Mummy Powder, Part 3

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It felt like a long time before Bruce found whoever it was.  After several soft blows, a crate fell over someplace, hopefully not damaging whatever was inside, and then the silence returned.  For the length of time the struggle took, I decided there had to be more than one.  I started to stand up, ducking back down when I heard the thud of something heavy on the wooden floor.  Not like Bruce to be careless and I thought it might be better for me to hide a little longer, maybe even until he got back, so I stayed down and kept watching the door.

I heard a footstep, heavy on the floor boards out in the warehouse.  After what seemed like a long time, there was another.  Was Bruce hurt or just carrying two people back to the treasure room?  The next footstep was closer, but the one after had an echo, almost like another footstep.  I resisted the urge to call for Bruce, demand some bit of information about what was happening, but the chilling thought ran through my head that maybe what I heard was someone else, and maybe more than one, hauling Bruce back here instead of the other way around.  That thought worried me more than anything had in years.

Mimicking Bruce’s earlier gesture, only with a hat in my hand, I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to shrink further into the shadow while still keeping my gaze firmly locked on the door.  My heart began to pound and I worried about my own safety for the first time in a long while.  The footsteps continued coming closer, each louder than the last, and I broke into a sweat.

A shadow moved just outside the light, big and broad, and I inhaled to call for Bruce to stop messing around and get back in here, but then the shadow took another step forward and the words never made it out of my brain, much less my mouth.  It lurched toward me, coming into the full light.  Bruce had been right after all.

Rags wrapped the creature, long strips of cloth in places so bonded to the ancient flesh beneath it would take surgery to determine where the boundary lay.  In other spots, the ages had worn away whatever had glued the fabric down and it hung loose, exposing the preserved leather beneath.  One side of its face lay exposed to the air, showing me a puckered eye socket and lips so receded, brown and black teeth grinned in the light.

I swallowed a scream, but then let it out when I saw the mummy—god, the mummy!—had a hand wrapped around Bruce’s foot, dragging him farther into the room with each slow step.  Behind them both, more shadows moved.  More mummies?  Wasn’t one enough?  How many could there possibly be?  I remembered the stacks of crates and sarcophagi.  Dozens.

Two more steps, and it let go of Bruce.  His leg dropped to the floor and I wondered if he were still alive.  With his arms crossed, fingertips touching opposite shoulders, I couldn’t see his chest moving, but then he groaned and one arm flopped over, knuckles cracking against the bare plank.  Relief poured through me, lessening the fear a little, but far from quenching it.  I had to wonder if he might be better off dead.  Or if I might be.

The mummy’s head turned in my direction and its jaw worked like a slow ventriloquist’s dummy.  Sounds fell from its mouth but I couldn’t tell if they were even meant to be words.  My ancient Egyptian was limited to working out hieroglyphics with a dictionary.  Egypt was mostly outside my normal stomping grounds, had been for years, but Witkinstein had been a rumour too beautiful not to chase.  King Tut big.  Now I wished I’d stayed on the other side of the Mediterranean.

A stone on stone grinding noise from the sarcophagus I cowered beside pushed me further into the corner.  God, wake up Bruce.  Wake up and save me.  Never mind that he’d already been taken down by the mummies once.  What good would being awake do?  Better he should sleep through whatever they were going to do to us.  What were they going to do to us?  Why was Bruce still alive?  Why was I still alive?  Panic started to rise in my chest again.

The grinding went on long enough I had to look at the sarcophagus to see it was opening from the inside, fingers wrapped around the closest edge of the gold-coated stone box.  They didn’t look like they’d been preserved chemically for several thousand years, or preserved at all.  A little wrinkled, a little dry, they could have belonged to anyone over seventy, or even sixty.  But since they belonged to someone pulling himself out of a stone coffin they might as well have been wrapped around my neck.

The head appeared first, wearing a headdress more or less like anything you’d see in a movie set in ancient Egypt.  But its, his, skin had a much paler tone than seemed likely for a more or less desert nation, not that I could find the voice to question that or anything else at the moment.  He lurched out of the sarcophagus wearing the stereotypical ancient Egyptian outfit, meaning not much beyond the headdress.  Naked from the waist up, and a short white, well, skirt lacking a better word, trimmed in blue and gold.  Some small part of my mind hoped he wore a loincloth underneath.  Sandals on his feet.  I’d say flip flops, but they probably had a legitimate ancient Egyptian name, especially studded with rubies.

His glance roamed over the room and I could see hints of the man whose face had been carved in gold on the cover, but much older.  A man still vital in his seventies where the face on the sarcophagus reflected, well not youth and beauty, but the height of strength and power.  His nose pushed me in the direction of belief, but the eyes, when they met mine, gave it away.  The sculptor knew those eyes so well, their shape and tilt and expression, that I couldn’t doubt it.  Somehow, the ancient pharaoh, thousands of years dead, had not only been resurrected but given a new lease on life, a body that seemed to live and breathe.  His gaze held me so well I forgot to be afraid and had to fight the urge to lean over and press my head into the floor.

The Beginning * PreviouslyContinue Reading

Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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The Great Audio Experiment

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I thought I might try an experiment.

I’m planning to do some podcast fiction this year. “Thorvald’s Wyrd” and “Turn the World Around”, both serialized on the old Small Realities blog and both destined to become e-books, at least, in the near future. I know I’ve said that before, but I am slowly finding time to teach myself how formatting really works. Artwork aside, there’s still at least one round of going through the stories in detail to make sure they’re as good, and as clean, as I can make them before I’m ready to publish.

I’ve done some test readings, trying to find the places in my house where I’d have to do the least noise removal if I do nothing else. I need to practice reading aloud more, too. My kids aren’t nearly as interested as they used to be and I’m a little out of practice, especially for the longer stretches I’ll need to manage to do fiction.

Either way, I have this lovely microphone I really haven’t done much with yet, so I thought I might try doing a little audio blogging. I should probably find some music first, at least. Maybe a couple of sound effects? Or maybe not. A little post-production on the fly for my regular posts will probably produce a reading in the 3-5 minute range. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

But it does have to be fun.

Be well.

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Mummy Powder, Part 2

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We found the secondary security system next to a thin door hidden behind an upright wooden sarcophagus.  Not exactly high tech for the modern era, but I’m sure the early 80s keypad seemed pretty impressive in this neighbourhood.  Whoever had been through the Doc’s stuff hadn’t been too thorough, I guessed.  Or the keypad didn’t look tampered with at least.  For our purposes, Bruce’s fist took care of all the tampering necessary.  His foot dealt with the door in a similar manner, and just as effectively.

“Very nicely done, Bruce.”  Always give compliments where and when they’re due.  In Bruce’s case, I also enjoyed the bashful ‘aw shucks’ look on someone his size.

I groped inside the door for a light switch, finding it at about the right level on my left.  The room blazed back like standing next to the sun.  For a moment, I wished Witkinstein had installed a dimmer switch.  The effect would have been nearly as impressive, just less blinding.  “Wow.  How much ancient Egyptian bling does one man need?”  Tablets, statues, jewellery, urns and pots and tools I couldn’t even begin to identify, all carved from gold and all polished to within a millimetre of being hazardous to vision.  The collection’s centrepiece lay in the middle of the floor.  Yeah, King Tut big all right, but he’d already found it.  Still, the old man wasn’t known for field work.  His reputation was as someone people brought stuff to so he could work things out.  He never went out looking himself.

“Um, maybe we should think about the curse a little more.  This guy looks like he was kind of rich to me.”

Even with a twinge of guilt in my gut, I had a hard time tearing my eyes away from the sarcophagus to look at my assistant.  “I’m sorry, Bruce.  I was just teasing you about the curse.  Every one of the famous mummies has had a curse attached, but nothing has ever come from any of them, despite what some Egyptophile conspiracy nut might tell you.  You’re right, though.  This guy looks pretty rich.”  Rich like a king.  King Tut?  Somewhere out there, someone was looting the tomb of an undiscovered pharaoh and bringing the stuff to the Doc.  Either my informant held out on me or there was a lot more going on here than an old archaeology professor taking up artefact collecting in his retirement.  Where had he gotten the money to cover the goods in this room?

“There’s no curse, boss?”

“No such thing.  Never has been.”  I took a couple of steps forward and put a hand on the sarcophagus.  My fingers trailed up the side as I moved to look into the face of a king.  Cool to the touch, I marvelled at the hundreds of hours that must have gone into its working.  The blue and gold design with black lines and highlights reminded me very much of the King Tut death mask, but whoever had modelled for this face was much older, much more experienced, much more a king.  Killed or murdered as a teenager, Tutankhamen never had a chance to rule.  Whoever lay in this sarcophagus reigned over his world absolutely, had been good at it, and knew it.  Just a few inches under my hand lay the wrapped remains of a divine king of Egypt, chosen of the gods, lord of all he surveyed.  You could see that even in the gold carving.  Well, I could see it.  Bruce wouldn’t come close enough to look.

“But you said—”

“I’m sorry, Bruce.  I know what I said and I shouldn’t tease you.  It’s not very nice.”  Not that I’m always, or even often, very nice, but it’s better to keep Bruce happy.  Sulking, he’s less alert.  “Everything you’ve ever heard about a mummy’s curse has been made up by someone, right down to anything written on the tomb itself.  That was just to try scaring away superstitious grave robbers, or find a way to make money.”

“You’re sure?”

I tore my eyes away from the sarcophagus to look back at my sidekick.  Worry lines creased his face and eyes that normally seemed just a little too small for his head didn’t suffer from that problem right now.  He’d folded his arms across his broad chest, tucking fists into his armpits and dropping his chin until it almost touched his ribs.  Bruce actually looked scared and that worried me a little.  As far as I remembered, Bruce had never been scared of anything, ever, but some tiny memory of something must have pulled the strings of childhood fear.  Did he watch a bad horror movie at a very young age?  Read a scary novel involving mummies?  Buy into a campfire story?

Wrong time to dwell on that.  I was sure I’d hear all about it later, anyway.  “Of course I’m sure.”  I smiled, trying to be comforting.  “It’s pretty well documented.  Mould spores, bad air, primitive medicine, that sort of thing.”  I didn’t really feel like making up some references he wouldn’t remember, but I needed him to be Bruce not some giant cowering child.  I needed him to watch my back so I could figure out why old Witkinstein hadn’t announced his discovery, whatever it was, to the world.  It was only a matter of time until one of his contacts or suppliers showed up with something to share with him, or, knowing how fast word travelled, looking to take something back and sell it to someone else.

A muffled thud out in the warehouse told us that time might already be up.

The flash of fear on Bruce’s face worried me for a split second, but he clenched his jaw and unfolded his arms, turning for the door.  I opened my mouth but he nodded.  “I know, boss.  No permanent damage.  You need info.”  How had I ever gotten along without him?  And he moved so quietly, had such a light step when he needed it.  Thinking about it always made me glad I hadn’t met him by chance somewhere dark and secluded.  The man could sneak up behind you and rip your arms off before you knew he was there.

But it seemed a sensible precaution to hide, at least.  If there happened to be more than one intruder and one of them got by Bruce for a moment, however unlikely that was, it would be safer for me to be hidden for at least a few seconds when they came into the room, give Bruce that little bit of time to catch up and take care of business.  Too late to turn off the light, I squeezed into the shadow beside the sarcophagus and took off my fedora, keeping one eye high enough to see the door in case anyone came through.

The BeginningContinue Reading

Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Mummy Powder, Part 1

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Mummy Powder, Part 1

What if?

Through the ages, so many horrible things have sprung from those two small words. The darkest imaginings and depravities of mankind all began with that simple question.  A multitude of sins and evil events.  This is one of them.

When I began my quest, so many years ago, I had in mind certain experiments to test the validity of legends of and relating to

“That’s it?”

Bruce nodded twice, his shaggy hair bouncing between.  “Except for the blood smear.  Did you want to see?”  He held out the journal, open to the last entry, the only entry.  I waved him off.

Geez, who kept a paper journal anymore?  Hadn’t old Doc Witkinstein heard of computers?  “Blood smears are nothing exciting.”  And they didn’t really tell us anything, anyway.  Witkinstein had been dead for days.  We’d already seen what was left of the body and a few dull red smears wouldn’t bother either of us.

“What legends do you suppose he meant?”  Bruce squinted at the journal as if that might make the meaning sink into his brain.

I sighed.  “Sorry, was that you in the next room or do you have a twin brother I should know about?”

“Oh, the mummies then.”

I had to stop myself from mimicking him.  Bruce was not on my payroll to be smart.  That was my job.  His was to open doors, break legs, remove obstacles, and as frequently as possible tell me how brilliant I was.  Some things you just had to let go.  “Yes, the mummies.  Archaeologists may have tried for a couple of centuries to strip Egypt bare, but the country is still lousy with mummies.  Thousands of years of embalming your dead can cause a bit of build up.  Still a pretty good black market, I guess.  Doesn’t tell us how he could afford several dozen of them, though.”

Bruce put the journal back down in the splintered remains of the desk, as close as he could manage to the spot he’d picked it up from.  “But what good are they?”

I shrugged, pushing at some spilled paper with one foot.  Paper!  Sure we were in Egypt, but paper?  I’m not asking for the twenty-first century, but join the 1990s at least, Doc.  “Depends on who you ask.  Cultural and historical research, Egyptian heritage, and so on.  Lots of things.”  Something sparked in my memory and I snorted.

“What?”

“Up to a couple of hundred years ago, doctors used to prescribe powdered mummy for everything from head colds to a severe case of limp dick.”

“How would you use a mummy to cure anything?”

I tried not to laugh.  Sometimes it wasn’t easy to get him to accept serious explanations.  If he thought I thought it was a joke, the words would just bounce off his forehead.  “They’d pulverize them, sell it to doctors for medicine, and the doctors would prescribe it to make a tea that would supposedly cure pretty much anything they thought the patient had.”

“Tea?”  Bruce wrinkled his fat, several-times-broken nose.  “That’s gross.”

“Yeah, well, I won’t tell you how they stretched the supply when actual mummies were harder to come by.  Ground mummy would be better for you, in spite of the embalming fluids.  Couldn’t let a whole industry fail, though.”  I sighed again, a different kind of frustration.  Some things never changed.  “What was the old man working on that could possibly have been worth killing him over?”

Bruce shrugged.  “Guess we’ll have to look.”  He leaned down toward the desk debris then straightened and glanced nervously from side to side.  “You don’t suppose it was a curse, do you?”

I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose.  He made it so easy, I just couldn’t help myself.  “Well, pretty much only royalty or really rich people could afford curses.  We’ll have to go through things in the loading bay to see if anyone here qualifies.”  Or to see if anything obviously important is missing.  Or not missing.  Or not obviously.  Careful or you’ll think yourself into a corner.  Experiments, whatever they were, notwithstanding, my information said the old guy was onto something really, really big.  Big like King Tut big.  Maybe even worth killing over.  There had to be some clue lying around.

#

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Note: “Mummy Powder” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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On the Writing of Fiction and Why I Do It

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Every fiction writer will have a reason for choosing fiction.  You hear and read a lot of them that sound clever and dramatic on the surface of things.  Most of them boil down to one of (or some combination of):

  • I have to.
  • I need to.
  • The voices in my head make me.

I understand all of those, and I’ve felt them all on occasion, but I’m also a huge believer in free will and anything that doesn’t consider it leaves out part of the equation as far as I’m concerned.

The summer I was eight, my uncle pressed a copy of the Lord of the Rings into my hands to keep me busy.  Seems a little excessive, doesn’t it?  “Here kid, have a thousand pages of fantasy fiction.  That ought to keep you quiet for a while.”  Not nearly as long as he hoped, I think.  I’d already read Fellowship at that point, so got through it fairly quickly and tore into Towers by the next day.

And that wasn’t even the beginning.  Dad had plenty of SF and Fantasy lying around when I was a kid in the 70s and I read a lot of classic and not so classic genre fiction.  My school library had more and the local library beat both together.  I discovered McCaffrey early, and Silverberg, and Niven, Le Guin, Pohl, Herbert, Smith, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and dozens of others.

The 70s moved into the 80s and a couple of years later I became a teenager and my reading expanded deeper into the genres.  Fantasy came into its own and SF got broader than ever before.  Bova, and Feist, and Eddings, Salvatore,Bradley,Jordan, Brooks, Anthony, Pratchett, Alexander, and on and on and on.

The 80s became the 90s and I grew older and kept reading.  By the time we rolled the millennium, I had a wife, a son, and a daughter on the way.  Less time for reading, but I never let it go.  My horizons got broader, but I got pickier at the same time, less forgiving of some things and more understanding of others.  My youngest daughter arrived somewhere in there, too.

These days I read less than I did for myself before the whole family thing happened, and more non-fiction than ever before.  It’s a strange, winding road, but along the way I found a lot of things that had been lost, like Dr. Suess, and picked up things I never would have otherwise, like Harry Potter.  There’s no way I can possibly come up with a guess at how many hours of joy and pleasure reading, and particularly reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, has given me.

And that’s why I write.

Sure, it might satisfy some psychological need I have and maybe the voices in my head like to be let out of my imagination to play through words across the screen, but that’s not why I write.

I write because that’s what I feel it takes for me to pay back all the writers who have gone before me.  If someone reads one of my stories and enjoys it, then I’m thrilled to have added a little joy in reading to someone else’s life, and the hours of work that went into it were more than worthwhile.

Read on and be well.

(Cross-posted from my new website.)

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Branch Santa, Part 11

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“That’s going to take some getting used to.” Eugene stared at Santa as the big guy strapped his skinny frame into the only seat on the Sled that fit him.

“What is?”  Santa fought with the straps, taking forever to get his too-long arms in the right spots for things to snap together.

“The time compression field.  Take a few steps away from the shuttle and we’re outside of it until you come back.  On Earth, Santa would still be gone all night but I didn’t have time to blink in the time you were gone, Chief.”  He held out his hand.  “Here, I need to get the data into the computer.  Were you seen?”

“On the last delivery.  A little girl named Sasha.  I think she was five.”  Santa pulled off his gold belt buckle, just a cover for the real one, and dropped it in Eugene’s hand.  The elf immediately plugged it into a special port in the panel next to him and a screen full of numbers appeared.

“We’re good to go, Falco.”  The Sled’s pilot nodded and Santa felt the shuttle lift off the surface. Eugene smiled at the screen.  “That’s good, Chief.”

“It is?”

“Sure.  Look here.”  He pointed at a section of the screen where the numbers were bigger.  “Deliberate effect of the magic.  See, the field expanded just exactly the distance needed to reach a restless child.  Happens to Santa, Earth’s Santa, a few times every year.  The magic helps the legend along.  Kids have to believe or there’s no point.  I’m glad it translated to you, too.”

“Hmm.  I am too, I suppose.”  Without belief, he was, well, just a guy in a funny suit with strange friends.

Santa looked out the window to watch the Moon base get smaller.  Not much to look at from the outside, a few domes and a couple of hangars, the rest deep underground.  The Christmas facility at the North Pole couldn’t be seen from the surface, but below them lay the concealed future of human space exploration, the first few people leaving the cradle to live on another world.  They brought the spirit of Christmas with them, and Santa came along for the ride.

The Sled sliced through a turn and Santa watched the lunar surface whip past at a disturbing speed only a hundred metres or so below them.  He took his eyes from the window just as a yawn escaped.  Leaning back, Santa closed his eyes and let his mind wander.

On Earth, Santa wouldn’t finish until just before dawn real time but for the Lunar crew Christmas Eve was more or less over. Things could find a less frenzied pace for a few months.  Short as the night had been, it took years of work and sweat to give him his first taste of what it really meant to be Santa, the joy on Sasha’s face.

He sighed.  Years had a way of racing past.  How many more before they needed a Martian Santa?  Probably fewer than they thought, a lot fewer.  Putting a Christmas Town on Mars wouldn’t be nearly as easy as the Moon.  He’d ask Eugene and Jan to look into the idea, but not until after they’d had a little time off.

He wondered if Santa, the first Santa, had mentioned the idea to them already.   They probably had a basic presentation cooked up and ready to go.

First * Previous

(Note: Branch Santa is released on http://lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed, but not changed or sold.)

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Branch Santa, Part 10

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Santa crept through the bare tunnel, toy sack slung over his shoulder.  The colonists hadn’t spent much mass on luxuries or decoration.  Out here, he had a hard time believing anyone would want to live on the Moon, a tough, barren existence compared to what the colonists left behind.  He shivered.  With only the sealed hatches for company, he felt cold.  The lack of chimneys, snow, lights, or anything else that might give a sign of Christmas, weighed down on him.

But inside, Santa found decorations, simple things made of colored plastic or sometimes painted on the stone walls.  In a few family units, Santa found a holographic Christmas tree.  Not very many presents under those trees, but every family found or made something to celebrate their first Christmas on the Moon.  Santa made sure the small piles grew.

In a few decades, when the population grew larger, he’d actually need the time compression field to get his deliveries done, but this year, from leaving the Sled to reaching his last stop, some tiny fraction of a second passed for the universe outside the bubble.  A few years of practice would help him remember to tighten it up when he moved from warren to warren.

Santa slid a second present, beautifully wrapped in red and green with a shining gold bow, under the last holographic tree.  Five letters in a careful flowing script spelled Sasha and he wondered what hid inside.  The Moonbase children occupied a special section of the Earth List and the crew back at the North Pole had taken good care of things this first year.  Luna would have its own List next year.

He stood up, as careful not to disturb the holographic tree as he would be with a real one.  Looking down at the present, Santa realized he didn’t know if Sasha was a boy or a girl.  He should know.  Santa would know.  He set his jaw.  Next year he’d know all of the children, and every year after, no matter how many there were.

A delicate yawn answered the question.  Santa spun around to find himself towering over a girl who, if five, was small for her age.  Blonde pig tails tied with pink bows and blue, sleepy eyes.  Pink cheeks and pink pajamas with feet in them.  She yawned again while he stared and her eyes traveled up the long skinny length of him to make contact with his.  She screwed up her face and frowned at him, her head pulling back.  “Santa?”

He took a deep breath and crouched down and smiled.  The moment of truth, he supposed.  “Who else would you expect on Christmas Eve, little one?”

The frown didn’t go away, but she didn’t back away, either.  “You’re all wrong.”  She sniffed, wiping half the length of her pajama clad arm under her nose.  “Tall and skinny and your suit’s blue.  What’s wrong with your beard?”  Sasha made another face.  “Dario said you wouldn’t be able to get here.  You’ve got too much to do back home.”

He kept smiling.  “This is your home now, isn’t it?”  She nodded.  “And you know the Moon is another world, don’t you?”

“I guess.”  She eyed him with suspicion, probably thinking him an odd dream.

“Well, it’s true that I’m tall and I’m skinny and I’ve got a blue suit instead of a red one and my beard isn’t all white, but can I ask you a question?”

She sniffed again.  “What?”

“If you’re on a different world, why do you think you should get the same Santa?”

Her sudden smile lit up the whole room, far brighter than any Christmas tree.  “You’re the Moon Santa!”  She jumped to wrap her arms around his neck and squeezed.

“I certainly am, Sasha.  I certainly am.”  He let the hug go on for quite a few seconds -– it was the best he’d ever gotten –- before putting a kink in his neck to look at her.  “Tell me, little one, do you like candy canes?”

She let go and took one step back.  “Only the minty kind.  Last year I gave all the fruity ones to Dario.”

“Dario is your brother.”  Had he read the name on the other present?

Sasha nodded.  “He’s nine.”

Santa reached into his pocket and pulled out two candy canes, one with the traditional red, green, and white swirls while the other twisted two shades of blue.  “Well then, here’s one for each of you.  Minty for you and raspberry for Dario.”  She clutched them to her chest and he guessed very little candy made it to the Moon.  He’d take care of that problem next year.  Still smiling, he rubbed her head with his other hand.  “You should go back to bed.  The sooner you go back to sleep, the sooner Christmas Morning will come.”

She gave him another quick hug and he watched her bounce back to her room, one candy cane sticking up over her shoulder.  How could I even think of not taking this job?

First * Previous * Next

(Note: Branch Santa is released on http://lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed, but not changed or sold.)


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Branch Santa, Part 9

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Frank stopped at the bottom of the gangway, turning to look down at the man he’d looked up at for most of his career, the man he still looked up to.   “How did I let you talk me into this again?”

Santa clapped a hand on Frank’s shoulder and had to reach fairly high to do it.  “You were the right elf for the job.”  He gave Frank a lopsided grin before leaning back a little to avoid craning his neck.  “I’ll come for a visit early in the New Year when things have settled down.  Well, maybe early in February, after I’ve had a chance to rest a bit.  If you need anything, or just want to talk, I’m here.  Really busy, but here.  Nelson will have a line open and I can always spare a couple of minutes.”

Eugene stuck his head out of the airlock above them.  “Final checks complete.  Everything is loaded and secured.  We’re good to go as soon as you’re on board, Santa.”

Frank looked up and shook his head.  “Santa isn’t- oh, that’s me, isn’t it.”

A deep chuckle floated up to his ears.  “It certainly is.”

“It’s going to take some getting used to.”

Earth’s Santa folded the Moon’s Santa into a bear hug, short and appropriately manly, considering their wardrobe and job description, then stepped back.  “Tell me something I don’t know.  It’s a long time ago, but I still remember the early days.  I was terrified half the time for the first few years.  You’re better prepared than I was.  You’ll get over it a lot faster.”

Frank looked back at the shuttle, not quite willing to voice his doubts.  “I hope so, Chief.”

“You know, Frank, I mean Santa, I’m going to miss you bringing me two or three ‘real problems’ every day.”

Frank turned back to see Santa smiling.  He bit his lip for a moment, then let his own grin free.  “Don’t worry, Chief.  Hans and Xavier will find their own way to keep you involved.”

“Keep me involved?”  The smile disappeared as shock chased comprehension across the rosy cheeks.

Frank’s smile, on the other hand, got bigger.  “Of course.  You’re a little distant sometimes.  If I left you alone, you’d never come out of your office.”

Two big laughs ho-ho-ho-ed across the hangar.

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(Note: Branch Santa is released on http://lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed, but not changed or sold.)

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Turn the World Around, Part 33

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Chapter 30

Heart is of the river

Body is the mountain

Spirit is the sunlight

Turn the world around

We are of the spirit

Truly of the spirit

Only can the spirit

Turn the world around

Paper had significance for everyone.  That was something we all had in common.

Electronic copies of the Treaty, and all its codexes, would go forth and multiply.  Aside from spreading across Earth, it would become the mostly widely read document in history on all the worlds settled by the Shalash, the Asoolianne, and the Hoon.  At least, all three ambassadors were quick to say so whenever someone talked about the document in their hearing.

But an electronic copy was still only a copy.  Months of talks culminated in four originals of the basic Treaty, printed on the highest grade archival paper human technology could produce, all to be signed by each Ambassador and witnessed by the Intermediaries.  One would go with each Ambassador to his or her respective home world and government.  The fourth would remain on Earth, sealed in a case resting on a four-sided pedestal in the room directly above the negotiating chamber, a permanent monument to what had been accomplished inGuinea.

The Signing took place early in the morning before the brilliant West African sun poked more than its upper third above the horizon.  Dozens of world leaders and scores of representatives were in attendance, along with hundreds of delegates, envoys, and diplomats representing more governments than I’d thought existed, plus the United Nations.  They overfilled stands built on three sides of the platform expressly for the Signing.  On the fourth side, a sea of reports crouched, sat, or stood to film the proceedings.  The quiet hum of so many cameras, a strange electronic symphony, brushed against my ears like waves from the distant coast.  So many faces blurred together in that crowd, more than we could have crammed into a dozen of the visitors’ complex press galleries.

I watched the Ambassadors sign each copy, starting with their own to give pride of place to those copies returning home with each of them, shifting positions after each signature.  As always, balance remained important in the extreme.  The Ambassadors’ signatures appeared as the points of a large triangle.  A second, smaller triangle below the first would hold the Intermediaries’ signatures, using the same positioning as the Ambassadors we’d served for.  On Earth’s multi-lingual copy of the Treaty—English, Mandarin, and Spanish—the alien signatures held equal rank, appearing on the same line, and the Intermediaries would each place theirs below the appropriate ambassador.  We waited our turn then signed in the same way they had, all at the same time.

A murmur rippled through the press as we stepped back.  In a mixed crowd or any other profession, the murmur would have become a cheer.  After a few seconds, applause began to spread through the stands as the leaders and representatives stood to recognize the achievement.  It didn’t matter that it was far away, farther than anything anyone in the crowd had imagined outside of a story not much more than a year ago, peace had been won.  Three governments needed to ratify that peace, but the ambassadors assured everyone it would happen.  All three species were tired of war.  They needed it to stop if only because they’d finally learned to talk to each other.

It gave me a burning hope for my own species and I wanted to think a lot of other people shared it.  I really wanted everyone to share it. Sharon, still drinking in the news channels, not that that would ever change, told me most conflicts across the world had slowed or paused in the last week.  Maybe the enemies in some of them would find a way to stop and talk to each other too.  Maybe we could learn from someone else’s problems.

If we did or if we didn’t, life would never completely return to normal after the ships left, not even for a while.  We knew now we weren’t alone and if there were three other sentient species out there, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to find out there were more.  Earth had a lot to think about.

And our position as a ‘neutral’ planet might have continued benefits.  Small embassies had been suggested with small staffs.  We already had this convenient complex.  Gargltch had suggested it might be possible to talk about more than just peace.  Riptalektik’fa wondered if they could find a way to someday discuss trade.  Mahyul mused out loud that she could see herself just talking to the other two.  The Intermediaries agreed to make themselves available should any such conversations warrant their inclusion or if any of the ambassadors wished them present.

The universe, or at least our little corner of it, seemed to be overflowing with hope.

Sharon and I could theoretically return to our jobs, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to.  I’d told Antoine I’d been happy in a cubicle doing work I enjoyed, but too much had changed in the last year for me to expect my old work life to be satisfying.  Neither Talya nor Manuel had mentioned their plans to me yet, if they had any.  Could she go back to being a teacher?  Could he return to his quiet retirement?  Our futures might be very, very different.  Mine would have to be if for no other reason than the kids had made new friends.  So had I, and not just among the Shalash.  The Intermediaries wouldn’t easily fall out of touch.  The world probably wouldn’t let us.  St. Hivon had already hinted that there might be work for us.  So had Ambassador Cunningham.  Our interesting times probably weren’t over yet, and that didn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would.

As we stepped back from the table, I threw an arm around each of my counterparts.  I supposed it made a good photo op, but I just wanted to express some affection for the two people who’d become my closest friends.  “It’s been a strange ride.”

Manuel looked up at me with a lopsided grin.  “My friend, you speak as if it’s over.”

Talya smiled too, letting her reserve slip just a little.  We’d all gotten used to the cameras, I guessed.  “I am certain we have much yet to do.”

I almost laughed.  “You’re probably right.  And a lot to learn.”

“About the world and each other.”  Manuel looked out over the crowd of reporters, maybe wondering at the torrent of questions held at bay only by distance.  “And perhaps about our friends from the stars.”  Or maybe wondering about something else entirely.

“Do we know who we are?” Talya elbowed me in the ribs and I had to laugh.

“Maybe not, but we’ve got lots of time to start finding out.”  The script started to reassert itself as a few shuffling footsteps moved up behind us.  We broke apart and took our places beside the Ambassadors.  Let the new ride begin.  The applause grew louder, almost loud enough to drown out Mahyul’s voice in my ear.

“I will say it many times, Intermediary, but thank you.”

My face heated up and I tried to speak without moving my lips much.  “I’m just happy things are starting to work out, Ambassador.  I expect you’ve still got a long road.”

“A very long road, but at least now we are moving in the correct direction.”  She hesitated a moment before leaning down to whisper in my ear.  “It slipped my mind earlier, but I have received confirmation.”

I bit the inside of my cheek and fought the childish impulse to kick her ankle.  With clear emotions, I didn’t think anything ever slipped the Ambassador’s mind.  “Thank you, Ambassador.  That brings me a great deal of joy.”

The reception started in half an hour and I had no idea what I’d say to Harry Belafonte.

Oh-ho!  So is life!

Abateewah-ha!  So is life!

End

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Branch Santa, Part 8

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“It’s a variation on the original magic that made you Santa.  A little different, a little more focused.”

The booth hummed, an oscillating pitch putting Santa in mind of 1970s science fiction.  Lights inside the booth flashed cheery colors against its walls.  He looked down at Eugene.  “Different how, exactly?”

Eugene kept watching the controls.  “Well, you started out as human.  The magic imbued you with extra abilities from scratch:  the Chimney Thing, time compression, and so on.  As an elf, Frank already has some minor magic but he still needs a full set of Santa skills, just not quite the same set you have, plus he needs a size upgrade   Time compression will be important some day, but there’s an unfortunate lack of chimneys so he’ll need some kind of portable airlock instead.  Throw in gravitational considerations and everything that goes with not having an atmosphere–-you’ve got no idea how many things that changes–-and the fact that he’ll be piloting a shuttle instead of flying a sled.  Reindeer are a lot easier to learn to maneuver than a small spacecraft, let me tell you.  And then-”

“Okay, I get it.  But why, exactly, is he in a magic phone booth?”

Eugene gave his boss a sheepish grin.  “More or less because we want to keep the magic contained.  We’ve given the system every parameter we think might have any effect on things and told it to turn Frank into a Santa fit for the Moon.  Honestly Chief, we’re not exactly sure what he’s going to look like.  But we should find out in about twenty seconds.”

Santa glanced at his watch, some reflex wanting him to count down those twenty seconds, but the booth chose that moment to get a lot louder.  The hum oscillated faster with a wider pitch range with the high end pushing against Santa and the low drawing him in, trying to rock him back and forth.  He caught himself swaying in time with the pitch and stopped himself from taking a step forward.  A glance at Eugene showed a pained expression, elfin ears probably catching sounds Santa’s couldn’t, but the elf had no problem maintaining his footing. Eugene merely stood frowning at his monitors.  Santa specific magic.

Nodding, Santa turned his eyes back to the pulsing booth and thought he could see its walls bulge in and out now, the colors leaking through with an intensity not seen since Technicolor.  And then it stopped.  Not slowing or powering down, the oscillation ceased on an upswing and took the color flashes with it.

Eugene grumbled.   “All right.  Twenty-three seconds.”  He pushed and pulled at various controls, tapped several buttons and the booth began to rise up, retracting into the ceiling.  A bright light above and behind the figure left behind cast him in shadow.  One more switch and the light turned off to reveal the new big guy, Frank, Santa, Lunar Claus.  With two Santas around, they’d have to figure out what to call each other to avoid confusion.  Santa could see Frank in the new Santa’s face, so that would do for now.

Frank rubbed his eyes then used his thumbs to massage his temples for a few seconds.  “Wow.  That was… weird.”  The high tenor had dropped almost to a baritone.  One side of his face scrunched up.  “Is that my voice?”  He shook his head, staring at Santa with a deep frown.  “That you, Chief?”

“It is, Frank.  How do you feel?”  Santa stepped forward to take the former elf’s elbow and found it farther above the floor than his own.

“Like a college student just off a four-day bender.  Wow.”  He looked down at Santa.  Down at Santa.  “How do I look?”

“There’s a mirror on the wall behind you.  Why don’t you see for yourself?”  Santa turned his friend around by the elbow with a brief stab of sadness at the realization he wouldn’t see Frank very often anymore.

Frank let himself be turned to look in the mirror and spent more than a minute examining the reflection while Santa made a similar survey:  the same dark beard and bushy eyebrows, but bigger, so much bigger, and with rosier cheeks.  He wore a blue suit instead of red, trimmed in grey instead of white, the better to blend in with the Lunar background, Santa guessed.  Frank looked almost like a younger Santa in one of the old Victorian suits.  And the height!  Santa moved to compare their reflections.  At a guess, the man in the red suit was ten inches shorter and at least seventy-five pounds heavier.  Frank barely had a paunch!

The new Santa shook his head back and forth.  “This is not what I expected.  I thought–”

Eugene finished the sentence for him.  “You thought you’d be a carbon copy of the big guy.  Surprise!”

Frank turned around to look at the suddenly tiny elf.  Most elves stood somewhere between waist and rib height on Santa.  Eugene, taller than most, might reach Frank’s waist.

“Physically, you’re more or less like I expected.”  The elf held up a hand and spoke a bit to the side.  “Oh, I know I what I said, Chief, and I wasn’t lying.  We didn’t know exactly what you’d look like, Frank, but I made some private guesses.  People will get taller and thinner living on the Moon.  It’s going to take generations to be really noticeable, but shouldn’t the new Santa fit his world?

“In a dim tunnel carved out of solid rock, blue and grey will blend in a lot better than red and white.” Eugene took one last look at the readings and gave a satisfied nod.  He grinned at the Santas.  “Well, Christmas is coming.”

Frank looked at Santa and sighed.  “Damn.  I really wanted the red suit.”

A laugh burst out of the big guy.  “You know, Frank, I miss the blue one, but I’d give a lot for the white suit back.”

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(Note: Branch Santa is released on http://lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed, but not changed or sold.)

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