#FridayFlash: Roll Call

Roll Call

by Tony Noland

As he had been for forty-five minutes, the Senator was lying in a cool room on a comfortable couch, electrodes on his face, chest and hands, a glass of scotch on the table nearby. The timeline technician finished the calibrations and nodded to the company rep, a smooth man in a synthsilk suit.

"We're all set, sir." said the rep. "Now then, as we have all of the necessary confidentiality and logistical details taken care of, what can we show you?"

The Senator squinted, but didn't respond. A mild look of surprise came over him as he found himself at the brink of all possible things, but obviously didn't know what to ask for. "I, ah... had a few things in mind, but, ah, now that we come to it, I'm not... that is, I seem to find myself rather... conflicted." He flushed, a reddening that turned his meticulous tan into something the color of old brick. Finding the right words had not been a problem for him in a long, long time.

The rep nodded. "As it happens, sir," he said, "it's not uncommon for our more successful clients to be, shall we say, especially meticulous in choosing what timelines they wish to see. For the common man, we have a list of viewpoints which are universally popular. Knowing the value of your time, sir, I took the liberty of asking that some stills be loaded from them. Perhaps you would care to see them, while you decide on a something more specific?"

The Senator pursed his lips, as though he were thinking it over, then nodded. The technician entered a command.

On the screens surrounding the Senator's couch, images came into focus, held, then faded into the next. He saw himself as President, signing a treaty; as a jet pilot, with close-cropped hair; as a professional football player, his face barely recognizable under another hundred pounds of muscle; as an astronaut, who looked exactly like the jet pilot; as a movie star; as a priest, preparing Communion over an altar; as a police officer; as a fireman carrying a small child, smoke-stained and barefoot; as a navy SEAL; as a -

"That's enough."

On screen, the parade of men faded to a generic nature scene.

"How could I possibly have become a professional football player? I hate sports, always have."

The rep looked at the technician, who typed intermittently for a while. "At the start of ninth grade, a school bully threw rocks at you. When you threw them back, you broke a window and had to serve detention, monitored by your English teacher." The technician didn't look up to see if he was right. He didn't need to. "In that particular timeline, the bully threw a football at you. You still broke the window when you threw it back, but the detention was monitored by the gym coach. He encouraged you to try out for the freshman football team. You were never able to throw well enough to be a quarterback, but you were a terrific nose tackle. With drive, hard work and anabolic steroids, you got a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, then turned pro. Shall I call up a timeline where you led your team to victory in the Superbowl?"

"No.", the Senator said, his eyes closed. He breathed deeply, a dozen times, then another dozen. "I want you to show me a timeline where I'm... where I'm happy."

Looking up from his screen, the technician exchanged glances with the company rep. "Naturally, we aren't able to read minds, Senator," said the rep, "but I believe we will be able to locate a few plausible options, based on your aggregate facial expressions and behaviors - frequency of laughter, body language, socialization incidence, and so on." He nodded to the technician, who set to work. After a long bout of typing, the search went live. Spiraling outward from the Senator's reality, alternate timelines by the hundreds, then by the thousands, then by the millions and tens of millions flashed through the computers. As the minutes ticked by, the rep began to fidget, crossing and re-crossing his legs.

The technician simply watched the statistics pile up. When he had four hits, he suspended the search and nodded to the rep.

"Sir?" The Senator's eyes opened. "Here are the first four." The screens faded, then showed the Senator as: a pot-bellied man in a cubicle, wearing a telephone headset; a guy in a greasy work shirt, drinking a beer at a sports bar; a salesman in the men's clothing department of a department store; a judge, wearing black robes and presiding over a packed courtroom. All four images reappeared in the quarters of the screen. The judge wasn't smiling, but nevertheless, in all of them, he looked relaxed, confident, at ease. He looked happy.

"What is the commonality here?" The Senator's eyes never left the four disparate images of himself. "It's not power or money. It's not position. Is it who I married? Where I live? What is it?"

The technician's fingers danced and tapped as he scanned the four lives laid open to him. Then he motioned to the rep, so he could read what was on the screen.

"Well? What is it?"

As the rep straightened, he said, "It would appear that these timelines are unlike all others in one crucial respect." The rep paused. "Sir, I feel that I should reiterate our policy of unimpeachable discretion."

He waited for the Senator to respond. The room remained silent while the Senator studied himselves with avid intensity. The rep took a deep breath.

"In each of these timelines, sir, you are openly homosexual. You were forced to reveal yourself following the discovery of an affair with one of your undergraduate classmates at Yale."

The Senator's eyes narrowed and his face reddened again, but he made no other reaction.

"A classmate whom you then subsequently and, ah, surreptitiously murdered."

The Senator's eyes closed and the color slowly drained from his face.

Behind his screen, the technician waited for the rep to add the words, "... and ate."

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Three Word Wednesday: engulf, imminent, tamper

It's Wednesday, so it must be time for a limerick, featuring engulf, imminent, tamper.

To engulf these twelve beers so quickly,
Made my speech slurred rather thickly.
My grief I did tamper
For sorrows to damper
But vomiting... imminent... I'm sickly!

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Just Enough Power -12

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"The boss has a job for you."

Seven words, Lonnigan thought. They weren't much, but they'd marked the turning point. They were probably still planning on killing her once all of this was done. However, if this preliminary round worked out, revenge was that much closer and her chances of survival were marginally improved.

She adjusted the collar. Once a week, they took it off her to replace the hypoallergenic lining. It didn't itch, didn't smell and wasn't too tight. It might almost be called comfortable if it weren't for the fact that the psionic control collar meant she was chained up like a fucking animal, 24/7. After the first two weeks with Kim, she'd started putting out feelers about having it removed.

Kim had been blunt: he didn't trust her, so the collar was going to stay on until he did. Lonnigan wasn't happy about it, but she had plenty of practice at swallowing frustration and getting on with the job. Finally, though, she had a chance to prove herself and maybe get this damned thing off her neck. She missed being able to exercise her Talent. Her big fear was that it was too weak from disuse; if she ever managed to get the restraining collar off, she wouldn't be able to rely on it, maybe not even use it at all without a lot of exercise to build it back up. Since it seemed likely that any circumstance that involved her getting the collar off surreptitiously would probably coincide with the shit hitting the fan, it would be much better to have Kim take it off under more controlled circumstances. For that, she needed him to trust her.

Which is why the people in this building had to die.

She ran her finger and thumb over the garrotting wire and resisted the urge to check the knives and datachips in her vest. They were fine, as was the Sig under her left shoulder. This whole thing was supposed to be done quietly, so the gun was a last resort. If she'd been able to use her Talent, this would be a piece of cake. Getting in and taking out three guys would have been simple, even with the need for silence. As it was, she was nervous.

Nervous? Really? What was the matter with her? Lonnigan had always regarded her psionic abilities as peripheral to her primary skills, just something that gave her an edge. Now, seven minutes away from a job, she was coming to realize that they served a much more subtle purpose in her life: they bolstered her confidence. Without them, wasn't she was no better than a normal human operative?

Even as the thought formed in her mind, it was as though she heard Simon's voice in reply, uttering a single word: bullshit.

Lonnigan's expression cleared and she smiled. No, not normal. She was a hell of a lot better than normal, better than excellent. Talent or no Talent, she could go toe to toe with any unaugmented human on the planet and come out on top.

Target Number One got out of his car and walked to the door. He already had his keycard out. Lonnigan waited for him to begin the swipe against the card reader, then leapt from behind the guard shack. As the doors slid open, she pulled the wire tight around his neck and twisted him into the alcove. The man tried to pull his own gun, but she stomped his hand; he made no more noise than a child slurping up the last of a soda-pop. He kicked and flailed for more than two minutes before slumping to the floor. Lonnigan held the wire in place for another minute before using his card to open the next set of doors. She dragged his body into the building and made sure he was dead before she stuffed him in a bathroom stall. His car keys were on a belt clip; she removed them before she left.

The security cameras in the alcove and in the hallway caught everything. For the benefit of whoever would review the tapes later, Lonnigan paused for a moment and stroked the mustache and beard that showed on the exposed lower half of her face. With the vest binding her breasts, she had the face and body of a slightly built man. In the guard shack, the dead guard's face was lit with the images, feet on the desk and hands interlaced across his belly - exactly where Lonnigan had propped him.

She moved down the hall to the basement computer room.

Less than thirty minutes later, Lonnigan grunted and swore silently as she made her way to the supervisor's car. The secretary had pulled an Uzi from under the desk, but one of Lonnigan's knives caught her in the throat before she even had it leveled up. The computer tech couldn't be terrorized into revealing the passwords, even after killing the secretary. Either that or he had been telling the truth when he said that he didn't know them. Regardless, her time had run out, so she'd had to get the data the hard way. She pressed her thumbs in hard on the man's carotids until he fell atop the secretary on the floor. Lonnigan had simply unbolted the hard disk arrays from the racks. Unfortunately, the room had no wheeled cart.

The rope from her pack cut into her hands as she carried her makeshift bundles across the parking lot. The bundling made them easier to carry, but at more than sixty pounds each, they banged painfully against her knees as she walked. Her arms were trembling when she loaded them into the car's trunk. She slid behind the wheel and drove away, leaving behind a hell of a mess. This data backup company was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tong organization, but they handled a number of other, more legitimate clients. Tong wouldn't necessarily see this as an attack on him directly. Even if he did, Lonnigan was sure he wouldn't understand what Kim was doing before it was too late. Aside from taking down Tong, once Kim's techs cracked into these computers, he'd be able to undertake entirely new lines of business with the other companies' data - blackmail, insider trading, industrial espionage. All of this data had a relatively short shelf-life, but it was still a gold mine.

With luck, it would put Kim in a good enough mood with her that he'd remove the collar.

Lonnigan made a turn and accelerated toward the highway.

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Back to normal in 3... 2... 1...

It was 30 days ago that I posted what quickly proved to be the most popular blog post I've ever done: "11 Ways You Can Stop Pissing Me Off On Twitter". This is what that looked like:

As you can see, the popularity of that post was an order of magnitude higher than most posts, and beat the previous champ, "Ode to the Semicolon" by 400%.

I bring all of this up because as of tomorrow, the hits from "11 Ways" will drop off my 30-day view of blog statistics, and all the numbers will go back to normal. While it's been fun to see monthly stats of 2000+ hits, those really aren't representative of my usual visitor rate. In the graph above, I included the few weeks before and after "11 Ways" so you could see what I mean.

Bear in mind, I have no intention of being a one-hit wonder. This was fun, but my idea for this writer's blog is somewhat different. I've always thought that a good game plan is one that combines short-term and long-term strategy. Executed with dedication and focus, that's a surer path to success than tossing out would-be blockbusters and hoping for one smash that you can ride to glory.

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Weekend blog post

Or rather, lack of one.

I should write up blog posts during the week and schedule them to appear on the weekends. Then I wouldn't have a blank between Friday and Monday morning.

Assuming it's necessary to have fresh content on the weekends....

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#FridayFlash: Straight and True, My Arrow Fly

Straight and True, My Arrow Fly

by Tony Noland

On a king-size bed in a discreet motel, a man and a woman regard each other ecstatically and embrace. She runs her fingers through his curly brown hair, bright red fingernails scraping deliciously along his scalp. He cups her breasts through her blouse, feeling her arousal demonstrate itself in the hardening of her nipples. They do not rush to strip themselves naked - there is plenty of time, and the anticipation is delirious. Mouths and fingers explore and caress, soft breath plays on warm skin.

They are so entwined in each other, they fail to notice the opening of their door and the slender man who slips through. He has sleek hair and green eyes; the silvery moonlight glints off the barbed steel tip of the weapon he has pointed at the bed. He gently closes the door behind him with his foot. It makes a solid "click", and the man and woman on the bed jump at the sound, recoiling so violently the headboard bangs against the wall. She turns on the light and screams when she sees that the intruder is armed. The man shouts and moves fast to get out of bed.

He is coming around, low and ready for a tackle when he realizes the slender man has drawn back the bowstring of his enormous compound bow, drawn it back tight. The long, razor-tipped arrow is pointed straight at the woman. For a moment, no one moves. Then, in a voice that is arresting, almost hypnotic in its round, measured tones, the intruder speaks.

"This arrow will kill her instantly, Neil, so sit down." Neil hesitates, then sits on the edge of the bed. The man continues, "Jessica, I'm here on behalf of your husband."

Jessica stifles another scream. Neil gets on his knees, moves in front of Jessica to protect her with his body.

"He hired a hit man?" Neil says. "What the hell for? He could have just said something and... and we could have had it out. There's no reason to kill her." Neil is pale, the sweat of fear driving away the lingering sweat of passion. Still, he does not move from between the arrow tip and his lover.

"I'm also here on behalf of your wife, Neil, and I'm not here to kill either of you." The intruder relaxes the bowstring, but leaves his fingers on the arrow shaft, ready to fire.

"Then..." Jessica is finding it difficult to speak. "What do you... I mean, what are you here to do? What do you want?"

"My name is Eros. I'm the god of love, and I'm here to end -" he waves at them in the bed, "- this."

The two of them stare at him. Even as their questions and objections rise up, doubt does not. No one can fail to believe when faced with a god who has revealed himself.

Jessica says, "The god of love? You mean... like Cupid?" Eros nods, the tip of the arrow waving up and down. "But we're already in love," she says, "You don't need to shoot us with some kind of magic arrow!" Jessica clutches Neil from behind, her arms tight across his shoulders and chest.

Eros grimaces and shakes his head. "This isn't love; it's a mockery of it. You're lusting so heavily for each other that you've convinced yourselves that it's love. Home and hearth and filial loyalty - that's the wellspring of real love. Both of you want to get love the easy way, without investing time and energy into your relationships." He shakes his head again. "That's not how it works. Love is a garden that takes constant tending, and you've turned your back on it. No, Jessica, I'm going to put a stop to this and send you both back to your homes and spouses, where your true loves lie dormant."

He raises the bow and draws the string.

Neil is frantic, says "Hey, you said that arrow would kill her!"

"So it would," says Eros. He runs his fingers over the arrow fletching. The feathers turn from blood red to bright golden yellow to dull gray.

"So... the gold ones make you fall in love?" Jessica asks. "Then can't you -"


"But... the tip didn't change," she says, eyes fixed on the jagged metal tip. "The colors changed, but the tip didn't! Why not?"

"Love hurts, Jessica. Coming and going." Faster than either of them can react, Eros shoots Neil in the chest, the barbed tip plunging deep into his heart, the shaft quivering with the impact. Before Jessica has time to scream, a second arrow finds her. They both collapse on the bed, phantom wounds closing over, twin shafts of silvery light dissolving over their unconscious bodies. Eros stands for a moment, looking at his victims. He sighs, opens the door, and walks out, closing it softly behind him.

On a king-size bed in a discreet motel, a man and a woman regard each other guiltily and separate.

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Butterfly rapture

I wrote a little piece over at Six Minute Story titled Butterfly Rapture. It's funny, go check it out.

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Three Word Wednesday: gait, nudge, ripen

The 3WW words for today are gait, nudge and ripen.

My wife just gave me a nudge,
She said, "Just look at that pudge!
Your gait is too slow,
For a run you must go!"
(I'll ripen her mood with some fudge.)

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Funny vs. not funny

I wonder why it is that I can be funny on Twitter and in comments, but so much of my fiction is just not funny at all.

I'm certainly capable of writing funny stuff, and have done so often in the past. It's just that when I sit down to write #FridayFlash or other stories, they come out serious, somber, even bleak. I'm trying to think of the last funny story I wrote and I'm drawing a blank.

My poems are funny, but that's because I basically write only limericks, and they lend themselves to humor.

If you only know me from Twitter, I'm guessing you'd see me as a pretty upbeat, funny guy. If you only know me from my stories, you might think I'm a man on the jagged edge of despair. And if you only know me from my poems, you'd know me as a guy who should stop trying to write poetry.

Maybe it's because Twitter is spontaneous, while fiction is necessarily studied? Does the act of trying to be funny kill the funny? Surely not, or there would be no professional comedians.

What do you think? Is humor that difficult to conjure?

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Sing like a cat

I've done my share of singing, choral and solo, sacred and secular and silly. This, however, takes the cake.

It's actually very difficult to sing properly while cracking up. What separates the pros from the wannabes is keeping a straight face and sticking to the script when it's obvious that you're going over big with making the audience laugh. That little half-smile represents a serious effort of will. I got this from John Scalzi.

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#FridayFlash: Shirts and skins

Shirts and skins

by Tony Noland

The boys finished their laps and returned to the center of the gym, Hamid shuffling up last, as usual. Amid the T-shirts and shorts, he wore faded blue slacks and a grubby, long sleeved dress shirt. He always dressed that way, even in gym class, as though H. T. Farnell Middle School had a formal uniform requirement. Hamid was 12 years old, and his body odor announced that, even if bathing were a regular practice in the Saustrahaimaini household, soap and deodorant were not in common use.

Having received thorough instruction in the school's anti-bullying policies, as well as a series of two-hour lectures in diversity appreciation, community respectfulness and cultural tolerance, the other boys did not call Hamid a greasy Arab freak where any of the teachers could hear them. It was likely that Hamid's command of English was good enough to understand what the boys said to him and about him, but he never responded. He was clearly an idiot and a coward, besides being a greasy Arab freak.

Assistant Coach Wills had discussed the matter with Coach Carhehan. They both agreed that if Hamid left another gym class with his shirt soaked in sweat, they would both hear no end of it from all of his afternoon teachers. Instructions to the boy, even a meeting with his parents to let them know the school's policy about appropriate gym clothes met with an uncomprehending refusal to let the boy wear a T-shirt. The parents spoke hardly any English, and all Wills could get out of them was that they wanted Hamid to look nice.

It was Coach Carnehan who had suggested the solution.

"Alright, guys, settle down," Wills said. "We're gonna divvy up for basketball. All of you -" he indicated the side without Hamid "- are shirts, the rest, skins. Danny, Nick, Antoine, go get some basketballs from the locker and come right back. The rest of you, get your shirts off and let's play."

He deliberately turned away to look at his clipboard. Boys at this age were often body shy and it was always easier to get over the first awkward moments quickly. Gym class taught more than basketball and personal health; men needed to be able to take their shirts off among other men. After a moment, Wills turned back. All the skins had thrown their shirts into a pile and were standing bare-chested, more or less self-consciously as they waited for the games to start.

All except for Hamid, who had not removed his shirt. He had an strange, blank look on his face. Wills went over to him. "Hamid," he said, "you're playing skins. Go ahead and take your shirt off."

Hamid looked at the other boys, then said something that Wills didn't catch.

"Come on, Hamid," Wills said, using the gruff coach voice that he always used during difficult moments. "All the other boys are shirtless too, so it's no big deal. It's just part of how we do things in this country."

Hamid stood quietly, then said, "Must I do this? Truly?"

"Yes, Hamid, you must. Get going."

The boy drew a deep breath through his nostrils, and said, "I do not want to do this, Assistant Coach Wills, but if I must do this, then I shall do it like a man." He undid the cuffs of his shirt, then unbuttoned the front. He took the shirt off and revealed a mass of scars that covered his chest, back and arms. Long, wide welts, puckered and shiny and deep pink on his coffee-colored skin, obviously extending down below the line of his belt.

"My God." The gym had gone silent and Wills involuntarily took a step backward. "I... my God."

Hamid looked Wills in the eye. The man flushed and had a terrifying thought that Hamid would accuse him of deliberate humiliation, but the boy did not look humiliated at all. He looked courageous and yet serene.

"What happened to your.... I mean..."

"Our neighbors back in my village did not like Christians, Assistant Coach Wills. They knew we would be gathering at Easter to celebrate the rising of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. They found out where we were meeting, and they attacked. Many of us escaped, but I did not."

"They... did that to you?"

"I was whipped with ropes and wire cables, yes. My family moved to this country not long after, to escape persecution." Hamid paused, his face clouding. He continued, "We are able to worship in peace here. Everything else... is not important. This is my new home, and I must fit in if I am to be a success. I am trying to fit in, Assistant Coach Wills. Please believe that."

Hamid turned and crabbed over sideways to pick up a basketball. In the silence of the gym, he dribbled it slowly down the court in his shuffling half-run, the mass of scar tissue flexing and stretching tightly across his shoulders and back as he passed the ball awkwardly from hand to hand.

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Poetry: one mug of coffee

Just because:

One mug of coffee won't do
To function I'll need at least two
Or perhaps three
Will do it for me
But four mugs sounds pretty good, too


Sent from my mobile device

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Slip loose the "Dogs of War"

The opening of my story, "Dogs of War" is now up over at the Chinese Whisperings website. Go read it, and let me know what you think: "Dogs of War"

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Three word wednesday

The words today are: demure, offend, violate.


To offend his unlucky girl, Kate,
Dan said she sought to violate
Their trysting demure;
He said he was sure
She was lying when she said "I am late."


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Happy birthday, Kenny Cross

A little while ago, Susan Cross won a contest here on my blog. Today, she cashed in her winnings in the form of a little birthday serenade for her husband, Kenny Cross.

Happy Birthday, Kenny!


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On the turn of the year

Last year my birthday was stressful;
Turned forty, the angst was a mess-full.
But this year is fun,
I'm now forty-one!
My main birthday present's a dress-full!


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My new author photo - tasteful, yet high in fiber

As part of the Chinese Whisperings book, each author was asked to include a picture for the author page. The picture I've been using for a while is somewhat out of date, so I included a new one. You can see it on my Facebook page, which is somehow different than my "fan" page (or whatever it's called).

Feel free to comment on any or all of these. One day, I'll get a cool headshot taken by a professional; until then, these will have to do. Besides, someone might mistake the new me for Steve Carell, which would somehow be good for me, I'm sure.

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#FridayFlash: Sunshine Came Softly

Sunshine Came Softly

by Tony Noland

The steel door rattled, and Sunshine came out onto the roof.

I guess I should point out that I didn't know her name yet. I'd never seen her before, so as far as I was concerned, she was just somebody intruding on my second cigarette. Although I shouldn't say 'intruding', since the roof was technically a public space. She had as much right to be there as I did, which, to be honest, probably wasn't that strong of a case. I figured that if the building manager had known I was coming out onto the roof to smoke, he'd have told me to knock it off. It gave the act of going up there a little tinge of danger. When she came out, I felt like I'd been caught at a misdemeanor. I resented the fact that there was now someone who could rat me out to the super.

Juvenile and paranoid, I know, but I'm telling you this just to give you some context for what happened next.

She seemed as surprised as I was not to be alone. The steel door closed behind her with a thunk and she looked back at it. Later, she told me that she'd thought about turning and leaving, but that she didn't want to look foolish and timid. On the other hand, she'd come up to do a little sunbathing and she hadn't planned on having to do it next to some freak with a book and a pack of Lucky Strikes. Ours was the second tallest building for several blocks around, twenty-eight stories. As long as she set up on this side of the air conditioning vents, she was screened from any binocular-wielding pervs over at the Landsdowne. As the private side was also the sunny side, she'd had it pretty good all summer.

It was also the side of the building facing onto the alley, away from the noise on 132nd street. Which was why I always sat there at night. After four months of a rush coding job working 70 hour weeks, I had some time off coming. I was going to relax away from my computer to let my carpal tunnel subside.

Lawn chair in one arm, bag in the other, she stood looking at me. I ignored her and went back to my book. That was what people did in New York, right? They ignored each other. After a moment or two, she ignored me right back and set up her chair about fifteen feet away. It splayed out for a full recline. She propped her bag next to it, took out a can of mace and set it prominently in view. With a grunt and a cough and a couple of other attention-getting noises, she adjusted the spray can to make sure I could read the label: DEATH-TO-MUGGER SPRAY.

Then she took off her clothes and lay face down in the sun.

She had some difference in coloration from her back on down, with her buttocks being slightly paler than the rest of her. From the peripheral glimpse I'd gotten through my eyes-front focus on my book, her breasts were also somewhat paler. So, the all-over tan was either a new thing with her or something she did only occasionally.

After just half a minute, she turned her head to casually look at me, the way you would do to somebody on the subway. She made sure I wasn't staring at her, adjusted the spray can with another cough, then settled back down.

I mentally replayed the scene of her undressing. Sneakers and white socks. T-shirt and tank top, no bra. Jeans, no panties. No bathing suit of any kind. Therefore, she'd come up here intending to sunbathe in the nude, and this wasn't something she was doing just for my benefit. The fact that I was here was an irritant, but it didn't stop her from doing what she came here to do. She had a plan and she implemented it; even if things weren't going exactly according to that plan, she had a goal and she was pursuing it.

Lying before me, gently roasting in the late summer sun, was the distilled essence of what it meant to be a New Yorker. You decided what you wanted out of life and you made it happen, simple as that. If she was so unstoppable in such a small thing as getting a tan, what must she be like in other aspects of her life?

She was incredible. Not sexy or alluring - her nudity was too straightforward for that. She was just... impressive.

"Excuse me," I said.

Her hand flashed to the spray can and she sat up quick to face me.

I held up both hands. "Whoa, slow down. I'm just leaving. Before I went, though, I wanted to tell you that ... well, I'm not from New York originally. I try to be blase about stuff and just roll with it, but I guess I'm not up to this kind of a level yet. I'm just amazed that this is a city where somebody can," I waved at her, lying naked in the sun, "do whatever it is they want to do as long as they set their mind to it. I hope I can be that ballsy someday." I stood, slowly. Her hand gripped the can and kept it pointed at me as I crossed the roof toward the door. "See you around," I said. I opened the steel door and stepped through.


I turned. "Yeah?"

She'd put on the T-shirt and was sitting up. "I moved here from Kansas City six months ago. My name's Sunshine."

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Working on a deadline

I have a couple of stories that are due this week, in addition to a bunch of other things that I need to get done.

Strange how that works.

I leave you with this: "How to write a book in three days"

Michael Moorcock is a highly influential English writer. His career has mostly specialised in fantasy and sci-fi, and whilst some of his novels have been highly literary, he was a firm exponent of sword-and-sorcery, particularly in the sixties and seventies.

He has often commented on the craft of writing, but one of his most unique and interesting techniques is his plan for writing a book in three days. He was talking about sword-and-sorcery at the time, the fantasy inheritor of pulp fiction, and the books in question were typically 60,000 words, but even so, there’s a lot to be said for his methods. Despite the general medium, the power of his work has been huge, and his best-known character, Elric, is one of fantasy’s great standouts.

Anyway. Here is Mike’s technique for writing a book in three days: ...

Follow the link to read more. Fascinating article about writing to a genre standard formula.

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The Chosen One - what's the job?

It seems that I whet some appetites with my #FridayFlash, The Chosen One. In particular, MEG and Travis seem quite keen to know. Since you both asked so nicely, I'll tell you.

About 450,000 years from now, humans will become unstoppable in our expansion from star to star. We'll take over the galaxy, not as part of an organized campaign of conquerors, but the way an aggressive weed dominates an ecosystem. After fighting a losing battle against us for more than half that time, what's left of the Shallorian Galactic Empire makes a final bid to stop us.

Stop us, but not destroy us. The Shallorian economy is built on slaves. Humans are prolific, hard working and inventive - excellent slave material, if only we could have been harnessed properly before we reached critical mass. The Shallorians could have sent a battleship back in time to simply destroy the Earth, to strangle humanity in the cradle. Instead, they need a spy who can infiltrate Earth's early space expansion age to sabotage the colonies and convince humanity to limit themselves to their own solar system. Brainwashing a captured human from their own time wouldn't work; too much evolutionary time has passed.

Their plan is to go further back, find just the right kind of human to derail an entire civilization. Smart enough to get the job done, but not so smart as to ask too many questions. Vicious enough to do all the necessary killing, but patient enough to make the killing work for the Shallorian's plan. Mercenary enough to be willing to work against the burgeoning star civilization of humanity, but not so mercenary that he can't be controlled.

They find their human weapon, bring him forward a thousand years and set them to change history for the benefit of the Shallorian Empire.

Problem: the Shallorians aren't the only civilization the humans have overrun. Another race from the far future also has it in for humanity, but they don't want the humans docile and controlled. They want the humans dead - starvation and disease if possible, slaughter and holocaust if necessary.

At a critical turning point in the history of mankind, The Chosen One has to save humanity from destruction in order to deliver it into slavery. Unless he decides to take matters into his own hands...

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#FridayFlash: The Chosen One

The Chosen One

by Tony Noland

From a distant planet, they came to Earth, scanning every one of humanity's three billion minds. Men and women, from the cradle to the deathbed, every member of every race in every city, hamlet and forsaken wilderness was logged and evaluated. In their silent, invisible isolation, they tested us for intelligence, cleverness, empathy, creativity, aggression, self-awareness, passion and a hundred other traits.

They needed a person with exactly the right balance of qualities; they didn't find one. Their need was great, however, so they waited. Under their gaze, for three centuries we lived and died, fighting our wars and making our pacts, increasing our numbers from three billion to seven, eleven, fifteen. They waited and scanned, waited and scanned.

They chose me.

When I was born, I was put on the list of "possibles", with all the others who had scan results like mine. We were less than nine million individuals among all of Earth's billions, and from that moment, they watched my mind develop. Thirteen years later, I killed a man to protect my sister; they moved me up to the list of "probables", one of forty thousand. When my wife of eleven months died in a fire our absentee landlord set to get insurance money, my tiny son lived for only seven hours after I cut him from her still-smoking belly. They moved me up to the final list of "confirmed", the list with only two other names.

I found all this out later.

For what they wanted done, they needed a perfect match, the very best. They captured all three of us for the final testing: the Brazilian, the American and me. The Brazilian looked like a tough bastard, scarred and tattooed, missing the ring finger of his left hand. The American was a hard kind of pretty, medium height, blond hair, small breasts and wide hips. I don't know what either of them thought of me. I didn't ask.

The silver-blue walls disappeared and the voices told us they’d been searching for the right person for a long time, that we were all going to be sent on a job. The Brazilian and the American eyed each other, and me, suspiciously.

I didn't waste time with looks or questions. I leapt at the Brazilian and jabbed a hand into his neck, crushing his windpipe. His reaction time was good, although not good enough. His uppercut caught me in the jaw, but he was already as good as dead. I rode out the force of his punch to flip backwards towards the American.

She was in a fighting stance and I landed with arms deliberately flailing. She fell for it; her right hand felt like a piece of rebar as it came in hard to break my collarbone, as I expected. She'd looked like someone who fought to disable, not kill. I shifted my stance to let my shoulder take the hit and I elbowed her in the right breast. She hunched up and I killed her with the palm of my hand, brought down hard on the back of her neck.

A short fight with me still standing - my favorite kind. My jaw and shoulder hurt, but everything still worked. I turned to face my ... host. The human-shaped mask it was wearing looked puzzled.

It waved a hand at the pretty corpse and the choking, clutching man on the floor. “Why did you do this?” it asked.

“They weren’t paying attention, were they? You said you’d been searching for the right person. Person, singular. That meant that two of us were the wrong person.”

“And if that had been simply an error in translation?”

I shrugged. “It doesn't seem likely that you’d make a mistake like that.”

The being looked through the wall to where four more of them stood. A discussion took place, just like so many of the job interviews I’d been through with people who had a tricky job that they needed done thoroughly.

The last list now had only one name on it.

They chose me.

UPDATE: Read more about this story here.

Three Word Wednesday: Break, Negative, Surface

My contribution for Three Word Wednesday:

Went negative without a sound,
The surface serene all around.
Some summer break!
I'll haunt this damned lake,
Wasn't my fault that I drowned!

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