An In-Flight Message

Attention, all Galactica Air Customers. We’d like to welcome you on board this Twelve-K Shuttle to the L4 Asteroid Belt. Before our Certified-Sleep-Process is induced, we would like to ask that you pay attention to our few rules and regulations.
First, for those of your traveling with us for the first time, the Certified-Sleep-Process is induced by a minuscule spinal shot administered through the back of your seat. It is guaranteed not to damage clothing. Please contact our customer service if you believe any damage has been done.
In the highly unlikely event of your Sleep wearing off, you may press the blue button on your seat arm to introduce a second shot. Please do so immediately upon waking up. Our cabin crew will be patrolling throughout the flight and will ensure your health and safety during the flight. However, since passengers on this Shuttle are not zero-G certified, you are required to maintain Sleep and Seating conditions at all times.
In the case of an emergency, our crew will attempt to fix the problem and may attempt a quick landing if extreme measures are called for. If this happens, the Certified-Sleep-Process will be automatically induced a second and third time in quick succession in order to create a stable and safe, panic-free environment upon the Shuttle.
Finally, our in-flight Dream-system is up and running now, and for the next thirty minutes you are free to decide on your entertainment for the remainder of this flight. For our customers in Titanium-Star, there are several more channels to choose from, which our Chromium passengers may purchase for a fee as well.
Please sit back, enjoy the Real-Water! bottles provided free of charge in your armrests, and enjoy the flight ahead.

X [Sci-Fi Flash Fiction]

Month: May.
Year: 2212.
Location: Undisclosed.
Subject: X.

Regarding X. It is hard to know where to begin. Discussing X has always been, in my line of work, a sensitive issue. They’ll hit you when you’re down, they told me in training. They’ll find your most vulnerable spot, and they’ll hit it, over and over again. I was trained to lock my mind – the only part of my body that is still entirely my own – away from them if I were ever caught. Each of my memories went into its own box, it’s own safe, where even I wouldn’t be able to access it until my own people injected me with the chemical that lowered my adrenaline levels enough to take me out of the state of fight-or-flight that would be induced by capture.

This is all a matter of public record now – I have no fear of this method being employed by the enemy, since the enemy has already discovered and made full and horrifying use of some of my fellows. There is rioting in the streets of the major cities. Husbands, wives and children stamp themselves with slogans, protesting the administration turning the nation’s finest fighters into different people, bereft of the memories they hold dearest, exactly when they might make use of those memories to hold on. Too many of our people have simply died in captivity – the layperson theory being that they had nothing beloved to think of and thus no hopeful thoughts of getting out.

The layperson understands nothing. First, there is always the camaraderie. Not one of us, if trained correctly, would have simply given up for lack of love or care, because we cared for one another. Like wolf-pups, we lost our milk teeth together, fought together, fed together.

Second, there is always X. X is the one person that is left to you and is accessible. The protesters, so willing to get angry at someone for the loss of their loved ones, forget that each of us chose to join this noblest of professions, noblest of causes. It’s easier for them, no doubt. That is why they hardly ever remember to mention X in their long-winded rants. The concept of X has probably ripped some families apart – since the files were turned over to the people, they have found out who each of the dead-in-action troop’s X was. They think it’s like picking favorites.

It’s not. It’s not picking favorites. If it were, there would be a whole lot of little kids in those rosters of Xes, the sons and daughters we leave at home when we go on active duty, those angelic faces we barely get to know and whose lives we miss so much of. We don’t get to see their first implants, their first plug-ins, their first time info-drinking at school. For people like me, still living in secret facilities, we can’t even signal them because we’re cut off for all intents and purposes from the main grid.

So why aren’t there many kids on those X rosters? Because Xes are supposed to be the most vivid, incredible, memorable people you’ve ever met. They’re supposed to be a person you knew enough to know well, but who hasn’t been in your life for at least two years, and who you wish you knew more about. Why? Think about it. You can access your memories of X in the worst situation of your life – but you don’t know where they are, so you can’t put them in danger; you can keep your mind busy fantasizing about them since you didn’t get as much time with them as you wanted to; and they’re interesting enough to keep your mind busy when the rest of your pre-troop life has slipped away from you.

My X – I don’t know where she is now. But when I knew her, for the four months we dated, she had bubble-gum pink hair. I never knew anyone else who went for something so old-fashioned as dyeing their hair like she did, with this vintage bottled stuff. She had mostly her own skin and it was the softest I’d ever touched. It glowed in the moonlight. She never danced and she got angry a hell of a lot. Whenever we went out, she would check to make sure no one was looking at us and then she would hold me tighter than anyone else ever had and would tell me “You’re so smart.” And then she went away to some commune where skin-people live and I never saw her again. And I hope I never will, cause I don’t know anyone else who could be as good an X as she is.

Ten Years Later

She stood on the tiny balcony and clutched a cup of coffee in her hand. She listened to the early morning traffic go by and watched the sky go from dark to light gray. Shivering, she clutched the shawl closer to her.

“Why aren’t you wearing a sweatshirt?” demanded a voice. He came up behind her and blew hot air onto her neck. She leaned back and closed her eyes, nuzzling into his embrace as his arms circled her waist.

“The cold feels nice,” she murmured. She felt him grin behind her. He’d always loved the cold. Opening her eyes, a thought that had been tugging at her mind shaped itself on her lips. “What are we doing here?”

“Living the dream,” he said, raising his eyebrows. They both laughed. Corny phrases were so fun to use when there was no risk of being taken seriously. “Are you regretting it or something?” he asked, worried. His self-esteem, usually substantial enough not to need to ask questions like this, wavered.

“I’m ecstatic,” she answered, turning to him. “Let’s go unpack.”

“Ungh,” he moaned. “Do we have to? I can live out of the suitcases for a while…”

“Yes, we have to,” she laughed, slapping his midriff playfully. “And later we’ll take a walk to the bank to open the account, and we’ll get some more groceries.”

“Fine, fine, fine,” he huffed playfully. As she bent over a box and began ripping at it energetically, he sighed and thought of where he’d been ten years earlier. He hadn’t been happy then, but all had come well in the end.

____OR_____

She sat on the lanai. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was perfect. Some might say it was boring, always so perfect, but she loved it. The laptop on her knees was small, comfy and full of prose – just the way she liked it. She spread her fingers, getting ready to take that incredibly exhilarating plunge and actually start writing when she froze. A hummingbird, beautifully colored and almost shining in the sunlight, was only a foot away, hovering next to the big flowerpot that she referred to as her “pet.”

Hands still hovering in the air, much like the tiny bird, she watched, mesmerized, scared to take the slightest move and scare the thing away. A blast of music came up suddenly from the cellphone beside her, and both she and the hummingbird jumped. “Oh, birdie, come back!” she called under her breath as she picked the phone up. The bird took no notice. Looking at the screen as she flicked the phone open, she smiled.

“Hey, you,” she said. “You scared away a hummingbird. It was right next to me.” She waited, listened, and laughed. “That’s so like you,” she grinned to herself. “How’s the Missus? And the kid?” She smiled softly as the deep voice on the other end spoke. “I’m so glad,” she said warmly. “Listen, I’m just about to start writing. Can I call you this evening? Mhm. Mhm. Sure. Okay, talk to you then. Love you, bee-eff-eff,” she added cheekily. “Bye now!”

She clicked off, and watched her flourishing garden. She thought about where she’d been ten years ago. She was glad that things had come well in the end.

____OR_____

He was in Brazil, and she in Tasmania.

____OR_____

Both fictional characters never were, had never been, would never be.

 

New Year

New Year’s Eve. All around the world, there will be people counting down to their own time zone’s midnight, raising glasses of champagne to their lips and toasting each other and the entrance of the new year. People will kiss, dance, rejoice in something that feels monumental to them. Some will be saddened, feeling the holiday season’s last gasp come to a close and thinking bleakly about the coming week which will be completely back to normal.

New Year’s Eve. A holiday of sorts that should mean something – the beginning of something new and the farewell to something old. It should be a time for resolutions and dreams, hopes and ambitions, fears overcome and disappointments shrugged off.

New Year’s Eve. It’s never meant much to me, honestly. It should mean a lot of things, but it never seems to live up to what I would expect it to be. It’s just a night like any other night, to me. I feel like we should always be ushering in the new and making resolutions and hoping for the future – not just one evening a year.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [3]

“Yes, hi, it’s me.”

Caroline clutched the receiver in her hand. She looked at Mr. Adams, and words failed her as tears sprung into her eyes. She hadn’t heard Marty’s voice in almost three years. Now, out of the blue, there he was, sounding just as he did before. Mr. Adams walked into his study and picked up the phone on his desk there. He spoke into it in a quiet, sad voice.

“Where have you been, Marty?”

“Oh,” the voice over the phone sounded taken aback. “Hi, Dan.”

“Well?”

“I- I’m sorry,” the voice began to choke as the words tumbled out. “I’m so sorry, to both of you. It’s just that after Susan… and then the funeral was just horrible and Claire wasn’t speaking to anyone and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the both of you blamed me somehow – blamed me for listening to Susan, for not telling you sooner, for hiding it from you for a year. And then the operation – and the doctors didn’t know that they’d find what they found and just – we didn’t know, and it was supposed to be easy and quick and gone within a few months and Susan felt that it was bad enough that we lived so far away and I just…”

“Oh, Marty,” breathed Mrs. Adams.

She and Mr. Adams had the same memories flooding their senses. Both were remembering their blissful lives, teaching at the university and living peacefully in this house that they finally managed to pay off the mortgage on. Both remembered how three years ago they got a phone call from their only daughter, their Susan. They remembered her calm and collected voice as she lied to them outright, telling them that she needed to have some really minor surgery and not to worry and not to come down to Manhattan for it – it was just this tiny lump the doctors needed to take out, it would be over in a few days. The surgery had, in actuality, been for removing her breast-cancer, which she hadn’t told her parents about since it was considered curable. The doctors hadn’t expected what resulted in the surgery – a complication, a blood clot. They’d removed it, but apparently some of it had traveled through her bloodstream already and had obstructed some smaller veins. She’d died from the blood not managing to travel to her brain rather than from her cancer.

She hadn’t told her parents about any of her chemotherapy, hadn’t told them about what she was going through – she didn’t want to worry them, as she told Marty over and over again. It was bad enough, in her eyes, that Claire, their daughter, had to know and see what was happening. That was Susan’s biggest flaw and always had been – she wanted to take everything on herself, without help from the outside, without causing worry to anyone. Mr. and Mrs. Adams knew this. It was themselves they blamed for not guessing more about her surgery. They blamed Susan, too, although it had taken them two years in counseling after her death to be able to admit it to themselves. But the only thing they blamed Marty for was his cutting his ties with them after Susan’s funeral. They loved Marty like a son, and they wanted to be a part of Clair’s life.

This is what they both, through many moments of choked silences, managed to convey to Marty during their conversation that August evening. Marty, who had broken down completely and sobbed into the phone a few times, sat alone in his apartment in Manhattan – Claire was at her drawing class – and felt that for the first time in three years he had some hope in his horizons. He’d lost his own parents when he was much younger, and the simple warmth of Susan’s folks and the way they forgave him immediately for his mule-headed guilt-trip went straight to his heart.

It sealed his decision. After hanging up with his in-laws, and promising them that he’d bring Claire for a visit very soon, he made a big post-it note and hung it on the fridge. It said “CALL REAL ESTATE AGENT AND SAY YES.” He underlined the word “YES” three times, picked up his keys, and set out to pick Claire up, thinking that the future might finally be looking up.

Guest Post: J.W. Nicklaus, End of Virtual Book Tour

J.W. Nicklaus was kind enough to stop by on my humble blog for an interview, as promised a month or so ago, at the beginning of his tour! I hope you enjoy the following interview.

SI: First off, just to get things warmed up, I know you’ve answered this question multiple times over the course of your blog tour, but I’d like you to give a short explanation of what your book is about, in case there are readers of mine who have only recently joined me.

J.W.: There’s an old sales maxim that says you must “ask for the sale,” so here it goes: “Buy the book!”

I guess that’s more of a declarative statement than a question, huh? Never was much good at sales.

The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between is a collection of short stories which revolve around the dichotomous themes of Hope and Love. One of the really neat things about the blog tour was seeing how clearly the reviewers picked up on the underlying messages in the stories. Most of them had descriptions for the stories ranging from “love lost” and “destructive love,” to “wishing for love.” One of them hit the nail on the head when she stated the stories weren’t so much about “romantic love, but hopeful love.” So don’t think they’re all sappy love stories. As others are finding out, there’s quite a range between the front and back covers. ;^)

SI: How do you feel now, at the end of your first online book tour? Excited? Let down? Were the responses what you were hoping for?

J.W.: I had way oversimplified the task when it first began. All the writing is done before the tour actually begins, so I thought it would be a snap to simply check the stops and make comments when needed; commenting is one of the coolest parts of blogging, getting feedback on what you’ve put out there for public consumption.

But there’s a lot of other work involved if you stand any chance of having people drop in during the tour. There’s an old advertising campaign that simply states “Know what happens when you don’t advertise? Nothing.” So I had to put the tour schedule on my web site and then come up with some entertaining way to try and convince folks to visit the stops from my blog.

I’m here to tell ya, that takes some work. And I had the easy part. Dorothy Thompson (my tour coordinator) had 4 other authors touring at the same time I was.

I’m excited and intrigued by what the future holds for the book. The tour was a good way to get my name out on the internet. Try searching for “J.W. Nicklaus” and see what comes up. Having all that online exposure now makes it easier to use as a reference as I being exploring other promotional endeavors.

On the other hand, as much work as it was I’m also a little dismayed that it’s over because it was so interesting to see all the different comments and peoples’ takes on the subject at hand any given day. I got to interact with some really nice folks. Perhaps the most memorable responses came from my post at The Bookworm, regarding RIF, and one reviewers reaction to my story 10:18. Lots of people remembered the Reading Is Fundamental organization (they’re still around today!), and the reviewer was angered by 10:18, although she’d didn’t elaborate as to why. I also received a lot of feedback on my article regarding reading devices and the shift in publishing dynamics. I didn’t think that was going to get much readership at all, but it brought out lots of passionate responses. Suffice to say that it appears most readers are definitely attached to their physical books.

SI: You’ve mentioned a wish to finish that novel you’ve been working on. Is it already in the works or are you currently focusing on The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between‘s promotion?

J.W.: Currently I’m steeped in promotional efforts for Ember Between, and likely will be so at least through the end of this year, and most likely for the foreseeable future. I already have one event scheduled for November with another author.

In the meantime, when time permits, I’ll dabble with the novel here and there, I’m sure. There’s another short story I really want to finish, too. But I’ll tell you what . . . if you and your readers hang around a while I’ll post a chapter or two of Eden when I feel it’s ready. That’ll be waaaaaay in advance of any manuscript submission. So you may get to see it in its raw form. I would really love to have it ready for submittal within two years, but there’s a lot of life to take care of every day, and only a precious small slice of it to dedicate to writing. I will get to it though, I promise you that.

And now, some lighter fare . . .

SI: Do you prefer writing by hand or with a keyboard?

J.W.: My penmanship leaves much to be desired. Does that answer your question? LOL!

When there’s no keyboard handy (I don’t tote around a laptop) I will resort to using old school technology?pen and paper. Here’s a little something for those still paying attention: The last piece in my book is titled In the Name Of Love. It’s a piece about love for one’s country. I wrote that all by hand after walking around Washington D.C. all day. Wrote it upon the banister of the north stairs leading to Capitol Hill. Of course I later typed it, but its initial incarnation was done the classical way ;^)

SI: Do you like to write at home or outside somewhere?

J.W.: At home I have all the comforts and distractions you could possibly ask for. Food or drink is never far from reach, nor is music. The surroundings are (obviously) very familiar, so it’s comfortable. I think I tend to be more focused and contemplative when writing away from here. I’ve traveled with a laptop a couple times and found it very interesting to sit in a hotel lobby and write while immersed in foreign surroundings. I’ve even sat in two different Business Centers and wrote. Simply being up and about stimulates creativity for me, so I think that plays into my external writing focus.

SI: Where would you travel to right now, if you could?

J.W.: I would love to go pretty much anywhere that would have me in for a book reading/signing. I’m  far more inclined to be attracted to areas of greenery, though, and of course, large bodies of water. I wouldn’t mind traveling to Minnesota, or New York, or even Texas (I could visit my brother). I think it would be a blast to travel to Boston and visit Fenway with my son. We’re not Red Sox fans, but it’s a classic ballpark . . . Wrigley would do nicely, too!

And finally, a couple questions about your perspective on writing . . .

SI: Writers are a self-criticizing bunch, just like other artists. Were there times during the writing process when you couldn’t stand something you wrote? Were you pleased with the final outcome of each of your stories?

J.W.: I think all of us are our harshest critics. I’ll give you a concrete example: There are a couple of stories in the book that I think are a little weak, but I also think they’re entertaining, so I’m willing to overlook my critical perceptions of them. In both cases I did some re-writing, and they are stronger for it. I could have spent months doing continuous revisions, but there comes a point when I have to step back and ask “will the reader enjoy this, or is my nit picking getting in the way of what may be a good story?”

And no, I won’t reveal which stories they are . . . evil, huh!

If ever I write something I really can’t stand, I just don’t return to it. I won’t finish a story that I think isn’t working or isn’t up to my standards. No point in it. As for the collection as a whole, I am truly proud of them. For me there is no denying that, at a minimum, this book will be one tangible thing I leave behind which will give people an idea of the kind of person I truly am. To that extent, I have to temper my desire for perfection with the acceptance that nothing in this world is perfect . . . and I’m genuinely at peace with that.

SI: Finally, has the long and grueling process of writing and putting together this book had a negative effect on your daily life, or are you ready to jump back into the fray and keep on writing?

J.W.: It’s been the furthest thing from negative. It has assuredly kept me busy, and sometimes up past my bedtime (I enjoy my sleep!), but the rewards have been worth all the effort. It’s a whole different kind of scary when you put your words and ideas out for all to see and consider?but to see people really embrace the book and enjoy it, man, is that one heck of a payback.

There really isn’t any way for me to not write on a daily basis, whether e-mails or blogging. On those occasions when I don’t write, I am always reading. Most times that means I’m reading your blog, or Joy’s, GBU’s, Laurie K’s, etc. There’s also a group I belong to that shoots stuff back and forth every day, so there’s always something interesting going on.

I once remarked to Joy that I read her blog more often than I comment, and she told me to go ahead and leave a small comment, just so she knows I was there. She adores getting comments, and she has the readership to prove it. The one thing I didn’t tell her is that I don’t comment if I don’t feel I have anything of value or interest to say. It doesn’t mean I don’t like this post or that, but I just wasn’t feeling like I had an opinion worth sharing. And that doesn’t hold for just her blog, but all blogs or sites I visit. I don’t know how some of these folks keep up with their blogrolls!

Ms. Slightly, thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to guest post and do this interview with you. Both were a lot of fun, and I hope your readers will enjoy it (and I hope my book!). I know that some day I will get to return the favor. Those who may not read my blog can find a link to it at the right in your blogroll, or they can also visit my site, http://www.avomnia.com to learn a little more about me or get a signed copy of the book!

Thank you, J.W., it was a pleasure having you!