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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Twelve

I’m a mobile ultrasound tech which means that I spend a lot of time in a company car, a car that has issues not the least of which is a broken CD player. I can finagle a connection to my iPod using an FM radio adapter, but most frequencies only remain free for thirty miles or so. The air waves around Cleveland are jam-packed with crud. My solution, NPR. Lots and lots of NPR. I drive around in a haze of news, interviews, quiz shows, anecdotes and science trivia. I don’t absorb much of it, but every so often a piece or two will stick. It’s the audio equivalent of throwing pasta at the wall.

Yesterday, my brain glommed onto a nice sticky piece: an author interview, a debut mystery novel. They were talking about editing. Four to five drafts. 100,000 words. Writing yourself into a corner. Recovering. Trimming. Polishing. Submitting to a competition. Woo! Go girl! You’re inspiring! Awesome! But I have no idea who you are. I don’t even know the name of your book. Aaaaaand it’s impossible to find anything on the NPR web site. Or rather when you use search terms like “mystery” “author” or “debut novel” you get EVERYTHING. Still, I feel obligated to say a big “Thank-you” to Ms. Mysterious Unknown Mystery author. Your interview was timely. I wrote myself into a corner by having two of my protagonists captured at the end of the last scene. Now, I could have created a big action sequence in which Persephone breaks her friends out, but my heart wasn’t in it. Instead, -insert sad tuba noise- the government just lets them go. It helps to know that other writers recover from dead ends and plot diversions. Otherwise, I’d be tempted to cry and wring my hands a lot.

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Persephone toweled herself off in her rental room and browsed the net for affordable legal services. No one should ever have to shop for lawyers before eight cycles after sun up although she supposed that it wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to her today. Nearly breaking her legs on someone’s fire escape had been marginally worse. She considered contacting one of her exes. He was an attorney that had helped her out of some previous trouble, but they weren’t on great terms anymore. He’d wanted her to give up her work, even went so far as to offer her a secretarial position. She’d been polite at first. Said that she wasn’t cut out for a corporate job, but he kept pushing. She eventually told him that she wasn’t interested in giving hand jobs under the desk for a living. He said, “That’s not what secretaries do”. Persephone replied, “Not officially, but my mother worked that job.” That was the end of that relationship.

She was browsing through her other legal options when she got an incoming call on her goggles. It was Arch’s private line, but assuming he was still in custody, the call might be traced. She started a security algorithm that would distribute her signal through several com towers. That should make it marginally more difficult to trace, but she still shouldn’t be on the call for long.

“Persephone?” Arch sounded pretty calm for someone who had just been arrested.

“Why didn’t you get out? I told Japeth to get you out.”

“We got to the lobby, but the place was crawling with agents.”

“Where are you?”

“Hixton Station”

“And you’re wasting your one phone call on me?”

“I’m a celebrity. They gave me two.”

Persephone was vaguely curious if she had been the first or second call that he placed. She didn’t ask. “What do you want?”

“They wiped the copies I scanned. They want yours.”

“What are they offering?” Persephone asked.

“Me. My father negotiated a deal with them. If you hand over the copies, they’ll let me out.”

“And Japeth?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Persephone gritted her teeth. The man apparently hadn’t bothered to intervene on behalf of his lover.

“Her too. She’s just up on accessory charges. Harboring known fugitives, that kind of thing. Oh and eXime will write off their civil suite if you agree to pay damages.”

“Who’s in the room with you? Tell them they can’t track this call. I have a scrambler.”

“Agent Hixton. And they’re not trying to trace it. They know your background well enough not to try.” Arch paused for moment and then continued. “He said he’s happy you didn’t injure yourself falling off that building.”

So Mr. Good Cop was a Hixton. She’d definitely underestimated him. Agent Hixton hailed from a long line of agents extending all the way back to the first Old Sol settlers. The east city station itself was named after a distant Hixton family member who had been instrumental in quelling the metal riots and re-establishing order more through force of personality than force of arms. The whole family was still politically powerful and many of them filled New Regime posts.

“I need to think about this.” She had already decided to hand over the files, but there was no reason why they couldn’t be copied again.

“Oh. Agent Hixton asked me to tell you that if additional copies surface, you will be arrested, tried and executed for treason.”

On that note, she hung up on the call.

Eventually, Persephone surrendered her copies of the files as requested. It just didn’t seem worth it to have to keep moving every two days to keep government off her back. She met Agent Good Cop at Hixton station, a domed building fabricated from the nose cone of one of the third wave transports. A statue of the original Hixton glared at her from the roof, but was too far away for her to catch the family resemblance. The current agent Hixton thanked her for being reasonable, then ushered her into a conference room where a government IT tech was waiting. They instructed her to remove any ‘legally obtained, personal or business files’ from storage. They wiped and completely reformatted the drive on her goggles. They’d already expunged the network in print from Arch’s end. The IT guy fiddled with the hardware for a moment and then handed the goggles back to Persephone.

“Let me guess. They’re going to emit subspace field harmonics now? Just to scramble any backup copies I might have on other devices?”

The IT guy gave her a blank look then a smirk. “Yah. Absolutely.” Apparently he missed the sarcasm and was now convinced she was an idiot.

Agent Hixton’s smile was a bit more genuine. “Ms. Roe. There won’t be other copies, correct?”

“What’s so special about them anyway? I get accused of treason, you guys chase me for days and now it’s all fine? It doesn’t make sense.”

“The files represent a threat to Colony Security. Independent of them, Ms. Roe, you are nothing.”

Persephone clenched her fists, but kept silent. She needed Agent Hixton to keep talking. Tell her something that might make sense of all this. She couldn’t let her ego get in the way.

The Agent responded to her tension by backpedaling. “I misspoke. Quasi-legal operatives like yourself actually serve a useful purpose. In a small way you and others like you help drive competition. It keeps companies on their toes.”

“Competition? Is that what you call the eXime strike on Albion Tech Tower?” The news zines had covered the incident. Thirty people had died along with Arch’s brother.

“Trade wars were integral to the success of the Colony, particularly in the aftermath of the metal Riots. But I suppose we’ve become marginally more civilized since then. eXime will pay reparations and withdraw from the racing circuit. It is likely that that wing of eXBioform will cease to exist. And you Ms. Roe will go back to whatever it is you do.”

What she did was find information, usually for pay. Unfortunately, she wasn’t thinking financially any more. Instead she was thinking about how best to show this bastard (and perhaps the whole colony) that Persephone Roe mattered. Arch’s idea of spinning off a company to develop space capable craft suddenly sounded like a fantastic idea. Only the name Arch had picked wouldn’t work. They couldn’t just call the thing Q and A enterprises. There had to be a P in there somewhere.

Days later, Persephone had still been unable to contact Arch. He hadn’t returned phone calls. He had appeared on the video news broadcast of Quentin’s funeral. The service had been held at the Cathedral of the New Ark. The cameras had captured the family stepping out of an elongated black tread car. Arch emerged first wearing a charcoal grey suit open over a black dress shirt. He held up an umbrella for his father and sister. The cameras zoomed in for a shot of the grieving father. Other than the dark skin, Mr. Albion didn’t look much like Arch. He was bald, a bit stopped, and wore his trade mark metal rimmed glasses (rumored to be titanium salvaged from the first colony ship). He pointedly ignored the umbrella, stepped around Arch and walked up the cathedral steps. Arch’s sister hesitated, but followed her father’s lead. Arch stood by the car with the umbrella open until the rest of the family had reached the top step. Then he snapped the thing closed and followed. Behind him a cordon of Jasperite renta-cops held back a restless crowd. There were a few shouted condolences, but also at least one thrown bottle. The news drones panned the crowd looking for more drama, but when it didn’t materialize the station switched to a brief statement of regret from xBioform, followed by explosive footage taken from unrelated company trade wars.

Other than that appearance at the funeral, Arch had vanished. In fact, if it hadn’t been the news broadcast, Persephone would have assumed that the feds had reneged on their promise and hadn’t released him. Persephone kept watch on the Albion Complex and even spent hours at the race track where she learned that Arch wasn’t the only thing missing. The entire eXime team was gone. No blondie, no black H-craft. She spent a couple of hours walking the stands and watching the other brightly colored machines skim past like a bunch of dragon flies. She chatted with fans, asked if they knew what had happened to the ultra-fast, but strangely shaped H-craft that had been so much fun to watch. The word on the street was that there was some kind of lawsuit between Albion and eXime and that eXime had gotten the worst of it. That’s what Agent Hixton had predicted, but it had certainly happened quickly. Considering her line of work, Persephone often felt paranoid, but thinking of the agent just made that sensation that much more oppressive. She kept scanning the crowd and thinking that she saw faces she recognized. For example, there was that woman in a black t-shirt leaning over the Albion pit. She had very striking bright orange hair that Persephone was sure she’d seen before. Just in case she was an agent, Persephone gave her a wide berth and left the stands.


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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Eleven

I was thinking of naming this post “I’d be dangerous if I knew how to spell”. Edited a few typos from previous posts, but I am sure there are still plenty. One thing I will definitely need is professional type editing. But first, I’ll need a story. Sooooo back to the slog. I’m still waffling about the role of the government in all this. I introduced Agent Hixton because I wanted to have Persephone face off against an opponent with a similar skill set. The story is lacking an antagonist at the moment, but Agent Hixton isn’t at all villainous. He and the government he represents are benign and maybe a little boring. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I just can’t do the “evil autocratic government” thing.

Featured image is from https://openclipart.org. There is so much amazing freely shared art out there. I am grateful for it.

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Persephone blinked. She’d been expecting charges, something in the line of breaking and entering, property damage and theft. “Treason? Me? Are you sure you have the right person?” It probably wasn’t the best response, but it had been a weird morning so far and it looked like it was about to get weirder.

The agent produced a com pad and turned the screen towards her. It displayed her picture, her addresses and demographic data. “You will be frisked for weapons and then accompany us to the station.” The female agent stepped forward with one of the chemical sniffer wands.

Persephone rolled her eyes, but held her hands up to allow the woman to check her for firearms. “You have all that info. on me, but you’re still searching for guns? I have to talk to my ad agent. Apparently no one believes my commercials.” The woman scowled and prodded Persephone with the wand.

“Hey. Watch it with the police brutality there sister. And those things work at range. You don’t need to grind it in.” The agent had the blunt tip of the scanner pressed into Persephone’s sternum.

“Agent Lordes. Ms. Roe is unlikely to be concealing a weapon inside of her rib cage.” That was the tall guy in the back. He sounded smooth, efficient, even a little kindly, maybe going for the good cop role? Agent Lordes must be doing the bad cop thing then. She jostled Persephone while she finished up the scan and then stepped back and nodded to Mr. Good Cop. Persephone decided that meant that the taller guy was in charge so she addressed her next remark to him.

“Mind telling me what I did? I’m sure this is a mistake.”

“Your recent illegal activity constitutes a public safety risk. You are accused of endangering the security of Colony City. Complete charges will be read at the arraignment.”

“Treason and now public safety?” Someone must be stretching the story a bit in order to turn her latest caper into something that serious. She couldn’t imagine how they were going to make the charges stick.

“Agent Lordes, please secure Ms. Roe. Agent Allen secure the apartment.”

Lordes grinned and produced a pair of handcuffs while Allen pocketed his com pad and moved to step past Persephone. Persephone put her arms out blocking the door. “I know my rights. That warrant say you can search?” The maneuver was really just stalling for time. Mr. Good Cop looked like the kind of guy who did all the appropriate paperwork, in triplicate. She was banking on the fact that he liked to show off his due diligence.

The lead agent reached for his own com pad and as soon as his hand was in his pocket, Persephone dropped a smoke pellet, ducked and rolled to the right. She was just in time to miss Agent Lordes rush. She heard a shout as the woman collided with Agent Allen. Then she was running down the hallway, trying to make her escape as loud as possible. She needed to draw them away from her apartment. She believed in working cleanly and that meant keeping the feds away from her clients. Up until now, that had been easy. Her clients usually just gave her a job and then stayed out of her way while she did it. She wished that Arch had stuck to that pattern.

The agents had stopped coughing and stumbling around. They were coming after her now. Although, it sounded like only two of them. “Marco!” she called out . The footsteps got louder and faster, but they didn’t yell back. “You’re supposed to say Polo. Can’t play if you don’t follow the rules!” Persephone yanked open the fire door and stepped into the stairwell bringing a swirling cloud of smoke with her. Behind her, the hallway was still full of opaque vapor, but she thought she could hear three sets of footsteps now. Apparently she’d tweaked them enough that all of them had given chase. She sprinted up the stairs heading for the roof. She fumbled for her goggles while she ran. She needed her phone link. She called up Japeth’s number and waited for the woman to pick up.

“Persephone?” Japeth answered in a quavery whisper.

“Hallway’s clear. Well actually it’s full of smoke, but no feds. Get out.” Persephone ended the call just as she burst onto the roof. The rain was coming down in buckets and she was instantly drenched. She didn’t mind though. Visibility was almost as bad as the smoke filled hallway. That meant that she stood a good chance of not getting shot. She ran for the edge. Seconds later, the agents were there. Based on the short, boxy silhouette it looked like Lordes must be in the lead.

“This is useless, Ms. Roe. There is no way off this roof. All you’ve achieved is to add ‘resisting arrest’ to the roster of charges.” That was Mr. Good Cop.

Persephone lengthened her stride and jumped. She’d done this before, but never in this kind of weather. The rain felt like a solid wall and it seemed like the wind was going to suck her down. She still made it, but barely. She dangled by her fingers from the edge of the neighboring roof. Then slowly, she hauled herself up to lie prone on the sopping concrete. She rested for a second and then rolled over and sat up. She had to see what the agents were up to.

From here, her apartment building looked like a rectangular smudge. The facing wall descending into the dim grey haze of rain. There were a few lit windows, but it was tough to make out the roof. There was some movement up there and then a beam of light hazed and distorted by the water. Persephone scrambled back from the edge. Was that a flashlight or some kind of laser site? She didn’t really want to stick around to find out.

She was running for the far edge when she heard a thump behind her and then footsteps. Mr Good Cop had made the jump, in torrential rain, without practice and he’d stuck the landing better than Persephone ever had. This wasn’t a rent-a-cop. This guy was good. In the hallway, she’d taken him for a pencil pusher. Crisp black uniform, peaked cap, sandy hair and mild blue eyes. She found herself wondering if Arch could have made that jump then wondered why that thought had popped into her head. Luckily, fear soon drove away all the unwanted mental chatter. She was teetering on the edge of another drop. She’d crossed this one with grapnels, but she didn’t have them now. She risked a look down but saw nothing but falling rain. She risked a looked back and saw a silhouette against the yellow-grey daytime clouds. There wasn’t much time and she had nowhere to go. She unconsciously raised a hand to push her sopping hair back and her hand grazed something hard. It was her googles. She’d taken them out to call Japeth, but after that had just left them perched on top of her head. She pushed them into place over her eyes, toggled to the low light setting and took another look down. This time she saw it, her way out. She steeled herself, stepped off the edge and plummeted four stories before hitting the balcony she’d spotted. She landed feet fist and knees bent to absorbed the force, but still felt a spike of pain driving up both legs. She tipped to the right and rolled fetching up against the railing. Seconds later, that beam of light was back. It skimmed the building, but the balcony was a small target. She’d been lucky to hit it, the light didn’t. The beam wandered back and forth for a few passes and then flicked out. When it was gone, she risked crawling away from the railing and back towards the building. There had to be a door. There was, but it had no handle, no opening indicating a mechanical lock. Persephone pushed on the panel, but it didn’t give. Her legs hurt so much that it was hard to think. Instead, she just groaned, and clawed reflexively at the door. She even risked a few weak knocks before noticing that the balcony had a ladder. Like the balcony itself, the ladder was little more than a meshwork of industrial grade ceramics. It led down to a similar balcony, and then to more ladders and balconies descending all the way down to the street. The final ladder deposited her into an alley way.

It was time to think about where she was going to run off to next. There were tube fish waiting for her out there in the Floats and apparently Feds waiting for her in the city. Shanty town? There were plenty of places there that rented rooms by the hour. She’d use an assumed name and one of her anonymous credit lines. First, check to see if the Feds were gone. She took a quick look at the street. This building stood next door to her apartment complex, but she was on the far side and had to step out onto the sidewalk to get a good look. She was just in time to see the Agents push Japeth and Arch into a tread car and drive away down the street


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Naiads vs. Eels

I’m taking a short break from eels in order to practice something new! Writing a synopsis. For the record, I hate it. Taking a 60,000 word story and re-telling it in 1,000? That’s kind of the writing equivalent of kicking puppies. However, I had to do it in order to submit my 2013 NaNo project for the Jackson Daughtry Literary Honor (https://www.jdlh.org/submission.html). I’m not tremendously optimistic, but it feels good to stretch a bit. As Yoda would say, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

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Naiad of the Cuyahoga: Synopsis

Sixteen year old Clevelander, Dan C’zenowik wants to be a hero, but he’s picked an unusual way to go about it. He steals chickens and throws them into the river. He believes if he can find the right offering, a naiad will appear and grant him power. Instead, he gets arrested and has to be bailed out by his older brother, Karl.

Karl thinks Dan is an idiot for believing in spirits, but Dan explains that it was their mom who asked him to make the offerings in the first place. Back at home, Karl confronts their mother and accuses her of messing up Dan’s head. Lirienne insists that the naiad is real and claims that it killed their father. Karl storms out.

Meanwhile, Officer Brenda Kelly of the Lakewood police writes up Dan’s case. She researches the family and discovers that Dan’s father, Frank C’zenowik drowned fifteen yrs ago. The paper described it as one of a series of river accidents leading to the trial of the OxBow neighborhood development agency on charges of negligence and misuse of public funds. There was not enough evidence to confirm the charges.

Karl decides that Dan needs a dose of reality and introduces the boy to his pot-smoking college friends. At one of their gatherings, Karl gets high and has a vision of a bony little girl with needle-sharp teeth. The creature bites off a chicken’s head and swallows it. Karl is terrified and denies seeing anything, but Dan is convinced his brother has seen the naiad.

Lirienne returns to the police station and begs Brenda to investigate her husband’s death. Brenda is skeptical but bored with her usual police work. She checks the coroner’s report and finds a reference to claw marks on Mr. C’zenowik’s neck. The photos of the marks are missing from the file. Brenda calls the OxBow legal firm and even visits the coroner to ask about the pictures. Word of her unsanctioned investigation gets back to the Lakewood office and causes a turf war between Brenda and the Lakewood homicide detective. The autopsy photos are finally returned from the OxBow legal firm and the claw marks are confirmed. Lirienne is triumphant believing this proves a supernatural agent killed her husband. The homicide detective dismisses her as crazy, but Brenda continues investigating.

Karl dreams that the naiad is trying to drown him. He leaves campus to seek safety at home only to find the basement flooded. The mess includes numerous water-logged boxes of paperwork from Frank’s business. Lirienne asks the boys to help clean the basement and return the papers to the Tremont Construction firm. There they meet Hoyt Vinson, their father’s former work partner. Dan volunteers to help Hoyt sort the files and the boy’s initiative earns him a part time job. His sorting also turns up several letters and pictures hinting that Frank and Janet Guillardo (the beautiful CFO of the OxBow agency) were more than friendly business associates. Mr. Vinson gets back in touch with Janet thinking to blackmail her. The two of them set up a meeting at ‘Club Eros’, a strip joint near the river that was built by the Tremont Construction Firm with money supplied by OxBow. Mr. Vinson tells Dan it’s all just business as usual.

The boy doesn’t notice the lie since he’s still hung up on his fantasy life. Dan thinks the naiad appeared to Karl and that makes him jealous. Dan continues visiting the river and fantasizes about pushing Karl in. Dan’s revenge dream is broken when he spots the body of the coroner floating in the water. Dan reports the body, is questioned and blurts out that he was thinking about killing Karl, but doesn’t know this guy. Autopsy reveals that the coroner was shot. Dan is released but finally assigned a psychologist.

Karl’s visions continue. The river monster materializes on his birthday in the middle of a gambling trip orchestrated by his stoner friends. The creature helps Karl win by tipping the dice. Finally convinced that the thing is real and better yet profitable, Karl asks Dan to help him learn how to summon her. Dan’s strategy of making offerings doesn’t help. Karl finally gets a hint when he visits Grandpa C’zenowik, the only other family member known to have seen the creature. Grandpa tells Karl that the creature feeds on emotions and you can control her if you learn to control yourself.

Karl’s control is tested when Dan solicits his help to sneak into ‘Club Eros’. Dan wants to eavesdrop on his boss. Janet drugs Hoyt’s drink and she and an accomplice carry an unconscious Mr. Vinson out of the club. They plan to dump him in the river. Dan tries to save him, but Janet pulls a gun on the boy. Karl is too far way to help, but manages to call up the naiad. The thing grabs the gun and the shot goes wild, clipping Karl and sending him into the water. Dan tackles Janet, knocks her out and fishes Karl out of the river. Brenda and the police arrive in time to pick up the pieces and make arrests.

Janet is charged with the murder of Frank C’zenowik and the coroner was well as the attempted murder of Mr. Vinson. The original crime was committed in order to cover up her misuse of HUD funds for building commercial facilities in the Flats. Proof of this is in the paperwork that Dan uncovered. Janet had the coroner murdered when she learned the police appeared to have re-opened investigation of the old case. Brenda, despite being instrumental in the investigation, resigns from the police force. She doesn’t want to deal with politics on the force anymore. She jokes about opening up a center for paranormal investigation.

It becomes less of a joke when Brenda visits Karl C’zenowik in the hospital and walks in on the middle of a poltergeist display. What Karl sees is the river spirit moving things around. Lirienne, Dan and Brenda just see floating objects. It’s finally evidence that some kind of supernatural force is at work. Brenda is intrigued, but Karl mistakes her wide-eyed look for fear. He tells her not to worry. He thinks he can learn to control his shadow self better than his grandfather did. After all, Grandpa wasn’t able to get the naiad to save Frank. Her efforts just left scratches on the drowning man’s neck.