How To Find What You Came Here For

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The short stories you find here are the product
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Girl's Best Friend

Danki liked to think she'd taken the road less traveled.

OK, maybe she hadn't taken it on purpose exactly, and maybe the road wasn't so much "less traveled" as it was "avoided at all cost," but she preferred to think of it as an adventure. At least it would earn her the money she needed to get out of the trouble she'd found back on Earth. Especially since she had nowhere to spend it.

Turning back to the crawler, she hefted another probe out of the back and carried it a short distance past the one she'd just placed. Mars had a peculiar mix of rock and sand; in theory, the probes were designed to take that mix into account. In practice, they looked exactly like the temporary fence poles she'd helped her mom pound into the ground back home on Earth.

The bottom of the probes looked almost exactly like those poles, right down to the arrow head shape that held them into the ground. Of course, the arrow head was quite a bit bigger than what they'd use on Earth, but then the wind didn't fool around on Mars, either. And then there were the tendrils...but those didn't come out until she'd planted the probe.

She tried not to think about the delicately flexible appendages that dug deep into the soil from the bottom of the probe. The nanotechnology that made them possible was a fair bit beyond anything she'd ever studied, and nothing she was really interested in. No matter how they worked, the idea of autonomous strands burrowing into the sand and rock was just creepy.

Once the tendrils started their silently inexorable quest for hidden water, the probes were on their own. If they happened to find something, the transmitter at the top of the pole would let the outpost know about it. So far they'd found a lot of little pockets - not enough to sustain a full colony, but enough for the outpost. Two of their scientists were working on ways to store the water they found, but the extremely thin atmosphere and light gravity were complicating things.

Until they figured it out, the probes were deployed in all directions looking for those tiny drips and drops the planet saw fit to gift them with.

Setting probes was one of those jobs that everyone was supposed to take a turn at, but Danki had been given the task early on and she'd never been assigned to anything else.

She suspected it might have something to do with the fire control incident in the greenhouse. Or maybe the emergency sewage flush she'd had to engage when things had gotten a little out of hand at the water treatment pod. It had been weeks before the showers worked properly.

Most likely it was was an incident the rest of the outpost was calling, "The Great Tuna Uprising." The kitchen had been the last assignment she'd been given before the probes. She probably should have paid closer attention to how long she'd left the spicy tuna sushi on the counter while she'd prepared the seaweed and sweet potato casserole.

Well, at least the new water treatment pod had been well tested by the time everyone was feeling better.

"Danki, do you read?"

The voice in her helmet startled her enough that she let go of the probe, where it slowly settled to the rocks she was standing on. At least being out of the outpost meant much lighter gravity - when she inevitably dropped something it couldn't land hard enough to actually break.

"I read base," she bent to pick up the probe as she answered, struggling a little in the bulky suit.

"We've got a pretty good storm kicking up just beyond your position. You need to head back." The voice was distorted beyond recognition, but the speech patterns sounded like Flen. As the lead scientist on the water reclamation project it was his job to worry, and he aced it in Danki's opinion.

She set the probe in a likely looking spot and checked the ground before she replied. It had to be a fairly specific combination of sandy and rocky in order to hold the probe. Too much sand and the probe would fall over or disappear in a dust storm. Too much rock and it was impossible to get the probe in deep enough to trigger the creepy tendrils Danki was trying not to think of.

"I hear you, base, I'm just setting one more probe and then I'll start back."

The reply from base was lost in a burst of static. A quick glance around told her the storm was closing fast. The crawler could make it home even in the worst dust storm, but it would be slow and uncomfortable, two things Danki avoided whenever possible.

She set one foot on the peg halfway up the probe and stood on it, forcing the probe several inches into the ground. It was tempting to leave it like that, but she knew they'd just send her back out after the storm if the probe fell over and they lost telemetry.

When she stood on the peg again, the probe slid much farther into the ground, but then stopped with a muffled clang that warned her she might have run into a rock. She stepped back and pushed the probe back and forth to see if she could get it to shift to one side of the hidden rock.

Without warning the probe slid to the left and then sank nearly all the way into the ground. If Danki had been leaning on the peg more, she'd have been thrown down. As it was, she tilted forward enough to have her stomach pitching in sympathy before she caught her balance.

"Well crap."

She stood staring at the few inches of the probe poking up from the soil. Now it was too deep; she must have hit a pocket that had collapsed when she'd leaned on the peg.

Kneeling carefully in the awkward suit, she grabbed the pole in both hands and pulled carefully. When it didn't move she pulled harder, eventually yanking on it, but to no effect. The probe was stuck.

"Double crap," she muttered, staring at the few inches of silver surrounded by sand.

Her com unit hissed to life, and she gave serious thought to ignoring it. Unfortunately, they'd just keep hailing her, and she wasn't sure what job she'd end up with if she added insubordination to her list of faux pas.

"Have you turned back to base yet, Danki?"

"I'm...I'm getting ready to now, base." Or she would be, she thought, as soon as she got this stupid probe out of the hole it was in and set. She'd be damned if they'd take the cost out of her recreation rations.

She grabbed the probe again and worked it back and forth, hoping to loosen it up enough to pull it out. Her focus was so complete that it took a few minutes to realize the hole she was widening was spewing tiny brilliant crystals.

"What the hell?"

She cupped one hand over the hole and watched as the crystals gathered in the palm of her glove like minute diamonds. It was beautiful.

It was water.

A lot of water.

Danki pushed the probe to one side and fumbled for the light at her hip, finally freeing it and shining it into the hole.

Darkness swallowed the beam almost immediately, but Danki had the impression of a cavern, and movement. An aquifer of some kind? They weren't supposed to exist - something about the geology being wrong, if she remembered the science briefing she'd barely paid attention to.

Realization that the crystals were still streaming from the small hole had her scrambling to the crawler for the emergency sealant.

"Base, base do you read?" As she knelt at the hole again and directed the expanding foam into the hole, she listened for a response.


The last of the sealant oozed out, and Danki sat back to watch the hole for the glint of crystals, holding her breath. No tell-tale diamond sparkle escaped the bright yellow plug she'd created, and she let out a sigh of relief.

Her voice shook as she tried to raise base again. "Base, this is Danki. Do you read?"

Still nothing but static, and it was only getting louder.

If she could get the survey team out here, she'd get credit for the find. If it was even half the size she thought it might be, it would pay all her debts, her travel expenses back to Earth, and have enough left over to live and extremely comfortable lifestyle on a planet with more than sand and rocks.

Danki looked back at the crawler and calculated the distance to the base in the face of the rising storm. She'd never make it before the worst of it hit, but that wasn't the biggest worry. If the storm was big enough, the probes she'd planted could easily shift. The plug she'd created would be covered, that was certain.

Going back to base meant reporting the find without knowing for sure where it was. Survey teams carried gear that could pinpoint her exact location, but her crawler didn't. The mapping function would get her close, but nowhere near close enough. Once word got out, planting probes was going to get very popular.

She was not going to have her discovery, her fortune snaked out from under her.

Maneuvering the crawler near the plug, she hurried to get the survival pod deployed. It would send out a beacon immediately, but with the dust storm coming it would be hours before anyone could respond. By then she'd be able to make the report and claim the find.

A snippet of an ancient song drifted through her head as she sealed the door of the pod behind her, settling down to dream of blue skies and trees:

A kiss on the hand
May be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl's best friend.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Never Too Late For Coffee

The air raid siren finally woke her up.

She was late.


Adrenaline shot her out of bed and onto her feet but did nothing to jump start her brain, which is why when she reached for her wailing cell phone she sent it sailing off the bedside table and under the bed. Erin stared at the spot the phone had been and seriously considered just leaving it under the bed.

Except now it was vibrating on the hardwood floor. The floor that separated her bedroom from the bedroom in the apartment below hers. With the neighbor who worked nights and would have gotten to bed about two hours ago.


She dropped to her knees and reached under the bed for the phone. Dead center, surrounded by dust coyotes (they'd long since eaten the harmless bunnies she'd started with). Bowing to the inevitable, she lay on the cold floor and scooted under the bed far enough to grab the screaming and dancing phone and yank it back.

Her arm was covered in dust and dog hair. She didn't own a dog, but she had dog hair. The joys of renting an apartment in a building that allowed pets, apparently.

Despite the chill, despite the dust, and despite the shih-tzu sized ball of hair three inches from her nose, the idea of staying right there and catching a few more minutes of sleep was incredibly attractive.

But she was late, so she was already going to be skipping the omelet and cup of coffee she'd hoped to eat for breakfast and starving until lunch.

Shoving up to her feet, the sharp pop reminded her a little too late that she still held the renegade cell phone in one of the hands she'd used to lever herself off the floor.

Erin stared at the crack that ran from one corner of the screen to the opposite corner. At least the alarm had stopped.

"I've got time for coffee."

Monday, September 21, 2015

Home Away From Home

Used to, Brecha would have waited until her family was asleep to come out into the apartment and rummage around for whatever had been left that she could make use of. Used to, wives would leave things on purpose, in return for the little things that might happen in night. But that was before the water.

Before the water, life was different. Maybe better, maybe not. It was hard to remember how it really was, when things changed too much.

When their families left the fair land and came over the water some of the ùruisg came with them, finding places to tuck themselves in and be useful. The new land was a wonder and a terror, and so much louder and busier. Even so, the old ways remained and gave them purpose.

But human lives are so short, and memories even shorter.

It hadn't been that way in the fair land. The knowing of the ùruisg had continued without fail or fade since before humans had found time.

Something in the new land changed that, and the knowing had died away like flowers under an early frost.

In the now, the best time to be unseen was in the brightness of day. Homes emptied early and stayed so until late in the day. Even venturing outside posed no real risk when humans had forgotten to look anywhere but toward their destination.

Brecha stood quite still at the gap between two cupboards in the kitchen, more out of habit than need. The tiny apartment was empty, but never silent. Machines in every room, humming and buzzing and rattling through the day and night. It was a wonder to her that humans didn't go mad with the noise they endured.

"Linsa, come now or we'll be last for certain." Brecha looked over her shoulder and waited for her friend to gather up their contribution to the meeting.

"We'll not be last. Feran is always last, and had naught to eat or drink with it." Her voice was little more than a wisp and matched the tiny frame that produced it. Linsa was fading, nearly matching the plastic grocery bag she wore as a dress.

Brecha turned away and smoothed the brown paper bag she preferred to wear, and tried not to worry. They couldn't die - not as humans did - but they could fade into nothing, or the next thing to it. Linsa needed a new family to care for, a family to replace the one that had left, but Brecha feared the news she brought to the meeting would wither that small hope. Bringing it to the other ùruisg and the king was the only solution she'd been able to think of.

She reached for one of the soda caps Linsa was trying to lift, and nudged the smaller woman toward the opening. "Let's get going, we're meeting at Belvedere Castle in Central Park and that's no little bit."

They moved fast. Fast enough to be mistaken for bits of trash blown about in the wind that howled and growled through the steel and glass canyons of the city. Dodging feet - humans, animals, the all-too-frequent oversized bug - made keeping the liquid in the caps they carried a challenge.

Linsa brightened when they crossed under the trees and into the cool, green calm of the park. Brecha deliberately slowed her pace a bit, drawing out the pleasure of the crossing and delaying the moment she was dreading.

"Are you listening, Brecha?"

Her friend's voice penetrated the dark thoughts that had crept in, and she forced an easy smile. "I was thinking about green things, Linsa. My apologies."

As they neared the castle they were joined by small groups of other ùruisg. They came together as they always had, chattering and singing, sharing the things they'd brought. Their bottle caps of strong spirits were most welcome, and quickly shared around.

She was amused to note that Linsa had been correct: Feran was again the last to arrive, and did so empty handed as usual.

Less amusing was the state he was in. The sock he'd fashioned into a tunic was worn and threadbare, the deep creases in his ashen skin taking up where the lines in the fabric left off. He lived in a building not far from theirs, and had lost his family much as Linsa had.

The feasting was ending when their king stood on a large rock and called them to as much order as they ever managed at one of their gatherings.

"Brecha has news to share, please attend," he announced, pitching his voice to be heard over the small crowd and motioning her up to take his place on the rock.

Looking out over the faces turned up to her, Brecha wished fervently that she didn't have to be the bearer of such disheartening news. Still, she supposed it was better to know and prepare than to be caught unaware.

"I know a number of us have lost families recently, and we've hoped that more families would move in as they have before," her eyes scanned the crowd and came to rest on Linsa and Feran's faces, and she took a deep breath.

"That's not going to happen."

The gasps and cries of dismay at her bald declaration buffeted her.

She raised her hands, "Please, listen!" Waiting for them to quiet gave her time to steady herself, and she was glad of it. "My family had a visitor. All of the buildings on my block and the next two are to be torn down, that's why the families have been leaving."

At this there was silence, more heartbreaking than the tears, and she hurried to finish.

"We have to move. We have to find new homes, new families."

She waited for the king to step forward, to take charge and guide those faced with losing their home, to guide her. He stood, staring at her in a way that made clear guidance would not be coming from that quarter. Fear swamped her.

Brecha watched Linsa pale and shrink, losing all the color she'd gained on the trip through the park, and suddenly the fear she'd felt was engulfed in frustrated anger.

"We have moved before," she started, then started again, her voice harder than the stone she stood on. "We crossed the water, when we had no way of knowing what would meet us. We found families, and homes, and made our lives."

The crowd quieted and turned to her, waiting. She wasn't sure what they were waiting for, what they expected, but she knew their survival depended on giving it to them.

It was so much simpler before the water. Before humans changed, got busy, and started forgetting...

Unless it wasn't the humans who were forgetting.

"We are ùruisg. We existed before time, before seasons. We are part of this world, and we are strong." We will find a place for ourselves, we will make a place."

She took a breath in the silence.

"We are ùruisg!"

 Cheers shook the leaves in the trees overhead, raining gold and red on the men and women below. Brecha watched groups form and break apart as plans were made and felt hopeful for the first time since the visitor. They were ùruisg, and they would make a place.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Whenever someone asked how he got stuck on a rock at the ass end of the galaxy, Chanx liked to tell them he'd gotten an offer he couldn't refuse.

Nobody ever got the reference, but he thought it was funny so he kept saying it.

Besides it was true. When he'd been convicted of doing...well, very bad things...the guy in the slick suit had given him an alternative to the permanent nap. Granted, this "offer" meant spending up to two years at a time taking a nap, but at least it wasn't permanent. The fact was, he wasn't really that fond of people, which was part of why he'd done those very bad things.

He wandered through to the room the engineers had laughingly called a "kitchen." Technically it was true. There was stuff that could be turned into food, if he felt like it. Mostly he didn't, so he ended up with the protein drinks the nutritionists had designed to refuel his system when he woke up. They didn't taste great, but food had never been his thing anyway.

It was the pilots who'd started calling him Gatekeeper and he'd decided he liked it. He was the gatekeeper to all those new worlds to replace the one they'd ruined. The pilots had the same deal he did: long naps in the cryo and protein shakes you try not to taste on the way down.

When they'd first sent him out to this rock they'd promised a comm system that would let him talk to Earth and the other colonies as they got set up. A way to stay connected. Never happened. There were reasons, but it didn't change the fact that he was on his own on a rock at the ass end of the galaxy.

The cryo clock was always the first thing he checked when he woke up.

At first the elapsed time was usually just a few months. The colony ships had been regular then, and they'd brought all the old movies and books. The books he ignored at first, but the movies he'd devoured.

It had been three hundred and sixty-two years since the last ship.

Two years of his time, since it took two days to reset the cryo after it woke him up. Those engineers had never been able to figure out how to get the units to run longer than two years without a reset. He wasn't sure if he was glad they hadn't figured it out, or not. It was one of those two-edged sword things.

Chanx had been trying not to think about it, but that cryo clock was always the first thing he checked when he woke up. It was a habit he couldn't shake, and it was driving him crazy.

No ships for more than three hundred years. In either direction.

It had to mean something, he just couldn't figure out what it was.

He reached for the tall cup and forced himself to take a long drink before he turned around to check the cryo clock. This was a game he'd started playing with himself after the first century. So far the longest he'd made it before he couldn't resist looking was an hour.

Three hundred and sixty-four. He knew that's what it would say. Another two years without a ship, without word, without contact. It was driving him crazy.

When he couldn't stand it any more he turned around to check the clock.

Three hundred and sixty...three.

A ship was coming.

"A shower...I need a shower!"

He slapped the cup down on the counter and headed for the living area. Showers had become optional after the first half century or so - what was the point when there weren't any ships? - and he was pretty sure he didn't smell that great.

A spin through the ultrasonic shower knocked the worst of the smell off, but the jumper he'd worn was a total loss and went directly into the recycle bin. After he'd slid into the first clean jumper he'd bothered with in a couple of centuries he felt almost human.

The first thing he needed to do was set up some food and drinks. The ships wake the pilots up a day before they get to the gate that'll shoot them whichever way they were headed. The one thing they all wanted, more than anything else, was something that tasted like real food.

They liked the basics: something that looked and tasted like beer, and a variety of things to eat that tasted like anything but a protein shake. He hit the menu on storage and retrieval system.


The mechanical voice was incredibly loud after so many years of silence. Chanx stumbled back a few steps in surprise.

"What the hell?"


Chanx stepped back to the display and pulled up the message history.

Message after message sent out, requesting a shipment of stores and supplies. Messages no one had ever responded to.

That's why the cryo system had woken him up. There was no ship. For all he knew, there weren't anymore people, either.

He picked up the shake and stared into it.

The Gatekeeper, that's what they'd called him for over seven hundred years. They'd changed him, out here on this rock. They'd made him see other people as something to value. They'd made him dependent on human contact.

He downed the shake in on long gulp and headed back to the cryo unit and pulled the cover shut.

An offer he couldn't refuse.

It occurred to him that movie hadn't had much of a happy ending, either.

Monday, June 1, 2015


She bent her head closer to where her hand was splayed on the metal vanity, the ridiculously tiny cap and brush clutched in her left hand, breathing in the strong fumes from the nail polish a few inches away.

The left hand was never a problem. Somehow the cap holding the tiny brush was bigger when her dominant right hand held it. The dark red polish went on smoothly and evenly. The bold color standing out against her pale skin.

Her right hand was another story. No matter how slowly she went, how careful she was, the polish was uneven and streaky. It was also on the skin around her nails, and she knew from sad experience that trying to fix that would only end in tears.

"Honey, are you ready to go?"

Her hand jerked and the bottle of red polish tipped at the brush of her fingers. In excruciatingly slow motion she saw it begin to topple, and her right hand lift from the table to catch it in ill-fated reflex. The spread of the thick polish was slow, and looked a little too much like blood for her comfort.

"Damn it!" The squeaky floorboard just outside their bedroom door sounded, and Leanne spoke without looking over her shoulder. "Bring me some paper towels, would you? I've spilled the nail polish."

Dave didn't say anything, but she heard him open the door to the closet in the hallway. While he retrieved the roll, she put the cap back on the nail polish and moved it out of the way. Two paper towels appeared over her shoulder and she took one to mop up the worst of it. He crouched next to her and soaked part of the other paper towel in acetone to finish the job.

By the time the puddle of red was taken care of, even the nails on her left hand were smeared and covered in bits of paper towel.

"Leanne, we're going to be late if we don't get going."

"I know, I just wanted..." she waved her hands, smeared with dark red polish.

"To look like you just gutted a baby rabbit?"

Leanne's mouth dropped open in shock and she stared at her hands. "Oh God, you're right. I do look like I've..." A snort surprised her and made them both laugh.

Dave grabbed a couple of cotton balls and soaked them in acetone and started gently wiping her fingers clean. "I have to admit it's a look. I'm sure everyone at the banquet would be impressed. Well, impressed and worried." He glanced up and smiled, and her heart jumped just like it had every time since the first day they'd met.

"I wanted to look nice tonight, when they gave you the award. My nails are so weak right now, and they've turned that awful color. I should have just gone to a salon and had them done."

He kissed her fingertips and pulled her to her feet, guiding her to the full-length mirror next to the door. She looked at their reflection. He stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders, more than six inches taller, with a swimmer's lithe body and dark hair that waved back from his face with just a little gray at the temples. The open, smiling face that made his patients trust him when they were at their worst was more familiar than her own, these days.

Her eyes tracked reluctantly down to the stranger standing in front of her husband. A short cap of silver hair highlighted cheek bones that were a little too sharp, a body thin enough to be frail, and the straight fall of silky fabric where once there had been curves.

"You sparkle, Leanne. Why polish a diamond?"

Their eyes met in the mirror, and in his she saw the beauty she couldn't see with her own. She let him tug her down the stairs to the waiting car.

"So what's on the menu tonight?" she asked as she slid onto the seat he'd warmed for her.

Her husband shot her a look. After thirty years of marriage she knew that look meant that whatever was about to come out of his mouth would be outrageous.  She wasn't disappointed.

"Roasted rabbit?"

Sunday, May 31, 2015



Tiny, fragile wings
Driven by strength beyond size
Improbable flight

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Maggie woke in darkness so complete it weighed on her eyelids and pressed her into the blankets she could feel under her bare shoulders. She'd never liked waking in the dark, even as a child, but the rush of fear she expected never came.

She should have been screaming, maybe crying, but she wasn't. The weight pressing her down was the effect of whatever drugs she'd been given. Part of her was relieved that she'd been spared the fear she should have felt, but part of her wondered about the reason for that mercy. If it was mercy; she couldn't be sure.

Her breath eased in and out, steady and calm, while her mind raced ahead. The last clear memory she had was leaving the DA's office, turning, and checking to be sure the heavy door had locked behind her. In the space where she should have a picture of herself walking to the bank of elevators was nothing but the darkness that surrounded her.

There was no walk to her car. No ride in the mirrored elevator to the fourth floor of her apartment building. No taste of a microwaved dinner eaten at a table covered in briefs and notes. Nothing but the handle of the door in her hand.

And the heavy scent of flowers.

The image of the flower danced just out of reach. It was familiar, she knew that much. White petals against dark green leaves, something as well known as her own face. Concentrating on the image and the name that went with it pushed back some of the weight holding her down.

A flash of light scattered her thoughts like sparrows, each taking a bit of the memory with it until she was left with only the darkness of an interrupted memory.

The face appeared above her without warning. Round and doughy, with watery blue eyes that studied her carefully. Thin lips turned up in a satisfied smile.

"Hello, sweet Magnolia. My own southern flower."

The overpowering fragrance of the flower poured over her and sparked memory. Creamy white petals bigger than her hand, falling from the tree in her grandmother's front yard. Long, waxy petals in darkest green circling the flowers that perfumed every summer night she'd spent there.


Not Maggie. Not the name she gave to everyone she'd ever met. Magnolia: the name her grandmother had insisted on when she'd stroked a twisted finger down her new granddaughter's pale cheek only moments after Maggie had been born.

When a clammy finger followed the same path, her soul shuddered where her body could not, and the thin smile deepened into something darker.

The sickly sweet smell remained long after his Magnolia had wilted and withered away.