March 30, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: Julie Czerneda’s Writing Workshop! #11 – Endless Oceans of Websites for Writers…

In 2005, whilst perusing the shelves at the Hennepin County Public Library, I stumbled across CHANGING VISION by Julie Czerneda (say it: chur-nay-dah), an author I'd never heard of, and was intrigued by the aliens on the cover by artist Luis Royo. It didn’t matter that the book was the second in a series, the cover entranced me and so I read. The book was spectacular, I read others, and fell entirely in love with another series of hers called SPECIES IMPERATIVE for its fascinating aliens and superior characterization. A teacher deeply at heart, Julie Czerneda shares ideas and methodology wherever she goes. On her website, she shares ideas for writers. I want to share what kind of impact her ideas have had on my own writing.  They are used with the author’s permission.

Coming up on the last of Julie Czerneda’s advice, we arrive here:

“My criteria for a good and useful website for writers?

“1. Free. (Money flows to the writer. No one should ask you to pay to read or

assess your work, with the exception of an accredited, professional editor if you

go that route.)

“2. Positive. (Run from any site/blog/text that doesn’t inspire you to write.)

“3. Professional. (Assess the credibility of what’s said and how. Do your

homework and research before you swallow any advice. Even mine.”

Keeping in mind that websites are EVER-changing – these are several that I use (the list is similar to Julie Czerneda’s except that mine is current as of the date of this blog entry!)

Most important of all the blogs/sites I use is the same one that she uses: Ralan’s. This link will take you to a site that is constantly updated and which has the intent of keeping you as up-to-date with science fiction, fantasy, horror and various other markets.


After this basic link, it’s pretty much up to you. If you have a taste for snarky humor – and this one is covered by numbers 2 and 3 above – you can try it. This site NEVER fails to make me snicker!
Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a consummate business woman and willingly shares he expertise (as well as the expertise of her husband and writer, Dean Wesley Smith) on her website. In addition to writing science fiction and fantasy under THIS name, she also writes mysteries and other things under a half-dozen pen names. It’s a huge site, so if you’re one who goes whole hog when they find a goldmine of information, BE CAREFUL!

Another site I visit regularly also has occasionally writing posts. I read these most carefully and even though I don’t always find anything useful, I do more often than not! The site itself is io9: We Come From The Future and besides its writing advice, is a nice place to get lost in occasionally. They cover media, science, and all kinds of other geekology. It’s fun. It’s addictive. Have at it!

You don’t have to be a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in order to use the info posted on the site. The articles are usually good, the conversation is often interesting, and the news is typically up-to-date.

This one is so specific that it may disappear by the time you click on it. However, I’ve referenced it several times over the past couple years, so it SEEMS to have some staying power. This site doesn’t care if you believe that there are only one plot exists in all of English literature or that you believe that there are 36 Plots (and you read The Writers Magazine book to prove it), it lays them out here and I’ve used it to inspire ideas more than once.

After these basics, you can check to see if your favorite writer or agent keeps a website or blog. I’ve found Julie Czerneda’s criteria work well for me. Believe me when I say that you will need SOME SORT OF CRITERIA in order to surf over the deep ocean that is the internet.

There are sharks, reefs, poisonous jellyfish, and bottomless trenches. There are also fields of manganese, copper, and rare earth  nodules down there as well as untapped oil and natural gas reserves. They are all hard to get to and you have to trawl a long time to find worthwhile sources, but they are there.

You just have to find them! If you’re having trouble locating worthwhile websites, shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you with some suggestions!

March 28, 2014

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #58: July 25, 1946 series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So, I added some speculation about things I've always wondered about and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill scrambled up the side of the ditch they’d been standing in and raced to the truck where it sat rumbling on 595 from Thunder Bay to where it turned east after it crossed the Pigeon River.

“Where are you going?” Tommy asked.

The man laughed and said, “Nice to meet you, too, Thomas Hastings!”

“How’d you know my name?” Tommy said, practically screeching to a halt.

“I was down in Duluth when Ed called me from the logging company up in TB. Told me if I was goin’ north to keep a look out for you. Didn’t see ya, so when I left with this load, she said she was worried and to pick you up for sure if I saw you hitching south.”

“You know Ed?”

He smiled and said, “Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.). I do know  her.”

Freddie’s eyes were wide and sort of dreamy as the boys climbed into the tractor. Tommy said, “What’s your name?”

He nodded, touching his temple in a sort-of salute, “Arnie Voltz, at your service.”

“Were you in the service with Ed?”

Arnie frowned and Tommy elbowed Freddie who elbowed him back. “Service, yes. Active overseas? Not exactly.”

“What’s that mean?”

Freddie suddenly said, “Dad was 4-F. It means that somebody that wanted to be in the army to be not qualified for service in the Armed Forces by a Military Entrance Processing Station under the established physical, mental, or moral standards.”

Tommy said, “Huh?”

Arnie Voltz said, “This was from a Draft Counseling organization in Maine:
Physical Exemptions: Standards are complex and fill 23 pages of government manuals, but many are as common as hay fever, flat feet, or being overweight. Draft counselors have the whole list and can help you determine which you may qualify for.hay fever, flat feet, or being overweight.
Hay fever, color-blindness, hernias, flat feet, asthma, or being overweight. A whole bunch of stuff. I wasn’t 4-F though. I was 2-B.”

“What’s that mean?”

“They didn’t want me up front, but I could cook and stuff like that.”

“So what’d you do?” Tommy asked.

“What was your problem?” Freddie asked at the same moment.

Arnie looked at them and said, “Friends of Ed, right?”

Tommy nodded, elbowed Freddie whose eyes narrowed, studying Arnie. Finally he nodded.

Arnie snorted, shrugged and said, “I was 2-B.”

“What’s that,” Tommy said.

Freddie answered before Arnie could, saying, “Means he was national defense but they didn’t want him in the military. Like he was a G-Man.”

Arnie smiled – but didn’t deny it. He said, “Now I got a schedule to keep and I gotta leave now. Duluth is my next stop. You boys with me or not?”

“With you!” Tommy exclaimed. Freddie followed him up into the cab, silent. Arnie put the truck in gear and slowly revved up and pulled on to the road. Tommy leaned over to Freddie, who was staring out the windshield, looking for all the world like he was about to cry. “What’s wrong?” Freddie sighed but didn’t say anything. “What?”

“He’s a G-Man,” Freddie said. The trees of the Canadian woods started to fly by as they gathered speed.

“Yeah, cool, huh?”

Freddie stared, swaying with the swaying of the tractor trailer. Suddenly he said, “Not cool!”


“Why would Ed want to even talk to me when her boyfriend is a G-Man?” Freddie whispered – though it was like talking in a regular voice over the growl of the diesel engine.

“She talked to us before,” Tommy said.

“Yeah, but…” he stopped. He settled back into the seat, staring out the window. “I guess.”

“You guess what?”

“Nothin’.” He leaned forward and said, “How long to Duluth?”

“‘bout four hours.”

“Where you goin’ then?” Freddie asked.


“Where’s that?" 

“Minneapolis – around Loring Park,” he glanced at them. “You know where that is?”

March 26, 2014

Ideas on Tuesday 153

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.
Change of pace for a bit – I’m going to look at elements of EXTREMELY popular SF, F, and H; break them apart and use each element as a jumping off point for a story idea…
Popular Science Fiction Story/Series: Dune
SF Trope: Humans Are Greedy...Aesop’s Fable: “The Dog and its Shadow”

Up on the edge of the berm, the grand cover shivered as a broad-shouldered dog pushed its head through and looked down on them.

The Ojibwe man said, “I should mention that there’s been a resurgence of wildlife dangerous to Humans since the Return To The Wilds act. Rattlesnakes. Cougar. Wolverine. Grizzlies,” he gestured, “Gray wolves.”

Nkokoyanga Pomodimo snapped, “Are you threatening us?”

He smiled, “I don’t have to threaten you.” He lifted his chin and the wolf faded back into the brush. “I am warning you. You don’t know the land here – or anywhere outside of the Vertical Villages any more.”

Logan Andrist snorted, “We have lots of information about the Wild Lands!” He held up his scanner. “This has encyclopedias of information about all this.”

The Ojibwe man nodded, saying, “I have no doubt that you have bountiful information. I’m not saying that information is bad.”

“What are you saying then?” Nkokoyanga said.

“Knowledge and wisdom is more than information.” He gestured to Logan’s scanner. “I’m sure you have complete files on gray wolves. You probably have ethological files as well.”

Nkokoyanga scowled, looking at Logan, “What are those?”

“Animal behavior,” he said. Then to the Ojibwe man, “I do. I know how wolved behave.”

“Can you explain what just happened?”

Logan looked down at his scanner, screen-touching through several pages before he looked up and said, “You’ve obviously trained them. Like primitive Humans trained them and eventually got dogs.”

“Exactly right,” the man paused, “Now apply the information.”

Logan tried to hold the man’s gaze and finally looked away. “You’re right, of course. I have information – but no framework to hang it from and no way to apply it to this specific situation.”

Nkokoyanga stepped back from Logan, sniffed and said, “Who are you and what have you done with my teammate?”

Logan shook his head slightly but when Nkokoyanga moved slightly toward the Ojibwe man, he said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

She glanced at the Ojibwe man then back at him and said, “You’re always so smug in your information. Like you own it or something. Your greedy, ‘I have it all attitude’,” she paused, “It’s what led to that.” She gestured to Lake Superior where it surged sluggishly in turgid response to the wind blowing from the Arctic. “I have more in common with this man than I have with...”

The Ojibwe man began to laugh. Nkokoyanga turned to him, “What’s so funny?”

“You and I young lady? We have nothing in common.”

Nkokoyanga gestured to Logan, “His people...”

“Your people raped the land as badly as his. In fact, my ancestors did their share as well. There is nothing on this world but inherently greedy Humans – no matter their ancestry. The most important factor is choice. Wisdom. I have some experience with choice and I work every day – every moment on wisdom.” He also gestured to Lake Superior. “It will take all the wisdom of all of our peoples to see through to the healing of this Inland Sea. My people called it Gichigami – and that will be the name you can call me by.”

“Why should we help you?” Logan asked. He saw Nkokoyanga step back toward him and was obscurely glad.

“If you want something bigger in your life, you can join all of us.”

“We are big! Earth Government has plans to rejuvenate the Lake, too,” Nkokoyanga said.

Gichigami nodded, “Dumping iron filings into the water doesn’t address the whole problem.”

“What WILL address the ‘whole problem’?” Logan asked, making fists and panting them on his hips.
Gichigami smiled, “You’d have to join us to find that out.”

Nkokoyanga said, “We’re already part of something big.”
“Not big enough,” said the Ojibwe man and turned to walk away.

Names: Central African Republic, Gbaya; Minnesota, Minnesota

March 23, 2014

Slice of PIE: James Thurber, O. Henry, M*A*S*H & Science Fiction
James Thurber was a well-known cartoonist and humorous short story writer. Most of his work was published in the New Yorker. Today, he’d be best known for his short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, which was recently released as a film starring Ben Stiller. He is still celebrated by “the annual Thurber Prize [which] honors outstanding examples of American humor”.

O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter. He chose the name – the choosing of which has three different tales – when he began writing humorous short stories while he was in prison for embezzlement. He kept it and went on to write some 381 other short stories. He is still celebrated by “The O. Henry Award...a prestigious annual prize named after Porter and given to outstanding short stories”.

What does this have to do with speculative fiction – science fiction in particular?

Unfortunately not much.

From ANALOG, Stan Schmidt collected a few shining examples of humorous SF in ANALOG’S LIGHTER SIDE and BEST OF collections – most notably “The Dread Tomato Addiction”, though it wasn’t strictly a short story and it turned on the idea that you can make statistics say whatever you want them to say. Written by Mark Clifton, it was published in ASTOUNDING in 1958, and when I read it for the first time in left a deep impression on me.

Kelvin Throop was the star of several ANALOG short stories in the 1960s through the 80s and had numerous sayings attributed to him. Invented by R.A.J Phillips, several writers wrote stories about him and he became a sort of fall back for snarky sayings that were space fillers.

The website has 78 stories that they consider “Funny” – I just discovered it when I started looking for humorous SF. Other recent forays into speculative short fiction humor come from a writer I first came across in an online writer’s group I’m a member of, CODEX’s Alex Schvartsman. The third UNIDENTIFIED FUNNY OBJECTS anthology is due out later this year and I’ve got a story I may submit there.

So I KNOW humorous short stuff is being written – but it doesn’t seem that there are many writers who have become closely associated with it any more. Gordon R Dickson and Poul Anderson wrote the Hokas series, Asimov’s sporadic funny stuff, even Haldeman wrote “A !Tangled Web”, Mike Resnick – but no one seems to have emerged as a regularly humorous  writer – and it seems “everyone” has written funny short stories as evidenced by Resnick’s THIS IS MY FUNNIEST: SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS PRESENT THEIR FUNNIEST STORIES EVER volume one and two.

Yet it doesn’t seem that the awards come to humor. An old friend of mine who is a prolific writer of YA humor has never once been up for a Nebula, a Hugo, a Newbery, a Printz, Morris, Globe-Horn, or ALA Best...because none of the committees believe that serious issues can be dealt with humorously.

I think that this may also be the problem with speculative short fiction as well. When it comes time for the awards to be handed out, people say to themselves, “Wow! That was funny! But serious can’t be funny, so I’d better not nominate/vote for/write something funny because no one will take me seriously.”

Of course, we need only look at the accolades showered on the King of Television Dramedy, M*A*S*H: 12 Emmys, a Golden Globe, a Peabody, a Director’s Guild of America, several Humanitas Prize and Writers Guild of America nominations, an exhibit in the Smithsonian, and one of the highest ratings in the history of the Neilson’s for its final episode.
So where is science fiction’s short fiction version of M*A*S*H, O. Henry, or James Thurber, eh?

March 18, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 152 Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

Change of pace for a bit – I’m going to look at elements of EXTREMELY popular SF, F, and H; break them apart and use each element as a jumping of point for a story idea…

Popular Horror Story/Series: Goosebumps Books

H Trope: meet someone “better than me”

Austin Ventura looked at his classic 2001 Fire Engine Red Jeep Cherokee and grimaced. Most likely if he drove out to the school, he’d speed; get a ticket; Mom or Dad would shout at him – and his car would be impounded. He shrugged and started forward.

So focused on himself, he didn’t even remember his best friend since kindergarten – Carlos Rodriguez Cruz. Where was he? Austin snorted – probable out joy-riding. Question there was, with WHO? Carlos didn’t have many friends. He’d told Austin late one sleepover night that he was afraid. Afraid of the Central American gangs that slimed through certain neighborhoods of Minneapolis – that might forcibly recruit him. He was afraid someone would hurt his sister or find out that while his mother was a registered alien, Dad was illegal. He was afraid of all kinds of things. “How’d we ever get to be friends?” Austin muttered and headed for the street. He’d get to the school not long after Paulina would because he’d use his feet – not the car Dad loathed and threatened to have towed away every other weekend.

By the time he reached the school it was a quarter to four and the sky to the east had started to brighten with false dawn. It was the deepest part of the night, quiet in almost every way; the streets empty. When he started jogging, his cell bouncing in his sweat pants pocket, the sound of his slapping Converses bounced off the uniform clapboard fa├žades of the split-entry or brick-faced Cape Cods with multiple dormers.

A dome of light appeared over the roofs of a dozen suburban houses and when he finally turned the first left corner a mile later, he emerged into the parking lot’s brilliant illumination.

Squinting, he jogged past a couple of cars, recognizing both. “Mr. Stanton and Ms. Laxale? Whew! I knew they liked each other, but this…”

He hurdled a low chain fence whose intent to funnel students to cross at the cross walk – it failed miserably. He jogged up to the three-story school, red-tinged concrete in an ultramodern style intended to make institutional buildings look like art.

From a dark doorway, a voice suddenly said, “Took you long enough. No idea why Carlos is always on about your sprint times.”

A second voice added, “Carlos seems to think he’s in good shape, too.” Austin’s heart seemed to stop in his chest as a very shapely young lady stepped out from the shadows. Austin didn’t think he could breathe. He also felt like a seventh grader who’d just discovered sex. Carlos’ older sister – older by fourteen minutes – was not only the most amazing-looking senior at James Carter High School, but also held the highest GPA and had one of the toughest class loads of anyone he knew. And she held the state record in cross country – boys or girls.

Austin knew lots of things about himself – he’d been battling belittling since he was old enough to remember. He’d also been seeing a psych for almost as long. No matter how attractive, smart and successful people told him he was, he rarely saw all his assets and only his flaws. His perceptions about his place in the world and the things he told himself affected how he valued himself. He usually felt OK.

As she stepped further into the light, he felt himself shrink in the presence of Selita Ebanks twin despite the fact that Carmita Rodriguez Cruz was also deeply religious and easily won any argument against atheist, agnostic, Protestant or amorous teenager. As well as most teachers. Her toughest life decision at the moment was “Stanford, Harvard, or Princeton.” Fists on her hips, she said, “My baby sister tells me you can help us find Carlos.” Her eyes narrowed, “She’d better be right.”
Austin remembered then that she was also taking kickboxing lessons – and that his best friend was missing…

March 16, 2014

Slice of PIE: NOTHING Better Than Hearing THE CAT IN THE HAT For The Very First Time…

My grandson is three-and-a-half and, in my unbiased opinion, one of the brightest, funniest, most handsome young men on this planet, Earth.

Yesterday, while his mom, auntie, and grandma were out at the art museum and I was keeping an eye on him and his sister, we had a little grandpa and grandson one-on-one time (sister was taking a nap).

The weather has finally warmed up enough so that after we played plumber, watched half of TOY STORY2, and loaded up the airplane-spaceship for a flight, we ended up on the three-season porch. When grandson suggested we bring toys out, I suggested we read instead.

He agreed and brought me a book from the pile. It happened to be CAT IN THE HAT, and it may be that he’d seen the recent hoopla over National Read Across America Day (March 2) – which, in most of our local elementary schools, is actually Dr. Seuss’ Birthday. It may be that the bright blue cover with The Cat himself on the cover caught his eye, but he brought the book over to me. I sat him down on an overturned milk crate, and reading upside down (have you EVER considered that strange skill? The psychological implications are fascinating! But that might be for another PIE…) began the story.

I don’t know if I’ve ever tried to read this to him. I don’t know if mom or dad tried to read this to him. I DO know that he loves GREEN EGGS AND HAM – “I do not like them…” we always pause to let grandson fill in…”Sam I Am!”

I started the book and grandson listened intently, looking at the pictures and for some reason, seeming to connect the spoken words with the images.

Let me just say here that he does word recognition – he can tell when we write his name or when we point out a Target sign, and maybe his sister’s name or the words MOM and DAD. While he doesn’t read yet, I think he may be on the very cusp of that strangely Human ability. [An aside – and the sole reason I’d classify this as a PIE – with all the arguments and attempts to classify Humans as “just another part of the animal kingdom”; the efforts to show that Koko can sign; Kanzi a bonobo “is believed to understand more human language than any other nonhuman animal in the world;” and “N' African Grey Parrot thought to exhibit advanced English talking skills and other abilities.”; not one of them can read or write. And my grandson CAN write letters. I personally, can also write letters. See? For me, this defines the deeply held belief that Humans are not “just another part of the animal kingdom”.]

He laughed at page 13 where The Cat In The Hat balanced the fishbowl on the end of his umbrella. He REALLY laughed on page 16 at the picture of The Can balancing on a ball while holding a cup, a cake, a boat, some books, and plate with a bottle and glass of milk on it. That was when he pulled the milk crate closer.

That was when I realized that THE CAT IN THE HAT was an entirely new story to him. He had no idea what was about to happen. He was in so much suspense that he had to get closer to the story so he could drink it in; so he could live in the world the words were weaving in his mind’s eye, even though he could see the pictures on the page.

He was absorbed; enthralled; and no less impressed than you or I would be with WORDS OF RADIANCE (Brandon Sanderson’s newest best seller).

My challenge as a writer then is, “How can I write something that’s completely new?” knowing the ancient adage: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) has been around longer probably than the Bible.

HOW do I do it?

March 13, 2014


The Cold War between the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo has become a shooting war.  On Earth, there are three Triads one each in Minneapolis, Estados United; Pune, India; and Harbin, China. Protected by the Triad Corporation, they intend to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world.; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. The Yown’Hoo know about the extra-Universe Braider, aliens whose own “civil war” mirrors the Cold War. The Braiders accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way to stop it is to physically construct a sort of membrane that will produce a canceling wave – generated from the rim of the Galaxy inward. The Braiders don’t DO physical stuff on that scale – the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triads may be their only chance of creating a solution. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society may produce a stability capable of launching incredible expansion, creativity, longevity and wealth – and building the Membrane to stop the wave.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans –two; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds. Grendl, Manitoba is one such place. No one but the Triad Company has ever heard of it and the physical plant goes by the unobtrusive name of Organic Prairie Dairy.

The Triads never hear of anything they aren’t spoon fed in their luxury worlds and have heard only rumors of the farms and ranches. Surrounded by a Humanity that has degenerated into a “duck-and-cover” society as the Big Boys fight their war, they don’t care about anything but their own lives. Oblivious, cocooned, manipulated, they have no idea that their privileges are about to be violently curtailed and all of their biology ransacked for the correct Membrane pattern. (update: 2/13/2014)

“What’s that mean?” I exclaimed.

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (ret) took a deep breath, let it out then said, “What was your plan to leave the city?”

I glanced at Shay and the man followed my look and said, “What’s your name, girl?”

“I’m not a girl!”
He snorted and said, “Girl, compared to me only my momma and my grandma aren’t girls.”

“You’re not that old,” she snapped.

His eyes narrowed and his smirk appeared again. He looked at her intently and then said, “How old do you think I am?”

 “Forty-three,” said Shay automatically. Both of us can do that – estimate the age of structures from buildings to living organism. I don’t think it was anything The Corporation tried to breed into us, I think it just happened.

He laughed out loud and said, “So, how long ago was the Yucatan Action?”

“Easy – nineteen  years ago, Old Calendar.”

He shook his head, “Daughter, that’s the only calendar I use. So, at the time I’d been  in the Marines for 30 years. I was 22 when I was commissioned.” He waited.

Biting her lower lip, Shay dipped her chin and finally said, “You’re 71,” she paused, “Sir.”

I looked at Shay, shocked. I’d never heard her treat anyone with respect – and not mean it as a sarcastic commentary.

“What’s your name, young lady?”

“Kashayla Maria-Natalia Kimpo,” she said slowly. Even the Herd mother was looking at Shay intently. She added, “We’d planned on riding the Yown’Hoo...”

If I hadn’t had the hearing I do, I’d never heard the Herd Mother’s derisive hoot. It was infrasonic. It was a good thing the Kiiote heard higher register and Humans couldn’t hear that low...

“I’d agree Herd Mother,” said the Lieutenant Commander.

The Herd packed more tightly around her so that she had to butt Nah-hi and Jus-hi out of
her way in order to address him, saying, “How can you hear the Speech?”

“I was gengineered back in the day,” he gestured to me, adding, “Not as well as these youngsters were, but enough to sometimes hear your comments.”

The HM took a step back. I got mad. It’s not that me and Shay tried to intentionally hide things from the Herd and Pack, but sometimes there were things we didn’t necessarily come out and tell them. What right did he have to spill one of our not-secret secrets. Dao-hi wasn’t going to be happy when we had a chance to talk.

“Riding Herd would have been disrespectful  – at least as far as I knew,” he said.

“It would be sacrilege!” the Herd Mother spat – literally. I ducked, but it caught the Pack runt, Towt in the face where he was climbing. Qap stepped up the stairs slowly, her face puffed, facial spines erect and glistening with poison.

Kayla said abruptly, “But we rode you through the creek! Was that sacrilege?”

The Herd Mother’s arms slipped from their sheathes, making a gross sucking sound. But it was a signal in the Herd; the mucus in the sheathes released pheromones that gave the Herd a shock into action. In the tiny house – though it was larger than any house I had ever seen – there were no prairies to charge across. The situation went from tense to impossible. I thought the Herd was going to attack the Lieutenant right there – except that if they moved in violence Qap would probably snarl the Pack to respond. Me and Kayla could each kill a Kiiote or a Yown’Hoo apiece. After that – it was chance if we could manage a second kill.

The Old Man finally started to notice what was happening. He looked from Qap to Dao-hi then at us, his eyes widening. I was suddenly afraid. I opened my mouth to try and defuse the situation, when the wall screen at the end of the room flared into blinding light. An instant later, the broad face of an old woman in a military uniform filled the screen and said, “You are being reactivated...” 

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (ret) turned his gun on the wall screen and fired
three shots in quick succession.