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My Hovercraft is Full of Eels: Part Seventeen

Remember that rat from part seven?  The one that appeared in one sentence?  It’s about to get really important.  And no, I still haven’t sat down and made an outline yet.  Why do you ask?

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The eXime cabin was round and had two proper seats facing a curved control board. That was all that Persephone had the time to register. She was too busy clutching her arm and swearing.

“Why didn’t you say you were injured?” Arch asked

“Because you were unconscious until a minute ago,” she snapped. Her arm was going to need to be set, preferably soon.

“Take us back to the city.” Arch motioned with the gun. The driver did nothing.

“Do you need me to speak louder?” Arch’s finger compressed the trigger and a slug pinged off the console.

Persephone jumped up. “Give me the damn gun!”

“I got it covered,” Arch replied.

“Yeah. Because shooting the controls and filling the cabin with shrapnel is a brilliant idea.”

The driver’s face was white as her helmet but there was a bright line of blood on one cheek. It was superficial but probably hurt like a bitch.

Persephone held out her left hand. Arch ignored it and focused on the driver. “Take us back.”

Persephone grabbed Arch’s wrist. He was surprised and that was all the advantage she needed to twist the gun out of his hand. She tossed it out of the still open door.

Arch looked like a toddler about to throw a tantrum.

“Did you watch my ads at all? Seriously?” She said calmly. Then she turned back to the driver. “Now that we’re all a lot safer, do you think you can be reasonable and take us back now?”

“What about Boyce?” the woman asked.

“You might have noticed that I don’t much like guns. So why would I go out of my way to pick up someone who carries?”

“He was just doing his job.”

“I’m guessing the job was to bring the data back. It probably wasn’t specified how. In my mind that makes the gun Boyce’s idea. Poor improvisation if you ask me. Who’s your boss? I’d like to file a complaint.”

The driver rolled her eyes, and pointed at the eXime logo on her helmet. “You think maybe we were hired by the people you robbed? You can send the complaint to Padilla.”

“You report directly to the CEO? Unlikely. The upper echelons like to keep a distance between themselves and gun-toting creeps like Boyce. Hell, they even like to keep their distance from honest thieves like myself. I know one who tends to send his son to handle anything quasi-legal.” Persephone glanced sideways at Arch.

“My father didn’t ask me to hire you,” Arch growled. With his dark complexion, his face resembled a cooling lava flow. “It was my idea.”

Persephone smiled. “See. We don’t need guns to be honest with each other. Now, it’s your turn.” She turned back to the driver, but Arch wasn’t finished.

“Albion’s efforts were too small minded to get us out of this mud pit. Water filtration, incremental advances in battery technology, ethanol generators. Technology that’s five hundred years out of date. Quentin and I were working on something new. My father nixed it. That didn’t leave me many options. But I have some new plans now. And a prototype. ” Arch waved triumphantly at the cabin.   “Tell me how it works!” He shouted.

“I, I don’t know.” The driver stammered then mouthed “Is he always like this?” in Persephone’s direction.

“He does have mood swings.”

As if on cue, the lava flow congealed into a cold mask. “She’s been driving us in circles. I’m going to take over. I need to get this thing back to the complex.” He took a step towards the driver, grabbed her shoulder and tipped her out of her seat.

The woman was more surprised than hurt. “I was just trying to scan for Boyce. You can’t leave him out here! And you don’t know the controls.”

“I sure hope Boyce can swim, but I sure know I can drive,” Arch replied and raised a lever on the console. The craft jumped straight up into the sky. When the Albion craft changed directions, it tied your stomach into knots. When this one did something impossible, you barely felt it (unless you were outside hanging on by an arm).  Persephone pulled the door shut.

The driver scrambled to her feet. “You’re going to kill us! Bring it down.”

Arch flicked another switch on the console and the thrusters fired. They were still ascending, but accelerating up at a diagonal now. “Strange. It was perfectly safe when you did it.”

“Lift takes a lot of fuel. We’ve been out here for a while. Bring it down. I can get us back to the city.”

“First tell me what gives it lift. What fuels it?”

“Didn’t you steal the plans for this thing?” Despite the supremely smooth ride the driver was looking a bit green. Her gaze was fixed on a point midway up the console. There was a dial there with two pointers. Both were just two ticks shy of a red line marked ‘zero’. Make that one tick shy.

“Fuel gauge, Arch. There.” Persphone dropped into the passenger seat and tapped the dial.

Arch shrugged. “She’s probably lying about the range.” He turned the wheel. The craft arced smoothly and continued to rise. “Seems pretty user friendly.”

In fact there were a lot fewer controls and gauges than the Albion craft. For instance there was nothing that looked remotely like the thing that Arch had called a leveler. There was however, an all too familiar looking red light flicking on the console. If it was a proximity warning, it must have been the clouds that had set it off. They’d just plunged into the lower edge of the layer that had been dumping rain on them all morning. The domed top of the cockpit was semitransparent and provided a 360 view, but there wasn’t much to see.   Just a dark grey haze that left beads of moisture on the view screen. Persephone had gone to school, knew the basics of water cycles, but still found it surprising that there was no actual rain inside of a rain cloud. But then she’d never been inside one before. “Umm. Driver woman. Whatever your name is. What’s that light?”

“Fuel warning. Six minutes left.” The woman didn’t bother providing a name.

“You trust her?” Arch asked. “I don’t.”

“Does it matter?” Persephone replied. “If she’s right, and we don’t believe her, we crash and sink for the second time today. If she’s lying and we do believe her, we rush this incredibly valuable prototype back to the city which is where we should be heading anyway. Seriously, my shoulder hurts and I’d like a chance to look under the hood before I pass out. That is assuming we can get back to the city in six minutes.” Persephone looked to the driver for confirmation. The woman’s face was still a greenish white and the bloody scratch from the bullet had dried to a brown crust. She hesitated then nodded.

“It’s fast enough. If he’ll let me drive.”

Arch gripped the yoke even harder. That didn’t bode well for their chances of getting back.

“Trust me,” Persephone said, “You’ve been waiting this long. You can wait a bit longer to see what’s up there.” Before watching the Old Sol video footage she wouldn’t have understood, but watching those ships lower an entire city out of the sky had given her a hint of what Arch must be feeling.  “And anyway, I doubt this thing is ready for low pressure.”

Arch eased his white knuckled grip on the yoke, but didn’t release it entirely. He took a deep breath and glanced sideways at the driver. “Tell me what fuels it. Then you can drive.”

The driver hesitated. “Rats, mostly. The boffins feed them rats.” She reached for the yoke. Persephone tensed, but Arch just looked stunned for a moment and then tossed back his head and laughed, big gulping hysterical laughs. “That’s so ridiculous, I almost believe you.“

“Why would I lie? I want to live.  That’s what I I know.”

Arch continued laughing, but released the controls and stood up. “So much for Q and A industries. Get ready for Lab Rats Incorporated.”

The woman ignored him. She scrambled back into the driver’s seat and toggled the altitude lever. The dropped out of the clouds and plummeted all the way to a cruising height of 4 meters. Then she fired the thrusters and sent them rocketing back towards the city. If she’d been lying about the fuel reserves she did a pretty convincing job of faking desperation. They were swooping in over the floats in under five and a half minutes.


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Free Range

I’m going to interrupt my usual stream of unedited text with something completely different: A FINISHED PIECE!  My short story, “Free Range” is appearing in the April 12th release of Perihelion.  The original version was finished about a year ago.  It was rejected from a few high profile sci fi venues with the usual form letters.  In desperation, I turned to books about technique.  For me, the one that resonated the most was King’s excellent book “On Writing”.  After reading that book, I cut back on my alcohol consumption and stopped taking hikes on high speed roads.  That had very little effect on my publishing success.  What did work was King’s advice on trimming.  The master said, “cut ten percent” so I cut ten percent and tried again.  Success!  Or almost success.  A rewrite request!  Turns out I needed to trim another 2100 words.  I relinquished the words and the svelte little thing is now frolicking in its new found home:

http://www.perihelionsf.com/1504/fiction_8.htm.

From this experience, I conclude two things 1)  I have verbal diarrhea 2)  When the master says to cut ten percent, it means cut thirty.

This is going to be tricky to manage because I LIKE WORDS!  But I’m not very good with them yet so I will just leave you all with another link.

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/03/i-like-words.html


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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Sixteen

I was naughty last week.  I edited.  Wanted to read the first scene at my writer’s group (http://www.meetup.com/Lakewood-Literary-Club/), but felt that the opening was clumsy at best.  I pruned the first paragraph and that made me yearn to keep hacking, mauling, and rearranging.  That was until the little sensei in my head said, “Stop.  First, wash all car. Then wax.  Wax on.  Wax off.”  Fine.  Here’s some more wax, Mr. Miyagi.  When I wipe it off, will there be something shiny under there?

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Persephone woke up when the liquid reached her knees. There were canvas straps wrapped around her body. She pulled weakly at them. She was wet, her head hurt, and she must have thrown up recently. She could still taste it. She gave up on the straps, hung still and tried to figure out where she was. She was lying at an angle, her head tipped up and her legs submerged in filthy water. Above her there was a small round window letting in grey light. To the left there was some kind of control console. It had what looked like a steering wheel surrounded by buttons, dials, switches and a few blinking red lights. In the ruddy glow, she could see a tangle of straps and a pale face. There was another person tied up down here, or maybe a corpse. It was limp enough.

Persephone struggled with her own straps, trying to reach the body. “Arch?” she whispered. She fumbled for the release switches for her harness hitting the one that secured her shoulders first. The straps in front gave way and her head and torso dropped. She was skimming the water with her face now and had to struggle to reach the release button for her legs. She tried to reach up and back, but that maneuver just made it obvious that she’d injured her right shoulder. The pain was intolerable. She dropped that hand and tried again with the left. That was awkward, but not as painful.   She eventually managed to twist around far enough to hit the switch. Her legs dropped, the craft lurched and the water level inched up to her naval. Her instinct was to move fast, grab Arch, and get out, but she suppressed that idea. Quick movement might cause them to sink. She cautiously reached her left hand towards the steering wheel and used it to pull herself up onto the console. The craft lurched again, her weight tipping it towards the front. Persephone turned around slowly until she he was almost reclining on the console.  She reached for Arch, but swore and dropped her arm. She’d been trying to use her dominant hand again and the pain this time was incandescent. She retched, but there was nothing to bring up. When the blaze subsided, she checked Arch’s pulse with her off hand. Under the cold skin, and razor burn, the pulse was nice and steady. That was a blessing as well as a curse. She could abandon a corpse, but she couldn’t leave an unconscious person to drown. At least not one as pretty as Arch.

He was going to have to stay in his hammock for a bit longer, though. She needed to deal with the door. She was lying on her back with her head on the steering wheel, looking up.   She’d have to turn over if she wanted to reach the driver’s side door with her off hand. She rolled and got a hold of the handle without jarring her right shoulder too badly. The door didn’t give. She pushed, pulled and swore at it. Then noticed that the mud level was rising again, some of it coming in through the seams surrounding the door. The craft was settling lower on the driver’s side now. It was time to stop moving slowly. She squirmed backwards away from the door, slid under Arch and pushed open the hatch on the passenger side. Rain came in, but no mud. She hit the release straps and Arch slipped sideways into the muck. She grabbed his collar and dragged the man up and out, laying him down on the side of the ACV. He groaned and mumbled something. Sounded like he was asking for Quentin.

“Arch?” Perspehone tapped his shoulder. “Come on, boy. Wake up. Gonna need to swim soon.” The city looked impossibly far away. If she had to swim through the thick sludge and carry Arch at the same time, they were both dead. Actually, they might both be dead before their craft finished sinking. The craft that had rammed them was still there, hovering in the air about twenty feet away. At the track, the eXime craft had looked harmless and maybe a bit ridiculous, like ants with their heads on backwards. Here, it looked more like a bloated spider.

The top of the thing’s head swung open revealing a driver and a passenger. The passenger had a gun trained on the downed Albion craft. Persephone raised her hands and then winced when the motion pulled at her injured shoulder. She still kept both her hands up in the air. “How about you don’t waste any more ammo and just let us drown?” she said hopefully.

A few bullets bounced off the chassis inches away from Persephone’s feet. She raised her hands higher. “Ok. Ok. You have plenty of ammo. I got it. What do you want? But you may want to explain quickly. Busy sinking here.”

“The plans.” The guy had a raspy voice. “Boss said to get them back.”

Perephone nudged Arch with her foot. He blinked at her, but was smart enough to remain prone.

“You have thirty seconds to hand them over. Otherwise, I shoot you and we take them.”

“You’re looking in the wrong place. Plans are down at Hixton station. I can call them for you.” The guy’s hand tightened on the grip.

“O’kay, o’kay. No phone calls.” Persephone managed to keep her voice steady and eyes up even though Arch had grabbed her ankle. Was the idiot trying to make her fall? She risked a downward glance. Arch tapped his pocket, grinned and then went back to playing dead.

“My client has a copy. He’s injured. Get us off and we’ll hand it over.”

The eXime driver and passenger conferred while the Albion craft settled deeper into the mud. There was just a thin green strip, the strip Persephone was standing on, remaining above the water line. Arch had to skootch a little closer to her in order to keep his ear out of the muck.

“Hurry up. If we go down, you’ll be stuck fishing for that data crystal. You really want to work that hard?”

The eXime craft slid smoothly towards them. It made no sound and left no wake. Persephone tensed for a jump, but they weren’t in range yet.

“We will approach slowly. You will reach up and hand it to the driver,” the guy with the gun instructed.

“And then you leave us here to drown? I don’t think so. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m taking the crystal from my client. When you approach, I will lift him up to you. You will gently pull him into your craft. Then I will follow with the item that you want. You get the data, we get to live. Everyone’s happy.” Or more likely, Persephone thought you shoot us both, take the crystal and dump the bodies. She had a plan for that outcome, but it relied on her getting onto the other H-craft. She crouched down and put her hand into the pocket that Arch had indicated. She dug around for a second prompting a slight grin from Arch, but came up with nothing.

“Where is it,” she hissed.

Arch was still playing possum, but he risked whispering back. “Make it look like you took something.”

Persephone rolled her eyes, but did her best to mime palming a small object. “When I shout. Roll towards the passenger,” she mouthed. She didn’t bother asking him if he was up to it. He would need to be.

“Problems Ms. Roe?” Gun guy was getting antsy, but they must have accepted her deal. The eXime craft dropped to a height of two feet and edged closer. The left side of the craft was within reach.

Persephone stood up and put the imaginary object into the pocket of her jacket. For verisimilitude she even zipped the pocket shut. She grabbed Arch by the collar, ignoring his slightly pained gasp. At least he wasn’t smirking anymore. She slung him one handed at the eXime craft. It was impossible to lift him very high particularly since he was trying to remain limp. Consequently, his face and chest ended up grinding against the sloped side of the thing. The driver reached down, grabbed a fistful of Arch’s jacket and hauled while Persephone pushed. She nearly fell. The Albion craft had shifted under her, settling deeper into the muck. She waited until Arch’s feet vanished inside, then shouted, “Go!” and leaped for the driver. She managed to get her left arm hooked over the lower edge of the cockpit and pulled off a weak right handed punch. The yell got the driver’s attention, but the punch just served to remind Persephone that her arm was injured.   The craft shot up while Persephone screamed and strained to hold on. Her left hand was inside the cockpit grasping a handle or a step she wasn’t sure what. The rest of her was slewing about outside. At least there was no sounds of gun fire. There was a scuffling sound inside the cockpit, a thump and the passenger sans gun tumbled out. Persephone watched him fall below and behind them.

“Cut thrust and drop.” That sounded like Arch.

The craft stopped accelerating and descended.

“Arch! ” Persephone yelled.

“Got the gun trained on the driver. Come on up.”
She pulled, but didn’t have enough leverage to get her head over the lip. She let herself dangle. “You had two people help you in,’” she panted. “How about a lift?”

Arch’s head appeared on the driver’s side of the cockpit. She could see the gun now. He kept it trained on the driver with one hand and reached the other over the side. Before she could stop him, he grabbed her under the right arm pit and hauled. She screamed and he flinched but kept pulling. He let go when her torso cleared the cabin door and she was able to scrabble the rest of the way in.