Archive for the ‘Steve’s Shorts’ Category

Steve’s shorts: Chiba…

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

[Note from Steve: Let’s have some fun with space opera….]

Chiba

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Erid Ariklai lost patience with the robocab’s obsession with safety. He took control by leaving the unit’s AI smoldering behind the front dash.

Your heavy boot can do a lot of damage!

He was focused on controlling the cab now, but he took time to smile at Mira’s thought. She often thought he was too impulsive.

He had three patrol cars in pursuit by the time he crashed through the guard barrier and landed in its canal’s dry bed. He managed to maintain speed and control while dodging the garbage citizens from the Iskandian capital had thrown into it.

He would never have thought of the canal as a super-highway for his escape. Mira had suggested it before he committed robocide, her voice a soft purr in his mind. You’re the best, baby!

It occurred to him that Iskandian cops were going to a lot of trouble when all he’d done was steal a painting from a local gallery, thinking it would be a nice gift for Mira. He’d kept that thought from her, of course, to make it a surprise. His real reason for his downtown visit was to break into the Hephreid Empire’s embassy and steal some computer files. Because Iskandia wasn’t part of the Empire, the cops’ pursuit didn’t even make sense for that.

Rotary for the spaceport turnoff coming up. You’ll need to leave the canal.

He wondered if the robocab’s electric motor had the necessary power. Time to find out! He spun the wheel—the cab allowed Human control in case the AI died, which it had—so he was able to steer toward the canal’s and climb the slope. He soon entered the rotary and took the branch off it leading to the spaceport.

Local laws required drivers to stop and ID themselves. He crashed through the security checkpoint instead and headed directly for their ship.

We’re lifting in thirty ticks.

Erid slammed on the brakes and bolted from the car with the painting. He ran up the gangway and dove inside the main airlock. A few ticks later he was inside the hold and both outside and inside doors were closing. The ladder to the command-and-control center was at the far end of the hold. He headed for it. “Daddy’s home, Mama G and Mira,” he said as he began his climb.

“We’re already in space.” That was Mama G’s voice from C&C. “Get your ass up here. We’re going to need some fancy flying. Three police cruisers are chasing us.”

He came to the ladder’s end and entered C&C, leaving the package containing the painting on the table that was projecting a holographic model of the Iskandian solar system.

“Thanks for bringing me in,” Erid said to Mira. “Babbage, give me a visual of our pursuers.” The AI transferred the video image from Mama G’s display to his as he took the pilot’s seat. “Those are too big for police cruisers. They’re Imperial warships. They must have been in orbit around the planet.”

“Looked like police cruisers to me,” said Mama G. “Can you outrun them?”

“Babbage, what do you think?” said Erid.

“I’m always doing a lot of thinking, too much to enumerate,” said the AI. “If I’ve correctly distilled your query, though, I concur with Mama G’s original comment. You’re going to need to do some fancy flying. If I could disable my safety coding, I could help, but I have to leave the reckless piloting to you, I’m afraid. Prepare to die, Mama G and Mira.”

“Just keep feeding me data. I’ve had more challenging situations. No one’s going to die.” Erid knew their ship. He also knew Imperial warships—he had served on one once. They were clumsy and slow. “Babbage, I need you to man the guns.”

“They won’t do any good against a warship.”

“I know that! But we’re going through this system’s asteroid belt. Blast any small crap that gets in our way. I’ll dodge around the big stuff but close enough that the warships won’t dare to follow.”

After about a quarter standard, Erid was able to lose their pursuers.

***

Erid accepted the drink Mira was offering and smiled at her. “You never had any doubts, did you?”

I knew you’d done it before. That—she jerked a thumb toward the painting now on the galley’s wall—is a nice gift but hardly worth putting us in danger.

“Don’t think it was that. They must have discovered my code download somehow. Any thoughts, Mama G?”

Erid’s mother-in-law shrugged. “I made a secure link to your transmitter. Babbage confirmed. No one should have been the wiser.”

“I’ll confirm that again,” said the AI.

“Maybe they’re cleverer than we think they are,” said Erid.

“Or they just wanted to fry your butt for breaking into the embassy,” said Mama G. “You know, just on general principles. I feel like doing it myself sometimes.”

“Maybe.” He raised his glass. “To riches. We’ll sell that stolen code to the rebels for a good price and rest on our laurels afterward.” A crash was heard in the ship’s hold beneath them. “Babbage, scan below.”

“I detect nothing that could produce that sound,” said the AI.

“I’ll go check,” said Mama G.

Erid watched her leave the galley. “Your mother’s a great crewmember,” he said aloud to Mira.

My mother was born on a rebel base and was in space before she was ten. She has more experience than we do.

“Agreed. Maybe that’s why she had problems accepting me.”

You’re an AWOL from an Imperial crew. That’s a negative in her opinion. Always will be.

“She sympathizes with rebels. It should be a positive.”

You never will understand. She believes in loyalty and the chain of command.

“She didn’t have to serve on an Imperial warship. I did. That’s more than a chain of command.”

I understand that. She doesn’t. Mother?

Mama G stuck her head in the door. “I hate to break up your discussion about me, but I found our noisemaker.” She shoved a small girl into the galley. “Meet Chiba, our first stowaway.”

Erid stood and caught the kid who didn’t seem used to low g-force. “How’d you get in here?”

Chiba looked around. “I’m hungry. Feed me something and I’ll answer your question.”

Mira popped a tray into the microwave and set it for two minutes. Soon Chiba was devouring what played the role of roast, potatoes, and vegetables. Kid’s famished.

Chiba looked at Mira and smiled. You’re a telepath?

Among other things. Finish your food.

Chiba did just that. She soon pushed back her stool and sighed. “I can answer your question. I followed you in. I move fast. I had to get-away. Your ship was getting away. Said and done.”

“Why? Why did you need to get away? Is there some pervert chasing you?” Mama G looked concerned.

“Too many questions. Let me ask one. Where are we going?”

“I can’t answer that,” said Erid.

“Then I can’t answer any more of your questions. We’re at an impasse.”

Mira smiled at Erid. She’s got you there.

***

They let Chiba have the run of the ship, figuring she was neither an Imperial nor rebel spy. Babbage always had sensors on her, of course, but where was she going to go? Erid got used to having her around.

The trek to the nearest rebel planet took many jumps. At the end of the last one, Chiba was sitting on Erid’s lap as he guided their ship into the solar system.

“Can’t the Empire find this planet?” she said.

“There are spies everywhere, child,” said Mama G, “even on Freedom-4, but you’ll soon see why we’ll be safe on this rebel world.”

“Beginning Kuiper belt transition,” said Babbage.

“That marks the outer boundaries of most star systems,” said Erid.

“I know that.” He thinks I’m stupid.

No, he’s only explaining what Babbage said. The AI can be a bit terse sometimes.

“You two should shield me from your thoughts when they’re private,” Erid told Chiba and Mira. “And Chiba, I don’t think you’re stupid. In fact, I think you know more than you’re telling us. Before we arrive, I’d like to try a theory out on you.”

Chiba fidgeted a little. “Might as well go for it now. I’m listening.”

“It’s easy to express. I think the Imperial warships were coming after you. They had no idea that I downloaded code or stole a painting.”

She jumped to the floor and faced him, hands on hips.

“What makes you think that?”

“Simple deduction. Our code transmission was secure. And Imperial ships wouldn’t give a damn about a stolen painting. I’m guessing they even put the local cops up to pursuing me. Were you in the robocab?”

She smiled. “Not in. On. Standing on the back bumper, in fact. I almost flew off when you went into the canal.”

Erid nodded. “OK. Thank you for being honest and confirming my theory. Now, why are you running away from the Empire? What do they want you for?”

She shrugged. “I was bored. At the embassy all I heard was talk about rebels. I wanted to meet some. If my uncle doesn’t like them, I might. That’s all.”

“Your uncle?” said Mama G.

“The ambassador. My parents died in an accident. He’s my guardian now.”

“Oh, crap!” said Erid. “Just what we need. A run-away with noble blood.”

“Noble blood isn’t good for anything,” said Chiba. “I’ve been a prisoner all my life. My parents were higher ranking than my uncle because my mother is second cousin to the Emperor. She didn’t have much use for the pomp and circumstance, though. And my father was a scientist.  I used to collect plants with him on some new colony planets.”

Was your uncle abusing you?

No. He’s only interested in using me to improve his stature in the Imperial court. And he’s only my mother’s half-brother.

“We should return her,” said Erid. “Freedom-4 is no place for her. She might be persecuted.”

“Can’t I get asylum there? I want to be a scientist like my father. And I don’t want to be with my uncle!”

“Maybe we should let the rebel leader decide what to do with her,” said Mama G.

“They might use her too,” said Erid. He smiled at Chiba. “Maybe you’d just like to become a member of our crew.”

Chiba smiled. “That’s OK for a while. But I do want to become a scientist.”

There are many ways to achieve that, Chiba. Welcome to the crew.

***

“Who’s the girl?” said Colonel Whelon. “Isn’t she a little too young to be a mercenary?”

“We’re opportunists, not mercenaries,” said Erid. “If you must know, she was a stowaway. But she’s smart and a valuable crewmember now.”

The colonel shrugged. “My people have evaluated your summary of the intel you obtained. I’m ready to negotiate for all of it.”

“It’s valuable intel,” said Erid. “What are you offering?”

“Very little. You realize that you have no other customers, right? It’s a buyer’s market.”

“There’s nothing that says we have to sell.”

Whelon snapped his fingers. An entire squad of rebels entered the colonel’s suite. He smiled.

“And there’s nothing that says we can’t take what we want. Put him in the brig. Then get some others and capture that little imp. We can hold her for ransom. The Empire should pay us well for her.”

You’re a terrible negotiator, thought Mari.

You have to hide me, thought Chiba.

One rebel pushed Erid into the cell and slammed the door. “Tell Mama G to take command. Lift off now!”

And what about you? thought Mari and Chiba.

“They won’t get any ransom for me.”

But they could kill you, thought Mari.

I can’t let that happen, thought Chiba.

Mari’s thoughts then echoed Mama G’s words: “We’re already in space. We’ll have to hide and then come back.”

“Who the hell are you talking to?” said a rebel through the small meshed window in the cell door.

“I’m calling for our mercenary fleet,” said Erid. “They’ll turn Freedom-4 into nuclear slag. Tell that to your Colonel Whelon.”

The rebel looked worried and left.

***

“We see no sign of a mercenary fleet,” said Whelon.

Erid was back in the colonel’s little office. “We actually don’t have one. My crew is taking the stowaway back to the Imperial court. There they’ll divulge all they know about this rebel planet and others. The fleet will be an Imperial one. You’ve forfeited any right to survive, and I’ve lost any sympathies I had for your cause.” He smiled at the colonel’s frown. “How did you find out who Chiba really is?”

“We have spies in the Imperial court. They’re good at weeding through gossip and gleaning valuable intel.”

“The Empire will be happy to know about that too.”

“You just heard it. How will you tell your people?”

“The same way I talked to my colleagues. I refer you to the studies of the great Dr. Halas. In particular, the definitive paper in the Imperial Journal of Psychology seventeen years ago.  I forget the volume and number, but you can do a search and find it.  Assuming rebels try to keep up on the latest scientific developments, that is.”

Whelon nodded to an aide who dashed out of the room. “We’ll check that. But I think you’re just wasting my time. Perhaps I should hear a convincing argument from you why you shouldn’t be executed with a lethal injection. That’s what we do with traitors.”

“Treason is in the eyes of the beholder.” Erid took a chair. “And why should I waste my time with such an argument when I can waste yours instead. That will give the Imperial fleet even more time to plan and execute the complete destruction of Freedom-4.” Erid saw the crimson begin in the black hair at Whelon’s throat and rise. Maybe I’ve gone too far?

Maybe, thought Mira, but keep him stewing. He’s so angry he’s not thinking straight right now.

***

Erid and Whelon sat and stared at each other for a bit until the aide returned and handed the colonel a note. He read it and scowled.

(more…)

Endangered species: short fiction…

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

When I start a story, it can become a novel, novella, or short story. I don’t force it. O’Henry was a master of the short story and said a lot in a few words. Nothing wrong with that!

Unfortunately short stories and novellas don’t sell well. Magazines and literary journals were the chief publishers of short fiction. They’re languishing if not disappearing. Short story collections have a hard time acquiring readers and reviewers too. Agents and publishers shun short fiction.

With all this going on, many authors try to force a short story into a novel. It’s not uncommon that a short story or novella becomes a full novel, of course. The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan, one of my thrillers, started life as a short story and grew into a novel, and I’m trying to finish a YA sci-fi novel The Secret Urns that expands on a short story.

When I started in this business 10+ years ago, I began submitting short stories along with my novels. The one that’s the basis for that future YA novel even won a contest. And many of the Chen and Castilblanco cases never became novels! But editors of magazines rejected my short stories. Agents and editors were rejecting my novels too. Both of these groups are prejudiced against “new authors,” i.e. writers they’ve never heard about. But the first group seemed cliquish and followers of fads too.

I love short fiction, though. I love to read it, and, by a perusal of the “Steve’s Shorts” category of my blog and short story collections (some of them are PDFs free for the asking), readers know that I love to write it too. There’s something about writing entertaining and pithy short fiction. Plot, characterization, settings, dialogue, and themes still play an important role, but short fiction is often like a rogue wave or tsunami in a vast ocean of extended novels.

Short fiction is lot like poetry. The latter often says a lot in a few words; so does short fiction. I’m not much good at writing poetry as readers of The Collector know—it contains an early poem of mine, but I passed the blame onto Detective Castilblanco.

There’s little to motivate authors to write short fiction these days—not from readers who determine the market, nor from editors and publishers who avoid it because of that market pressure. However, writers should still write short fiction. Doing so teaches the art of minimal verbosity. I’ve seen too many novels that are bloated and fat because of their verbosity—J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are prime examples, but there are many others. Authors should lean to be minimalist writers. Verbosity is NOT a virtue; it’s a negative. An economy of expression is a positive. A few bon mots that express a world of meaning in a few short paragraphs can produce a wonder to behold. Coming directly to the point without fat verbiage should be the requisite for every fiction story, but writing short fiction gives authors that skill. If a reader loves lots of excessive and erudite words, s/he should read a dictionary; otherwise, short fiction can provide hours of pleasure as well as any novel.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel. To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. Published by Penmore Press, this novel is available in ebook format at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and in print through Amazon, B&N, or your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask them to order it). Great summer reading!

In libris libertas…

Steve’s shorts: The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer…

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

“Hiya Rollie.” I had to step aside as the ME, Big Tiny, stepped out of the small apartment into the corridor. “Prelim findings should be on your smartphone.”

“You can’t just tell me?”

Big Tiny carried a large super-mocha-double-double something-or-other in his large rubber-gloved paw. Whereas a defensive nose tackle is more muscle than fat, he was the reverse. A happy man, though, in spite of his profession.

“I’m off to another crime scene.”

“So this is a crime scene? It wasn’t clear before, but I preferred coming over to reviewing pending cases where Chen and I aren’t doing too well.”

“I expected to declare it a suicide, but I’m leaning to murder. The bottle of sleeping pills is almost full and there are signs of antifreeze. The tox workup will decide for certain.”

“CSU is still here, I presume?” He nodded. “They might come up with some more evidence.” Bid the big guy farewell, put on my Tyvek booties and rubber gloves, and went inside the apartment. “Anything?” I said to the first CSI I encountered.

He handed me a sealed plastic bag. A regular sheet of paper folded in half showed a crossword partially filled out.

“Right up your alley, o puzzle-meister,” he said.

Didn’t know the guy, but he knew something about me. “I don’t do crosswords. I’m more a math puzzle fellow. What’s special about this?”

“First, it’s homemade. Second, there’s a message. Take a look.”

He went about his business. I stared at the crossword.

Someone—the vic?—had started filling it in. None of the words were erudite—NY Times Monday level—but there was a message. “Death is a release. Relish it.” Huh? The crossword wasn’t large. How did it arrive at the apartment? If the vic had begun to solve it, where did she get it? Better yet, what amateur word smith had made the puzzle? Or, had the vic just taken the message as a sign to do herself in? That tox report would be important.

Hung around a bit more and then returned to the precinct. Chen had gone to chat with one of her snitches about another case, but she was back.

“Just received a message from Big Tiny,” she said. “He’s declaring your case a homicide.” I’d heard the ping but had ignored it. Guessed he didn’t take long on his other case. The big black bear had crawled back into his lair to drink his coffee thing in peace.

I’d snapped a photo of the crossword with my smartphone. Handed the phone to Chen. “This might be the murderer’s threat then.”

She studied the phone’s screen, nodded, and handed it back. “Just what we needed: a weird case. How do you want to handle it?”

***

Two days later, we had another murder with the same MO. This time the vic’s throat was slit. He was an old man. There didn’t seem to be any connection to the first vic. Random? Serial killers often act randomly. But old man v. young woman was interesting. Just a killing lust? I’m not an FBI profiler, so I was at a loss.

You want to make sense of killings like that. I knew that the psychotic mind was often not logical, but sane people want to look for the logic—something that makes sense of it all. The first often means the case isn’t solved. The second, if you can find it, often leads to solving the case.

“Undeserved death. Grim Reaper laughs.” That’s what the message said in this crossword. Still Monday level. The creator wasn’t the brightest serial killer we’d seen. But he had a way with words.

He? That was an assumption. I knew for a fact that women read a lot more than men. Did that extrapolate to women doing more crosswords than men? Didn’t know, but our killer could be a she. Had to keep an unbiased mind.

The throat-slitting had looked professional. Maybe ex-military? That still didn’t exclude a woman these days. Asked Chen’s opinion.

“Overpowering an old man is easier than a young woman,” said Chen, flashing her Asian Mona Lisa smile, “but you’re right. The perp could be a woman. I’m not seeing a pattern, though, besides the crosswords. Time to bring in the FBI?”

“Not on your life. We’ve barely started.”

***

My partner came up with a connection. It seemed tenuous. Both vics rented apartments in buildings owned by the same guy, a Richard Jenkins.

“Let’s find out more about this guy and then pay him a visit,” I said.

In that process, we discovered that Jenkins was a vocal opponent of rent control, and the two vics were in rent-controlled apartments. We started forming a theory. Chen didn’t think much of it—she thought rents should be tied to market value if they were regulated at all. Pam, my wife, and I had lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn for some time. We couldn’t have afforded a rent tied to market value. Maybe your opinion is biased if you’ve benefitted from rent control or not? Didn’t know what landlords thought, but suspected that they wouldn’t be in favor. Complex problem: How do you provide housing for poor city dwellers in one of the most expensive cities in the world, the Big Apple?

Pam and I now lived in Clifton, New Jersey, living the American Dream with our kids and heavily mortgaged house. Rent control was in our past. Still didn’t like what I saw in Jenkins’s record—he even went after New York mayors on the issue. Did that make him a killer? Doubted it, but it was time to interview the man.

***

Of course, Jenkins’s penthouse was luxurious compared to the two vics’ apartments. A maid showed us into a comfortable study and indicated two seats in front of a modest desk. We waited.

I studied the walls. Ex-Marine mementos, including ribbons. As an ex-Navy man, I liked Marines. Tough hombres who generally have your back. One pic on the wall showed our landlord, a heavyset man-bear, standing in a small group with a Navy captain in the middle. My captain—in the sense that I’d served on his carrier long ago in another more dangerous life where choppers would carry us off to wreak havoc and destruction for the Pentagon.

“Isn’t that our old friend?” said Chen. He had participated on a few cases. I nodded. “That’s some coincidence.”

“Not really. Jenkins and I are about the same age. Could be a good recommendation for him.”

We talked about our families until Jenkins showed up. He shook both our hands. For me, his grip was strong. For Chen, he let up a bit. Chivalry not dead?

“I understand you both have served,” he said, taking his seat behind the desk.

Pointed at the pic. “The captain is a good friend.”

“For me too,” said Jenkins. “I guess there are a few cops who served.” We nodded. “They probably have to tone down the military bravura on the beat. We’re not a fascist state, thank God. What can I do for you, detectives?”

I explained our case. “The only connection between the two victims is they both were your tenants in rent-controlled apartments.”

He frowned. “And I’m a suspect? Good Lord! I work within the system. I have to. I don’t have to like the fact that other landlords don’t have to put up with rent control, of course. It’s a bit random, you know. I’ve never met these two people, by the way. Where did they live?” I told him. “Yeah, those are my buildings. I’ll have to check with the agency that handles the rentals. They should have sent flowers to relatives if they’re local.”

“They’re not,” said Chen. She checked her smartphone. “Do you have an alibi for the range of times established by the ME in the TODs?”

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Nth Contact…

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

[In the sci-fi realm, we have subgenres like hard sci-fi, militaristic sci-fi, space opera, fantasy, and so forth. Star Trek episodes and movies can be considered everything except the first (reasonable scientific extrapolation is too often lacking). Star Wars movies are more akin to the last two. But the old stories that we now call space opera were a lot of fun. Consider this a bow to space opera with a wee bit of militaristic sci-fi and tongue-in-cheek. As they say, knowing the past can prevent us from committing errors in the present…]

Nth Contact

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                Captain Rick Hastings watched the screen. The Star Queen had just popped out of hyperspace and entered the unexplored solar system.

“AI, what am I seeing?” Something that sounded like a chaotic series of grunts, whistles, and sounds passing through several octaves filled the ship’s control room. “Standard, dimwit, not Draconian.”

“My apologies. I was conversing with Nigel. My sensors tell me there are several large starships in orbit around the fourth planet. More details will become available as we approach.”

“That’s not good,” said Nigel, his XO. Like many Draconians, the large humanoid had adopted a name that could be pronounced by Humans. The AI had no problem with his real name. “The last survey of this solar system showed it wasn’t inhabited. Should we write it off?”

“Because some ETs decided to steal our real estate?” He shook his mop of black hair, wiggled his eyebrows, and thought a few seconds. Compared to his XO, the captain wasn’t tall and had legs shorter than his torso. He looked stumpy in a uniform, a characteristic of many from his home planet where genetics had taken over adaption to a high-g environment. “Let’s at least take a look.”

“They’re coming to meet us,” said the AI, flashing up images of three ships speeding towards them.

“They don’t look friendly,” said the XO. “We should throttle back or take evasive maneuvers. Those look like missile-launching ports.”

“We can’t go FTL this close to the star,” said the Star Queen’s navigator.

“Take a course perpendicular to the planetary orbits,” Hastings told the AI.

“That’s an indeterminate command,” said the AI. “There are two possible—”

“Either way works! Just do it. Go FTL ASAP!”

“They launched missiles at us just before we went FTL,” the AI announced twenty seconds later.

“I’m getting my bearings,” said the navigator. Hastings waited. “Very clever, AI. We’ll pop up near base.”

“Forget about admiring a stupid machine. Just get us back to HQ. I’m going to my stateroom. I need some time to write up the report about this new contact.”

“Be sure and explain why you decided to confront the ETs who had taken possession of the solar system,” said the XO.

“Go to hell!” Hastings stomped out of the control room. He’d said it in Draconian, one of the few phrases he knew.

***

                “I’ve read your report.” Admiral Bonaventura studied his captain. “Did your XO forget to sign off on it?”

“My XO is a Draconian asshole. I’ll have his hide if he mentioned anything to you.”

Bonaventura frowned. “Am I a Draconian asshole too?”

Hastings retreated. “That remains to be proven. The Star Queen is a survey ship. I was doing a survey. Nothing says I can’t see who the trespassers are.”

“Your only weapons are found in your security detail’s small arms cabinets. What were you thinking? Whoever establishes the first colony claims the real estate.”

“Don’t you want to know what they were doing there? Colony ships aren’t battle cruisers.”
(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Snug Harbor…

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Snug Harbor

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                Not all the colonists awoke. Cryosleep had a risk that compounded over time, and almost two centuries is a long time. Adriana Cisternino-Cho had to decide whether to eliminate her husband’s name. James Cho had died in transit.

The exobiologist threw herself into her work as soon as she recovered in the huge ship that was in orbit. She didn’t want to think of the bodies that were spaced and sent to burn up in the new planet’s atmosphere. Others needed to visit the psychologists. She’d stopped going after two sessions. Nothing was going to bring Jimmy back.

The starship Vasco da Gama, the sixth colony ship a dying Earth had launched, had been assembled in LEO. It used standard technology developed over two centuries of exploring Earth’s solar system augmented in scale to match the size of the ship. The AI had kept watch over its cargo of a fifty-member landing crew and thousands of frozen embryos. They had parked the ship in orbit around the fifth planet of another system.

Only thirty-three of the skeleton crew had survived. Tests showed all the embryos were probably OK.

Dyads and triads had formed among the survivors who had lost their significant others. Adriana wasn’t interested. It seemed that only yesterday Jimmy and she said their goodbyes and entered their cryochambers. You knew the risks, girl. That doesn’t make it any more bearable!

Although the tests showed all the embryos were probably OK, she wondered about their future. If the planet wasn’t a feasible home for a colony, everyone would die, unless there was some possibility of reprovisioning the starship. Hundreds of more years in cryo? I’d rather die!

***

Two exobiologists were in the first shuttle party to zoom in on the planet, more of a survey crew that checked out five possible sites in more detail. They had done all the surveying and probing they could do from orbit.

“More land area than Earth confirmed. Mild climates are commensurate with axis tilt, but polar regions are stable. Oxygen levels in agreement with normal photosynthesis of local vegetation, which is abundant. Omnivore herds are plentiful in interior plains of continents.”

The AI summarized their findings ad infinitum. Adriana almost dozed. After it finished, Scot Cobb, their temporary leader, said, “Any comments? Adriana? Don?”

“We saw herds but no predators,” said Don Chang.

“That’s an oddity,” Adriana said in agreement. “There has to be some mechanism to control their numbers.”

“Food shortages?” said Scot. “When those strange grasslands are wasted, maybe the herds die off.”

“A possibility,” said Adriana. Why am I so agreeable? She didn’t buy Scot’s conjecture. I must be tired.

“There might be some lemming phenomenon,” said Don. “It will be interesting to study.”

“Will we be able to eat anything on the planet’s surface?” said Roberto McLane, an exogeologist.

“Let’s hear the AI’s ranking of the landing sites and see if we agree with it.,” said Scot.

(more…)

Steve’s Shorts: 2035…

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

2035

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Regional Governor Ricardo Sandoval kept one eye on the protests in the NADA capital of Atlanta as he answered his videophone, the red one he generally kept under lock and key. It needed a thumbprint and voiced password.

His counterpart, Regional Governor Desmonda Bailey, appeared on the screen.

“Yeah, I’m watching. NADA’s propaganda machine is whipping them into a frenzy. I’m more worried about the massing of troops on our borders. Our only recourse might be the battlefield nukes.”

“A last recourse, but I agree,” said Bailey. “Our small forces would be run over by those fanatics.”

“At least NADA’s generals have two fronts to divide their forces, but you’re at a geographical disadvantage, Desmonda. They can roll across the Adirondack chain a lot easier than the Sierras and our other western mountains. Maybe the sanctions weren’t such a good idea.”

“Nonsense. Their Great Leader started paying attention when we voted them in. They were a logical first step for trying to make him come to his senses. I don’t know what our next steps should be, but I’m not about to let him and his hordes overrun our Region.”

“I’m with you on that. But my security team warns that they might take out our satcom. We have to be prepared to act unilaterally unless we can agree on something now.”

“Let’s define some plans, old friend. My people warn me this could escalate fast.”

***

The two leaders worked for an hour and a half, coming up with plans that both the Eastern and Western legislatures would pass given the emergency. They worked from scenarios already prepared and studied, originating in the collaborative defense departments.

When they finished, Sandoval told his aid to call for his limo. The trip to the capital was walkable, but the limo was used to keep his security detail happy.

During the trip, which took more time loading and unloading of security personnel on each end than travel time, he went through some historical antecedents he might include in his speech.

Things had gone to hell fast beginning in 2017. That contentious election for president had unleashed pent-up hatreds that had smoldered for years, even decades. Perhaps inevitable, he thought. Reasoned discourse went the way of the dinosaurs.

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: The Interview…

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

The Interview

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                From his screened-in porch, Adam Hart heard the grinding gears. Someone wasn’t skilled in driving stick, but the driver was coming along the windy, gravel road leading to his cabin. He went inside, unlocked his gun case, and took the shotgun back to the porch and propped it up by the chair he had been sitting in. Nothing like disturbing my peace and quiet!

He’d been enjoying the bird calls, the sound of a woodpecker off in the distance, and an intimate dialogue with the rushing waters from a nearby brook. His sanctuary from the Upper West Side had allowed him to produce thirty-two books, most featuring his irascible detective Leo Goretti and his cop partner, Emily Durnin. Adam’s laptop sat beside him on the table, open and ready for action. It wasn’t connected to wi-fi—there was no internet service within miles. He liked it that way.

He soon saw the jeep was a rental with New York plates. The muddy entrance road had done its job of making the vehicle’s color indeterminate. A woman was driving. She stopped in front of the porch and stepped down, a tall, angular figure, and a younger version of his agent who had spent many years badgering him about publishing deadlines. He never met them. Never intended to do so.

Nowadays he’d prefer a comfortable small press or going indie where he’d represent more than substantial paychecks for editorial support staff and his agent. The big traditional publishers milked their big names all they could. He could still make money writing, but he knew a lot of new or less established writers couldn’t hope for that. When he used to give lectures to newbies, he’d always recommend never to leave their day-jobs until they won the lottery of having a bestseller.

“Adam Hart?” said the woman.

“Wrong cabin,” said Hart. “The roads are confusing in these parts. Bet you were using GPS. They regrade the road differently after every winter because the spring runoff does a number on them.”

The woman eyed the shotgun. “I just want to talk. Can I come up on the porch?”

“I’m telling you you’re wasting your time, but come on up. Door’s on the side there. Clean the mud off your boots and watch your step.”

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Anna Utkin…

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Anna Utkin

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

            Anna Utkin shut the library’s main door, locked it, and headed for her car. Her little Honda Civic awaited to take her to her one-bedroom apartment in the complex three miles from the Oakwood Public Library where she had worked the last ten years of her life. She smoothed her blouse after getting into the car and thought about dinner. Tonight maybe I’ll have a glass of red wine because today’s dinner will be a Salisbury steak meal. She always bought her TV dinners on sale, so the glass of wine would be the most expensive item, a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon from California.

As usual, when she pulled into her parking space, she remembered nothing about the trip. She’d made that trip twice a day for years—the drive was always the same. The only day she remembered was when she was hit about halfway home by the stranger who ran the only red light along the route. The burly man had blamed her, but there were witnesses, one of them a cop who was parked and enjoying his coffee and donut. That accident was the most excitement she’d ever had in Oakwood.

People still frequented the library—some readers looking for big city newspapers, some looking for NY Times bestsellers they couldn’t afford to buy, and some who wanted to read older books they’d missed and couldn’t find anywhere else. There were few kids. Students wrote their “research projects” using the internet these days—some of them even got away with cutting and pasting, and many homework assignments for common texts had answers posted on the internet too. The millennials were more into their smart phones and laptops than books, preferring a summary of To Kill a Mockingbird found on the internet to actually reading the book.

She worried about the future of public libraries.  She didn’t know if the modern world really needed librarians or libraries anymore, but she loved her library and its books. She was also a voracious reader and donated the books she purchased and read to the library so others could read them. They were print versions, so she didn’t have room to store them in her apartment anyway.

She ate her TV dinner while watching the ten o’clock news.  She then placed her own laptop on the tray after wiping up a few spatters. I wonder if my profile is ready.  She’d always been curious about her ancestry and ordered a DNA report in order to find out something about it. As an orphan, she had no family tree available, so that DNA report would be a good starting place for finding one.

***

            Anna had been waiting seven weeks for the DNA results. She logged onto her personal page and smiled. She had her report online. She opened the file. The smile turned to a frown.
(more…)

Steve’s Shorts: Toy Story…

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

[Dickens wrote the story “A Christmas Carol.” This is mine, and it’s dedicated to author Scott Dyson, who is mastering the horror genre quite well….]

Toy Story

Copyright 2016, Steven M. Moore

Curt Boggs’ coffee mug spilled its contents onto the Plainville Herald’s classified section. As he mopped up the spill, an ad caught his attention: “Hartley Mansion up for Sale.” He smiled as memories flooded into his mind.

He had left Plainville, Kansas for college long ago and never returned. His subscription to the newspaper followed him everywhere, though, even to the small Queens flat he now rented. The memories were mostly about Carol Hartley. She’d been a cheerleader; he’d been a fullback. A major knee energy in his freshman year at college had ended his playing days. The newspaper subscription allowed him to confirm every year that his football records in high school were never broken.

He wasn’t interested in buying the Hartley Mansion, of course. Even after Carol married Tom Rice and they moved into the family home—her parents were dead, weren’t they?—it was still called the Hartley Mansion. In high school, a lot of kids thought the old, rambling house at the end of Main Street was haunted. He knew better. Carol and he had made love in almost every room of that house, including her parents’. He couldn’t even remember what the father did. He was somehow rich and never home and mommy was always out shopping, often visiting the chic stores in Kansas City.

Would Carol be involved in the sale of the house? What had happened to her and Tom? He seemed to remember something in the Herald’s society page about ten years ago about their moving to Chicago. The classified ad had made him a bit curious this time, though. Time to revisit your roots, old boy?
(more…)

Steve’s Shorts: Ride-Along…

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

[In my blog posts on writing, I’ve encouraged wannabe novelists to choose journalism over an MFA if they believe they need some formal education on how to write (the key word is “formal”—they don’t). Considering this story, though, maybe an MFA is safer?]

Ride-Along

Copyright 2016, Steven M. Moore

                “Have you decided on a project yet?”

Danny Reid eyed Bert McAdams over his coffee mug. He didn’t like the burnt-toast flavor of Starbucks coffee, but the store’s location attracted students—several of his fellow journalism students had gathered around the table.

“Working on it,” Danny said, wiping latté froth from his upper lip—that was the only way he could drink the strong stuff. “What about you?”

“The UN is in session, so I’m heading over there to see if I can get a few interviews.”

“You’ll only get second- or third-tier diplomats,” said Connie Kingsley.

Bert winked at her. “I’ve got some leverage. My uncle is a security guard at a consulate and knows a few people.”

“It’s all about who you know,” said Danny with a grimace. “I’m at a loss.”

Connie, her dark brown skin glowing in the late April sun, smiled at him. Their eyes locked for a moment. “You could cover my aunt’s wedding with me. Maybe that will give you some ideas.”

Does that have a double meaning? Danny liked Connie but always figured she was out of his league. Her family was rich. His was poor enough that he wouldn’t even be in school if it weren’t for the low tuition and fees in the CUNY system.

“What about your dad?” said Ben Speyer. He was a sloppy, overweight, but brilliant Jewish kid and probably Danny’s best friend—Danny didn’t have that many white friends growing up in spite of New York’s touted diversity. “The NYPD must have lots of great journalistic stories.”

Danny’s father ran a precinct. Danny had only visited it a few times. He wasn’t close to his father because an early marriage had ended in a bitter divorce with his mother getting custody. “Mom wouldn’t like that.”

“You don’t have to hug or kiss the old man,” said Bert. “Just watch, observe, and write about it. That’s our term paper assignment in a nutshell.”

Danny thought for a moment. “Maybe. It’s about all I have right now.” He winked at Connie. “Besides a wedding. I hope you catch the bouquet.”

She smiled.

***

“Absolutely not!” Captain Carl Reid had been surprised to see his son’s face in the tiny screen on his phone. What he had proposed was even more surprising. “Our patrols can be dangerous. I might not be in your life that much—that’s your choice as much as your mother’s—but I still want to protect you.”

“I’m twenty-one. Three years ago I voted in the primaries and I just had my first legal drinks. I’m not interested in being a cop, but I want to be a journalist. Maybe a journalist specializing in crime stories.”

“Yeah, those guys get it all wrong most of the time. And you only voted in the primaries, not the general election.”

“My man didn’t win the nomination.”

“I still voted for the old woman. You slackers who didn’t vote are now stuck with the new guy.”

“It wouldn’t have made any difference in New York State, Dad.”

Carl sighed. They’d had that conversation many times. Some cops thought the new guy was good for law enforcement. Carl had his reservations.

“Back to your project. Can’t you choose something different, something safer?”

“Nothing will happen, Dad. You told Mom that many times when you were on patrol.”

“It usually doesn’t. But then you could have a nutcase who thinks killing cops is a great high and his civic duty. You never know when something will happen. Domestic disputes, weirdos high on some drug, bank robberies—it can happen anywhere in the five boroughs, you know.”

“Consider it job security,” said Danny.

“You mocking me?” said Carl.

“No, sir, I’m talking about my future job security. There’s plenty to write about.”
(more…)