#FridayFlash: Diplomatic Mission

"This explains the haircuts, anyway."

No one laughed. Kevin was coming to understand that no one in the State Department ever laughed, unless it was one of those fake polite murmurs of acknowledgement of the evidence that a joke had been made. Diplomats of every species traded laughs like that at cocktail parties, a sound that gave Kevin the sensation of being among aliens even when only baseline humans were present. The closed-mouth manner was off-putting, but contagious. He wondered how long it would take until that instinct to guard every word and gesture took root in his own personality.

The barber worked close to Kevin's scalp with the trimmer, efficiently reducing him to the close-cropped buzzcut that was so popular among the State Department lifers. Space Marines and the Interstellar Shipping Alliance pilots had the same haircut, but they were a flinty bunch: hard-bodied, tanned, and tightly wound. In contrast, the diplomatic corps were uniformly fleshy and sallow, with the broad bodies that came from too much social drinking and a lot of sitting.

Kevin had no illusions about which category of appearance his own fresh buzzcut would put him into. He got up from the chair and kicked at the mound of dark curls on the floor.

The District Manager said, "The personal grooming policy arises from the conditions aboard the slipship. The intrusion into your bodily personal space is regrettable, but necessary."

"Hey, no problem. I've been told that I've got a good looking skull. This gives me a chance to show it off."

"Toupees are no doubt available in Crashlandia. The duty station chief would be able to direct you, if you wish."

"Oh, that's not necessary. It's a little breezy, but I'll be OK. Think I'll be mistaken for one of the diplomats?"

The DM paused, then said, "Possibly."

Which translates to "Not fucking likely", Kevin thought. And "Quite possibly" would have meant "Maybe", while "With any luck" would have meant "Yes". Even if I don't speak the language, I can understand it.

Without further comment, the DM left the barber shop. Kevin tipped the barber generously and gave him a wink. The barber grunted, but Kevin could see a sympathetic wrinkle around his eyes. Outside, the State Department car was waiting to take him across the starport tarmac to the slipship.

Thankfully, the only people in the car were the driver, the DM and himself. Kevin didn't need any last-minute briefings on how to be productive on a slipship trip... or how to survive it without going crazy. Nor did he want any final instructions as to his mission on Crashlandia. Either the situation was the substantially same as the last report (in which case he already knew what to do) or it was substantially different (in which case he'd have to make something up on the fly).

They drove in silence.

Once they got to the slipship berth, there were final details that Kevin was assured were SOP. He swallowed a medical telemetry monitor the size of a grape, trying not to think about the nanowire hooks that would hold it in place in his small intestine. He was shown the same "slipship operational details" slideshow he'd already seen six times. White pills are analgesics, green pills are anti-anxiety, red pills are antibiotics, blue-and-white are antipsychotics (for emergencies only). Food and water were sufficient, but not ample, so he was to eat everything at each meal. The edible plastifoil wrappings were a necessary dietary fiber component, so be sure to chew the packaging thoroughly. During working hours, gravity would be at 0.25G along the long axis of the box and would go up to 1.5G for two 30 minute exercise periods each day. Gravity would reset to 0.5G along the short axis during sleeping hours. He would be allotted nine hours of sleep each night, no more.

There was no more effective alarm clock than having gravity reorient 90 degrees.

The 5,281 light-year trip to Crashlandia would take nineteen days. During that time (he was reminded), there were administrative tasks to be accomplished: data to analyze, reports to write, code to debug, logistics to work out, plans to be made. The State Department flunky did not say, "don't spend the whole time watching porn and playing video games". What he said was, "normal State Department policies regarding inappropriate IT equipment usage apply to the on-board workstation". Still, Kevin noted that the slipship's library had an extensive list of frat-boy beer comedies and soft-core slasher flicks mixed in with the HollyBollywood classics, the documentaries and the State Department cultural acclimatization videos. He guessed there were some decent games buried in the Applications folder, too. Maybe somebody in the State Department had a sense of humor after all.

Or maybe it's just a nod to the frailties of human beings, he thought, and no more than what's necessary to keep the cogs of the machine turning properly.

Finally, finally, finally, it was time to get in and get gone. The hatch stood open and Kevin prepared to slide inside the box that would take him off to his temporary posting. State Department diplomats regularly spent weeks in these things, with space only a bit bigger than a top-of-the-line coffin. No wonder they were all so glassy-eyed. The District Manager cleared his throat. Sighing, Kevin did a simultaneous translation of the DM's send-off speech as he gave it.

"Well, Mr. Xiang, this is goodbye. (Get going.) Have a safe trip and get some rest. (The shit hits the fan as soon as you touch down.) We have high hopes for your success. (This is a disaster, or you wouldn't be here.) I should note that it's unusual for a non-diplomat to use a slipship. (Don't smell up the place, you slobbering academic.) We've allocated considerable resources to facilitate your participation (this is costing us a fortune), which you should certainly take as a compliment (as a warning). Good luck on Crashlandia. (Don't screw this up.)"

Kevin said, "Thanks, I'll do my best!" You need me more than I need you, asshole, so don't get snippy. From the twitch of the DM's eyelids, Kevin could see that he understood perfectly.

They shook hands and Kevin slid inside.

Three hours later, the slipship cleared Sol's cloud of icy debris and Kevin crossed the artificial cartographic boundary into interstellar space. He stretched his arms as much as he could in the confined space and brought up "Space Cadets 3: Here Come The Gamma Girls" on the video.

So far, so good.

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Hey, jerk - I'm talking to you!

I had an interesting conversation last night about the right way and the wrong(1) way to use Twitter, specifically with regard to the number of people you follow. It was prompted by the following comment.

"If you follow 10,000 people, I'm going to immediately assume you're a dick and don't get Twitter."

Rather than repeat it all here, I Storified the string of tweets right here. Note that I bowdlerized "you're a dick" into "you're a jerk" because I'm not from London. Here in Philadelphia, we tend to faint when presented with such coarse language.(2) We're rather sensitive that way.

(1) Hint: I am apparently doing Twitter wrong.
(2) This is a joke.

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Poetry with punch

On Wednesdays, I compose a limerick based on the prompt from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: clench, faint, prod  (it's more fun if you read it aloud - try it!):

What, did you think I would faint?
That wasn't a prod, more a feint.
Clench your wee little fist?
Your punch nearly missed!
Now I'll lay you out on the paint.

    ~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

My book of limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday is FREE to borrow from Amazon:

"They made me laugh, they made me sad, they made me think and squirm and reflect. ... Tony Noland has a way with words that is nothing short of astonishing" - Jeff Posey, Amazon review

That's right, FREE. Of course, if you're not in Amazon Prime, it still only costs $0.99. That's less than a coffee. And I'm not talking Starbuck's, I'm talking about the burnt mud they sell at the convenience store. It's worth the buck - you'll love it!

Don't have a Kindle? NO PROBLEM! Get one of the free Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and a host of other devices. You can read "Poetry on the Fly" (or any of my other great writing) anywhere you like!

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Back when I was writing...

I've been feeling more than a little stalled lately. I shipped my completed novel off to a slush pile, and am researching more places to send it and/or a query letter. Since nobody is banging down my door for the chance to publish "Verbosity's Vengeance", this is going to go either the old fashioned way or the new-fangled self-publish route.

In the meantime, though, I'm stalled. NaNoWriMo was a complete disaster. In the midst of post-Sandy shivering in the dimness, I wrote 2000 words, then threw them away because I got disgusted with the crappy plot outline. I reworked it, put a new spin on it, set down to work... and got nowhere. Complete failure to launch, since I found that I didn't care AT ALL about the book I'd set down to write.

That killed NaNoWriMo and I've been zeroed out ever since. A story each week for Friday Flash, but that's about it. No inspiration, no time to write, no energy. This blog post is about as long as I've done in a while, too. I have an idea for a story, but when will I write it? No idea.

It all comes crumbing apart, doesn't it?

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How to read reviews

Over on Write Anything, I'm talking about the reviews I'm gotten (good and bad) and how I react to them. What do good reviews mean? How can you use bad reviews to your advantage?

Pop on over and check it out.

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#FridayFlash: The Savior of 5th Avenue

They tell me I saved four or five thousand people, but I don't really remember much of it all. Watching the videos, I can hardly believe it's really me grabbing the lines on that balloon. Even when I rub the scar tissue on my wrist where my left hand used to be, I can almost convince myself that the hero on the screen and the "hero" in the mirror are the same guy.

I know I sound ridiculous talking this way. I hope I don't sound like I'm not aware of how much my actions meant to everyone. For the spectators who were about to be victims of the terrorist plot, there's nothing fake or minimalist about having diverted that parade balloon packed with the nerve gas bomb. That's real. To deny them the opportunity to thank the guy who saved them would be churlish in the extreme, especially since their savior had his hand burnt off by the concentrated nitric acid in the bomb.

It's just that I don't feel like that hero. The nerve gas did something to my mind, screwed up my short-term memory somehow. The doctors said it would have been lethal if the liquid compound had been allowed to gasify, but wasn't "sodium gap labile" in the liquid form.

None of that really means much to me, even though they've explained it a hundred times.

I pose for photos, I mostly say what the politicians tell me to say, I take the medicines my doctors tell me to take, I walk when it's time to walk, I eat when it's time to eat, I sleep when it's time to sleep.

I don't leave the hospital, though. Can't remember the last time I was alone.

If I *am* a hero, if that really is me doing those things, I can only think that I must have been a hell of a guy.

Gone for the week

Since I'm gone for the week, I'll take a page from Scalzi's playbook
and leave a question for you to discuss in my absence.

Pens or pencils?

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I'm not impressed

From right here.

Also, what kind of watch is this? What brand? Can anyone tell?

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#FridayFlash: A Fool As Thee

Can there be
A fool as thee?

Thou art mad,
For thou hast had
In thy palm
Love's perfum'd balm,
Yet did lie
With strumpets nigh.

No love lives
Where insult gives.
One man, lone,
His true love flown,
Fair love lost
like offal toss'd.

Can there be
A fool as thee?
Aye and aye,
For thou art I.

He set down the pen, resisting yet again the urge to slash it along his wrist. Lengthwise along the wrist is a suicide attempt, he thought, while across the wrist is just a cry for help. Where had he first heard that? High school? College? It didn't really matter. Nothing mattered anymore. Besides, if writing shitty poems in a fake quasi-Elizabethan tone wasn't a cry for help, what was?

Pressing his thumbs in hard, he rubbed his eyes, trying both to make the pain go away and make it increase until it killed him. His eyes hurt from crying and from not crying. He was tired but couldn't sleep. He was hungry but couldn't eat. He was a worthless, horrible, disgusting, pathetic, stupid, self-absorbed asshole who was too goddamned stupid to know a good thing when he had it... and yet he couldn't make himself die from his own shame.

Half a lifetime of love, thrown away for three hours in the sack with a thick-lipped redhead in tight jeans and a crop top. Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable.

There was no way to know how long he'd been at his desk. After the first day, he'd smashed the clock radio and threw his watch against the wall so hard it went through the drywall into the dark space beyond.

His heavy, titanium watch, the birthday present of all birthday presents. It had cost her $750 she could have spent on someone worthwhile, $750 which he repaid in poems and kisses and backrubs and smoked oyster primavera made just the way she liked it.

He wept anew at the memories. He was ashes and filth, dirt she had scraped from her shoes. He was nothing, worse than nothing.

That watch was his one piece of man jewelry. It was waterproof to 300 meters (though he took it off before getting into the shower), atomic-signal accurate to 1/1000th of a second (though he was always late), automatically updated in 38 cities in all 24 time zones (though he never went farther from home than the grocery store), and with five separate event timers and alarms (though he would never have anything to keep track of, ever again).

The black hole in the wall whistled and moaned when the furnace came on. It was as though his birthday present watch was crying to itself, alone and lost in the dusty void between the studs. Alone, alone, and alone, lost to time and human memory. There it would sit, ticking away until its primary battery died in two years. Desperately hungry for light, yet trapped in eternal darkness, its little solar cell would weep and scream, as useless and pathetic as he is now and will be forever.

And twenty, fifty, a hundred years hence? When this building was torn down, or burned down, or collapsed in rot, or was swept to sea in a climate change-driven tsunami? His watch would finally be allowed to truly die, crushed under the weight of years and regrets.

He wiped his eyes and picked up his pen to begin another poem. There was no more foul punishment he could invent for himself, and it was nothing less than what he deserved.

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3WW: Cause, Implicate, Stretch

Another damned limerick for Three Word Wednesday, just as wonderful as all the other damned limericks I've written for all those other damned Three Word Wednesdays. Today's damned words are: Cause, Implicate, Stretch

Implicate me without pause;
To kill him, I had a just cause.
The annual onus:
"No stretch goals, no bonus."
Now I'm wiping his blood from my claws.


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Skill required vs. Fame obtained

From Surviving the World (which I saw via a tweet from @FARFetched58):

Damn! It figures I'd have to pick such a hard way to get famous.

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Review: "perfectly paced and honed"

The latest review of "Blood Picnic and other stories" went up recently, and it's another 5 stars. The review describes my collection of flash fiction stories this way:
These stories are finely crafted. What do I mean by that? Well, if you were wanting to get an example of a perfectly paced and honed short story, you'd have a hard time narrowing down Blood Picnic to just one or two. They're ALL tightly written. They're ALL interesting, and they're ALL delicious morsels of plot chocolate. So, like a chocolate sampler box, there are different flavors, but each one is surprise, or a delight, or a thought-provoking choice.
One of the things that this reviewer noted (as have other reviews) is that the one of the chief delights in my stories is the quality of the dialogue:
Noland is a master of believable and interesting dialogue. This is more impressive than it sounds. No, really. Trust me.
I'm glad the book was such a pleasure to read!

Do YOU have $2.99 to spend on a delightful, interesting, entertaining, and engaging collection of fantasy, magical realism, horror and literary flash fiction stories? You'll enjoy this anthology, I'm certain of it. You can get "Blood Picnic" from Amazon and in many other different country and/or device-specific formats from Amazon-UK, Amazon-DE, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Diesel Books.

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#FridayFlash: The Diggings

Right now, with my knees aching from the cold and another headache from the glare, I have to keep reminding myself that this joke is gonna be worth all the effort. I also have to remind myself that cutting corners at this point will screw the pooch.

It's the old 90/10 rule. The main part of the digging went pretty quickly, as did the burial. It's crazy to think that smoothing out the ground and removing my footprints has taken three times as long as the actual placement, but it's the details that will make the gag sing. After all, it won't just be the guys at NASA going over the high-resolution camera images... it'll be everyone in the world.

There are still forty-one days until the Curiosity rover comes over that ridge and looks down into this hollow. Plenty of time to arrange the rocks around the exposed top of this police call box and get off-planet.

When I think of the reaction, it's hard not to laugh, despite the work that still remains. This is going to be my best gag ever, better than Easter Island. I just wish I'd thought to put heaters in the knee joints of this suit.

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Prediction 2012: Obama-Biden

My prediction for how today's presidential election will shake out: Obama-Biden wins a second term with 282 electoral votes, Romney-Ryan with 256.

I'm writing this on Saturday, November 2. We'll see how good my prognostication skills are.

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My forgotten stories

Today over at Write Anything, I'm waxing poetic and fantastical about what happens to forgotten stories, the ones that you publish but no one seems to read.

It's all in good fun, so go read it.

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My week since Hurricane Sandy

My power went out at about 8:30 Monday night, as Hurricane Sandy was about to make landfall on Atlantic City, NJ. My power just came back three hours ago.

Let me say first that from today until November 10, I will MATCH AND DONATE to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts ALL PROCEEDS from sales of "Blood Picnic and other stories". I make $2.02 on every copy, so that's $4.04 that I'll donate for every copy sold. You get good fiction, people in need get help. If you'd like to donate directly and NOT get a collection of my short fiction, go to the American Red Cross by clicking here.

So what was it like, being without power all week? Short version: it sucked. Long version...

All this week, I've used lanterns and candles to see by. A gas stove let us continue to cook a lot of things, although the oven was inoperable. Our continuously-stoked fireplace keep my house at around 60F during the day - warm enough to continue to live in. Without any kind of heat, we would have decamped to... somewhere.

We had to clear out the refrigerator, of course. It's been cold enough outside that I was able to keep bottled and jarred foods in coolers out in the backyard. The fresh food - milk, vegetables, meats, etc. - were a loss and had to be thrown away quickly. I've been dumping dry ice into my chest freezer in the basement, to keep the stock-up quantities of meats, frozen vegetables, etc. from being a complete loss. I think that intervention kept it all frozen, but I'll make an assessment at some point now that I have lights in the basement again.

Now that the power is back on, the frayed nerves of the Noland household are knitting back together under the soothing balm of our first-world conveniences.

I can respond to the dimming grayness of the late afternoon by turning on a lamp over my desk and another light in the ceiling, both with the flick of a switch.

I hear the furnace come on and feel the breeze of warm air.

From other rooms come the whirring, grunting, tinkling, crashing sounds of "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood" and "Wii LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1 - 4". This is no cacophony, for it replaces the 110 decibels of whining, yelling, carping, and arguing that has been rising and falling over the past five days like the scream of an overworked metal grinder. In this closed and warm house, the combined electronic noises are an incidental accompaniment to blessed peace and serenity, like the atonal chimes of an opium den that waft unheard over the quiescent addicts reclining on their mats.

... and I'm able to write a blog post about it all.

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#FridayFlash: For Want of a Clown...

I swear, if I'd known the clown was a woman, I'd never have let the skunk loose in the elevator. What would have been the point? An elevator full of shrieking, terrified beauty queens, bouncing out of their bikinis as they ran down the hall would be startling for a woman to see, but they wouldn't have the same effect on her as they would on a man. That is, unless she was a lesbian clown, but what would have been the odds of that?

A male clown (or a lesbian clown) would have turned his (or her) head to watch the parade go giggling by. Since the isothiol/spandex-degrading gas-phase enzyme I'd released in the elevator 23 seconds earlier would be kicking in, their bikinis would be falling off the girls as they ran. Any man (and probably most lesbians, come to think of it) would have been glued to the sight. That would have been plenty of time for Silovski to use the blowgun to hit the clown with the hypno dart without being seen.

You were at the banquet, so you know the rest. Without the hypno dart, we couldn't make the clown give the General Secretary's mistress the balloon dog with the xenon tracker gas. Since she didn't have it, the security detail couldn't take it away like they take away anything given to the General Secretary or his intimates. That meant the xenon tracker didn't adhere to the head of security, so we couldn't use it to mark the key sequence on the heliport codepad. Without the code, Victorino wasn't able to sneak up and take the place of the General Secretary's wife's regular helicopter pilot.

So, long story short, our whole double-fake with the kidnapping/ransom/nuclear extortion as a bluff-screen for the bank robbery we were going to use to finance the Syrian opposition is down the crapper. That blows our whole strategy for this phase of Operation Asgard. The Russians are thrilled, the Australians are livid and the Canadians are in our face with their snotty "I Told You So" attitude... again.

I realize this setback has thrown off the entire Asgard timetable. It's my own fault for not checking up on that detail of the clown's gender and I accept full responsibility for that. Otherwise, the plan was perfect.

Still... the clown's stage name was Patty O'Cake. Who wouldn't have figured that to be a guy?

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NaNoWriMo Day 1: Cold and dim

Power is still out, so it's cold and dim at my place. Latest update is
we MIGHT get power back by tomorrow night, but I'm not counting on it.
My enthusiasm for writing is nonexistent, for NaNoWriMo or anything
else. This foul start may scupper the whole month.

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