We'll make the most of it, come what may. Don't party too hard tonight!
For some scenes in a story, there's nothing quite like the visual treatment. In this foundational story of Team Dan, the crew jets toward England, having arranged for unauthorized access to the Glastonbury ruins. Everyone is on edge, especially Ed. Likewise, visual elements can easily be translated into stories. One example is fanfiction based on graphic novels. It helps to have multiple sources of inspiration, which even extends to video games. The ultimate benefit is to keep you writing, and you get better with practice.
Previous: a man buys a device that can take pictures through walls.
Jeff had little trouble teasing out details of Janet's private life, since Margret enjoyed taunting him with it. Janet had a thing for fitness, keeping an organized schedule like everything else. Thursdays found her at the fitness center pool. Jeff bought a trial membership so folks got used to seeing him there. They also grew accustomed to the box, which he presented as a fancy coat rack.
The portentous day saw Janet arrive right on time. Jeff watched from his car until she went inside. He had scoped out the dressing rooms and found out from a custodian which locker bore her name. After retrieving the box from his trunk, he hurried inside and stuck it on the wall corresponding to where the locker must be on the other side. No one was about at the moment it began to move a few inches. Whirring sounds heralded the extrusion of its bag, which began to fill with pictures--lots of them. When it was done, Jeff secreted the bag in his coat. He went straight to the car and returned the box to the trunk.
The work day went by in a haze. Margret twice asked him if anything was wrong. It occurred to him that his relationship with Janet, such that it was, would never be the same. Could he keep the guilt off his face?
At home that evening after dinner, he retreated to his den. His wife knew not to intrude there without a good reason, but still he only stared at the unopened packet. An agonizing half hour later, he'd put a hand on the seal five times without tearing it off. Ultimately he put it in his briefcase. Janet, he reasoned, deserved one more chance not to see him as a bug.
His banter with her the next day was strained, and she sensed it. He hadn't even looked at the pictures yet; how much worse could it get for a guilty conscience? By ten, he had to get away, even if it meant making blind sales calls. But before he got his coat on, the phone rang.
"How did you like the pictures?" Parallax asked.
"I didn't look. I'm gonna bring the box back to you. Keep the money."
"It isn't so simple. As good as the pictures are, I could make a mint selling them on the web."
"You've seen 'em? How?"
"You noticed the orb I wear on a necklace. It links me with the box in a special way; I see what the box sees. Tell you what: I'll refrain from selling them for five thousand."
Jeff went speechless for a moment. "That's a bluff. You don't have squat."
"Then check your fax."
Panicked, Jeff hustled to a corner where the fax sat atop a cabinet of paper supplies. A sheet inched its way out. It was Janet, just beginning to undress. This was a nightmare, and the only thing he could do was buy time.
Back at the phone, he tried to keep his voice steady. "You win, Parallax. I'll have to max out a card."
"Certainly. By the end of this business day."
Sure, only it wouldn't be money the creep was getting, but a knock on the head and theft of his necklace. Hopefully he hadn't found a way to make hard copies as insurance.
At half past twelve, Janet went out for lunch, giving him a little wave. I don't need your charity, babe, because I've got something better. Or did he? Jeff decided to come clean before he set out to confront Parallax. Gathering courage, he sauntered over to Margret's desk.
"So--did we find a lab tech?"
"Not this one." Margret leaned back in her seat. "She's a Jehovah Witness and doesn't do blood bank. The client said that isn't fair to co-workers, since they'd do more than their share in a high-stress department."
Hardly hearing, he handed over the packet. "Will you, uh, tell me what's in there?"
Margret ripped the seal and looked inside, looking as though she'd been punched. Page after page, her anger grew hotter. "This is a new low, even for you, you creep! Janet will call the cops on you! Better get a good lawyer, and don't be here when the boss finds out!"
"I haven't looked at them, I tell you. Here, I'll burn them."
Margret clutched the packet close. "Fat chance! These may only be copies, but none of the guys here will ever see them!"
Miserable, Jeff headed home for the day, telling his wife he was out of sorts. Which was quite true. He tried watching a ball game, doing yard work. Anything to put off the confrontation with Parallax. In the end, he knew he wasn't a TV-style commando. There was only one option left.
Janet was always last to leave the office. Jeff carried the box up to the tenth floor, exiting to hear the rapid tap of computer keys down the hall. She was quite a fast typist. He leaned against the door frame and made a slight cough.
She rose and faced him with a hurt look, dazzling in a yellow dress.
"No, I didn't look." Jeff rubbed the back of his neck. "Let me prove it." He gave her the box. "This thing takes pictures through walls. There was this ad in the paper, and, well. . . ." He pressed on. "Margret can confirm it was unopened. I just could't do it."
"But why, Jeff?"
"Because I'm the office bozo. I don't want this to get around, but. . . ." He looked to either side to be sure they were alone. "Your friendship means more than any cheap thrill. You gotta believe me. . . ."
"I believe you."
Jeff's brow crinkled in disbelief. "You do? Wow, you're a special lady, Jan. So. . . .some day for lunch--"
"No." Her old flirtatious confidence was back.
"Right." Jeff gave the thumb's up. "See you tomorrow."
At home that night, he waited for the hammer to fall, but Parallax never called. Neither did he answer when Jeff called. Was it a con all along--that the man had no way to post the pictures? At any rate, Jeff got to keep his five grand another day at least.
Next morning at work, he got a call from a police detective, informing him Parallax had been murdered.
"You're not a suspect," the cop said, "because whoever did this was one strong psycho. The guy was broken in two dozen pieces."
It took Jeff awhile to recover. Then he remembered the guy's necklace, how it linked him intimately with the box. He rushed over to Janet's desk. "Janet--what did you do with that box?"
"I was pretty mad, so I took a hammer to it."
For the fourth time that day, Jeff left his desk and sidled up to the raven-haired receptionist, Janet. He got the eyeroll in passing from Margret, a middle age type who handled lab science for the temp agency. She liked to remind him he was married and had kids. That didn't dampen his absorption in Janet, and the red dress was one of his favorites. He knew her entire wardrobe by now--not all that extensive for her limited salary.
He rested a leg on the edge of her desk, intoxicated by some powdery scent she wore today. "You know, babe, you could--"
"Be a model. That's the first thing you said this morning, Jeff. Now if you don't mind. . . ."
Jeff raised hands and backed away with his best boyish grin. Just getting her to notice him was a foot in the door, albeit one that only opened so far under chain and padlock. He cast a wry glance at Margret in passing. "What's it gonna take?"
"Try this." Margret leaned back from her computer. "Admit to yourself she's out of your league, and stop being a jerkheimer."
"Eh!" Back at his desk by the tenth-floor window, Jeff put up his feet and sipped coffee from a paper cup. The newspaper lay folded at the classifieds. He looked over the agency's ad copy for heavy equipment operators. His employer had high standards, and it wasn't easy finding the right stuff for the job. The want ads were a good place to see what the competition was up to. Sometimes you could get lucky under "special services" by finding a jack of all trades.
"What's this?" Jeff tucked his pencil behind an ear and read the blurb.
Want your dream girl or guy? J P Parallax, booksellers. Scrolls, Talismans, Charms, Artifacts.
He jotted down the address. It was early yet, so he could look into this and still get in a sales call before lunch. He rose and rakishly slung his sport coat over a shoulder, but Janet wasn't looking. "Janet, my love, I'll be back at one if anybody calls."
"Noted, Jeff, noted." She made an entry on her super-organized ledger before picking up an incoming call. Jeff's dreams were haunted by that customized purring ring tone, Maybe this Parallax guy had some trick he could insert into the earpiece. . . .nah, he was probably just another con man. Jeff snickered at the memory of "X ray glasses" that used to come in cereal boxes.
He made the appointed stop at a construction rigging firm. It turned out most of these guys were lifers who weren't interested in moonlighting or being lured away by more money. The manager took his business card with a bored look. Admittedly, Jeff wasn't his usual boisterous self, what with the distraction of the coming call at the occult shop.
The store lay in the old part of town where parking was at a premium. He found a spot in a weed-sprouted gravel lot behind a hardware store, just about the only place that didn't have apocalyptic warnings for those who dared to park here. A three-block walk brought him to a shop front beneath three floors above.
An old-fashioned bell announced his entry. The place had that queasy feel of the forbidden arts, though bent in a more scifi direction. Posters of ancient civilizations loomed over rows of glass cases.
A man who could only be Parallax came downstairs from a circular gallery; he had the second floor as well. His suit had a pretentious modern cut with a Nehru collar. The high forehead sported a widow's peak that grayed at the temples.
"Let me guess," he said. "A woman."
"Am I that obvious?" No wonder Janet kept him at arm's length.
"What shall it be, then? Love potion? Knockout drops?"
"Whoa! I don't wanna go to jail, here, pardner!"
Parallax looked right through him. "I sense you're willing to admire the lady from afar. Something akin to X ray goggles, for example."
"You have those?" Jeff caught himself, remembering the cereal box thing.
"Nothing that wouldn't be painfully obvious to the lady. There is, rather, a more discreet device. Come with me." Parallax threaded the rows of cases full of gimmicky-looking gizmos. He unlocked one and took out what resembled a box of tin foil. "This way for a demonstration." He made for the rear wall, where lesser treasures lay on shelves. "I'm going into the back room. You'll see the box activate, but don't be alarmed." He stuck the box on the wall, where it adhered, and vanished through an arched doorway.
Seconds later, the box moved a few inches, and exuded a thin white paper bag. Whirring sounds happened, and the bag filled with what seemed to be printouts.
Parallax came back, his coat draped over an arm, revealing a white shirt with Chinese collar. "Tear the bag off and look inside."
The bag contained a series of photos showing Parallax removing his coat. The implication caused Jeff a brief arrhythmia. "Unreal! You mean, all I do is put this on a dressing room wall?"
Parallax wore a hint of a grin. "You'll have to be circumspect. If someone sees the box move, they will probably take it down and discover its contents." He waited. "It's quite reasonable at fifty dollars."
"Too reasonable," Jeff said suspiciously. "Where'd you get it?"
"Let's say it's from Old Atlantis. My name, in fact, is Atlantean." He smoothed Jeff's lapel. "I'll take one of you, so you can see it's on the level."
Jeff needed no urging. Once in the dim corridor, he removed coat and tie. When he came out, the box was already filling its bag. He tore it open and gaped at views of himself removing coat and tie. Next thing he knew, he was counting out the bills. "I don't know how you stay in business, amigo."
"I aim to serve," Parallax said a little too smoothly.
Bramwell sat against the wall facing the open door of an empty room--a room quite different from the empty one at his father's estate. The first time it had come to life, he'd been too cautious to cross over, not knowing how long the phenomenon would hold. It wouldn't do to be trapped over there. He'd seen the lady who used it as a bedroom, relieved that she couldn't see him.
As the scion of a shipping magnate, his time was his own, and he often had the mansion to himself. Let his father's crowd call him a boozer and a wastrel if they wanted to; he was the one who had mastered the I Ching. He had inscribed arcane symbols on the door frame, then hidden them from view with a new overlay. The next step involved passing a caged mouse through on a pole, just to assure no ill effects. The time had come to test his theory to the hilt.
He stepped through into cooler air, looking back at ornate wall paper. Briefly panicked, he passed a hand back through to make sure the way back was still there. Footsteps sounded outside. He quickly stepped back through just as an aristocratic lady came in. She had no reason to touch the wall where the portal was, but if she staggered into it, she'd be in for a huge surprise. The lady sat down to her sewing, heedless of being observed. Bramwell briefly entertained lewd possibilities, these being interrupted when the view winked out of existence. He stared at the open door on his side, with its view of the dusty guest room and its sheet-covered furnishings. The event had timed at eighty-nine seconds.
Moments later he was galloping toward the seaside town, where constables patrolled the wharf. Tipsy sailors were known to fall into the river when they weren't fighting. A distant church bell lent an air of peace to streets recently wet from a passing shower. Bramwell breathed in the earthy scent, wondered if folks in that other world had the same type of government, the same values.
He paid an enterprising lad to stable his horse and fetch him a pint, his calling card serving as credit. For the moment, he was content to perch on a stanchion in the shadow of a hulking cargo ship. With lofty sails reefed, its masts soared darkly into a fading sky awhirl with gulls. When the boy returned across the cobbled street, Bramwell shaded eyes from reflections on waterfront windows. He hired the lad for a final task: deliver a message to Jason Aulding.
An hour later, his tankard nursed to the dregs, Bramwell watched Aulding saunter along on a white charger. The two men were similar in many ways, but where Bramwell was dark-haired and favored black, Aulding was sandy-haired and affected light colors. Aulding dismounted and handed the reins to the same industrious lad, giving him an ostentatious tip. He knew how to needle Bramwell. He bundled up against the gathering evening chill and cocked an ear to a clanking buoy out in the channel. Just when the wash of tide grew loud in the uneasy standoff, Aulding was obliged to speak first, curiosity having bested him.
"Hollingwood, I'll hear your spiel in comfort, and pray do not waste my time."
Bramwell followed him to the tavern at the end of the lane, the King's Inn, one of the better establishments. It played host to some ship captains and well-heeled merchants. They slid into a side table and ordered their usual from the waitress: ale for Bramwell, and cognac for the presumptuous Aulding. Tobacco smoke mingled with cooking odors, reminding Bramwell he'd been too absorbed to attend his lunch.
"Which is it to be?" Aulding began, favoring the other with his cultivated stare. "It's either our mutual quest for Marilou, or your bizarre dealings in the occult. What crackpot scheme have you come up with this time?"
The violinist finished a reel, then shifted to a slower tune more conducive to intrigue.
"Marilou?" Bramwell eyed his foe over his just-arrived mug. "I've always believed it's the woman who chooses, they being much more particular then we. You may court her with my blessing."
Aulding's brow went up. "The I Ching thing? I take it you've made some sort of breakthrough to justify the ruinous outlay of funds. The townsfolk can scarce believe your father's indulgence."
Sneer away, Bramwell thought. You're better at fencing and dancing, skills that will hardly serve you in three days. "In a certain room at the estate, I have tapped into a foreign reality." In the end, Bramwell knew, Aulding must demand proof, the better to regale his friends with Bramwell's spectacular failure.
"This is known only to you?" Aulding asked suspiciously.
"It is, though my father must needs be aware of my precipitate and costly quest for knowledge." Bramwell cast about for eavesdroppers. "Commercial and military uses are endless. My fortune is set, and I look forward to paying off my debts. Why limit myself to a small town and its quaint pool of paramours?"
Aulding took the bait. "Why be hasty? You clearly have some joint venture in mind. There remains only the proof."
Bramwell made a mock toast. "In three days the phenomenon is due again. I have arranged to have the mansion to myself. Even the maids are dismissed."
"I shall bring along two associates," Aulding stated. "You've arranged quite the opportunity for mischief." He made a mocking toast. "Either way, my trip shall not be wasted."
At the appointed time, Bramwell convinced the "associates" to remain downstairs, where they had no objection to a free hand at the liquor cabinet. On the way upstairs, he touched the pistol tucked into his waistband. He and Aulding passed portraits of forgotten ancestors in gilded frames. They passed through a far door into a corridor filled with dusty, slanted beams of evening light.
Aulding paused at the indicated door. "This changes nothing. If your experiment proves valid, I must have repayment of your debt this night."
So you shall have it, Bramwell thought. "The windfall from the venture will more than cover it." Aulding followed his awed look into the phantom room. Unfortunately, the young woman, now with piled hair, was at her sewing again. This would complicate things.
"Astounding!" Aulding, convinced she couldn't hear him, made bold to take a closer look. Bramwell shoved him across the threshold.
The lady rose, a hand at her mouth in surprise at the man who'd just come through a wall. Bramwell waited for Aulding to rise and turn around, then fired a shot. Aulding clutched his chest and dropped to his knees, prompting the lady to scream and flee the room. With a satisfied leer, Bramwell tossed the murder weapon across. The associates would come running, but would find no gun.
Impossibly, Aulding lurched to his feet. Bramwell hadn't considered the need to shoot again: a suicide victim die not shoot himself twice. He had to stop the man from coming back out!
He'd forgotten that Aulding was the stronger of the two, even mortally injured. They grappled in the foreign bedroom. Seconds remained before the portal closed again. With an immense effort, Bramwell landed on top, freed himself, began scrabbling backward toward the wall.
Intense pain at his ankles caused him to collapse, and Aulding hauled him onto his own chest, intent on having the last word. Bramwell looked back. The portal had closed on his ankles, leaving his feet on the other side. He was rapidly bleeding to death.
Aulding favored him with a final sneer. "The perfect murder, eh, Bramwell? Nay--a thoroughly botched murder-suicide!"
Footsteps pounded up the stairs, but neither man was alive to witness who it was.
This idea makes a good group presentation. In this case, it's the entire lab staff of a hospital, whose name appeared at the top in blue. To make one for your group, you'll need photos of each. Art sketches work best, but you can use actual pics if no artist is handy. I had to make shirts for each member in various sizes. It's important to go a size large, since fabric is going to shrink.
Here's a little trivia: Team Dan appears here, since all were lab members. Top right--Dan. Second row center--Zena. Third row right--Bonnie. Fourth row #2--Pete; #4--Ed. Bottom right shows the pathologist and lab medical director, respectively.
Wanna make a surprise present for the gang? Better sneak those photos and get them to a shirt printer before Santa arrives.
Holmes examined the photo given him by the murder suspect, one James Ackerby. It showed him with an arm about an unidentified woman. Behind them, five concrete steps led up to a veranda in late afternoon sun. The house had recently burned, along with its owner, the late Mr Bozwell. Scotland Yard suspected foul play, as Ackerby and Bozwell had been romantic rivals.
"As you can see," Ackerby insisted, "this has me in the company of a different lady, not the one Bozwell was enamored of."
"Quite," Holmes mused, magnifier in hand. "You stated that Bozwell was trying to enter the house when he collapsed. His head lay against the door. Tell me--did his feet reach the end of the porch?"
"Not at all; they were some inches short."
Holmes slipped the magnifier in a pocket. "You went for help, but in your absence the house caught fire."
"Ghastly business, that. Did the police find a cause of death?"
"I shall defer to the examiner," Holmes said. "Dr Watson?"
I could only shake my head. "The corpse was entirely consumed. I can only rule out blunt trauma to the bones, but I cannot rule out poison. His height was five feet eleven."
"Then that should satisfy," Ackerby concluded. "Perhaps this will get Scotland Yard off my neck." He recovered his hat and went out.
From the back rooms came Inspector Lestrade and Mr Robbins from the Royal College of Engineers.
"Well, Holmes," Lestrade blustered, "do you still intend to solve this crime using a photograph?"
"With Mr Robbins' help, Inspector. From what I see, the pieces have but to be assembled."
"With a key piece of data," Robbins reminded.
"Of course. As told by convenient markings on my door frame, Ackerby stands five feet eight."
"Splendid!" Robbins rushed to a windowside table and opened a field kit. From this he produced a rule, protractor, slide rule, and a table of trigonometry values.
"Holmes--" Lestrade gestured impatiently.
"Ah yes, Inspector. We shall endeavor to know the width of the porch."
Lestrade looked over the engineer's shoulder. "Harumpf! You've only this edge-on view of it."
"That's a helpful circumstance," Robbins countered. "We can use it as the horizon, from which we base the relevant measurement." He set rule to the photo. "Note the shadow cast by the overhang, which we infer to be equal to the porch in width. It makes a twenty-eight degree angle with the top of this balustrade. Since we know Ackerby is five-eight, we draw a line from the top of his head to the base of the balustrade. Note where this line intersects the balustrade's shadow: just below its narrow waist."
"Hocus pocus," Lestrade opined.
"Tut tut," I said. "When has Holmes ever failed us?"
"A simple ratio," Robbins went on, "gives us the five-eight mark on the balustrade. Another ratio tells us the remaining length, which is the vertical leg of our triangle." He consulted his math tables. "The tangent of the sun's angle equals the opposite side--just obtained--divided by the adjacent, which is the overhang width." He sketched a rudimentary algebra result.
"Blimey!" Lestrade gaped at it. "The porch is five feet four inches!"
"Quite so," Holmes said. "The victim's feet would overhang by seven inches, most contrary to what Ackerby claimed."
"Engineer," Lestrade ordered, "pack up your findings and come with me."
When they'd gone, I prepared the usual observation, but Holmes was quicker to the point.
"Indeed , Watson. Someone is about to have his day ruined."
The five members of Team Dan declined a celebrity box at the Nuerca Theater. Tonight's play--taken from their own adventures--bordered on comedy at their expense. Hence the low profile, though Bonnie and Zena reveled in their new gowns. Musicians tuned up amid a drone of voices in the cavernous hall. The production raised high hopes for the acting troupe, who brought a popular Lunari play here to the empire capital of Eolca, the very place Team Dan got its start.
"Bonnie the Vampire," said the tall bro Pete. "I didn't like it there, and I don't like it here, where a heap more folks get to laugh at us. And that dude playin' me is way too short."
"He has to be," Dan reminded. "The actress has to throw him through a wall."
Pete scowled. "Don't remind me."
"It wasn't all that good for me, either," Bonnie huffed. "Can you imagine going a whole week without food, as much as you eat?"
Zena smoothed folds of royal blue. "Like no way. Especially when the food is me!"
On his end, Ed chuckled. "Close call, Zeens. If not for that vampire cure potion--"
"Cool it, men," Dan said. "The show's starting. Either we continue as heroes, or we're the new Five Stooges."
Ed gave him a poke. "I like how you build the tension, Danno. A play has other advantages: live actors, dialog taking the place of prose, and stage directions doing the rest." Hisses from nearby patrons cut his comments short.
The first act centered on the brawl at a Lunari harbor tavern, and the joke was so far squarely on the nosferatu Count Rotbone. Dan tricked him into jumping out a window as a sheet, which in Rotbone's slavic accent became something grossly different. The actor playing the count whirled a sheet about himself, then ducked out of sight, dropping a mess to splat on the street below. Clever stage hands caused a flying skull to take wing, trailing maniacal cackling as it whirled about on wires. The audience were in stitches.
Rotbone re-appeared from a side curtain and took Bonnie from the rear, a clawed hand at her neck.
"I'm calling your bluff, Rotbone!" challenged a posturing Dan. "Let her go, or I'll see your castle thrown down stone by stone!"
"Oh, brother." The real Zena chortled behind her hand. "What a stiff!"
"Agreed," Dan said. "I'm not a blowhard Dudley Dooright."
On stage, Rotbone slunk away, leaving Bonnie to touch a spot of blood on her neck. Sinister music cued the audience that all was not well. They applauded the end of act one.
Act two opened high in the warehouse district, where Dan had diverted due to Bonnie's odd behavior. She just wasn't her old perky self.
"Okay," the Pete actor demanded, "show us your teeth." When he tried to pry her mouth open, she lifted him high, with the help of stage wires, and flung him through a wall. Pre-cut in a human shape, the gaping hole drew howls of comic relief from the spectators.
In the audience, Bonnie slumped, trying to be invisible. "Krikey."
"Give her the cure potion!" ordered the stage Dan.
Ed's counterpart played it cautious. "I don't think she'll take it."
"Force the issue!" Dan, along with Ed, tossed a potion at her, but she ducked, leaving Dan and Ed with a faceful of green fluid. The crowd ate it up. Bonnie rushed offstage, and a window view showed a bat flying away.
"Epic," lamented the Zena actress, who had been quite overstuffed in the costume's bosom area. "Well, let's go and find her!"
Applause brought down the curtain on act two.
Act three saw a man crossing a bridge on a foggy night. A cloaked figure came out of the mist.
The real Bonnie peeked through her fingers. "Universal precautions. Doesn't anybody get it?"
"Not everybody are lab workers, " Dan said, pulling her upright.
The caped Bonnie showed fangs. "Excuse me, sir. Before I put the bite on you, I have to ask some questions." The bug-eyed victim backed away. "Do you have night sweats? Jaundice? Abnormal discharge?"
"Yaaaaa!" the victim screamed, now in full flight.
Bonnie pursued him offstage. "Unprotected sex?" Another comedy hit with the crowd.
Act four had Bonnie sweeping up debris at a vampire hangout in the sewers. "Don't you people ever clean this place?" Skulls, tin cans, and banana peels rained down on complaining vampires, to the spectators' delight.
In the final act, Bonnie surprised Zena in their shared room at the Lunari villa, pinning her to Zena's bed. "You cannot know how hungry I am! I cannot hold out any longer!"
"You don't want to do this," Zena implored. She produced a cure potion. "Take this, then we'll go raid the kitchen!"
Bonnie acquiesced. She pulled the cape over her head to hide the motions of removing vampire makeup. A restored Bonnie presented herself, and they walked out arm in arm.
Applause was marred by someone booing in the seat in front of the team. Rotbone himself turned glittering eyes on them. "Vat a farce of a show! Tell me, Miss Bonnie, are you still so mad that you must be a part of this? It is juvenile."
Bonnie glared. "Says you, Chromedome. What are you doing here?"
"It matters not. Daniel has had his revenge, inflicting all those women on me, taking over my castle!"
"Actually," Dan said of the Dracula Brides, "that was their idea. But it's still poetic justice."
The count receded in the press of autograph seekers, which the team were glad to oblige.
Clayton Forrester Season's greetings, spacemen! Today's dive into the vaults turns up 1959's The Invisible Invaders. It seems aliens have wiped out the moon's denizens 20,000 years ago. Maybe they don't like fresh air and sunshine. Seeing how far man has progressed toward making himself extinct, they demand our surrender before we take the moon down with us!
Crow Oh sure. Like World War Two didn't spook them.
Tom No, they had to wait 'til we could put up a fight. It's only sporting.
Forrester Shall I continue? A scientist played by John Carradine dies in a mysterious atomic lab accident. Later, his animated corpse visits the wife of Dr Penner and lays out the program. Surrender or die!
Joel Where have we heard that before. But Carradine makes a great ghoul with that basso voice.
Crow Eh. I liked him better as Herman Munster's boss.
Forrester Ahem! The aliens force a plane crash so the dead pilot can repeat the threat at a soccer game. Then a car crash victim reads the riot act at a football game.
Crow Where else do you get that kind of stock crowd footage?
Forrester Speaking of stock footage, Ray Harryhausen pasted flying saucers over Air Force planes shooting up a firing range. But that's not the only way Earth vs The Flying Saucers tops the stop-motion hijinx of today's clunker. They even had saucers crashing into the capitol and the Washington Monument. Cheesy but satisfying!
Joel Can we get on with the story? I hate myself for wanting to know how it ends.
Forrester Anyway, the good guys capture an alien in a paint trap, which makes it go inert for some reason. Apparently there's a shortage of bodies, so he isn't giving this one up! In a pressure chamber, his ghostly reptilian form is forced out, but not for long. As hordes of zombies attack, the lab's alarm system makes them cringe like a German Shepherd to a dog whistle!
Tom Here we go.
Forrester The scientists build a sound gun that kills the captive. The invisible ship is jamming them, so they have to go find it and destroy it before they can broadcast how to defeat the aliens. Now that I've thoroughly spoiled if for you, let's hit the theater!
[Flashing lights and sirens drive the trio into the space station's theater]
Crow If there's anything worse than a zombie, it's one you can't see.
Joel I dunno; these guys don't even want to eat you. The ray guns are cool, though. As kids, we'd roll newspapers into long thin cones and make sound effects. There was no end of argument as to who missed and who scored hits.
Crow Like the old Greenie Stickem caps. And the roll caps! There was a Rifleman Winchester that popped 'em off just like 'ol Chuck Connors!
Forrester [Breaks in] You guys are supposed to riff on the film, not sashay down memory lane!
Tom Sashay? Can you say that on TV? It's not PC.
Forrester How'd you like to switch to Hallmark tear jerkers?
Crow Oh no, not that! Kill us now!
Tom What happened to caps anyway?
Joel Lawyers. One day I scratched at a cap out of curiosity. Zap! Got a blackened fingertip.
Crow I say all lawyers to the moon!
[Starts a chant that frustrates Forrester]
Forrester I was going to lump all the saucer films into a penetrating look at the cold-war hysteria over radiation and UFOs. You guys can just sit through this turkey to the end!
Joel While he's ranting, I'm going for popcorn.
The fastest way to learn a language is to dive in--the old sink or swim ploy. If you move to Frankfurt, you'd better learn some German right quick. The same analogy applies to your cast. Any number of methods will shake them out of their (translate your) comfort zone. That sharpens them in their little cubicles when you reach up there to get them. We'll look at these in order of least to most effective.
The Character Interview This method is limited to sounding out their opinions, including thoughts about fellow stage mates. When you get them talking (usually on something you feel strongly about), you identify pet words and phrases that help make them individuals. The downside is that you end up with a lot of writing that isn't readily usable.
They Interview Each Other Imagine a sort of time out when you aren't sure how characters feel about an upcoming plot item, or what actions they'll take. The advantage here is getting twice the work done. Adding a third person to the mix complicates things, unless it's a sidekick that helps define one of them. The con is the same: a lot of writing you can't use, short of dropping it into a scene it just happens to fit.
Short Stories Established authors sometimes write these as a stopgap between novels. It also broadens the story world by focusing on a minor aspect you don't have time for in an epic. Suppose a pair takes a working vacation to a remote inn. You'll need customs, politics, and commerce to make it an interesting background. Should the subject come up in a later conversation in your novel, someone can comment with authority and realism, and avoid contradictions (these have already been hashed out).
Fan Fiction Here you immerse someone in situations that don't happen in their world. How do they react on the bridge of the Enterprise?--deal with acid-tongue Fred Sanford? Do they complain about the weather, or marvel at nature's darker moods? You still need something to carry back to the story world. Now you know how they'll handle similar situations, how they label unfamiliar items, what core values are affronted, whether they escalate or defuse a crisis. The list goes on.
Spinoff Series These are automatically stand-alone stories that put a minor character in the spotlight--one that would otherwise inappropriately steal the show. Whenever this person is on stage in your main venue, they'll be fully prepared to be themselves.
In short, don't limit a character's stage time to novels; they have enough work to do without figuring out who they are.
A modern translation by Eolone with a trusty borrowed Latin dictionary.
Location: a stage at a Roman camp.
Lycus — usurping king of Thebes or something.
Megara — wife of Hercules, and daughter of late king of Thebes or something.
Hercules — coming back from having a hell of a time.
— Marry me, and peace will come to the land.
— I am faithful to my man, and when he comes back he’ll snap you in two.
— Ha! Your man looking for the best sweetmeat around!
— Never! He vowed his love to me; and he always came back to me.
— When he tired of running around.
— Never! Never!
[Enter Hercules in lion skin and holding a fish by the tail. He looks outward.]
— Veni. [He looks around the stage.]
— Vidi. [He approaches Lycus, and lands him a sockeye.]
— Oh, Herc, Herc...where were you! This moment could not have come any sooner!
— But? — I came on cue.
— But where were you?
— O Dearest!
— Were you looking —
— O Honey, Darling!
[Music. Dance. They fall off the stage. Exit Lycus with sockeye.]
Back in the day before graphics programs, everything was laboriously done with stick-on letters. They probably don't make them anymore, except for the large size commercial types. This features two familiar characters--Hecabano and Wicca, who has been pictured before using the Flying Skull spell. As far as where this part of the story takes place, it's where the dwarf ascends the Tower of Sorcery, tapping into a treasure trove of magic items. But the hibernating Lord of the Dead doesn't like it, counting on his minions to protect the place.
If you can do your own comics, there's no sense in not doing your own cover, since it saves a bundle on production costs. This one was done on a laser printer (very expensive), and it's one way to get yourself in print--even if only friends and relatives ever see it. Acrylic is used here, with black and white edges to give the tiles a 3D look. So does the dwarf escape? Yep--the spell hits one of the bad guys and shrivels him up like a mummy.
Eric kept a brave face during Thanksgiving dinner with Auntie and his visiting granddad. Aside from the unpleasant news he had for them, things were going well: he was a junior with a major in art history, had his own pad, even a potential girlfriend. Ironically, it was his art talent that led to the Dracula Brides being saved from extinction, to their escape to Outworld--beginning with the one he'd inherited from Gramps.
They sat around Auntie's small living room, where Gramps sprawled in the recliner. "Washed-up athletes pimping insurance and reverse mortgages. Sad!" His pique shifted to Eric, seated next to Auntie and her perpetual white pony tail. "I know what's eating you, boy. It's Emmy--isn't it." Auntie started, bringing a hand to her sternum in matronly dread.
"She's coming here," Eric blurted, which brought Auntie to her feet. "Be cool now--she's changed. I taught her sign language. She'll be able to explain some things you've always been bothered about."
"Explain what?" Gramps asked suspiciously.
His lion tamer act, handed down by his predecessors, had made Emmy a spitting, hissing terror that first day in Auntie's basement. Only crosses and mirrors enabled anyone to venture there after dark. Auntie boycotted it all the same, doing laundry at a laundromat, ill-assured that Emmy was bonded against any harm to the Harker clan.
Eric gestured for Auntie to sit. "We'll get to that, Gramps. It was her idea to come here instead of just sending me a message. I'm sure it'll make things easier once you hear her out."
"I knew it would happen," Auntie lamented. "That demoness has led you to perdition, just like I said she would!"
"Auntie, please. You were going to stake her one day, and you're still alive."
Gramps had loosened his belt in the "fat and sassy" tradition following a feast. "Don't remind me. She called me on her cell, blubbering about being cornered down there. I told her to pass the phone to Emmy, and somehow convinced her to let your aunt go. Didn't know it at the time, because it sounded like the phone got crushed."
"Close one to be sure." Eric nodded. "I set the coffee mug down there so she could have a last look around." In mist form, vampires could shelter against daylight in a dark canister. Eric had requested the coffin crate to remain, along with Emmy's original white gown and slippers. Since it was now dark out, he braced himself. "Okay, Emmy."
Gramps jumped up and stood beside Auntie when Emmy glided in. She wore the gauzy black dress she'd purloined from a professor's wife, shortly after Eric had freed her from the centuries-old bond. Perhaps to put everyone at ease, she took the vacated recliner with a short flurry of sign.
"She wants you to sit," Eric explained. He watched her sign again. "I'm not sure what she means--something about your late wife, Gramps."
"How she drove her mad?" Auntie charged. "--drove her to an early grave? She was my sister, you know."
Eric translated the indignant response. "Your wife got curious, Gramps. Just had to see what was in the crate. Emmy couldn't easily move, even in the near darkness, but she stared hard at your wife, who ran out in hysterics." More signs. "And that fishing buddy of yours that turned up dead--he crept down there one day and got a little personal, as long as his nerve lasted under that stare."
"But how?" Gramps demanded. "We were setting up at the lake just after sunup, miles from the house. She'd never have made it back!"
"It was Emmy who came up with the canister idea. She had it pre-positioned, lured the man into a grove, and had a little revenge. Then it was into the canister."
"Well I'll be dim-damned." Gramps stroked his jaw, sinking onto the sofa next to an amazed Auntie.
Emmy's burning eyes settled on Eric, whose resolve looked to be failing. She came to sit on the coffee table's edge, obliging Eric to restrain the elders from a hasty exit.
"Look here, girl." Gramps drew defiance from Eric's presence. "You got your freedom. What more do you want from my grandson? I'm looking forward to great-grandkids, and they don't need any Aunt Dracula."
That last word drew slender, pointed fangs, causing Auntie a sharp intake of breath.
"Trigger word," Eric advised.
"Then let's have it," Gramps went on, undeterred. "What does she want?"
"She wants me to relocate to Outworld--permanently."
It took a full minute to get the oldsters calmed down. "I don't expect you guys to understand. There's this prophecy from the Sybils at Eolca. They say the home world doesn't have much longer to go. At least not the way we've always known it."
Silence ruled for a space, and it was clear the elders couldn't bring themselves to believe it.
"Why?" Auntie said simply, looking near tears. She ventured to actually touch Emmy's cold pale hand, her look going resentful. "Tell me what went on during those nights in the basement!"
Through sign, Emmy related her confusion at Eric's persistence in spite of his fear. It wasn't curiosity of a freak, but a genuine desire to get to know her. Emmy struggled with her own temptation at the beckoning pulse so close at hand. Through chalk marks on the concrete floor, he'd elicited the name of her village; showed her magazines; introduced the wonders of music via headphones. And then--she displayed the pencil portrait that allowed her to see herself for the first time in seven hundred years.
Eric made a self-conscious grin. "She never lets that out of her sight."
Gramps put and arm about Auntie with a sigh of the inevitable. "What'll you do over there, runnin' with a crowd like hers? How soon do you end up sleepin' in a box?"
"Nothing like that, Gramps. She's a mom now. . . .adopted, of course; a boy who will forever be a boy if nothing happens to him."
Auntie had turned sullen at this "woman" who was taking her nephew away. "When do you leave?"
"In a few days. You won't see Emmy after tonight. She has some. . . .last minute business here."
"Eric--" Auntie glared fearfully at the vampire. "You made her agree to keep her. . . .urges. . . .confined to cattle at a farm in the Hamptons."
"Not anymore, I'm afraid. When the ship is going down, you get satisfaction from the idiots who ran it into an iceberg. You'll be seeing it on the news, and it won't be pretty."
Emmy rose, dissolved to a creeping fog, and flowed out a partly-opened window. Bad news had come to town.
An improvised table on the set of the Wicca Horror Show seated its four principals. Sunlight streamed in from the glass balcony door, brightening a take-out feast from Cracker Barrel. Somehow an obscure topic had taken hold of the festivities.
During a lull, producer Ed plated more fried turkey, wearing shades against the balcony light. "I hear Comrade Governor outlawed the holiday, including Christmas. And here we are without face diapers."
Talent agent Bigmon set his wine down hard enough to slosh some out. "Comrade Governor can go pound it. Does he know who I am?"
"Ahem." The dwarf Hecabano lingered over the wreckage of his repast. "Master Ed and I were debating the use of punctuation in dialog. I maintain that it can't be heard. Why use the more ephemeral elements like colons and semicolons?"
"It's all in the presentation," Ed maintained. "Suppose the speaker makes that slight pause before a clarification. That implies a colon."
"Or a double dash." Wicca tossed another chocolate scotch, as undead did not eat.
"Wrong again!" Ed glared at the chuckling dwarf. "A double dash is a hard stop for emphasis." Both looked to Wicca, who grinned impishly but took sides only when it complicated things.
Hecabano wiped gravy with a finger. "It matters naught, as no one has ever thought about it. We crave only to get on with it, and discover the tale's outcome."
"Well," Bigmon said, tossing down his napkin. "This is almost interesting. You writers just come up with a show for Saturday night. I got a date with Bunny."
That engendered a classic Wicca eye roll. Bunny Prescott had won Bigmon's Wicca lookalike contest by filling out the costume with eye-popping finesse. Never again, the upstaged diva vowed. "Have a good time, Home Pie."
"And that's another thing," Ed said as Bigmon slung his coat over a shoulder and departed. "Lose the jive. You're like Spock on The Voyage Home. He couldn't get it right either."
"True," Hecabano pointed out, "but our Mistress of Malarkey has engineered a most refreshing colloquial subgenre."
"Ya!" Wicca's approval of the dwarf's support melted to suspicion. "What he said. I think."
Hecabano pulled over a small wood crate filled with delicacies the diva disdained. "This was a worthy experiment, if a waste of money. You say limoncilla is flowery; amuselle is liquid candy; and gin is like juniper berry Kool-ade."
"You see?" Ed jabbed a finger. "I can just smell your semicolons, because there was more of a pause than commas need."
"Gong," Wicca agreed. "He's got you, Imp Boy."
"Can we get past this?" Hecabano peeled a gin. "I wonder how Team Dan is passing the holiday, or if they even remember, as it is unknown in Outworld."
Ed blinked in fond reverie. "Sure they do. They mark calendars from Earth so as to stay current. I'm sure they're thinking about us. More like wondering if the nutjobs have blown the place up yet." He reached a hand to each: Wicca's, soft yet cold; Hecabano's, rough and calloused. "What's left to be thankful for, except having a way out via the portal."
"Bring it," Wicca said. "I look forward to mounting expeditions here for some fun hell raising. If they think they have problems now, wait until my pact with you expires, Ted."
Her pact with Ed meant doing nothing without his approval as long as she had the horror show. He hoped the loonies wouldn't make it necessary to experience a real one. "To the time we have left here." All three toasted the sentiment.
Empires rot from within according to that old adage. It's been patiently applied across a broad front by a relative minority of power-mad lunatics. Now the last stumbling block to absolute control--a place once called America--is no more. Gone are the military and police. The Chinese control the west; Michigan is a caliphate with armed borders; and what's left is garrisoned by the UN. The latter faces the same problem experienced by occupiers 250 years earlier: it's a large territory, there's a brisk resistance, and the troops resent being so far from home.
This is a world no longer looking outward to the stars, but obsessively looking inward to keep the lid on. Yet there are cracks in the kettle. With loss of freedom comes loss of dreams. Men are left with only a desire for revenge--in The Twilight Zone.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Every day of Skink's seventeen years had been the same scrap for survival; only the weather ever changed. She awoke in the derelict barge shared with her mentor, Colby, and reached for a bag of Bugles. Yes, they still actually made those. The cheap plastic started a tear downward, but she remedied that by tearing it back toward the top. Now the stress was redirected in a harmless way.
It was tempting to sleep in, listening to the gentle slosh of water outside, the occasional tink of the heater bar. These were magnetic strips designed to keep welded seams hot for a couple of days so they'd set in a stronger joint. Electricity was outlawed as an environmental hazard--except for the elites, of course--but there were ways to tap into it. On the other side, Colby's pallet was empty. He'd said something about this being a special day.
Skink dressed as usual for utility, the same reason for keeping black hair short and out of the way, but razored for attitude. Being a poseur didn't mean much without the blocky F2000 Bullpup she slipped into a special pocket in her coat. Like others in her collection, it was courtesy of sloppy and defensive NATO troops, some of whom actively traded on the black market. Except for the Daewoo K11 grenade launcher, which was a grab of opportunity.
Topside, she did a scan of the overcast sky for drones. Losses to ground fire had forced NATO to switch to the higher flying models equipped with infra-red. Even these were of limited use in the urban jungle, and every building they blew up only caused a blockage to UN vehicles.
Colby lingered next to the six-foot tires of a long-abandoned cruise crane. He doled out orders to an unlikely trio: a bag lady, a grade school boy, and a man in a purloined business suit. Colby pulled a stocking cap over iron gray hair as the meeting broke up. "Skink! We're on a schedule here!"
They skulked along back alleys, where they pushed aside a dumpster to reveal a hole in the wall, gaining entry to a ground level floor in a tenement. Skink knew it was another of Colby's lessons, but didn't waste time trying to figure it out. The boulevard outside was the province of NATO patrols, escorted by a hulking bot armed with frag rounds and missiles. Judging the time right, Colby nodded, and Skink pressed a button on her remote.
A rifle on the third floor began firing blindly. The NATO vehicle sped away, leaving the bot to pour rounds into the third floor. Its raised head exposed hydraulic lines. Skink targeted these with a fusillade of 5.56 millimeter shells. The bot's arms dangled impotently as it fell silent. It was too risky to loot the thing for ammo, because you never knew when a drone shot would take it out. "Yeah!"
Colby grinned. "You think small."
"Here it comes." Skink holstered the gun just as a chunk of plaster fell onto her shoulder and sideswiped her cheek. She brushed at it, ignoring the hurt. "Not a good day for my face. So then--what's the moral? I say we hurt them, because those bots are expensive."
"Chump change," Colby said. "Remember that gizmo I had you plant at the refinery yesterday? It's a timer." Only NATO and the elites were allowed gas-powered cars, and to enforce the edict, they kept the remaining supplies under guard for their own use.
The ground shook with a titanic detonation, which heralded a pall of black smoke over the skyline. The blast chained others in succession.
"Rad," Skink mused. "If I'm reading you right, this is why we keep going day after day--to make them pay a price."
"A man has to dream," Colby said, "when it's the only thing they haven't taken away."
This 16x20 poster turned out to be a huge gift idea back in the day. The old-style camera flash caused some problems because of the frame's glass. You can work from memory or a photo, the idea being to showcase--and exaggerate--the good times.
The center figure is taking home her entire plate; the one at left frets about the hit to his wallet; the one at right is aghast at the bill. Everywhere is bounty and merriment. Not to worry if you don't draw, because you probably know someone who does. Just get them a good photo to work from and make a list of the fun things to concentrate on. I went on to do others, which always meant having to reproduce them in various sizes so everyone could have a frameable copy. There was Memorial Day with its outing on the backyard deck; Labor Day with same; and even a church restaurant outing (gotta be a little reserved with the humor there). As the ad TV pitchman says: makes a great gift idea.
Gothic is defined as "medievalism with horror and romantic elements". The first Gothic novel was The Castle of Otranto, written in 1794 by Horace Walpole. It was Walpole himself who coined the term, adding "A Gothic Tale" to the second edition of the wildly popular book. Prior to this point in the eighteenth century, most ghost stories were written by women, featuring damsels who cleverly get themselves out of supernatural peril. Things took a more sinister turn in the nineteenth century, when the genre reached its zenith under authors like Sheridan Le Fanu, R L Stevenson, and M R James.
Science was coming of age, and modern man liked to pit himself against the powers of primordial darkness (which seldom ended well for him). Authors flaunted their education, using Latin without a translation, in the assumption their readers didn't need one. The writer's voice was as much part of the entertainment as the story--a chatty style where 100 words did the work of 10--since there were no time constraints like those we face today. Flowery prose lent itself to the required over-the-top drama.
Hollywood adaptations of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy aided the transition to America. The speaking style lives on in characters like Jack Sparrow, since American English is uninspired by comparison. If you plan to use this method, you'll need to be widely read in it. A good place to start is Victorian Ghost Stories, edited by Cox and Gilbert. At the very least, your character will stand out by his speech alone.
Previous Orchidia's AI rejects the Bot Queen's program in favor of a jointly-designed astrogater. It will backtrack the ship's movements, allowing them to return to their future.
Commander Moast fought the insane illusion of taking a fatal plunge to the big blue orb far below. His mag boots prevented that, gripping the port wingtip's flight bay strut.
Looking down from the perpendicular, an unsuited Wicca said, "And you call me crazy." She was unable to teleport through the ship's antiproton hull, leaving Cambris to pull off a stunt the designers never intended.
"Orchidia," Moast said into his mike. "Final instructions for getting this thing installed." The astrogater resembled an old style water heater with a bad hangover; protruding data ports made it look about to sprout alien parasites.
"I have chosen a subsystem isolated from main power. Deadspace cubicle 3847 was the last constructed, and so has handoff hardware to prevent dock workers being trapped inside."
"In other words, it's a tougher job than it needs to be. But I can appreciate your caution against the Bot Queen."
"Inside is a manual switch that will open the hatch for ten seconds." The avatar silently activated a hulking servobot, which ripped out a secondary maneuvering thruster.
Into the fist-sized hole Moast pressed a conical rubber boot sealed around the steel canister containing the mist form of Cambris, which would otherwise fly apart in the icy vacuum of space. She would reform on the other side, press the switch, then re-enter a second canister taken from her belt. A sudden buffeting heralded pressure loss as the rectangular hatch cycled upward. Moast wrestled the astrogater inside, then crammed a rubber cone into the hole left by the missing thrust pipe.
"Pressurize." In the wan glow of his helmet beam, the magnetic canister clung to the hatch frame where Cambris had left it. Moast tapped it three times to signal the all clear. Cambris misted out in vaporous tendrils.
Moast removed the helm, uncomfortably close to her in the cramped space. The unit stood between them, and wrangling it into place would be a disturbingly intimate experience.
Compelling eyes had a light of their own in the gloom. "What purpose has this far-flying closet?"
"The ship has thousands of them. In days of sail, they were called various things: innerbottom, cofferdam. They serve as a buffer against collision."
"You bear resemblance to my eon-lost husband."
"Do you find it so hard to believe in me?"
"Orhidia feels your race arrived here in antiquity, though I don't find evidence of your kind anywhere in the future."
"My sisters and I are the last who are capable of converting others. The Outworld is full of bastardized types beneath our notice." The way she looked at Moast's neck unnerved him. "And how does your ghost woman," meaning the avatar, "explain Wicca?"
"She ascribes to the Bot Queen's native force theory: stored metals in the brain are converted to energy by means unknown."
"So shall it ever be for unbelievers, trapped in their five senses." Cambris' nose crinkled in distaste at the scent of digestion on Moast's breath. She wasn't accustomed to being this close without setting off predatory instincts. "Let the device be installed. I weary of it being in the way." Under Moast's direction, it was coaxed overhead, turned horizontal, and linked with remote data ports. "So ends my dream of seeing the stars."
"There isn't much to see up close," Moast said hastily. Her lips parted in a way suggesting she'd get some compensation from the whole thing. "They're big balls of fire too bright to look at." Inspiration seized hold. "Orchidia, have Wicca establish a comlink."
"What is it, Spaceman? Has Cambris done you already?"
"I'd like to do something for her. Since you're being so lavish with. . . .magic. . . .I thought you could expend a little more. We're coming out." He avoided looking directly into those hypnotic eyes. "I've trusted you, Cambris. Now I ask yours in return."
Reluctantly she misted back into the canister. Its lid screwed shut.
Moast put his helmet on. "Depressurize." He plucked the canister off the frame and pressed the switch. Starlight flooded in as the hatch pulled upward. A perpendicular turn brought him atop the port wingtip, where he set the canister on the hull. "I want Cambris to see this."
Wicca's mouth rounded. "I'm using gonzo magic as it is!" Seeing Moast's determination, she walked over and tapped on the container. A tendril cautiously snaked out, quickly becoming the full manifestation. "Like Jeannie coming out of her bottle."
Cambris gawked at the planet's night side. "It is indeed round!" Australia rotated up from the horizon. "And a globe, not a disk!" She flitted higher up the broad plane of the wing.
"Stay close, missy!" Wicca cautioned. "It's all I can do to keep this soap bubble going!"
Now Cambris turned to take in the seemingly endless curves and angles: hyperlight engines rising on graceful pylons; wings that cuddled flight bays like chicks; a long neck with an equally predatory droop. "It is the size of a kingdom. . . ."
"Actually," Moast said, "she's modest compared to the heavier warships, but I'll stack her against them any day."
Wicca snapped open her curious "flying stick", bidding Cambris to mount up behind. As they lifted off, Cambris was too enthralled to think of looking back, though Wicca threw a jaunty wave.
"Well," Moast said to the avatar, "you're looking pensive about the caper."
"The cyborg has attempted to insert a virus, though was handicapped by the primitive satellites she commandeered. I recalled her taunt against the fanged one, which appeared an effective distraction, and sought advice from the corpse woman."
"Oh, brother, I can't wait to hear this."
"When I disrupted the exponential loop, I inserted the comment 'Too slow!'. When I locked out the program, I inserted "Nyah nyah!', though I am unable to find an adequate definition."
Moast laughed. "Why would you do that?"
"To make the cyborg believe I have allied with the corpse woman."
"Now there's a scary thought. Helm, bring the astrogater online. Let's get the hell out of here."
Previous The Bot Queen, vampire Cambris, and tha avatar of starship Orchidia convene to figure out a way for the ship to return to the future. Young Eric has been sent back to New York.
On the set of the Wicca Horror Show, the namesake diva paced peevishly about a bizarre trio. The two bot brains were doing most of the talking; something about the whole affair had Cambris in a dreamy state, with no more understanding of the technobabble that had Wicca.
Producer Ed lounged on the set's red divan next to Commander Moast. Both savored beers while keeping a wary eye on the proceedings. First Officer Kyra stood nearby with coffee, looking ready for action.
Ed took a swig for courage. "Look here, Moast--are you in charge of this shootin' match?"
"Nominally yes. But Orchidia has altered her priority to self preservation. I can't make her do anything she feels is a threat to her integrity. On the other hand, that trait has saved us more than once."
The devious mind of the gold cyborg Queenie sought to draw Cambris out of her aloof superiority over the artificials. Calculating outrageous statement for maximum impact. "I sense a sexual tension between us."
It worked. Cambris drew up in wide-eyed amazement. "I?--with a collection of wires and springs?" Fangs came out, though no target presented save for super hard metal.
Undeterred, Queenie made a proposal. "Access to the starship will allow me to reroute the injector coolant circuit for chronotronic interphasiality."
Only Orchidia could fathom a tongue twister like that. "Plausible, though unlikely to see us home. Projected rationale: you will take the ship to Pluto Station, hyperjump to a suitable star system, and rebuild your Bot empire."
Wicca interjected herself with a toast of her small chocolate gin bottle. "A gal can dream. You know, Vern?"
Three sets of eyes considered, then quickly dismissed her.
Cambris recovered her aplomb. "To sojourn among the stars. How I yearned for it on summer nights."
"The observation is relevant," Orchidia said. "My alternate hypothesis relies on your species' ability for transforming into mist."
"Species indeed!" Cambris' pinpoint pupils fastened on another unlikely target in the amorphous hologram. "My husband was village alderman centuries before you were constructed from junkyard scraps."
Not programmed for cattyness, Orchidia found the statement nonsensical. "Your data set is flawed."
Wicca spread arms in a pique. "Borrrrring!" She put a finger to Queenie's neck. "They need your help, but you aren't going near that ship. Tell Orchid what to do. Remember what I did to you once?"
"Barbaric. You briefly regressed me to my humanoid origin."
"You were a huntress, a regular Peter Pan with bow and arrow. Then the Bots came. They sure didn't bargain for a type A overachiever like you."
"Preparing interface," Queenie prudently decided. She reached out to touch the virtual fingers of Orchidia. A clear disk formed between them, on which schematics flashed with mind-bending speed.
"Wow," Ed mused. "That's kinda hot."
Moast had arms crossed. "Your diva is unexpectedly resourceful."
"She's an enigma, all right. Still hasn't figured out the urinals in the men's room, but she can engineer the overthrow of an empire."
"Assimilation complete." Orchidia rotated to face Cambris. "You may contact the hull in an envirosuit, under escort of Commander Moast. He will conduct you to a junction of limited opening, where your mist form will deliver the required part."
Moast sat forward with elbows on knees and brow furrowed.
"Quite a situation," Kyra observed. "Orchidia must trust you, and you must trust the. . . .the one with the fangs, in a restricted space."
"Then let's begin," said a resigned Moast.
Previous The starship Orchidia accidentally reaches Earth in 2021. Seeking a way home, its commander identifies offworld technology involved with the Wicca Horror Show, and sets out for Hollywood.
Commander Moast and his first officer had barely departed before two titan intellects began sparring. Orchidia came under intense scrutiny by hijacked satellites. The gold cyborg responsible was of demonstrably higher technology, but lacked the immense power available to a starship. Orchidia subjected them to rolling overload blackouts, which kept resetting the alien program in a non-terminating loop. She devoted a full second to analyzing every show from the franchise, especially those involving the cyborg called Queenie.
Assessment: evidence of long-term planning and brute force conversion. An unknown quantity exists via the subseries on Dracula Brides. Three, unnamed, appear in a period film. Cross reference with radio program of Derek von Halter, billed as a vampire hunter. Collating from Wicca Horror Show: Emmy, Cambris, Yelena, Mirjana. Portraits painted by Eric Harker. Accessing home address.
In Hollywood, a gold cyborg with a black punk 'do--courtesy of Wicca--tread heavily downstairs into the second-floor studio.
It didn't sit well with the diva enthroned on a wing chair. "Queenie, who said you could pop out of your cubicle?"
"Alert: two crewmen from an orbiting warship. Arrival imminent."
The producer, Ed, set down his script copy. "Don't we have space weapons?"
"These are inordinately outclassed by the intruder."
Wicca stepped off the stage. "If this in one of your Bot ships. . . ."
"Negative. There is no Bot presence in this dimension."
Two people were shown in. One was a rugged type, the other a no-nonsense blonde. They looked a little out of place in L A, wearing casual hiking attire.
"Alert. Particle weapons detected."
"Oh, we can't be having that." Wicca motioned for them to disarm. To their surprise, they came up with water pistols.
The woman squirted a few shots. "We hadn't thought you capable of transphasic conversion. Where is your emitter? I don't detect one."
"I'm not emitting anything," Wicca said. "Who says I am?"
The blonde indicated her partner. "This is Commander Moast. I'm First Officer Preston." She decided on Galactic Intro 6B. "Friends call me Kyra."
"What do you want me to call you?"
Kyra recovered smoothly until she glanced at her scanner. "Commander, this woman has no life signs. Are you reading this, Orchidia?"
"Confirmed," said the AI via comlink. "She is a fully preserved animated corpse. I detect an energizing force of high kinetic potential, type unknown."
"Just a little Outworld magic," Ed said. "She spent years finding and absorbing the five crystal skulls." He shook hands with Moast. "I'm Ed, and you can tell easy enough who the diva is. If you're like the gold one here, I reckon you're magic-challenged."
Moast eyed the cyborg. "We're from your future, here by accident. I don't suppose any of you have time traveled."
"Nothing to it." Wicca said. "I brought Queenie here from a thousand years ago because she was just too cool to kill."
"A costly mistake," Moast pointed out. "Are you aware your cities burn due to nanobot infection?"
Wicca turned on the Bot Queen. "I thought I had you neutered, missy!"
"If you mean spayed," Queenie said, "I was able to infect a cat before you corrupted my nanites with native force."
Ed shrugged. "Today a cat, tomorrow the world."
"Native force?" Kyra asked.
Wicca rolled eyes. "She's another unbeliever."
"What about you, Commander?" Ed shook hands again, forgetting he'd already done it. "Forget magic--I mean, what's it like in your time?"
"Thanks to your gold friend," Moast said, "Earth is one big video game playground where soldiers of fortune hone their skills. The uninfected live on Mars. And. . . .elsewhere."
Queenie faced him squarely. "You believe I don't know about your Pluto Station?"
"Regrettable," the AI said. "Her access to satellites briefly penetrated our peripheral files."
Wicca leaned forward to address the unit on Kyra's hip. "Relax, girlie. Queenie's nanites--at least the ones still inside her--only do my bidding."
"Ladies--" Ed raised hands to interrupt.
They encountered another surprise when Eric Harker came in. The young college student was a long way from home. Ed and Wicca rushed to greet him, launching a flurry of questions.
"Hold on," Eric protested. "I got kidnapped aboard a spaceship. The AI asked a lot of questions about the show, the Outworld, the Brides. Then she sent me here on a remote-controlled skimmer,"
"Accessing Bride One," Orchidia said. From Kyra's hip unit she sent an energy beam that unscrewed the top of a coffee mug on Wicca's belt. A mist flowed out, taking the white-gowned form of Cambris.
The vampire stared daggers. "Who dares to summon me?"
Eric came forward. "It's okay, Miss Cambris. These are some space people who need help getting home."
Tearing her gaze from Moast's muscular neck, Cambris said, "I will see the one who disturbs my repose."
Orchidia's avatar materialized, a ghostly waif with a power crystal set in the forehead. She formed a very odd trio with Queenie and Cambris as they gathered for high-level talks.
Wicca's mouth went aslant. "Freak showwww. . . ."
The return hyperjump to Pluto Station was anything but routine. Orchidia's mission to the dwarf starburst galaxy NGC 4449 turned up little of profit; only a plant that could copy appearances, even human heads. Yet they arrived at a dark and deserted moon-sized sphere, not one bustling with activity. The logical course was a return to Earth for answers. During final approach, the AI switched them to stealth mode, making them invisible to observers below.
Commander Moast looked up from the tactical display. "Orchidia, explain."
"Problem: this is the year 2021."
That was a problem to say the least. "It explains Pluto Station: it hasn't been discovered yet."
First Officer Kyra methodically got down to cases. "The Builder portal has a time-travel aspect it wasn't designed for. Orchidia, account for influencing factors."
"The dwarf galaxy inhabits the star cluster Canes Venatici. Its blue spectrum is indicative of metal-deficient stars of ancient origin. Theorizing: its hyper rate of star production has altered the enhanced dark matter content typical of dwarves, diverting the stellar stream from the Magellanic Clouds. The portal's quantum field generator--"
"Message received," Moast said. "The portal has a bug. The question now is how we get home."
Berl, the beefy helmsman, swiveled about. "If it helps, I'm seeing a lot of civil strife worldwide, especially in the U.S."
"Ancient history," said bearded navigator Chet. "That was the start of the Cataclysm Wars."
That worldwide collapse of civilization gave rise to soldiers of fortune like Moast. His exceptional talent led to his being chosen as a starship commander by the Mars-based Consortium.
"Warning: scanning two anomalies."
Moast sprawled in the command chair. "Helm, transfer graphics control to the AI. Orchidia, we may have a unique chance to determine the cause of the insanity. Proceed with analysis."
The main viewer featured a human figure alight with thousands of bright dots.
"Violent anarchists and their handlers are infected with nanobots."
Moast traded a puzzled look with Kyra. "That technology wasn't available at the time. It suggests an offworld source."
"Collating a series of unexplained events. All are beyond scientific plausibility."
Kyra frowned. "If not scientific, that leaves the supernatural."
It caused the AI a rare second of hesitation. "There is no verification of the supernatural. However, I have used a matrix construct to locate the origin of these events."
Moast stared at the screen. A man with a goatee stood with a mischievous-looking woman and a large-boned man in a suit. At the end was a dwarf in logger's cap. He read the graphic. "The Wicca Horror Show?"
"I am scanning a super intelligence that has just become aware of us. The source is verifiably offworld. In addition, the dwarf and the female vibrate at different galactic frequencies compared to indigenous forms. They are not from this dimension."
Moast took a moment to digest it all. "Are these people responsible for the wars? They must be stopped. Kyra, you're with me. We'll need clothing from this era."
"There's a bigger problem," Kyra said as they walked to the turbolift. "Can they or will they help us get back to our own time?"
We've seen stereo pairs before: you look "through" the screen until the two images overlap. That third image--in the center--will be in 3D. Hint: look between the L and R at the top, then make them overlap. The view directly below will be 3D. That places you right in the cockpit with Koenig and Helena. Now you're off and running with a fanfic adventure. If Space 1999 isn't your bag, there are other stereo sets you can do a search for. Harry Potter is one example.
The owners of a white, newly-built warehouse rented the empty space to station W-AMOK for its Halloween bash. Along one wall, beneath glass-block windows, stood a seven-foot overseer's platform. It afforded ample room for the camera crew broadcasting live on Saturday at 10pm, a nice coincidence for the Wicca Horror Show.
MC Wicca was joined by producer Ed, the dwarf Hecabano, the Dracula Bride Cambris, and a reporter from a women's mag who liked to quote Ed's zingers. Hecabano used a small fan to blow bubbles and black balloons over the party goers. No hokey Halloween tunes for Wicca; currently they danced to the Altered Images rocker Think That It Might.
A wide screen on the opposite wall featured highlights from classic TV Halloweens. Powered by Wicca's glass skull, they served as warmup for the Team Dan feature to come. A Gilligan's Island show offered his nightmare about being a vampire after being bitten by a bat. He swooped in on a victim.
"My favorite episode," Wicca said into the mike. "Mrs Howell finally gets hers."
Cambris sneered over fang tips. "What parody of a dread lord is this? I shall wring the black ichor from his veins." Such pleasant thoughts made her notice the reporter. "If you have need of the powder room, I can show you there."
Ed leaned forward. "You stay right there, Gladys!"
The next clip had the Munsters overnighting in a ghost town. Hearing noise downstairs, Lily was rousting Herman out of bed to investigate.
"She's always doing that," Wicca griped. "They all brag about dead relatives dropping in to visit. Give them the benefit of the doubt."
Hecabano showered those in range with German "misfortune cookies", which came with comically pessimistic predictions. "In this case, Maven of Misery, Lily is correct. Two con men try to scare them off the property."
"Whomever and whatever." Wicca motioned at the screen as Collide's The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum wound up its calypso beat. "Here's the showdown between the Dans and Count Rotbone."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On a low stage, dancers gyrated to makeshift music: barrel drums, triangle chimes, wood flutes. Their "costumes" consisted of paint fanned on in bizarre patterns. Nearby in the glow of a red lantern sat Count Rotbone, whose bravos grinned in anticipation of a rumble.
Zena spoke low to Dan. "If he's been nipping at this crowd, he must be three and a third sheets to the wind."
"He has been hitting it pretty hard," Dan said. "I think you're onto something, seeing as how we're on the third floor."
"Where ya goin', Danno?" Pete, with Bonnie's help, tried to restrain him.
Ed started to rise before Dan eased him back down. "You can't mix up alone with this doom shyte mofo."
Gladys: Let me jot that down for Ed to explain. Doom. . . .shyte. . . .
Hecabano: Er, scratch that out, madame.
Dan merely strode to the window overlooking the harbor district. "Nice breeze tonight. Count, you shouldn't fly after all that boozing."
"Vat are you trying to say, Daniel?" Rotbone's eyes glittered.
"That you can turn yourself into a sheet and float home. Unless you're scared to try."
"Rotbone," warned the crime boss Eliot, "get back here."
The count flung Eliot into a table of rowdies, scattering the dancers. "A most velcome challenge, Earth man!" He swaggered unsteadily to the window and mounted the sill. "By the Fates and Furies, I'm a sheet!" A flyblown pile went splot on the cobblestones in the courtyard.
Dan nodded with satisfaction. "And that accent didn't let me down."
Zena peered down. "Whoa, like, that's not natural." The pile sprouted a skull and wings. "He can't be serious. He's gonna fly in that condition?" She ducked as the thing took flight and come through the window.
With a maniacal cackle, Rotbone-Pile flapped around the tavern driving terrified folks under tables. He didn't notice the support column, into which he piled with a wet splat, then slid down with eyes crossed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Cambris glared at the crowd laughter. "Since the arrival of the brides, he is less inclined to so disgrace the dark arts."
The reporter turned to her. "You have a good turn of a phrase. Can I quote you?"
"We need a quiet spot in which to be alone." Cambris' eyes became pinpoints.
Ed leaned forward. "You stay right there, Gladys!"
"Beaver is upstairs, Miss Landers. You can go right up." June Cleaver appreciated the "curb service" of having Beaver's teacher bring his missed homework assignment. It outweighed the problem of her movie star looks and intimidating IQ, but June nonetheless was glad her husband had earlier left for work. "I hope you can find out what's wrong. He says he isn't going back to school."
"I'll certainly try, Mrs Cleaver."
And no doubt succeed, Wonder Woman. "Er. . . .thank you!"
Beaver's surprise at seeing her come in didn't translate into action. A little embarrassed at being in PJs, he pulled the covers higher. "Oh, hi, Miss Landers."
"I brought your assignment and new arithmetic book." She set them on the nightstand. "What's this about your not coming back to school?"
Reluctantly he handed over a scrap of newspaper, titled "Local Girl To Wed". How could she do that?
Miss Landers spent a moment looking at it. "Beaver, I'll be teaching for some years yet."
"But Mrs Brittingham will be your new name!"
"Not in school. I'll keep being known as Miss Landers there."
"No foolin'? Still, you'll wanna start havin' babies."
"Not right away. Say--I'll bet you're wondering what the Culture Corner was today." The five-minute segments, just before recess, ranged from grammar and vocabulary to history and math; just about anything the class hadn't yet experienced.
Beaver eased up to a sitting position. "I like those."
"All right, then." She sat on the bedside. "Take the word 'spark'. Create as many words as you can, at least three letters long, without rearranging any. Here's a clue: this one has the maximum possible, five."
He had to write it out, coming up with park, ark, and par.
"The class found those as well. There's also spa and spar. It trains you how to analyze possibilities."
"Oh. How about the one for tomorrow?"
"Part vocabulary and part writing. The word is 'euphony'."
"Gee, I never heard of that one."
"It's defined as a pleasing sound, in music or speech. The dictionary isn't specific on how it's achieved, but it's essentially alternating vowels and consonants. Consider this: The ship's maiden voyage was a smooth one. Compare it with: The vessel's first cruise went without a hitch. Notice the hard stop between 'first' and 'cruise', where two consonants collide. That also happens between 'went' and 'without'."
Beaver shook his head in wonder. "How come you aren't an atomic scientist?"
"I'd rather shape the next generation. So then--you'll be in class tomorrow?"
"Sure! I don't wanna miss out on neat junk like that. Besides, you explained it better than my brother Wally. He said in a few years you'll be thirty--and old woman--and I'll forget all about ya."
"He did, did he?" Miss Landers had a strange little smile. "Do you think Wally would play tennis with me?"
"Gee, I dunno. Why?"
"Oh, just to give me a few pointers, since I help him with calculus."
"He'd like that. He's always showin' off for the girls."
Miss Landers patted his arm and stood up. "Fine. Tell him I'm looking forward to it." And showing him all the trophies after wiping the court with him.
Acrylic, 11x17. Actually, Team Falco were not the first into the Outworld. They were a rescue mission for the trailblazers of Team Hathor, who weren't quite up to the magic requirement. The group's survivors, the wizardress Sisra and Captain Hathor took shelter in a Ghoul River village. Later, Sisra would reunite with the sorceress Orchid, who had been carried off by a winged gargoyle. The background was originally bright orange, but it overpowered the subject. The more subdued blue harmonizes with the ominous oncoming storm, while a streak of retreating sun outlines the subject. For an interesting peek at nationalities: the blonde is French, the girl in white is Etruscan, and Hathor is English.