allow her to respond to normal drugs. Proprietary, of course, so you understand I cannot go into specifics." Dr. Soto smiled. Shawna didn't like her smile. It seemed to make the room darker.

She tuned out as her mother started asking her motherly questions. The more they spoke, the less comfortable Shawna she felt. All the answers were fine, right, perfect. And her mother was nodding. Wasn't that good?

"Just sign here, and we can get started right away, yes?"

"Of course."

Before the ink could even dry, Dr. Soto whisked the paper away and pressed a button on her phone.
"Sugar, come get Shawna Petersen prepped."

"Prepped?" Shawna said. "Now?"


An even smaller woman wearing scrubs that matched canary yellow curls walked in and led Shawna away from her nodding smiling mother. This is what I wanted, Shawna thought. I'm not going to get braces. She smiled, but it wobbled and slid off her face as she ran her tongue around the crookedness of her teeth, the small gap to one side on the top that had always bugged her.

Sugar led her to a small room with a dental chair and gestured for her to sit. Shawna looked at the room. There was something wrong. The ceiling was too low. The walls didn't quite fit.

"Please have a seat," Candy said. "The doctor will be with you shortly."

"You like working for Dr. Soto?"

Sugar walked to the door and pressed an intercom button.

"Spice, please come to room 1."

A woman who could have been Sugar's twin walked through the door a moment later, dressed exactly the same, but with hair a lighter shade of blonde. They joined hands and stepped over to Shawna, using their free hands to push her down onto the chair and hold her there.

Shawna felt her body grow heavy the moment they touched her. She blinked, though it shouldn't have surprised her that someone planning to treat supers would employ nulls. But just because they were touching her didn't mean that normal drugs would be able to knock her out.

Dr. Soto walked through the door and ignored Shawna on her way across the room. The walls recessed and revealed a large machine to Shawna's right. Pumps thumped and liquids swirled and swished through rainbows of glass piping. A metal halo was attached on an arm that Dr. Soto swung over Shawna's head.

"In three, two, one," she said. At one, the nulls let go of Shawna and stepped back. Shawna felt a strike of vertigo lance her skull, shifting her vision to a double view for a moment before sliding back into focus. She felt dizzy as Sugar and Spice proceeded to hook an IV needled in her arm. Before she could recover from the zap, the room went dark.


"Wakey-wakey, sleepyhead.

"It's time to wake up!" Alison slapped Shawna's cheeks.

"Where am I?" Shawna asked. She blinked, but her vision stayed blurry.

"I, I, I, me, me, me, that's all you ever think about isn't it? How can I save the orphans from the burning building? How can I prevent massive flooding in Calgary? How can I get my stupid crooked teeth fixed without having to wear braces? Selfish little bitch."

Shawna tried to sit up, but found herself bound by straps at wrists, ankles and waist. Leather straps. She should be able to snap those with hardly a thought, but... something was wrong.

"What's happening?" she asked, blinking rapidly. There was a light overhead shining right in her face. She couldn't see the rest of the room.

"It isn't about what's happening, bitch, but about what's happened. Feeling a little off, are we? A little weak? Mortal, perhaps? Don't bother answering; you might strain yourself." Alison slammed a fist down on Shawna's midsection, forcing the air out of her lungs. Shawna struggled to breathe, going red and then purple before she could get air to whoosh back into her starved body.

"Carmela was right. You're just like me now," Alison said into Shawna's ear. "And that's the way you're going to stay."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


"Remember, you're always free to say something stupid, and if you don't say stupid things people won't correct you. Don't be afraid of being wrong; be afraid of being quiet."
Penn Jillette, spoken on Penn Radio, March 31st 2006

I didn't initially put an attribution to the quote under the title of this blog. And it wasn't just because I was afraid of being wrong (although that was part of it- I've found other people quoted with the part about being wrong, but the internet has not revealed anyone else tacking the quiet part on, so I'm going to go with my attribution as correct). It was also because I was afraid of coming off as a fan (which I am), and being judged.

As if hiding anything had ever stopped me from judging myself.

I had made a habit of listening to the Bob and Tom show on the radio every morning at work. It was a fun thing to listen to and helped pass the mornings quickly. Sometimes there were guests that I was especially interested to hear for one reason or another and sometimes there were guests that I wanted to hear more of after their interviews. Penn Jillette was one of the latter.

It was sometime last November, just before Every Day is an Atheist Holiday came out. Penn was shilling the book on that radio show, and, I imagine, many others. In the course of the interview, I learned about Penn's podcast, Penn's Sunday School, and resolved to check it out. Why? Because Penn was highly entertaining and amusing to me in the interview, and I thought that, surely, even though Sunday school was in the title, this could be another amusing thing to listen to while working.

I went to the website, and listened to the most recent episode, also named "Every Day is an Atheist Holiday." I couldn't help but laugh out loud. Sure, at first I tried to contain myself, but it was too much. Little snorts escaped me and then single barks of laughter, before I gave in and just laughed, leaking tears from the effort of holding it in so long. I laughed enough that my co-worked asked what I was listening to, and when I told her, she checked it out and also ended up laughing out loud.

We still each listen to the new episodes as they come out. I've gone back and listened to every single one. I've also found a place online that has archived episodes of Penn Radio from 2006 and 2007. I've been working my way through those. I told my co-worker about them, but she's not interested. She's found other things to listen to.

I watched a couple seasons of Penn & Teller's Bullshit when it first came out, when I was in college and a friend with money brought them into the dorm. I've watched more since on YouTube, because I don't have the money to buy the DVDs and for some reason the library doesn't carry them. I bought an electronic copy of God, No! and devoured it. I'm stingily holding out on buying Everyday is an Atheist Holiday until the price goes down, but I'm not sure I'll win that battle with myself.

I even, in a move very much at odds with my television viewing habits, watched a few episodes of The Celebrity Apprentice when Penn was on it. Including the drawn out boredom of the All Stars live finale.

There are other celebrities that I would prefer to dream about, if it were up to me, but instead, since that interview on the Bob and Tom show, I've had three dreams, that I remember, featuring Penn (only one was mildly sexy; the others involved sports). I think I've become somewhat of a Penn Jillette fan-girl, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. There's a part of me that is embarrassed to be a fan of anything, while another part reminds me that it isn't like I've become a stalker. 'I'm just highly interested and engaged', I say to myself, and I nod back, 'uh-huh, whatever, fan-girl!'

There's a possibility that I'll be in Las Vegas next March, and I find myself hoping that I'll get to see the Penn and Teller show. I'll wait in line to meet Penn afterward, and I'll leave without saying a word, crying with anger at how I let my fear get in the way of what I want, again.

Because I'm more afraid of being wrong than being quiet. Wrong about facts, wrong about feelings, wrong about actions and wrong about social interactions. Better to stay quiet and never find out if the what-ifs in my head are the worst that could happen or the best.


I'll wait in line to meet Penn afterward, and I'll be a dork and ask if I can have my picture taken with him, and I'll know that he wants to say no just to be contrary, but that he won't. I'll offer my admiration for the show and his other creations and leave with a silly grin plastered on my face.

Because I'm afraid of missing out by being quiet.


Because I refuse to stay quiet, even though I might still be afraid.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: It's ABC Meets XYZ!

Another Flash Fiction Challenge entry!

This time, the challenge was to create a story that would generate the thought of, wow, this is like ____ meets ____, as a description. 20 possibilities were offered and I used a random number generator. I did end up generating three numbers, because I don't feel familiar enough with The Maltese Falcon to do it justice. Not that I'm claiming to do Star Wars meets Batman justice, but at least I've seen/read those particular commercial properties.

"Knight Error"

More than one pair of eyes watched Tasha as she walked out into the semi-darkness that passed for night in this godforsaken corner of the galaxy. Each pair knew she shouldn't have been alone so late, when all the good citizens of Vega's Station were fast asleep.

A man melted out of the darkness before her and she let out a yelp, putting her hands to her chest.

The point of choice was about to pass. Would they let her go, or would they need a little persuasion? One pair of eyes continued to watch.

"Oh! You scared me." she said.

Another man chuckled behind her and she turned sideways, eyeing them both and licking her lips.

"I've got to go see Sylas. It's a message from Glizer. Needs the personal touch, he says." She forced out a giggle.

"I'm sure you've got a great personal touch," the first man said. The other one only chuckled again, as if he couldn't communicate in other ways.

"I've really got to be going now," she said, her movements falling into dance as she crossed her arms above her heart and then slowly slid them across her metallic halter.

"Later. You're not going anywhere now-" the man stopped talking when his companion's throat sprouted an energy blade. The body collapsed with a crunch.

His eyes hunted the threat, ignoring Tasha, who simply stood still, waiting, observing.

Red eyes glowed in the darkness for a moment before the man was slammed against the alley wall by a man-shaped darkness.

"What do you want? I've got money - take the girl," he said, choking the words out in a harsh whisper.
A deep growl of a voice emerged from the dark creature.

"You've got nothing I want, scum, but I'll take your life anyway. You're not doing anything good with it."

The creature wielded a glowing red scimitar shaped blade and sliced his victim's guts open, dropping him in a pool of his own blood and bodily fluids.

Tasha shifted her pose to face the red eyes.

"Um, thanks. I'll just be going now. I've got an important message to deliver."

The darkness resolved into a man covered from head to toe in black cloth that glittered with inactive light absorbers. The eyes were simple reflectors, glinting, but no longer glowing.

"You should come with me," he said, reaching for her arm. She tensed, then allowed him to touch her without resistance. She shook her head.

"No, I really need to deliver this. My boss, Glizer k'Tabb, he says it needs the personal touch, you know?"

"Do you know what's in that message?"

"Of course not!" She jerked her arm out of his grasp. "I'm not a sneak."

"Then you've got to come with me."

He reclaimed her arm and led her to a closed Burger Bop shack a block away.

"I don't remember this being here," she said.

"It isn't."

He opened the door and pulled her inside.

Within, the clean white spaces of a high-end shuttle glowed softly around them. Her eyes widened.

"The message isn't even that heavily encrypted. Play it," he said.

Tasha frowned at him. "I can't play-"

"Compliance. Message is audio only. 'I'll have the money Sy, I just need two more weeks. Take the girl as a token of my good faith.' End message."

"You have a slave AI? I thought only governments could afford them..." Tasha tilted her head, en-shak, a  Bissonti technique designed to make her look like a curious animal, a pet. Harder to judge when she couldn't see his face through the cloth, but Tasha knew this was a man, and susceptible to man's foolishness, to the Bissonti art.

"Indentured, actually. You're about to be gifted as collateral to a criminal, and all you care about is my AI?"

She shrugged.

"I'm just a dancer. One boss is a lot like another, you know?" She crossed her arms over her chest, letting them fall slowly in the cri-sol pattern. The power cells in her halter were already partially charged from the first scare of the night. This man seemed decent to her, but she couldn't let him stop her. She had taken too many risks making Glizer's money disappear so that he'd have to send her to Sylas.

"You don't know what you're getting into. I can't let you go to that creature." He clenched his hands in fists and stood between her and the door.

"Why not? You hardly know me." She walked farther into the shuttle, then turned to face him, tilting one hip, just a hint of the start of the first dance. A taste. His hands relaxed.

She slid her hands up around her breasts, ki-raz, and then flicked energy stars directly at him.

They fizzled on his shield.

"Valence shielding? You are rich."

His stance grew more cautious. She had lost her chance.

"You are not what you seem, dancer. You meant to kill me."

"You're in my way. Let me go, and I'll call it a draw."

"You're in no position to make demands."

"Aren't I? You don't want to hurt me, do you?" She began to sway in the rhythms of the first dance again, small movements designed to entice him, to numb his rationality.

"No," he said. "But Sylas does. He's a Phagorian. He's not going to watch you dance; he's going to eat you."

Tasha became still for a moment and then shook her head.

"You haven't done your homework at all, have you? Ki-ekras-y Alashnor, aka Sylas, Phargorian, in charge of the largest drug ring on this lousy station, government contracts suspected but, of course, only confirmed by the lack of raids carried out by the Alliance Enforcers. Keen interest in dance; keener interest in money. I'm the only Bissonti dancer in this system, let alone this station. Sylas knows my worth better than you know his taste."

She reached behind her back and drew a gauzy cape about her body; it shimmered, but did not conceal her.

"Do your homework, darkness, and meet me in 39 days at Al'bol's Tavern on Sonnat. Here's a hint: whatever you think you know, the Alliance is lying to you."

Then she turned around and ran through the shuttle wall, the cloak flashing as it wrapped her in a temporary phase shift.

"Well, darkness, that could have gone better. Do you want me to stun her and drag her back? She's still within range of the ship."

"No. What did she perceive when the shadow generation ceased?"

The AI made a sound suspiciously like snorting. "Typical manifestation. Tall, dark and male. That's what you get for playing the knight."

Mika pulled the generator hood off and ran her fingers through her short, sweaty hair.

"She was right though. Take the shuttle home and let's do some homework. I've got a date in 39 days."


Friday, June 7, 2013

Intentionally Unplugged

I took my computer with me on vacation to South Carolina to visit meet my husband's family.

The house had wi-fi, and I could have opened it up at any time to write or check email or read.

But I didn't.

I spent my time in pursuits that I could not do at home. Instead of faithfully updating my blog, I took my first boat ride through a lock, to a restaurant where I had my first serving of shrimp and grits. I made my first attempt at water-skiing. And my second. And third. There may have been a few more. I caught my first fish on the first hook I baited myself, using my first fishing license. I ran along a dam, paddle-boated, wake boarded, jet skied and got my first taste of the Atlantic Ocean. (Literally, I had more than a few swallows of sea water in my mouth and up my nose.) I watched the Blackhawks take down the Kings in games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals. I helped set up a sweet new computer that I wished I could smuggle home with me. I saw historic sections of Charleston, and the rural areas lurking further inland. I ate fantastic food, and some not-so-fantastic (but how much can you really expect of a Mexican place in the boonies of South Carolina?). I spent less time with my husband than I wanted to, because he caught an illness on the flight there (I caught it from him for the way home). I listened to an unreal frog chorus every night. I saw more lightning in one evening than I have seen in years living in Boise as a deluge finally spoiled the run of good weather we had been enjoying. I didn't feel dry at all in the wonderful heat and humidity. I got frozen by car air conditioners and burned by a habanero pepper (yes, I ate the whole thing; yes, it hurt; yes, I'd do it again).

It felt good to hardly touch my phone and not at all touch my computer. It showed me that I can disconnect without going into total wilderness, that I can make that choice not to bury myself in the world of electronic connections and news and web comics and the blogs I read obsessively.

It was a short trip. Now, it feels too short, and I wish I could have stayed longer. Maybe I would have gotten bored there if I stayed long enough. Maybe I would have gotten lost. I love the mountains in the west. I want to live near tall mountains that dare me to try and ascend them, jagged snow covered peaks that terrify and tease me.

But I sure had a fine time in South Carolina.