Thursday, October 8, 2009

Coming of Age in the 23rd Century: Part One excerpt

2264 AD, Western Virginia in October

The man stopped his truck on the overgrown logging trail and switched its fuel cell off. He glanced at the blindfolded girl sitting beside him. She was silent now and seemed calm, but he could feel her tension.

They had chatted and sang happily together while he drove along the highway in the early morning, beginning with nursery ditties and ending with a scat version of Beethoven’s Ninth, joyfully rendering its vocals in excruciatingly poor German.

But the girl had become quiet, and pensive when he turned from the paved road on to the forest track. He knew that when she felt the truck begin to sway over the rough ground, she realized that the first part of her journey was over.

He gazed at her for several long seconds while the many emotions he had repressed all during their drive surged into his thoughts. Then he took a deep breath and set his face in stone, almost. He climbed out of the cab and walked around the truck. He paused for another long moment before he opened the girl’s door and helped her to climb out.

When she stood before him, the man took her hand and led her into the forest, its cool dimness dappled with rays of bright morning sunlight filtering down through the colored foliage of fall. He guided her with care as they walked a hundred meters through the old growth trees and the girl accepted his lead with calm trust.

The man halted her in the center of a small clearing and removed her blindfold. He waited while she blinked her eyes in the sudden light until she could return his gaze.

”Please remove your clothes,” he ordered.

The thirteen-year old girl kicked her moccasins off without hesitation, and stripped out of her shorts, top and underwear then stood at attention before the man. He looked down impassively at her, beautiful in her advancing puberty and her copper-colored skin glowing with health.

”You may ask one question.”

“I have no question, Sir,” she answered as she looked up at him.

The man could not keep a smile from twitching at the corner of his mouth at the girl’s reply. Then he saw her eyes gleam and he knew she had read his face, and realized that her first decision was correct. His pride in her almost overwhelmed him, but he showed no emotion, instead removed a sturdy leather belt from the fanny pack on his hip and offered it to her. He waited while the girl buckled it around her bare waist then he handed her a small knife sheath with a loop of leather thong sewn to it. She accepted it, and draped the thong around her neck so the sheath hung between her budding breasts.

He next offered her a small cloth bag closed with drawstrings. Marybell took it and he watched her feel its contents for a second, until he saw she recognized the shape of the pack of military field rations it contained.

She shook her head and silently offered it back to him.

He refused it with a smile. “Always have something in reserve. You can return to me if you don’t need it.”

She nodded solemnly at his words and tied its drawstrings to her belt, again without speaking.

The man reached in his pouch again and pulled out a coil of stout cord and a little knife. He held them out as he gazed down at the girl with a silent question in his eyes.

She accepted the cord and the knife, and held them as she returned his gaze for a moment, then she shook out the coil and swiftly measured it against her out-stretched arm. She used the knife which had a short blade that was quite dull, to hack three meters from its length. She slid the knife into the sheath on her chest and coiling the shorter piece of cord, tied it to her belt. She then knotted the cut end of the other piece and re-coiled it as well.

“I have all that I will need, Sir. You may keep the rest,” she said as she offered the remaining cord back to the man,

He could not quite control his expression again, and the pride that flickered on her face showed him she had read his expression, again and knew her second decision was also correct.

The man gazed down into the girl’s emerald green eyes for a moment, then when he felt he could safely speak in a normal voice he reached into his pouch a final time.

”We will expect you starting at noon three days from now. The first star that shines in the evening is your deadline. Now please close your eyes until I have gone.”

She clamped her eyelids shut and he lifted her left wrist and looped something around it then hugged her to his chest with a fierce tenderness.

”Don’t worry Marybell, all of your ancestors walk with you, Baby Bird,” he whispered.

”I know Daddy,” she whispered back as she wrapped her arms around his neck and returned his hug with her eyes tight-closed.

”Thank you for everything - and I’ll bring dinner.”

The man kissed his daughter’s forehead then released her. He gathered up her discarded clothing and left the clearing without another word while Marybell stood braced at attention in the bright morning light.

He, who could move like a wraith through the wilderness, crunched on fallen branches and noisily forced his way through the understory brush as he made his way back to the truck. He climbed in the cab - and pressed his forehead on the steering wheel for many moments while he thought with love and pride, and anguished worry about his daughter.

He knew she was strong and resourceful for her age, but he also could not ignore what he knew of the dangers she could find in the wild world where he had left her…

The man raised his head from the steering wheel after another moment then slammed the truck’s door with unnecessary force. He switched on its fuel cell and drove back down the old logging road to the highway.

He increased his speed when reached the main road and began driving the thirty kilometers back to where his wife and the parents of the three other children undergoing the trial waited. As he drove, he occasionally hummed snatches of the Beethoven piece again - but now in a slower and much more somber tempo...


Coming of Age in a Time of War: Part Two excerpt

2266 A.D, `Clave of S’attl

Kristina Hamier had just turned sixteen, and she and her boyfriend Andy were strolling along the ill-kept streets of the old downtown area of their `Clave of S’attl. Kris, as everyone called her was tall and graceful with a cheerful open face that always seemed to smile. She was an extremely pretty girl with black hair and blue eyes and gave promise of soon becoming a strikingly beautiful woman. Andy, also 16 was taller and stronger than most in his cohort and had honest good looks. The two had been friends and lovers since they were 14 years old.


S’attl had once been the City of Seattle in what had been the State of Washington in the United States, before the Chinese attack and invasion twenty years earlier. As the invaders occupied more territory, land contact was disrupted between the invaded areas in the West, so their local governments were forced to declare martial law in favor of the US military units defending them. The urban areas that had resisted the Chin forces were now protected enclaves, or `Claves in the argot of the time.


Kris and Andy were different from their classmates in that they preferred each other’s company over the group life of their fellow students, and they also chose to be either be out-of-doors or to read in their leisure time rather than to watch the continuous videos on the Network broadcasts furnished by the `Clave governors. They both excelled in school in their classes, and in their mandatory military training.

Kris maintained perfect grades in all of her science and military subjects, as well as always shooting perfect scores in her marksmanship training with rifle and pistol. Therefore, the school administrators grudgingly allowed her to pursue the academy’s meager curriculum in fine arts as well.

She loved her classes in art and dance and music and showed great promise in all three areas, but her passion was history and reading old books. She had quickly exhausted the content of the few instructional discs her mousy little history instructor had given her as take-home assignments, so the gray-haired woman had quietly arranged for Kris to become an assistant monitor for the school’s closed and neglected library. This gave her an access to its musty stacks of paper volumes that was denied to the other students.

The mousey little woman also cautiously invited Kris to visit in her own dingy one-room apartment in a poorer part of the `Clave occasionally, and tutored the young girl in the evenings from her private collection of old books, as well as serving her tea in elegant little china cups.

During the latest session, which Kris instinctively welcomed as secret high points in her happy life, the faded old woman showed her a faded paper photograph of a happily smiling young blond girl wearing a black gown and a strange flat-topped cap with a bright gold tassel hanging over its edge.

She said as she then handed Kris a manuscript in a plastic binder, “That is a picture of me when I graduated with my Bachelor’s, and this is the only hard copy of the dissertation I wrote for my Master’s.

“The war started about that time and before my advisors had a chance to accept it, the Chin bombed Eugene - and killed the University,” she finished with a sigh.

Kristina followed her heart, leaned over the tray with its delicate tea service, and gently hugged the old woman with a wordless moan of sympathy.

Her teacher sighed after several moments and carefully pushed the young girl away from their embrace.

“Kristina, my life has been hard and very disappointing but it has been easy compared to what you will face, because of both the person you are and the times we are in,” she said with a slight smile.

“When they come for me,” she added softly, “Whatever they leave of mine is yours. Now go dear please, for your own good.”

Kris carefully placed her teacup in its saucer on the little table and honored her teacher’s request by rising from her seat with tears suddenly trickling down her cheeks.

“Yes Ma’am,” was all she said as she rushed from the tiny apartment, sobbing from her heart.

Two days after this last visit with her teacher, Kris went to the next scheduled history class at her academy, only to find the classroom door locked and a crudely lettered card taped to its front saying,

“Class canceled permanently. Students are to attend Video Recreation Hall for this hour”.

The tall girl left the building by a side door instead, and ran the four kilometers to the old woman’s apartment building. Her cheeks were pink but she breathed easily as she mounted the stairs two at a time to the top floor. She strode to her teacher’s door only to find it ajar. She pushed it open and stood in the doorway. The little was room bare and empty of all the simple furnishings and piles of books it had contained only two days ago.

She felt a chill as she stepped slowly to the center of the place where her teacher and friend had lived, and gazed about at the bare walls. They now showed only lighter spaces and dirt shadows where the bookcases had stood, and where the old woman’s cheaply framed copies of classic art had hung.

Her eye suddenly caught a gleam of white from the bare wooden floor at one corner of the room. She moved to it with slow steps and stooping, retrieved a broken piece of one of the little china teacups, its delicate handle still attached.

She clutched it to her breast with a deep sob. Then tears coursed down her cheeks as she stepped out of the dusty room and down the dingy stairs and walked slowly back to the academy.


Kristina went to her art instructor in her next class and asked quietly what had happened to her history class and to her teacher. Professor Heurtley only shook his gray head and refused to meet her gaze. Then he addressed the tall girl and the other ten students in the classroom in a hoarse voice.

“Today we begin a unit of practical work for the good of S’attl, and will stop wasting our time drawing flowers.”

“I will briefly show a tri-view of a Chin armored car on the screen, and you will sketch it as accurately as possible.” He continued in a flat monotone in the same dead voice,

“I warn you that there have been small but important modifications to this vehicle which you must note in order to inform your superiors, and in this exercise you must sketch it because your cam is broken.”

“I also will warn you that from now on all of your work will be graded for its usefulness to the Clave and its practicality. Your work will become part of your cadet portfolio of record,” he finished in a rush without meeting the shocked eyes of his class. In a very low voice that cracked he added, “Good Luck…”

Then shouting, “Begin!” he savagely jabbed the start button of the tri-view projector.

The gray-haired artist walked between his students’ desks looking over their shoulders as they furiously marked at their papers, and slowly approached Kristina’s table. He leaned over her shoulder and shouted, “That’s wrong! You’re missing it completely! Dammit you can do better than that!”

He bent over her desk and slapped at her almost finished sketch, then moving his hand he began pointing to various parts of it, and so exposed a carefully placed scrap of paper with its message printed in his architect’s block letters, “The only thing the Administrator told us was, “History is Unnecessary.” I couldn’t learn any more - and don’t you ask anyone else!”

Then standing erect again and retrieving and rolling the paper scrap into a tight cylinder he said gruffly, “See me after class.”

He turned to the room and asked in a normal voice, “Anyone have a light?” as he drew a cheroot from the breast pocket of his frayed tweed jacket.

He lit the rolled paper spill from a match eagerly offered by one of the less capable students, then slowly and carefully lit his cigar from its flame and allowed the spill to burn down to his fingers before discarding its small stub on the floor.

Professor Heurtley called time several minutes later and collected the assignment from the other students, most of which were unfinished. He briefly admonished them on the need to increase their accuracy and speed as he dismissed them, except for Kris. He growled to her, “You stay.”

The girl sat staring ahead with her cheeks red and speechless, both in her confusion, and her embarrassment at the snickers from the other students as they clattered out of the dusty room.

The gray-haired artist returned to his desk and took his seat after they had left. He pulled another chair up beside his and said, “Bring your work over here and have a seat. I will show you what you are doing wrong.”

Kris took the offered seat and placed her completely finished sketch before him. He said in a kinder tone, “I will list your mistakes in the margin. Please pay careful attention.” Then he swiftly sketched in a light set of lettering guidelines and paused in thought for a moment, before making letters at seemingly random places on the spaces he had delineated.

Kris, remembering his earlier message and the way he had delivered it, watched his hand intently.

As she watched, he quickly wrote letter by letter in seemingly random spaces, “TAKE CARE THEY WATCH ALL THE TIME” Then looking at her until she returned his gaze, he smiled and started filling in the rest of his annotation which then made his warning disappear, as it now read,


As she gasped in sudden joy, the old artist added in a free flowing script below his lettered message, “Grade is 4.0”

Then dropping his pencil, he dropped his hand under the desk and gripped her thigh. Kris instinctively jerked her hand down to thwart his attempted grope, then relaxed as he turned his palm up and met hers in a friendly clasp.

He winked to her at her startled glance and said gruffly, “Meet me at the fountain in the park during lunch break tomorrow with your materials, and I will try to give you some more pointers on sketching.”

Then he stood abruptly and said, “Now you are dismissed,” As he strode out of the classroom.

Kris gathered her things and glanced again in wonder at his approving notation on her sketch where it still lay on his desk. Then she walked out of the room as well.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Sneak Peek of Chapter One of Book Two

...and here is a preview of the first chapter from the sequel to Puss and Boots in the 23rd Century.


Chapter 1, "The HOUSEKEEPERS"
July, 2276
Capitol Building, Washington, DC

The Chief Housekeeper of the House of Representatives was sitting at his desk and working on a cross-word puzzle in the only newspaper still published on paper in the city when his comset dinged. The newspaper had been published for over four hundred years, but the Network owned it now and they had changed its name. Its masthead was blazoned, "Truth".

"Yes, Sir," The Housekeeper replied after listening for a moment.

"We will do it, Sir."

Then he clicked off and stared at his comset in disbelief. He finally snarled, "Shat!" and punched in the number of the Chief Housekeeper of the Senate.

"Did you get a real funny call from your Senate Clerk just now? Like I did from my House Clerk?

"I don’t know what it means either, but it’s real scary if it’s true.

"What’s next you ask? I’m going to do what the man said, but I’m keeping my head way low while I do it. I’ve got a feeling life is gonna’ get major complicated from now on, and real quick too."

He listened to the other man for a moment then he finished, "Yeah, let’s keep in touch on this - and back up each other too."

The Housekeeper clicked off then and left his office in the basement of the Capitol. He made his way through the dusty lower passageways to a service elevator and selected a floor. The car creaked, and then lurched into motion.

"Hope this old cadge still remembers how to stop, and where," he muttered.

It did and the door slid open with a screech of dry metal. He stepped into a narrow corridor and walked to an ornate, but un-marked door and pulled a ring of old-fashioned mechanical keys from his pocket and a small oilcan. He selected the largest key on the ring and putting two drops of oil on it pushed it in the slot of bronze lock on the door.

He jiggled the key several times then turned it with some effort. When he heard a grating "click" he twisted the bronze door handle of the mahogany door and pulled on it.

The door opened with a creak of un-used hinges and he stepped into a shadowed space behind an elevated podium. He walked around it to stand on the floor of a very large balconied chamber. The Housekeeper looked around the vast dim space, and sighed. Then he shrugged and pulling out his comset, clicked on his group net.

"All House janitors on duty and off, hear me!" He ordered.

"You are to report to the House Chamber with your supplies and equipment.

"Start now, and get here quick!

"Congress has finally decided to convene and the House of Representatives will be called to order here in eight days - and we’ve got over twenty years of dust and cobwebs to clean up before they do!"
The man clicked off then and pocketed his comset in his gray civilian jumpsuit then he turned and walked slowly to the base of the imposing two-tiered podium.

He looked up at the ornately carved device on its paneled front, the Great Seal of the United States with its heraldic spread eagle holding an olive branch in one clawed foot, and in the other, arrows.

The man looked at the carved seal for several more minutes, then sighed again as he pulled a white linen handkerchief from the sleeve of his suit and began gently wiping twenty years of dust from the carved beak of the eagle. As he wiped the dust away his expression changed from that of a bland bureaucrat and he began to smile

But now his smile was not bland ...


Friday, October 2, 2009

Sneak Peek of Chapter Two of Book Two

...and here is a preview of the second chapter from the sequel to Puss and Boots in the 23rd Century.


Chapter 2, "The TREATY"
July, 2276 AD
Brussels, EU



"Yes Humbert," the small man sitting behind the large desk in the marbled hall of the Supreme Executive Office of the European Union answered in a bland tone.

"We have just received a communiqué on our ultra-net."


"President Pitson of The United States has invoked the Treaty."

"His stated reason?" The small man asked with pursed mouth.

"His Position as a Head of State is Threatened by Internal Disorder, specifically the…"

"Enough! I do not need to know the petty details. He used the exact wording given in Our Treaty of Mutual Support Among Heads Of State, did he not?"

"Yes Excellency, that he did," Humbert replied with an unctuous smile…

"Since he did so," the Prime Secretary replied as he leaned back in his throne-like chair and steepeled his fingers, "We therefore are bound by this pact to offer him all necessary aid and support as I recall."

"Oh, most certainly, Excellency, the requirements of the treaty are quite detailed with respect to a request so worded."

"Very well then," the Prime Secretary said with a dry chuckle, "Please inform the Chief Field Marshal and The Chief Air Marshal that I require their presence, at their convenience of course."

"Yes, Excellency," Humbert murmured as he bowed to the small man sitting behind the ornately carved desk with gilt ormolu accents.


Humbert ushered Field Marshal Manfred Von Glück and Air Marshal Jean Marie Valois into the Prime Secretary’s office thirty minutes later. The small man stepped around his desk and greeted the two officers.

"Thank you for attending me on such short notice. I hope my request was not too disruptive of your no doubt busy and complex schedules," he said in a bland tone with a bland smile.

"Not at all, Excellency," Manfred replied with a stiff face as he clicked the heels of his gleaming jack boots.

"We of the military view disruption as normal, Excellency," Jean Marie said as he gave a sweeping salute with a white-gloved hand.

"Good," the Prime Secretary replied in the same bland tone. "Let us seat ourselves, and take a brandy as we begin our deliberations," he continued with a wave toward an exquisitely elaborate Third Empire table and chairs at the other end of his office. It stood under an enormous painting on the wall of Napoleon crowing himself Emperor.

"Humbert, if you would," he then murmured and his aide walked with stately haste to a buffet in the corner of the large room.

"Our own aides await in the anteroom, Excellency," Manfred said with a question in his tone.

"We will coordinate details with them after we three discuss policy," The Prime Secretary responded as he took a seat at the head of the small table. "You have briefing books," he continued as he indicated two beautifully tooled Morocco binders at their places.

The two officers seated themselves and Humbert served brandies from a heavy silver tray, the Air Marshal first as the junior service, the Field Marshal next as the senior service and then the Prime Secretary last as their host and commander.

The small man lifted his large snifter after he had allowed them five minutes to savor their briefing materials, and their brandy.

"Gentlemen, as you can see we have been presented a unique opportunity to extend our precious Order and Tranquility to a region where it has long been absent," he said as he took a sip of the very old brandy, and smiled.

"Very good Excellency, both your brandy, and our opportunity," Jean Marie said after taking a sip.

"Yes Excellency," Manfred added. "Your brandy and your insights are always of the best, but the reason for this opportunity?"

The Prime Secretary took a second, very small sip then set his snifter aside and leaned back in his chair. He steepeled his fingers again and announced in a dry tone, "The President of The United States has just invoked a very important provision of the Treaty of Mutual Support for Heads of State, and it is now our task to plan how we will carry out our binding obligation."

Manfred and Jean Marie smiled and their smiles were grim, but somewhat forced...


"Humbert, I believe our guests require the services of their aides now. Correct, Comrades?" The Prime Secretary asked when he had given the two officers the outline of what the EU response would be.

"Yes Excellency, but a moment," Manfred interrupted. "Most American citizens are not involved with this Restoration movement. We will apply the massive force as you direct, but what about those who are innocent and not involved?"

"Interesting that you should ask this question Chief Field Marshal," the small man said as he leaned back in his chair and steepeled his fingers yet again.

"Normand of Toulouse asked essentially the same question of Arnald, Bishop of Citeaux when he had breached the walls of Bieziers in 1207. Normand was the General of the Army led by Arnald who was the Pope’s Legate tasked to reform heretics in that town.

"Bieziers had 20,000 inhabitants and was the center of a small revolutionary movement calling themselves Albegensins. Those waywards actually believed that the Church elite should live simply, as the little people did. Obviously this was not acceptable to the Church.

"Tuez tous. Le DIEU reconnaîtra Leis seins," Arnald answered Normand.

"I believe Arnald’s solution applies here as well, consenter?" The Prime Secretary purred with another bland smile.

Manfred suppressed a shudder and was silent for a moment, then snapped, "Yes Excellency, it shall be as you wish. Our schedule, Excellency?"

"My dear Manfred, do not be so tiresome. As soon as your excellent forces are ready to deploy of course," The small man in the big chair purred, the ice in his eyes belying his gentle tone.

"This is a very sizable mobilization, Excellency. August at best," Manfred muttered. Air Marshal Jean Marie nodded in agreement.

"Very good gentlemen, I will await your reports of your successes after August – but do not make me wait too long after that..."

"Yes Excellency," Both men shouted as they leaped from their chairs and saluted the small man in the large chair, Jean Marie with an open-handed sweep of his right hand and Manfred with a forward extension of his right arm.