A Small Matter of Life and Death

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“Please tell me it’s dead,” Quint growled as he entered the makeshift tent.

Although unable to comply with the young colonel’s request, Zeke raised an acrylic cup in greeting.  He also remained reclined in a folding chair, his feet propped on the field desk.

“Not yet.”

When Quint scowled, Zeke figured it was in response to both his reply and casual posture.  The colonel knew better than to expect military conduct from an old schmoe like him, but he still enjoyed annoying Quint.  It added levity to an otherwise apprehensive lifestyle.

And things were pretty tense right now.  Less than an hour ago they’d won a battle against a battery of cyborgs commanded by a genetically-engineered super soldier.  Except the IMP, as his kind was called, turned on his own troops and slaughtered over half of them himself.  Then he surrendered to Quint’s battalion.

Hmm … Zeke realized he’d never before thought of any IMP as he.  Like Quint, he’d always considered them all to be it.

“You were supposed to find out its motive and kill it.”  Quint sat in his chair behind the desk and reached for the drawer where Zeke knew the whiskey was stored.

“No, you told me to find out his motive and decide if he needed to be killed.  I shook him up, but he didn’t spew.  So he’s stewing in the pit now.”

The colonel scowled at him again before pouring a shot into his own cup.  “It’s probably waiting for the next wave of attack, and then turn against us like it did on the cyborgs.”

“Come now, you know how keen the Elite are on efficiency.  They won’t waste a battery of cyborgs on a smattering of intelligence.”

Quint squinted.  “Then why did it turn on its troops?”

Zeke sipped the pilfered whiskey while considering his answer.  His interrogation of the IMP had been nothing like he expected.  All the answers only generated more questions.

“He’s scared.”

“Scared?”  Quint guffawed.  “The genetic engineers probably took that emotion out of its DNA.”

“It’s not an Oh crap, I’m about to die scared.  It’s more like a … I’ve lost my mommy scared.”

The colonel’s squint hardened.  “It came out of a petri dish.  That thing never even had a mommy.”

“Mm-hmm, true, but then again we are supposed to care for the orphan, are we not?”

“Quit your mind games.  What’s that thing got to be scared of?”

“What any slave might fear.”  Zeke shrugged.  “That his masters are not true masters.”

Quint stared at him.  “Why did I expect a straightforward answer from a rabbi?”

Any title like rabbi, doctor, judge or colonel was based on experience rather than any formal training.  When the authority that became known as the Elite mandated the remaining population must merge with biological and technological improvements, anybody who wanted to retain all of their humanity was forced to break away from established society and go underground … somewhat literally.

“Because you’re young and arrogant.”  Zeke was in his late sixties, which made him just old enough to remember what life was like before the rebellion.  “And that IMP in the pit worries you.”

“That thing makes me as nervous as a naked titmouse tossed into a shed full of bony tomcats.  It can only be up to no good.”

“You know, I have heard of a few IMPs that did join our cause.”

“Rumors!”  Quint waved his free hand.  “They didn’t manufacture many of those things.  And all the stories end the same way:  They wind up getting killed.  A good IMP is like a flying saucer.  You hear about them, but you never see one.”

“I didn’t say he was a good IMP.”  Zeke took another sip.  “Not yet.”

“I sure hope you’re implying that the only good IMP is a dead IMP.”

Zeke considered the fact that Quint, who claimed to be a descendant of Comanche chief Quanah Parker, just made a statement like that to a Jew.  He allowed the irony to rattle around in his subconscious.

“Maybe you should go visit with our little devil yourself.  He’s not innocent but he’s quite cooperative.”

“I have to get us prepared for the next attack, which it confirmed is coming.”  Quint frowned again.  “Unless it lied … it might be trying to get us to reveal our resources.”

“So why didn’t you tell me to just kill him after my Q-and-A chat with him?”

His frown hardened.  “Because I’m an idiot who trusts your judgment.  Now tell me why you didn’t, and give me a straight answer.”  He held the bottle of whiskey up before returning it to the drawer.  “Or I’m cutting off your supply.”

“Oh, my, you are in a bad mood, aren’t you?”  Zeke smirked, but as he sank a little deeper into his chair he nursed a long sip from the cup to gain more time for considering his response.

An honest but unexamined answer would be that he didn’t know.  Perhaps it had something to do with the IMP speaking of mercy, although he didn’t use that word and Zeke doubted it was part of his vocabulary.  Certainly before today the IMP had never shown any mercy to them.

But he also thought about Quint’s remark of what qualified as a good IMP.  History proclaimed that others had said the same thing about their ancestors.  And despite his origin, the IMP in the pit was a man….

“Because we need to keep our humanity.”

“I’m going to start locking my drawer.”

“Let me finish.  The Elite look down on us because we’re unimproved.  That IMP out there is genetically altered, but stick his DNA under a microscope and it’s still human.  Does that give us the right to look down on him?”

Quint frowned at him.  “I hate it when you take the moral high ground.  All right, watch that thing as we prepare for the next attack.  But if it so much as twitches, kill it.”

 

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Here is the entry for this month’s #BlogBattle and the prompt word this time is Innocent (I don’t know what the word was accused was, but I’m glad it was cleared of the charges … sorry, couldn’t resist!).  This is installment 3 of an ongoing serialization, so if you just discovered this and want to catch up, the first and second installment links are here.

Also be sure to check out the other stories.  They’re rolling in pretty fast this month!

Procrastination is Your Best Friend

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Okay, maybe not your best friend, but you can be on speaking terms with it.  After all, procrastination isn’t one of the seven deadly sins (trust me, I checked).

If you’re in the midst of NaNoWriMo right now, putting off writing might be one of the last things on your mind.  Or it might be dangling seductively in front of you.  The good news is you can actually make procrastination productive if you play your cards right (assuming card games are one way you shirk).

Agatha Christie once said she worked out many plots while washing dishes.  While it’s doubtful Dame Agatha used household chores to elude her next murder, her comment illustrates how goofing off can become a good thing (although getting those cobwebs out of your corners is also useful).

Whether you go wrestle with the dog, take a walk, take a bubble bath, or just go stick your head in the sand somewhere, time away from the keyboard can give your imagination a chance to cook up something really good while it’s not under pressure (not that I have anything against pressure cookers).  Sometimes your brain needs a reboot, and doing something else for a while can help.

So there’s no need to kick yourself if you skip out once in a while.  It’s possible you’ll be able to return to your writing with more enthusiasm.  If not, at least you’ve had your playtime and getting back to the perspiration part won’t feel so defeating.

Time for me to get back to my game of solitaire….

On NaNo-Technology

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There are writers who anticipate the month of November with both excitement and trepidation.  If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo before, you’ve only recently entered the realm of writing.  If you’re one of those people sweating out producing 1,667 words a day this month, don’t worry, I’m not going to take up a lot of your time.

NaNoWriMo is kind of like Christmas:  there are people who want to sell you things to make your season successful.  From templates to calendars, peddlers in the industry promise to help make your attempt at writing 50,000 words in one month more attainable.  And when you’ve finished, there’s more things they can sell you to polish your work.

Call me a Grinch, but technology doesn’t make you a better writer.  Oh, I suppose it might be nice to have a digital editor that points out grammatical errors and misplaced punctuation, but technology can never match soul.

Just as no program can compose a piece of music that would bring a lump to your throat, technology can’t produce a story that keeps you turning the pages (or swiping the screen).  Sure, the technical elements are important, but a writer’s voice can never be duplicated by a machine.

How do you develop that?  Well, NaNoWriMo is focused on the gritty, dirty part of just getting those words down on screen (or paper, if you’re really old-fashioned), but the concept is still there:  Keep writing.  And keep reading about writing.

I, however, am going to stop writing this blog now so you can stop reading.  See, I told you I wouldn’t take up a lot of your time….

Best-Laid Schemes

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“Now aren’t you a sight?”  The man with a trimmed, gray beard and streaks of gray in his tousled hair sat on an upturned log.  “All that’s missing is a bow on your head.  And I don’t even know what the occasion is.”

On both knees in the dust and brittle grass, IMP17 stared back.  His arms were bound behind his back with synthetic ropes coiled around his chest, and cable shackled his ankles.  Twenty-two men stood behind and beside him, and also in two rows between him and the fellow on the log.

It didn’t escape his notice that all of them aimed blasters, rifles, pistols, and even bows and arrows at his head.  That was only one of the reasons his heart thumped against his chest.

“I’ve surrendered.”

“Oh, yes, of course you have.”  The bewhiskered man smirked.  “That’s the only reason we were capable of getting you into custody.  But why did you surrender, my dubious sir?  Right now I can only believe it’s some kind of prelude to the next wave of attack.”

“You’re correct there will be another attack.  The lords will desire to investigate why they lost an entire battery of troops.  But I can help you defend against them.”

Whiskers raised an eyebrow.  “The lords?  Not your lords?  Is that supposed to have something to do with why you turned against all those cyborgs you led up here?”

IMP17 tilted his head in the direction where he knew corpses of both cyborg and unimproved humans lay scattered.  “My actions have sealed my fate.  I can never return to my masters if I want to live.  In exchange for my life, I offer my services to you instead.”

“Offer?”  He sat upright, pursed his lips for a few seconds, and then one corner of his mouth curled upward.  “And why would you think we’d be inclined to spare your life?  Your so-called masters did an excellent job genetically designing you, using you to mercilessly harp against us for refusing to mutilate ourselves in the name of their progress.  You’re called an IMP, right?”

“Intellectual Militant Prototype.  I am the seventeenth of twenty-four products, thus my designation is IMP17.”  He’d determined volunteering information would help to win their trust.

Whiskers’s brow furrowed as he leaned forward.  “We have a designation for you, too, but we can’t repeat it in front of the children.  You’re beyond a little devil.  You’re a murderer, a kidnapper, and a vandal.  Our blood drips from your hands.  Killing you doesn’t even begin to strike a balance against the damage you’ve done to us.”

IMP17’s heart picked up in tempo.  He knew he was taking a risk by trying to defect to the Rabble of humanity, but he still stood more of a chance with them than his Elite overlords.

“My intellect is devised for strategy, which must be based upon knowledge.  The information I’ve gathered on your society displays a quality that is absent among the Elite.  You tend to your impaired members.  You share resources with deficient individuals.  You risk your own lives to rescue one incapacitated person.”

The bearded man gazed at him for several seconds.  His eyes squinted and his lips pursed, and then he clasped both hands between his knees.

“You don’t know squat about us.  You think you can waltz in here and perform a cutesy song and dance about po’ li’l ol’ me and expect us to pat you on the head while treating you to milk and cookies?”

“That’s not -”

“There’s at least a dozen people in this camp that would relish getting a piece of you, and that’s this camp.  There’s plenty more who think the same thing in the other communities.  It’s for their sake, not yours, that I don’t tell these gentlemen to ventilate you with extreme prejudice right now.”  He waved one hand dismissively.  “Get the deuce out of my sight!”

So many men jumped on him at once that even IMP17 would have had to struggle in overcoming them.  But although he had the capacity to defeat them, he squelched his first impulse to burst free from the ropes, to pummel them down, to slice them with the cable between his ankles….

Someone slapped a canvas bag over his head.

As they lifted him from the ground, his battle with himself proved more intensive than any physical combat.  These people knew that although he was technically as human as they were, he was engineered to be stronger, faster, and more agile.

The fact they didn’t kill him outright was an encouraging sign … he hoped.

Reflexively he did still keep track of where they carried him by noting where he felt the sun’s warmth, and distance by the length of time that passed before they stopped.  He heard a clank and a screech, and then he was tossed into someplace that was slightly cooler, but hard and saturated with the aroma of earth … and something … rotting….

IMP17 sat up, and again subdued his impulse to break his bonds and uncover his head to examine his prison and determine how to escape.  He had to prove to them he wasn’t going to resist.  One wrong move on his part, and they would kill him as surely as the Elite would execute him if they ever got their hands on him again.

As he crouched in the dark, determined to wait on the Rabble to come to him, he questioned the wisdom of his scheme.  That quality he was counting on was one of many traits the Elite had trained him to despise.  But in a way he’d grown to admire it, suspecting it was one of the reasons these people had resisted and evaded the Elite for so long.

If the Rabble didn’t accept him, and if he escaped from them, he had only one option left: exist alone and as everybody’s enemy.  And that would be extremely inefficient.

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So here is the second installment of what will be something of a novella in progress, written under the guidelines of the monthly #BlogBattle challenge.  This month the prompt word is Harp, which in its verb form wasn’t hard to work in.  I’m glad I didn’t have to stick to the noun, although I suppose a harp could be used as weapon of opportunity.

If you’re just joining in and want to read the first installment, By Design gives the initial introduction to IMP17.  I still think I’m nuts for doing this serialization (I think I’m nuts about a lot of things, so what’s new?), but this is also kind of fun.  And don’t forget to check out the other stories at Blog Battlers!

Of Saints and Haints

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A traveler hailed a taxi cab, and after he hopped inside he started to wonder where there was a good restaurant for him to eat at.

“Pardon me.”  He reached up and tapped the driver’s shoulder.

The driver screamed, and the cab jumped the curb and hit a light post.  They staggered out of the taxi and brushed themselves off.

“I’m so sorry,” the driver said.  “But it’s my first day on this job.  Up until last week I drove a hearse.”

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.  As a kid I liked dressing up and getting candy (yeah, the obvious stuff).  As an adult it’s partly because it falls in the Fall, my favorite season of the year.  It’s also always been haunted by some controversy, and as a writer controversy is food for my muse.

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So on the one hand you have church tradition:  All Saints Day is November 1, so the day before is know as All Hallows Eve.  Because there are more saints than there are days in a year, All Saints is a convenient way to honor the ones who didn’t get a day dedicated to them (we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings).

Oh, and let’s not forget All Souls Day on November 2, which honors everybody else who died but didn’t become a saint (like I said, we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings).

Then you have the Pagan side:  Samhain was the Celtic new year, so New Year’s Eve was October 31.  It was believed the veil between this world and the next was thinnest on that night, and we mortals wanted to keep the visiting spirits happy (in other words, we didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings).

Lanterns, presumably some carved from turnips, were set up to light the way.  Food was set out.  This was also a good time to try to rescue anybody who’d been kidnapped to the Otherworld by the sidhe (aka fairies, but you don’t want to call them that to their face), so you dressed up to try to blend in with the spirits.

Mesh the two together, and you have a night of honoring the dead and offering hospitality.  In fact, hospitality is even extended to those that represent visitors (trick-or-treaters) you might not be inclined to want to invite in (especially the teenagers who barely dress up and hold pillow cases).

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Oh, and if you’re still wondering what the heck a haint is, my hillbilly is showing again.  Also rendered as ha’nt, it’s from haunt, but is synonymous to ghost, phantom, shade, spook, or wraith.  Did I get all the specters by name?  After all, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings….

 

Turkeys of a Lesser God

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There is proof that God has a sense of humor:  He created turkeys.

When chicks that I’ve raised see a lawnmower in action for the first time, they run for cover.  When poults (that’s baby turkeys, folks) have their first mower experience, they run up to the closest fence and try to get a better look (They must be thinking Is that a turkey-mincing machine and how does it work?).

I try to keep the chickens and turkeys separate, even when I need to brood them at the same time.  One balmy day I set two wire enclosures beside each other, put food and water in each, then deposited the chicks in one pen and the poults in the other.  The turkeys ignored their own meal and kept trying to figure out how to get to the chicks’ grain (yeah, I know, there’s a saying that the only thing dumber than turkeys is the person who raises them).

Bringing up turkeys is a lot like writing.

Huh?

Story characters can be turkeys in their own right.  In the midst of their written adventures, they can take on lives of their own and start doing things the author didn’t anticipate.  And in a way, writers are the gods of the worlds they created.  But when characters behave unexpectedly, we realize we’re not as in control as we thought we were.

And that’s a good thing.

turkeyIf your characters are so well developed their psychology shines through despite your other plans, you have characters that will live and breathe for the readers.  And a brilliant plot will fall flat if the readers don’t care what happens to the people (or animals or aliens, depending on the genre) impacted by its implications.

So the next time a character gets out of line, just pat yourself on the back and say, “I’m glad I have a sense of humor!”

 

 

A Lifeline to Your Deadline

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Aunt Prissy asked her niece about an uncle on the other side of the girl’s family, and the child said “He’s very sick.”  Aunt Prissy replied “Pshaw!  He only thinks he’s sick!”  The next week she inquired again about the uncle, and the girl responded “He thinks he’s dead.”

This was one of those weeks I was tempted to skip the blog.  I’ve got a writing deadline to meet, and it would be so much easier to make my goal if I don’t use any of that time to throw something into the web that’s big enough to stick.

The problem is I also have a blog deadline.  So now I’m faced with a rob Peter to pay Paul dilemma.  Is one deadline really more important than the other?  Will the universe collapse into chaos if I miss one or the other?

Well, you have the evidence before you: I posted the blog.  Deadline is such an ominous sounding word.  Yeah, in the medical field I understand not doing something on time might make you dead (otherwise known as flat line).  But how many other goals are a matter of life and death?

Paying the bills on time does affect keeping a roof over your head and a meal in your belly, so that’s pretty important.

Getting a project done in the workplace on time can affect paying those bills, so that’s pretty important.

Putting food in front of hungry people who stare at you while brandishing sharpened knives and pointy forks sounds like a deadline to me….

The truth be told, if we didn’t have deadlines, we wouldn’t accomplish nearly so much as we do.  When it’s a balmy day I know I’d have more fun running outside and playing with the grasshoppers.  But I know if I do, the ants will bite me in the end (or would that be the toe if I don’t toe the line?).

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Deadlines really are a sort of lifeline, but they’re stuck with a negative nomenclature because we don’t like them.  Well, life is full of things we don’t like even though we benefit from them, like dirt, injections, and Klingons (wait, no, scratch that last one).

This looks big enough to stick.  I’ll throw it now and get back to meeting that other deadline!