An Elusive Volume- A tale of the Arrondissement

It’s been about two months and somehow I find myself wandering back to the Arrondissement. I knew that I would return but not so soon. The metaphorical pen goes where it will. One of the wonderful things about creating a world is filling it with interesting characters, at least interesting to me. The sad part is not all of them get as much love as they deserve.

I was musing, as I am prone to, and I thought about my favorite fictional librarian, the lovely and talented Zsófia. What sort of challenges does she face in the world she lives in? Below is what occurred to me. I enjoyed spending more time with her and I hope you do too.

Alors allons-y!

Zsófia knew that most books are content to sit on a shelf, eager to be read. It is an arraignment that both parties have agreed to, if informally. At least in the case of Academy Library, as there was a steady flow of those who wish to read, and those who wished to be read.

However, some books were less patient. Those were kept in the protected section. This was as much for the preservation of rare volumes as it was to protect the unwary. The Chronicle of Allurement desired to be pored over and would open when those of an easily influenceable nature passed by. It had led to countless distractions until it was placed in a steel case under thaumaturgic lock and key.

The Book of Blades fed on blood, in the form of paper cuts. Not as deadly as swords or daggers but it made for a challenging read. Heavy gloves are advised. So many nibbles had been taken from the Culinary Compendium’s binding that a full three-course meal had to be eaten before any scholar could consult it.

All of these were troublesome but manageable, they just required some extra precautions. There was one that caused more trouble than the rest put together, and Zsófia was looking right at it. Or more accurately, she was looking at where it should be.

The Unbound Anthology, a collection of the techniques created by the Arrondissement’s greatest escape artist, Manon Aubert. All her secrets, in one bound volume, printed only once, after she disappeared.

Famously, she once was shackled, manacled, then blindfolded, and sealed in an oubliette in the lowest level of the Vicomte DuSanglant’s tower which was guarded by three Chevaliers. Aubert appeared at the First Minister’s gala one hour later to the delight of all that attended.

While Aubert loved to thrill crowds, the Unbound Anthology seemed to take a perverse pleasure in liberating itself from the protected section. For Zsófia, who delighted in keeping the library in order, it was particularly vexing.

She slid out to the front desk where her colleague, Madame Flagel was sorting returns.

“Did anyone request something from the protected section today?” whispered Zsófia.

“Yes, Professor Berteau took out the Volume of the Void,” replied Madame Flagel.

Hmmm…”

“What’s wrong?”

“The Unbound Anthology has escaped again.”

“Oh no! I was very careful.”

“It’s not your fault, that book was made to avoid being shelved.”

Madame Flagel took a look around to see anyone was listening, then leaned close to Zsófia and murmured, “Sometimes I just want to let it escape.”

“Me too,” she replied and they both laughed. Very quietly.

“I’m going to pay a visit to Professor Berteau and see if I can capture our wayward tome,” said Zsófia as she straightened her jacket.

“Bonne chance!”

Berteau’s office was on the third floor of the East-West wing, at the end of the hallway. She took a deep breath and knocked.

“Come in!” could be heard behind the wood and frosted glass door.

She entered the cluttered and narrow office. Professor Berteau’s area of expertise was the theoretical space inside solid objects, or at least that’s how he had explained it to her at the Academy holiday party several years ago.

Piles of books made a path to a smallish desk at the far end of the room where the scholar sat.

“Librarian Zsófia! Have I an overdue book?” he said with a smile.

“No Professor, your account is not in arrears.”

“Good, good, good.”

Zsófia smiled while looking at the stacks of books, hoping to spot the truant volume.

“Is there anything I can help you with?” asked the Professor.

“I’m afraid we’ve had a breakout,” she admitted.

“Ahh, the Unbound Anthology! Someone should really keep an eye on that,” he unhelpfully suggested.

“Thank you,” she replied with an outward sincerity, “But it excels in escape, which is it’s nature.”

“I suppose so.”

“You haven’t seen it, have you?”

“No! Do you think I aided and abetted?” he asked with a smirk.

“Of course not Professor. It’s just that it seems it may have slipped out when the Volume of the Void was pulled for you earlier.”

“I’m sorry to hear that though-”

“-Naturally no one thinks you’re responsible,” she interrupted, “I had hoped you might have seen something. I’m afraid that our services may be curtailed while that book is at large.”

“Oh, dear, there are several texts I need pulled!”

A shame. If you’ll excuse me, I must try and find my quarry,” sighed Zsófia as she turned to exit.

“Please wait! I believe that that the boy who was pushing the book cart said he was headed to the Phlogiston Department.”

“Thank you so much professor, I’ll head there right away.”

“Those books I need?” he asked

“I’m sure the library will accommodate your requests,” she said as she left.

Deep in the lower levels, the Phlogiston Department studied the nature of fire in a ceramic vaulted room filled with flame pits of varying sizes and heat levels. Because of the nature of their research, all their books were made of thinly hammered steel. They used to be clay but inevitable clumsiness made that impractical.

Removing her specially treated hood and visor to reveal a sooty and sweaty face, Doctor Enfer spoke to Zsófia.

“I haven’t seen any stray books. Paper doesn’t last long around here,” said the Phlogistonist.

“Of course.”

“Self-aware writings tend to avoid this part of the Academy.”

“I thought you might have seen something.”

Doctor Enfer scratched her nose and pondered this.

“Well, the book cart was headed towards the Acoustic Engineering lab.”

“Thank you,” said Zsófia.

Much of the morning and part of the afternoon was spent following the trail of the book cart. She considered returning to the library for the list of stops the book cart was going to make but she didn’t want to miss a chance to nab this runaway lexicon. For all her efforts, all Zsófia succeeded in was an erosion of her temper and fatigue.

She took her mid-day meal (a bit later than she normally did) in a secret room above the main library. Zsófia had discovered it years before, it was a small garret chamber just off the topmost level of the stacks. Spending time there let her think and, right now, cool her temper which had been sorely tried.

As she nibbled on her lunch, she stared out the window and thought. Usually, she could find this wayward book, though it would take some effort. That was the issue with self-aware books, they would inevitably act according to the nature of their subjects. The Unbound Anthology was not only acting as its essence demanded but it seemed to be learning. That would increase its value but also its propensity for mischief.

Wiping crumbs off her mouth, she gazed out the window at the many towers, platforms, balconies, and walkways that crisscrossed the Academy’s campus. Students and faculty moved about. It was a brisk, clear autumn day so there was little dillying or dallying going on. One unfortunate student tripped and the folder he was carrying exploded in a flurry of paper. He desperately attempted to recover as many as he could but the cold wind was not in a generous mood. His work escaped as he watched.

Zsófia sighed, it seemed to be that sort of day. One moment later she smiled.

Standing on the tallest tower of the Academy, the Tour Du Ciel, Zsófia scanned, using the opera glasses gifted to her by her drágám, the multitude of roofs that covered the grounds. A lost book more times than not would be found on the floor, so if it’s not down, it very well might be up. For an hour, she got to appreciate another point of view of the Academy. Some came up for experiments, others to be alone, a solitary kite pilot, and more than a few trysts.

Her patience was rewarded. Sliding along a nearby rooftop was the Unbound Anthology. With a wild grin, she attached the rope to the crenelations of the Tour Du Ciel, borrowed from the Department of Orology, and swung out and around towards the errant book.

Landing about ten meters behind it she moved as fast as she could while Unbound Anthology headed for the edge. She grinned as it was stopped by the wrought-iron filigree at the edge. Just then, the book flipped over, aided perhaps by a gust of wind. Perhaps not. There was only one thing she could do.

Pierrick Aubertin sat in an empty classroom, working on his thesis. Being alone helped him think; or more accurately, he was easily distracted. This was the dullest classroom he knew about, the walls were painted a grey that didn’t suggest a mysterious fog so much as a numbing void where nothing was likely to leap out and make things interesting. Perfect for getting work done.

Until he heard a tap on the window, one that only showed the bricks of another building, nothing to catch the eye. He reluctantly looked at the window. Nothing. Back to work. Yet another tap. Feeling his focus slipping away, he moved to the window.

“Could you please open the window?” asked Zsófia, who was holding onto a rope with one hand and the Unbound Anthology clasped tightly by the other.

With some effort, he was able to help her inside. Using one hand, she straightened herself out and said, “Merci young man.”

Feeling more distracted than he thought possible, Pierrick inquired, “What the hell were you doing out there?

“Library business,” she replied with a smile.

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A Long Time Ago…

Last week it was May the Fourth, the official/unofficial Star Wars holiday. To honor this, one of the holiest days in the nerd calendar, I rewatched Star Wars. By which, I mean Episode 4, A New Hope. This addendum was added in 1981 for the theatrical rerelease.

When I first saw that movie, in the distant past of 1977, we only called it Star Wars. To also add, IT BLEW MY MIND! I had never seen anything like this. Of course, no one had, but I can only speak for myself.

As anyone who has read my work knows, I am quite the nerd and have been for the entirety of my life. So seeing Star Wars was like being given a gift of something I didn’t know I wanted in the deepest, secret, and unplumbed depths of my soul. Given the overwhelming popularity of this franchise, I was not alone.

Like countless others, I wanted to live in that universe, to fly an X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon, be best friends with a Wookiee, and wield a lightsaber while I let the Force flow through me. I bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over, picturing accompanying the scenes in my head.

My Friends and I bragged about how many times we had seen it. One kid had been twenty times and we envied him. Remember, this was pre-streaming and even pre-VCR(Google it), so it was confined to theaters. It was in theaters for over a year, a feat that the most popular blockbusters of more recent times cannot match.

For Christmas that year I received a lightsaber. To clarify, it was an orange flashlight with a white, opaque plastic tube attached to it that when turned on, glowed like a lightsaber. Obviously not officially licensed, I think had a sticker on the grip that read, Star Sword or maybe Laser Sword. As cheap as this was, it delighted me. It also looked VERY cool when you ignited, with a vocal ‘snap hiss’, in a dark room.

It is easy to see what excited people worldwide, good versus evil, amazing setting, fantastic aliens, a wide variety of droids, space ships, and high adventure. Naturally, there were sequels, comics, novels and novelizations, toys, cartoons, games, then prequels, more cartoons, and more sequels.

These answered a lot of questions we all had, even if the answers were not the ones we wanted. In the interest of transparency, not every bit was lore was top-notch, and much was discarded after Disney took over. This made some people very angry and others not at all. Just like everything ever done.

While I’m delighted by the proliferation of Star Wars content, back in the day, all we had was the one movie, and any bit of lore we might glean as we poured over articles in Starlog. It was a science-fiction magazine. Printed on paper, once a month. Because that’s how we rolled back then.

Besides all the obvious reasons, why did I love Star Wars so much? After watching it for the umpteenth time (way more than twenty, so suck it childhood friend whose name eludes me now), something occurred to me. What intrigued me was what we didn’t see.

Now to be sure, we saw a lot of stuff, but we only visited two planets, the desert world of Tatooine and the jungle moon of Yavin 4. For a setting for a galactic struggle, that’s not a lot. Sure we saw Yavin Prime, a crimson gas giant, and Alderaan from a distance. For very clear reasons, we don’t get to visit them. R.I.P. Alderaan.

There is a lot mentioned that we don’t see and is not explained. What were the Clone Wars all about? How does the Force work? What is a Womprat, other than being a little bigger than two meters? Where does blue milk come from and what does it taste like? How can you make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs when a parsec is a measurement of distance and not speed? What do Jawas really look like under the hood?

Lots of these have been answered with varying degrees of satisfaction. While I have spent quite a lot of time seeking details about the Star Wars universe, watching the original made me long for the time when a lot of mysteries still existed. Given the time I’ve spent watching movies and shows, to say nothing of the many, many books I’ve read, it seems contradictory.

Truth be told, it is. I want to know everything and simultaneously don’t. In a way, the more I know about the Star Wars Universe, the smaller it seems. When all we knew was what we saw in one movie, it felt… infinite.

One of the highest bits of praise I can give a fictional world is that feels as though there is something around the corner, even if we don’t see it. Star Wars has that and then some. In my mind, every one of the stars we see at the opening has a unique and intriguing world. Some even have more than just one. What are they all? We’ll know when some creative force, no pun intended, reveals it to us. If they don’t, that’s okay too.

The younger version of me would not agree. He’d want it all and he’d want it right now. I can’t blame him, even if he wouldn’t love it all. Probably.

Maybe what I want is to return to a time when the world seemed undiscovered and full of possibilities, at least from a certain point of view. I’d be lying if that doesn’t hold a very powerful appeal. Impossible of course, we all must move forward.

While I can’t go back to that state of innocence of Star Wars lore, I can bask in the memories of a time before knew what Midi-chlorians were and the arguments that they created. Before the dark times, before the Empire. Not the Empire Strikes Back, that was awesome.

Excuse me, I need to stare off at the horizon at the setting twin suns and reminisce about when I took my first step into a larger world.

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The Most Dangerous Challenge

“My Prince, the Dread Masters have arrived,” said the majordomo as he bowed.

Straightening his abnormally high and over-embroidered collar, the Prince of Highlandia gestured that the unpleasant guests should be shown in.

Clad in black armor that somehow also glowed black, the Dread Masters entered the throne room. Their leader, known as the Most Dread Master, and his lieutenant, the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master strode in followed by the other Dread Masters. Their names all indicated where they all stood in the hierarchy of Dread, but since they only got longer, we will not list them here.

“The time has come, oh Prince,” sneered the Most Dread Master, “The three moons of fate have eclipsed the seven suns of destiny.”

Sighing, the Prince of Highlandia replied, “Yes, yes, it’s pretty hard to miss.”

“Are you prepared for the Challenge That Will Shape The World?” asked the Most Dread Master just as he had rehearsed with his Dread Acting Coach.

“ARE YOU?” added the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master.

“I thought I said to just glower, menacingly,” the Most Dread Master whispered at his lieutenant.

“Just thought it would help,” sullenly replied Lesser.

“Well, it didn’t!” spat the Most Dread Master, “Did it?” he then asked the Prince.

“Not really.”

“I prepared a song. A very scary song,” Lesser said hopefully.

The Most Dread Master pushed down his disappointment. Just because someone is excellent in martial arts, doesn’t mean they had any sense of theater. He had to take care of this before it became a ‘thing.’

Lesser’s face lit up. “Really?” 

“Listen, I asked you to glower because you’re so good at it. The best, in fact.”

“Absolutely! You are my best glowerer, hands down.”

“I think I need to hear that. It’s been a rough week. My girlfriend-”

“Let’s talk later, okay? After the Challenge That Will Shape The World.”

“You got it my Most Dread Master!”

Turning back to the Prince of Highlandia, the Most Dread Master intoned, “So my Prince, are you prepared for the Challenge That Will Shape The World?”

“You already said that.”

“Well, it’s literally the event that will determine the fate of every being in the realm for all eternity. It deserved to be said twice! Maybe even three times!”

“Would you like to say it again?”

“Twice, I think imports the gravity of this event,” declared the Most Dread Master in a tone he felt was both wise and threatening.

“Agreed,” nodded the Prince as he sagely stroked his beard. The beard stroke really sold the sagacity.

“As was written in the scrolls of sacred conflict, let the champions present themselves!” declared the Most Dread Master as he stepped forward.

The Prince, who was in his late middle age and had what could be accurately described as a ‘Dad Bod’, stood up.

“You? You are the champion?”

“I am,” he said with a shrug.

The Most Dread Master waited for a ‘mere jest’ or a ‘got you’ or even a ‘psych!’ It did not come.

“What happened to your loyal cadre of warriors? Johnny Lightning Hands? Myka Mistress of the Razor-Whip? Mysteroid, the Living Smoke? The Mongoose Twins, Ebi and Abi? Bunfar, the Guy with Swords for Feet?”

“Oh, they’re up there,” the Prince said pointing up a balcony. 

All his champions waved and cheered, which resulted in some clanking in the case of Bunfar who stomped his feet swords with great enthusiasm. 

“Are you not going to take this seriously?” asked the Most Dread Master with unmasked irritation. 

“Of course I am, this will shape realm forever.”

“So you think you can defeat me?” 

“I don’t think that.”

“Haha, you will-”

“…I know it.”

It was a classic burn. The Most Dread Master was rapidly losing the mystique of menace that he had spent years cultivating. Time to make some big power moves.

“Okay, Prince ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Check this out.”

With a flicker of darkness, the Most Dread Master teleported about the throne room, shattering vases on plinths with masterful kicks and strikes. Appearing and disappearing into and out of puffs of oily black smoke, which he thought was extremely cool. The fact that the smoke smelled of potpourri was perhaps less cool than he wanted it to be.

“And that’s just the tip of the dark iceberg of my martial arts techniques!”

The Prince applauded and said, “Impressive. Very much so. I enjoyed the potpourri.”

“It’s not potpourri, it’s the scent of dying springtime!”

“Sorry, it just reminded me of potpourri.”

“Well, you were wrong!”

“Would you like to hear the challenge?” stated the Prince in a serious manner.

“Indeed I would!”

Carrying the scrolls of sacred conflict, the majordomo entered and unrolled them to a specific spot.

“I’ve been reading over the scrolls and I discovered something of great interest to me.”

“Do you think you’ve discovered some loophole that will allow you to avoid this?”

“Not at all. But listen to this, ‘The challenged, in this case, me, may choose the nature of the conflict, and the challenger must abide by this or forfeit on pain of disintegration.’”

“I know, I know! It’s a proviso so you can choose where and how we fight. It could be in the Ice Volcano on the edge of the Sea of Fire, or on a Dragon-Owl’s back in a lightning storm, or if we both are blindfolded and have to compose haiku while leaping from branch to branch in the forest of very slippery leaves.”

“Yes… And no.”

“What the hell does that mean!”

“The thing is, the challenge doesn’t have to be a fight,” the Prince offered with a smile.

“Don’t be absurd! That’s what we do! Our whole way of life is based on superiority through martial arts! You can’t just go changing it!” sputtered the Most Dread Master.

“The scrolls do not specify the challenge needs to be one of fighting.”

“Where is my Dread Litigator?” 

There was a great deal of reading and arguing between the Master and his attorney. Part of it was why their copies of the scrolls were on black parchment with purple lettering. It had seemed so very metal when they were made but turned out to be extraordinarily difficult to read. Finally, the Most Dread Master spoke.

“On advice of counsel, I accept that the challenge need not be one of the martial arts. Even though it makes a mockery of everything our most sacred and profane traditions stand for.”

“Very magnanimous of you,” said the Prince.

“I thought so,” replied the Most Dread Master.

There was a dramatic pause.

“Now, and only now, will I reveal my challenge to you, my foe.”

“It better not be trivia! If it’s trivia we should have teams!”

“While that might’ve been entertaining, I had something else prepared.”

At that, servants set up a long table and placed cloth-covered trays upon them. A distinctive acidic smell wafted across the throne room.

“By the sightless eyes of the Iron Crone… No.” 

“Hot wings. Marinated with the essences of one hundred different peppers. Including the feared Pandemonium Pepper which only grows in the darkness of Valley of the Mad. Whoever can eat the most, will mold the world for evil or good.”

While the Most Dread Master enjoyed things that would make the hardest hearts weep, he could not stomach spicy foods. Even black pepper was too much for him. But the challenge had to be met.

He took off his cape with a flourish to show he still had style, and also to prevent it from being stained. As he handed it to the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master, he said quietly, “Send a dark crane to the Dread Gastroenterologist. Tell him I will need his services very shortly.”

Sitting across from his ancestral foe, the Most Dread Master looked at this, his final battlefield, and uttered these words.

“So, no blue cheese dressing?”

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Keep Watching, True Believers!

Disney+ Marvel spinoffs

With the last episode of Falcon and the Winter Solider out, we will need to wait till next month for M.O.D.O.K. and till June for the Loki show. But never fear, Marvel and Disney are hard at work with other shows, that they know you will love. Check out what’s in store.

Hawkeye’s Old House– With his wife and children returned to him, Clint Barton sets his sights on renovation of the family home. Episode One is how to build an extension using only trick arrows. Episode Two, marriage counseling. 

HULK… SCIENCE! Bruce Banner hosts an educational show about the careful application of super science with a special focus on Gamma Radiation. Filmed in front of a live audience, who may or may not get superpowers.

Wong Between the Bread– Master of the mystic arts and sandwich aficionado, Wong, sling rings himself across the globe searching for the perfect tuna melt. After an exhaustive, world-wide search, it ends at a dinner near Mahwah New Jersey at Benji’s Twenty-Four Hour Diner when Wong achieves lunch enlightenment.

MCU Odd Couple– Neil Simon’s classic TV show gets an update when Korg and Miek are cast as Oscar and Felix. The Pigeon sisters are played by actual mocap pigeons and voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jodie Comer. CGI hilarity ensues.

Super Villain Shark Tank– Mordo, Justin Hammer, and Doctor Arnim Zola host this pitch show for aspiring supervillains. Those who impress will receive funding for their evil schemes, everyone else will be dropped into a literal shark tank. Serious contenders only please.

Coulson Lives!– Phil Coulson, or the LMD version on him, meets each week with another MCU character to tell them that he is actually alive. He also attempts to weave the events of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the main continuity.

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You Think So?

“It’s not that difficult,” he insisted.

She took a large potato and began to slice it.

“Isn’t it?” she replied.

He sighed and said, “It is if you make it that way.”

“Hand me that bowl.”

She swept the potato pieces into the bowl and then seasoned them.

“I think you can do this.”

“You think so? How encouraging.”

“I know you can,” he corrected himself.

She regarded him for a moment. Then said, “Please dice up this ham.”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“We still need to eat.”

“Fine,” he said and started to dice.

She turned on the radio. Loud and discordant music filled the kitchen.

“Could you turn that off? Or change stations? Or just turn it down?” he shouted.

Shrugging, she moved to the light switch. Flicking it back and forth. Shadows appeared and disappeared in rapid succession.

“What the he-”

“KEEP DICING!” she shouted.

She then picked up a bunch of grapes and started to fling them at him.

“Hey, knock it off!”

“I don’t hear dicing!”

“How can you hear anything at all?”

“FASTER AND SMALLER PIECES!!!” she screamed.

It was then, he cut himself. Profanity followed. She stopped the grape bombardment, turned off the radio, and led him to the sink. After cleaning the cut and dressing, it was not too deep, she looked him straight in the eyes.

“That is why.”

“It’s that bad?” he asked quietly.

“Worse.”

They stood in the kitchen, the only thing heard was the occasional and distant sounds of passing cars.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Me too.”

“Can I help?”

“I’m not sure anyone can.”

“I’d… I’d like to try.”

“Okay. There is one thing you can do.”

“Anything.”

She whispered something in his ear. He nodded. Only then, did she speak in earnest.

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First Contract

It is a known fact that humanity made first contact with extra-terrestrials on June 13th, 20XX when an enormous spacecraft appeared over the United Nations Secretariat Building, and a group of twelve alien delegates spoke to the Earth, inviting us to join the Galactic Commonwealth.

This was inarguably the most historic moment in human history. The day we stepped over the threshold to a larger, more advanced civilization.

Except it’s not true. First contact happened about a year before. At a secret meeting at an abandoned military base in Utah.

This is what really happened.

The US President arrived surrounded by a cadre of Secret Service agents and Marine Special Forces. Each group eyeing each other, confident in the fact that they were best suited to protect POTUS against any danger from beyond the stars. In retrospect, this was adorable. 

POTUS strode into the hanger that the meeting was to take place.

“Mr. President, the Secret Service has secured the area, all clear,” said the Lead Agent.

“My people have made the area even more secure, sir,” added the Marine Major who wanted to make sure her people were represented.

“How can an area be even more secure?” hissed the Lead Agent, “An area is either secure or it’s not!”

“If you were in the Corp, you’d understand.”

“That’s just bullsh-”

“Alrighty!” said POTUS with a smile, “I know you both have done outstanding work. Just keep your eyes peeled and your ears open and we’ll come through this right as rain!”

Inwardly, POTUS was not as confident. This whole business was making his ulcer act up. If this went well it would cement his legacy. But if it didn’t, he might be the last president of the U S of A. He chewed an antacid and ran his hands over his hair.

He stood there and listened to the low wind that made the hanger creak. It occurred to him, and not for the first time, that this might be a prank.

Suddenly, with a burst of bright green light, three figures appeared along with a massive table, a tall robed insect figure with the octopus arms, an undulating pillar of luminous pink sparkles, and a creature that might be described as a muscular centaur with a Tiger-Man upper body and reptilian back half.

The distinctive sound of automatic weapons being cocked was heard.

“Everyone stand down,” said POTUS, and weapons were lowered.

Stepping forward, POTUS held his arms open and said, “Greetings, beings from the stars. From all the people of the United States of America, I welcome you to our planet.”

“Hey Mr. President,” said the Octopus Bug, “How ya doing?”

POTUS did not react immediately. Partially because the tone was so… casual. That and the fact this alien sounded a lot like Jon Hamm.

“I am doing well. Thanks for asking?” he replied.

“Let me introduce myself, I am Bahb Smisss, from the planet Gorbo,” said the Octopus Bug.

“Excuse me, did you just say your name is Bob Smith?” asked POTUS, “Are you yankin’ my chain?”

“No, no, no! It’s Bahb Smisss,” the alien repeated slowly, “It sounds a lot like a Human name but it’s spelled differently.”

“Uhuh.”

“Back to introductions, to my right is Luuuupppurrrn, she’s from the planet Suvooooooo.”

“Nice to meet ya!” purred the column of rosy-colored lights.

“And last, but certainly not least, Mung-Torp of the planet Ventahkus.”

“Charmed,” said the Tiger-Lizard Centaur.

POTUS looked these aliens straight in where he figured their eyes would be and stated, “You all seem to know who I am, so let me say again, welcome to Earth.”

This made the aliens laugh. 

“What the H E double hockey sticks are you all playing at?!” said POTUS who was not at all comfortable being on his back heel.

“I apologize,” said Bahb Smisss, “It just that… WE’RE ALL FROM EARTH!”

“Are you Planet of the Apeing me Jack?” sputtered POTUS.

There was a pause, followed immediately by gales of laughter from the ETs.

“It’s kinda an inside joke,” Luuuupppurrrn said as she tried to stop laughing.”

“The name of everyone’s planet translates to ‘Earth’ in their native language. An odd universal truth.”

“That is odd,” added POTUS who felt as though he was not just on his back heels but tumbling ass over teakettle.

“Usually, it gets a bigger laugh,” added Bahb Smisss, “I think my timing was off.”

“Ooo!” warbled Luuuupppurrrn, “I totally spaced on the refreshments.”

With a smaller green flash of light the table filled with food and drink.

“Let’s sit and chat. Sounds good?” inquired Bahb Smisss.

They sat. POTUS sniffed the food, it smelled delicious. He was about to take a bite when the Lead Agent leaned in.

“I wouldn’t advise it sir. We don’t even know if these things eat the same food as us.”

“Nothing to fret over, it’s Earth food,” interjected Mung-Torp.

“It smells like chicken pot pie,” said POTUS who found himself getting hungry.

“Allow me to taste it Mr. President,” said the Major who leaned in on POTUS’s other side, “Just to make sure.”

“Back off Leatherneck! It’s our job to protect the President!”

“Isn’t there some counterfeiting you should be dealing with?”

“That’s only one of the areas the Secret Service covers! If anyone is going to get poisoned by aliens is us!”

“It’s not poisoned,” stated Luuuupppurrrn.

“No disrespect, but that’s just what a poisoner would say,” disrespectfully said the Major. 

“I hate to agree with her but she’s right,” grudgingly added the Lead Agent.

“You think we traveled hundreds of light-years, set up a secret meeting with your president, just to poison him?” asked Mung-Torp.

“That’s a long way to go to spit in someone’s soup. Agent, Major, relax.”

They did so. Reluctantly. POTUS picked up a fork and took a bite. It was…

“Delicious!” exclaimed the leader of the free world.

“So glad you liked it! We’ve been working on Earth recipes and we knew chicken pot pie was your favorite!”

“How did you know that!” shouted the Lead Agent and the Major at once.

“That interview you did with Robin Roberts,” said Bahb Smisss.

“I just adore her,” burbled Luuuupppurrrn, “So charming!”

“But she’s also an excellent journalist,” commented Mung-Torp.

The three aliens agreed.

“So you’ve been monitoring us?” asked POTUS.

“Ever since you started radio broadcasts,” remarked Bahb Smisss.

“Those early broadcasts were so creative! You all did so much with just sound!” Mung-Torp said with reverence, “That War of Worlds broadcast was outstanding. Thank Glorp that we didn’t show up right after that!”

POTUS wiped his mouth and said, “That’s some top-notch chicken pot pie, tasted like it was made by someone’s momma.”

“Please Mr. President,” said Luuuupppurrrn, whose pink sparkles got brighter, “You’ll make me fulgurate.”

“But I have to ask you, why are you here?”

“That is an excellent question. There is something that your Earth has that we very much desire,” said Bahb Smisss, “A particular resource.”

“Water,” said POTUS.

The ETs tittered.

“No, we don’t need water.”

“It is one of Earth’s largest natural resources. Heck, seventy-one percent of our surface is water!” declared POTUS.

“Please don’t take this as a knock but we have faster than light travel,” stated Mung-Torp, “We know how to make water. All it is two hydrogen and one oxygen. It’s pretty basic.”

“Then what? Minerals? Petroleum? People?” demanded POTUS.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down there. We don’t want any of that stuff!” said Luuuupppurrrn in a soothing tone.

“Why the heck not?”

Bahb Smisss held his tentacles and said, “First, we no longer use petroleum. Haven’t for millions of years. It’s rife with problems. Second, we don’t eat people. Well, the Zorrbinians do. But only other Zorrbinians. It’s a cultural thing.”

Leaning in, he whispered to POTUS, “Everybody thinks they’re weirdoes, but it’s none of our business.”

“Okay. But what about minerals or metals and that sort of stuff?” asked POTUS who was curious why they breezed past that part.

With patience, Luuuupppurrrn explained.

“Mr. President, do you know how many uninhabited planets there are, just chock full of iron, heavy metals, and Delvinte?”

“What’s Delvinite?” he asked.

“Oh, you haven’t discovered it yet. It’s a very versatile element, you’ll find near the core of a planet. Sorry, I got a little off track here. There are literally billions of worlds that cannot sustain life. Invasion is not cost-effective.”

“Like any good leader, I prefer peace to war but-”

“You don’t think it’s actually possible,” speculated Bahb Smiss.

“A hard lesson from our history,” POTUS grimly said.

“Let me put it this way, let’s say you want a…” Luuuupppurrrn looked around the table, “A pizza. So you have two ways of getting it. You could go to the place where pizza is. You call them pizza parlors, right?”

“I do,” said POTUS who was a bit on the old-fashioned side.

“Great! Now you could either go to the pizza parlor, where you can get as much pizza as you like, for free. OR you go to your neighbor’s home to take his pizza, which he does NOT want to give you. In fact, many beings will die before you get his pizza and many ask, ‘Why didn’t we just go to the free pizza parlor in the first place?’ That’s why no one invades anyone else anymore. At least in the Galactic Commonwealth.”

“So, if you’re not here to invade, what exactly are you here for?” asked POTUS who was wondering where this all was going.

“Yes!” exclaimed Bahb Smiss, “Let’s get to the hearts of the matter. We want Beyoncé.”

Whatever POTUS thought they were going to ask for, it was not this.

“What kinda malarky are you shoveling?” shouted POTUS.

“It’s just that we all love Beyoncé,” sighed Luuuupppurrrn.

“Everyone loves her!” declared Mung-Torp.

“The United States of America does NOT trade human beings! I oughta take you behind the gym and woop your keister for suggesting it!” said POTUS as he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves.

“Hold on! I think we weren’t clear about what we meant!” hurriedly said Bahb Smiss, “We don’t want Beyoncé the being. We want her music.”

“Are you telling me that you came halfway across the universe for music?”

“Not that far exactly, more like three hundred and fifty-seven lightyears, but essentially… Yes,” replied Bahb Smisss.

“That sounds like grade A bullplop!” insisted POTUS.

“Remember how we said we first intercepted your broadcasts?” said Mung-Torp.

“Yes.”

“Well, we were very impressed by your planet’s creativity. For years we listened and watched your broadcasts. Such remarkable and innovative artistry,” said Luuuupppurrrn with absolute sincerity.

“That’s why you’re here? Because you like our TV shows?” sputtered POTUS.

“And your music,” said Mung-Torp.

“Animation, movies, and even your commercials,” said Bahb Smisss, “That old lady who was looking for the beef! Classic.”

POTUS looked at these ETs with disbelief.

“Are you all serious?”

“Hundreds of civilizations can travel faster than light. Only you, had a Lucille Ball,” reverently intoned Bahb Smiss.

Tapping his fingers on the table, the President considered this.

“So, what do we get from all this?”

“Of course the artists will be compensated,” interjected Mung-Torp.

“But everyone will benefit. We can supply you with advanced technology,” suggested Luuuupppurrrn.

“What? Like space ships and ray guns?” asked POTUS.

“Maybe work up to that,” chuckled Bahb Smiss, “But for a start, we can offer cures for all diseases.”

“All diseases?!”

“We’ve had that worked out a long time ago,” said Mung-Torp casually.

“Free clean energy as well,” mentioned Luuuupppurrrn.

“Now that is something twice over,” said POTUS.

POTUS was grinning. This would not just cement his legacy, it would be carved out of diamond. Then it occurred to him.

“What about everyone else? I pretty sure the Russians won’t be tickled pink about America getting VIP tickets to Future World!”

“Representatives are conferring with other world leaders as we speak,” said Bahb Smiss.

“Well… That makes sense,” POTUS admitted. “I sincerely hope they take you up on your offer.”

He could share credit.

“We’re pretty confident they will,” said Mung-Torp with assurance.

“Are you in, Mr. President?” asked Bahb Smiss.

POTUS stroked his chin. If this was on the level, it would change everything. The Joint Chiefs would have puppies over this. Congress too. But the public would support the end of all disease and free energy. It was, as his grandchildren would say, a no-brainer.

“I’m in like Flynn!” 

A series of pings were heard and each of the aliens looked at their devices.

“It looks like everybody is in!” said Bahb Smiss.

“That’s amazing!” said POTUS, “Even Pu-”

“Yep, even him!” confirmed Luuuupppurrrn.

“Well if don’t beat all,” murmured POTUS.

“Now comes the boring part. The legal stuff,” said Bahb Smiss.

“You have lawyers?”

“They are inevitable, like the heat death of the universe,” snarked Mung-Torp.

“Be nice!” chided Luuuupppurrrn.

“I was,” insisted Mung-Torp.

“Moving on,” said Bahb Smith, “Tomorrow we can begin the, what you like to call the ‘paperwork.’ But tonight, we can celebrate!”

“I don’t suppose you brought any bubbly?” asked POTUS.

Another green flash and iced buckets appeared on the table. POTUS popped a bottle open and poured two glasses for the Lead Agent and the Raider Major.

“Here ya go, drink up you two!”

“We’re still on duty sir,” said the Lead Agent.

“Better to keep sharp Mr. President,” whispered the Major, her eyes darting around the room.

“This is a presidential order, have a drink, eat some food and enjoy yourselves,” POTUS said as he handed them glasses.

“With all due respect-,” began the Lead Agent.

“Son, if these folks were gonna do anything, it would already happened. So make a few memories, you’ll tell your grandchildren about this moment.”

POTUS moved off and began talking to the ETs.

“We might be out of a job soon,” said the Lead Agent as he took a swig of champagne. It was good.

“I think you’re right,” replied the Major who drained her glass.

“I’ve always wanted to learn how to bake.”

“Maybe I can be a barista.”

Both took in the scene.

“You want to make out?” asked the Major.

“Like in high school?”

“Yeah.”

“Why not?”

POTUS was speaking to the aliens, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture.

“You all really like Beyoncé?”

“No. We all LOVE Beyoncé,” corrected Mung-Torp.

“She’s worshiped on a number of worlds,” revealed Luuuupppurrrn.

“Here on Earth too. Sorry, our planet too,” said POTUS catching himself.

“It’s alright, you can still call your planet Earth. It would be weird if you didn’t,” said Bahb Smiss.

“That makes sense,” replied POTUS as he nodded his head. “Do you mind if I ask you one more question?”

“Ask as many as you like,” said Bahb Smiss.

“You said you’d been observing us for years. Why come here now?”

“Very insightful question Mr. President,” said Mung-Torp, “The fact is since many of your entertainment outlets have gone digital, we’re getting less content.”

“And since you are going digital more and more, it was an indication that you would be at the proper level, technologically speaking, to be open to first contact,” elaborated Luuuupppurrrn.

“Are you saying Netflix is first step into galactic society?” asked POTUS.

“It sends a message,” intoned Bahb Smiss.

“And that brought you all a running?”

Bahb Smiss, Luuuupppurrrn, and Mung-Torp exchanged the briefest of glances and remembered a conversation.

Read the report again,” said Mung-Torp.

It hasn’t changed,” sniped Luuuupppurrrn, “The Earth is screwed.”

Let me see that,” said Bahb Smiss as he expanded the holo-report.

The human race will survive,” he said as he scanned the formulas, “They will likely be reduced to a pre-industrial level of technology in… Ten to twenty years. Give or take. There’s also a nineteen percent chance of extinction. Yeah. That’s bad.”

Bad is we have to make a short detour to avoid a singularity. This is a disaster!” Yelled Luuuupppurrrn, “If their society collapses there are going to be a lot of unresolved plot lines. A LOT!”

I know!” Bahb Smiss spat back.

Do you know how many billions of beings are waiting for the next season of the Bachelor? I do and it is TERRIFYING!”

It’s not like it’s going off the air right now,” said Mung-Torp.

But it’s coming,” said Bahb Smiss.

They all sat in silence.

We have no choice,” said Bahb Smiss.

I’m not sure they’re ready,” observed Mung-Torp.

This is a species that bought rocks as pets. They were just rocks. Not alive. Like the ones they had all over the planet,” said Luuuupppurrrn, “They clearly not ready.”

Then they better get ready,” said Bahb Smiss.

It’s going to be very tricky,” warned Mung-Torp.

If we wanted to live forever, we wouldn’t have gotten into programming,” sighed Bahb Smiss, “Let’s get ready for first contact.”

“It’s all it took,” amiably said Bahb Smiss.

“If that don’t beat all,” said POTUS with a smile.

“Mr. President, as a sign of friendship between Earth and the Galactic Commonwealth, how would you feel about us fixing that little hole in your ozone layer?”

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Read or Write

I love books but I’ve read very little of late. You may be asking, “If you love books, why aren’t you reading them?” A fair question. I will address it in a roundabout manner.

There must be at least a hundred unread ones on my shelves and in various piles about my home. Both my parents loved to read so I have them to thank my deep affection for the written word. Books are, in my opinion, the perfect gift, both to give and receive. The heft, feel and smell of books are intoxicating. Especially, old books.

Used bookstores are rarer and rarer these days. I’m sure it’s due to the rising rents, and the advent of selling books online. In the interest of honesty, I buy books online. Though I miss the thrill of going into a used bookstore, inspecting the shelves, and finding a gem. On the other hand, it’s comforting to be able to find that one volume you were looking for with a bit of typing and clicking search.

Back when the world was… I was about to say normal but what the hell does that even mean? So let’s just say when we could venture outside unmasked and could sit close to each other. In those halcyon days when I went back and forth to my job, I would read on the subway. If I was going to travel anywhere, a book was the first thing I would pack. There was always a book or two in my bag. After all, what if you finished a book and had no other book to read? Unthinkable!

Nowadays I am in between jigs and am unlikely to take any long-distance voyages. With all this copious free time I must be reading nonstop. It is with chagrin I must tell you that I have not. There are two reasons why. Here’s the first.

Media. By which I mean TV and the internet. When you are told not to do something, you instantly want to do it. Such as going out and seeing people. If you’re sensible, you will listen to Doctor Anthony Fauci and mask up, and take all necessary precautions. That still leaves a missing element in your life.

So you watch the news and then when you can’t stand that anymore, you watch everything else. Maybe it’s the hot new show that just started streaming, so when you chat with your friend over Zoom or Discord, you don’t want to be behind the curve. Or maybe you go back to a show that gives you comfort. Consuming episode after episode like a bowl of salty deep-fried treats. BTW, all pre-pandemic shows are now science fiction/fantasy because the characters do fantastical things like go out to eat and hug. Crazy!

The other reason is I was writing. I recently finished a novel called the Arrondissement, you can read it on this site.

https://jenicek.wordpress.com/category/arrondissement/

Am I a shameless self-promoter? Hell yes. If I’m not for me, who will be?

Back to the writing. I started it before the beginning of the pandemic and finished it before it ended. That might say more about the state of the world than my productivity. Nonetheless, I managed to complete a full-length novel, so that’s something.

I began this blog because I had written another novel, Chosen, which you also read on this blog.

https://jenicek.wordpress.com/category/chosen-novel/

See, I told you I’m shameless! Once I put up the last chapter I continued to post every Monday. It is a self-imposed deadline that I have met for the last seven and half years. Sometimes it’s my thoughts on random topics, like why isn’t “Happy as a dog.” an expression? If you’ve owned a dog and come home you know what I mean.

In my past, I’ve spent long stretches without writing, all the while calling myself a writer. I had written so I think I’m in the clear. However, having to post something new every week has made me a better writer. Well, I certainly hope so.

Once, I friend of mine asked me and another writer friend, “How often do we think about what we’re writing?” The answer is “All the time.” I find that before I set pen to paper, or more accurately fingertips to keyboard, there is a lot of musing going on. Or wrestling with demons, depending on the day. Outwardly it looks like I’m just going to the store to get some supplies but inwardly, there’s a lot of stuff going on.

I believe that you cannot write if you do not love to read. Technically you can. I’m not sure it’ll be worth reading. All writers must, in my opinion, have a love of language. Talented writers can paint a picture and invoke deep emotional reactions with an expert application of their vocabulary. Every wordsmith has a voice, some are more pleasant to hear than others. Milage may vary of course.

You might be asking yourself, “Where the hell is he going with all this?” I remind you that I said this would be roundabout. While I used to read on average, a book a week, #humblebrag, my stats have dropped severely. This is not to say I’ve read nothing, just not nearly as much as I used to.

At the end of the day, part of my lack of reading is pure laziness on my part. Damn you golden age of streaming content! But I’ve found myself being more focused on my own writing than others. Which is not terrible for me, but it needs to be addressed by me.

For my birthday, it’s in December in case you missed it, I received a much-anticipated book. Ballistic Kiss by Richard Kadrey, the latest installment in the Sandman Slim series. I’m a big fan of his work and this setting in particular. Did I read it the day I was gifted it? No. I’ve been holding on to it, saving it like an expensive bottle of single malt scotch. Partially because don’t want to inhale it like a bottom shelf whisky while on a bender. I want to savor it like the aforementioned single malt.

However, that is a bit of a lie. I’ve just not been reading as much and I’m the only one who can change that. I started it last night, as of writing this, and I’m enjoying it immensely. If you like hard-driving, rock and roll urban fantasy, check his stuff out. See, I can promote someone else’s work too.

I think if I want to be the best writer I can, I need to read more. Make time for it. I’m never disappointed and if I am, I’ve got plenty more read. Remember, hundreds of unread treasures to open up.

Thank you for reading this. I hope it inspires you to read more if your book count is low. Or maybe to write more. Both are excellent choices. Now back to Ballistic Kiss.

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Ensign’s Log

Ensign Edward Park’s Personal Log-StarDate 8720.73

I have been tasked with transporting Atlas, favorite pet of Captain Buhle of the U.S.S. Centurion. While some of my shipmates have dismissed this is as a dull errand, I see this as an avenue into the Captain’s good graces. I’ve wanted to serve on the Centurion since I was a child and read about their exploits.

I don’t see this as brown-nosing, (Lieutenant J.G. Pillington I’m looking at you!) but rather as an opportunity to show Captain Buhle that I’m a responsible officer with much to offer. She apparently dotes on Atlas so this can only help my career.

Hard to believe that no one else volunteered for this.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.11

Have arrived at the Altairian outpost and taken possession of Atlas. The name must be ironic as the case he came in was very small. Some sort of miniature dog? Atlas is sleeping now so I can’t really tell. The Lieutenant who passed him along to me advised me to not fly too fast in such a small craft. Apparently, it would upset up Atlas, which he said was dangerous.

I’m supposed to rendezvous with the Centurion tomorrow so I have plenty of time to make it. Atlas, you are in the safest of hands.

This is easier than I could’ve imagined.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.56

This is bad, very bad. I’m currently fleeing from a Gorgorian Rapid Raider. There’s supposed to be a cease-fire after the conference at Mantok-Prime. I hailed them to remind them of that fact but frankly, they were more interested in mocking me and firing upon the shuttle than in any real diplomatic solution.

Shields are holding but since they gave me a shuttle with no weapons, I will have to outfly them. Why don’t our shuttles have weapons? Right now it feels like they should.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.89

We escaped! I suppose that’s obvious since I’m here to record this log, but it’s kind of a miracle. The Gorgorian Rapid Raider had hammered us, alarms were blaring to tell me the shields were about to fail, and then Atlas began to whine. Honestly, I couldn’t tell right away, as he was harmonizing with the alarms.

Then suddenly, he stopped. Then the Gorgorian Rapid Raider exploded. We, and by we I mean the shuttle, started spinning out of control. Fortunately, I am a fully trained star pilot and had no trouble steadying the flight path. Eventually.

Sensors indicated that the Gorgorian Rapid Raider suffered a massive quantum engine failure. Maybe the Gorgorian Rapid Raider passed through a micro singularity. Those Gorgorian Rapid Raider need to hire some more qualified engineers.

Am I saying Gorgorian Rapid Raider too much? No. An Ensign’s logs need to be thorough and accurate. I mean, a Gorgorian Rapid Raider is a formidable foe.

That ought to be worth a commendation. Fingers crossed.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8722.24

Well, the engines are damaged and I had to drop to sub-light speeds. This is very inconvenient. If I can’t repair the problem I won’t make my rendezvous with the Centurion. I’m reluctant to send out a distress signal as it might attract more attention from the Gorgorians.

Also, it would reflect poorly on my abilities as an officer and damage my chances of getting assigned to the Centurion. That, I refuse to let happen. Time to roll up my sleeves and get working.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8722.73

Well, that took longer than I anticipated. I ran half a dozen level one diagnostics, realigned the crystalline shunt, and hand cleaned thirty-seven isotronic chips and the damned thing still didn’t turn over. It wasn’t till I re-polarized the power coupling that it worked again.

At least now I can get back on schedule. Apologies to Atlas but I am NOT going to be late.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Unknown

A good officer has to be ready for the unexpected. That’s what they taught us at the academy. It’s the first thing they say on the first day. Be ready for the unexpected. It’s a fine sentiment. Except how in holy hell can you be ready for the unexpected? That’s crazy! CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!

(Log Paused)

Okay, I screamed and feel a little better. Not a lot, but I’ll take what I can get.

We were flying at top hyper factor, at least as fast as this shuttle can go, when Atlas started to howl. Except it wasn’t a howl, exactly. More like a keening wail. I tried to get him to stop. I sang him a lullaby, then tried talking to him in soothing tones, telling him that we were on our way to his mommy, and finally, I shouted at him to just shut up!

I’m not sure why I thought this creature would understand the Galactic Standard tongue, because it did not. The sound it made got higher and higher pitched until there was a burst of bright light and then I passed out. I dare anyone, ANYONE to not pass out in these circumstances.

Upon awakening, I found the familiar sight of rushing stars outside my forward viewport replaced with a swirling sea of colors and fractals. The navigation computer has thus far failed to locate where we are. But it gets worse.

Atlas is missing.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Still Unknown but later

Having searched this tiny shuttle fore to aft, I have found no sign of Atlas. I’m not sure what is worse, being trapped in an unknown region of space or losing Captain Buhle’s beloved pet. If I can’t find a way home, I’ll never know. That’s not better. Probably worse.

Time to start scanning and see what I can find out about where I ended up.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Who The Hell Knows

So the sensors were no help. Outside the shuttle is what the computer calls a “Pocket, pan-dimensional matrix of unquantifiable energy readings.” Thanks. For. Nothing. In other words, you have no idea. Also, no sign of Atlas. Ugh.

At least the nutritional dispenser is still working but all it can produce is a chicken sandwich and coffee. Some good news, that’s a perfect lunch.

I’m going to see if I can find a way out of this “Pocket, pan-dimensional matrix of unquantifiable energy readings.”

I mean, how big can it be?

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Who Goddamn Cares At This Point?

So, a pocket dimension can be pretty damn big. I’ve been flying for what the computer tells me is one week, three days, seventeen hours, and forty minutes. I have no choice but to believe it.

Why would a computer lie?

Why indeed…

End Log

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate No Idea

My Chicken sandwich was a little dry today. That should be impossible, given it is made from a static formula. But I swear it tasted like it had been sitting out on a counter for a bit too long. Strange.

On an unrelated note, my beard is coming in nicely.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Infinity Plus One

While time seems to stand still, I have not aged, for some reason, my hair and fingernails have continued to grow. Does this make any logical sense? Nope, not at all.

While I have perfected my braiding skills, I fear that this is some sort of personal hell. There are no Rigellian monkey bears with my father’s voice, forcing me to sing in public. Still, it feels pretty personal.

While I sleep, the sounds of Atlas echo through my mind. I try to find him but I find myself stuck in a pool of butterscotch. Let’s be clear, in my dreams. I would kill for some butterscotch right now. Anything except for damned chicken sandwiches and coffee.

All scans have yielded no life sign reading. I’ve lost the Captain’s pet and I can say, with a high degree of certainty, I’ve had lost my mind as well. Log entries that back that up have been deleted. No one needs to read all those quantum limericks. Honestly, not my best work.

In retrospect, I should’ve sent out a distress signal. That’s on me.

Also, whatever Atlas is, I hope he’s lost in his own personal hell. I’ve no idea what that is, but I wish with all my heart he’s there.

So, since I have nothing to look forward to, except more of this endless nothing, I have chosen to employ the self-destruct protocol. If anyone finds these logs, please think kindly of me.

Wait. If I self-destruct, no one will ever read this. So suck a singularity Atlas. You are the worst.

End Log.

Captain Buhle’s personal Log StarDate 8722.67

I am relieved to find the shuttle transporting Atlas intact. He is alive and in good spirits! I was worried about him traveling on a shuttle, it disagrees with him so, but it seems to have worked out.

Unfortunately, Ensign Edward Park has suffered some traumatic side effects from his trip. It will take a few days for him to get his synaptic responses in sync with normal reality. Doc says with some rest, he’ll be right as rain.

The engineering team has told me that the shuttle gave off pan-dimensional radiation but that that was well below any danger levels. In another piece of bad news, all logs were corrupted by the radiation.

When Ensign Park recovers, he can file a report about the incident. He must be a remarkable young officer to have made it through in one piece and keep Atlas safe. I have already requested his transfer to the Centurion, which the Admiralty approved immediately.

And on a personal note, it seems Atlas has taken quite a shine to young Mr. Park, when I visited sickbay, the little fella got quite excited. If I can trust anyone to look after Atlas, it is Ensign Park.

End Log

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Live Life Fast, Die Food

Svetlana Cortez Abramowitz, agent of B.R.E.A.D. (Baking Restaurant Elite Alliance Division) and noted mannequin model hung by her arms above the giant fondue pot filled with deadly Emmental cheese. She had begun that evening at the underground sudden death clam roll eating tournament under the last Howard Johnsons in Pyrenees mountain range.

With nothing to do but literally dangle, she lost herself in a flashback.

***

Her contact, the Marquise Du Fromage, whose family, ironically, were all lactose intolerant, was nowhere to be seen at the tournament. If her training as a secret agent had taught her anything, it was when in doubt, go to the bar. They usually had peanuts.

I’d like a Dirty Shirley please, extra cherries,” said Sventlana.

Right away, Ms,” replied the bartender.

How do you know I’m not married?” she snarked.

I don’t, that’s why I used Ms,” said the bartender as he mixed grenadine and vodka, “I didn’t want to presume.”

Taking a sip of the drink, she nodded, “You’re very woke for a bartender.”

Part of the training.”

Can I buy you a drink?” said a voice from behind her.

Turning, she saw a tall blond man with piercing earlobes. He had no physical scars but she was sure that he had emotional ones. Guys like him always did.

I already have one.”

Did you pay for it yet?”

No, I was about to open a tab.”

Then I could still pay for it.”

I suppose so.”

Put this on my Dinner’s Club card.”

Dinner’s Club or Diner’s Club?” inquired the bartender.

Both.”

Yes sir!”

Svetlana regarded the Stranger with a discerning eye, which was her left one.

If you’re going to buy me a drink, you could at least introduce yourself,” she said eating one of her extra maraschino cherries.

Why do I owe you something for buying you a drink?”

How about I try to guess your name,” she suggested avoiding the issue.

Have at it.”

Hubert Hucklebean.”

Do I really look like a Hubert Hucklebean?”

I suppose not, but if I meet three Hubert Hucklebeans before the end of the year I win a free sub.”

Meatball or the underwater kind?”

Underwater that serves meatballs.”

Then I’m sorry I’m not one then.”

With a flourish, the bartender placed the second drink in front of her. Taking it in her other hand, she toasted herself.

Why don’t I try to guess your name?” offered the Stranger.

Please,” she replied as she sipped from the second drink.

Myrtle McKenna?”

Funny you should say that my college roommate wanted to be named that.”

Did she ever change her name?”

Only in Delaware and Guam.”

Smart. I’ve got another guess.”

Shoot.”

With the ease of a Nutri Ninja pro, he flung a drugged-tipped cocktail umbrella into her neck.

I think you’re Svetlana Cortez Abramowitz, agent of B.R.E.A.D.,” he whispered as the room swam around her. She recognized it as a Bulgarian butterfly stroke as everything went black.

***

I see you’re lost in thought,” said the Stranger, bringing the narrative back to the present.

I was,” she said irritably.

The infamous agent Abramowitz, at last, we meet.”

We met just before, at the bar.”

Fine. Technically that’s true.”

She smiled, one of the true joys of life was to be technically right.

I suppose you’re wondering who I am?”

Niles Montrose, assassin for hire and failed saucier.”

Flushed, Niles shouted, “A sauce CANNOT be too rich!”

That’s not what your instructors at the C.I.A. thought.”

They lacked vision. Especially the ones who were too lazy to get a new eye exam. Most places will do it for free.”

If you buy from them.”

It’s a good deal!”

Only if you don’t have insurance.”

Lots of people don’t! It’s a real problem. Much like how you are about to be dipped into the world’s largest fondue pot.”

Those problems seemed unrelated but she did have to admit to herself, she was in trouble.

Dipping an agent of B.R.E.A.D. into a giant cheese fondue, a little on the nose, isn’t it?”

It’s a lot on the nose and I think you know it. But look over your shoulder, you’re not alone.

Indeed she was not. The Marquise Du Fromage was also chained above the bubbling caldron.

Why didn’t you say anything?” Svetlana inquired.

You two seemed to be in the middle of something. I didn’t want to interrupt,” said the Marquise.

Agent of B.R.E.A.D dies with lactose intolerant nobleman. If anyone still read newspapers that would be the headline.”

Let’s table the discussion about the state of print and get to what your master plan is,” said Svetlana.

And why should I tell you?”

The Julia Childe Accords stipulate that when culinary operatives are captured the opposing agent must reveal their plans in detail. Section seven, subsection-”

-Eighteen,” finished Niles, “Very well, rules are rules. Have you noticed how food trends have surged recently? It all started with bacon. It wasn’t difficult, bacon is delicious. Even when it started getting ridiculous, bacon milkshake and bacon sushi no one batted an eye. But then we popularized kale. Kale! It’s disgusting but people couldn’t get enough!”

As Niles monologued on, Svetlana pressed a tiny button on her clunky bracelet that was comprised of butter cubes held in stasis. The heat of the bubbling cheese quickly melted the shortening and allowed her to slip free of her shackles.

-and quinoa! Because of us, rice was shunned like it didn’t come back from rumspringa!” declared Niles as Svetlana leapt down behind him.

Variety is the spice of life but how about a little salt and pepper?” she asked as she tenderized him with both fists.

They exchanged blows and recipes as they fought in the fondue dungeon until the Agent of B.R.E.A.D. jumped up, and kicked off her very pointy high heel shoes. Embedding them into the wall and trapping him.

You’ve lost!” she said.

I noticed. Because you have me immobilized.”

That’s how it works. So tell me, who are you working for?”

Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. Not because I’m going to tell you. But because of reasons. Sinister reasons.”

You’d like that.”

Yes, I’m actually pretty excited about that part.”

I can tell because your face lit up when you said ‘sinister reasons’.”

I feel seen.”

If we could circle back to my original question about who you’re working for.”

With a smirk, Niles dropped out of his evening jacket, the shoes hadn’t pinned him, pulled out a small envelope and bottle of dark brown liquid from his pants pocket, and downed them both. A hideous crackle was heard, followed by a muffled explosion.

Pop rocks and Pepsi, she thought. The final retreat of culinary killer. Niles was moving his lips and she leaned in to hear his epitaph. He whispered, “Would you like fries with that?” and then expired.

What does that mean?” she asked aloud.

Pardon me,” said the unfailing polite Marquise Du Fromage, “If you could lower me down, away from the cheese caldron, I would be ever so grateful.”

Of course,” Svetlana replied as she worked the winch, “I think now it’s time for some… dessert.”

Is that an attempt at seduction or do you mean literal dessert?”

She unlocked his shackles and said, “I mean sweets, cake, maybe some gelato.”

I’ll stick to the cake, gelato makes me gazeux.”

Very delicate.”

I wish it was,” the nobleman said ruefully.

Then we’ll pass… on the gelato.”

Can I please just give you this microfilm?”

Taking the information, she said, “Right. I’ll get that that dessert… to go.”

I’m just going to leave now.”

 

Just before he exited the room, the Marquise Du Fromage turned and asked, “Do you need a ride somewhere?”

 

Svetlana smiled and said, “In fact I do.”

They have taxis out front. You should get one.”

Oh, I will.”

 

The nobleman left, as things seemed socially awkward. Svetlana waited a few minutes. Partially to ponder Niles’ last words and also to avoid having to make more small talk with the Marquise Du Fromage who was a bit of a drip.

 

Would you like fries with that would later return in a most ominous way, but tonight, was all about confection.

 

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Striking Six Again

Having just finished a very long piece, novel-length in fact, I find myself wanting to write shorter things. So I’m returning to the shortest form I know of, the six-word story. Think of it as a pallet cleanser, like an Andes mint. Please enjoy. As always, apologies to Mr. Hemingway.

One year later, still at home

Bulletproof skin. Still hurts like hell.

Hoagie or hero. No super hoagies.

Not an errand, it’s a quest.

When evil sounds reasonable, watch out.

Missing my friends. Eating cookies instead.

When silence falls, then it begins.

Footprints in snow, dare you follow?

Unfinished business. Lost love or laundry.

Joy is found in a sunny spot.

Never met, but still were friends.

Sadness fades, at that gentle purr.

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