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Negotiation

Liza pushed her way to the door as the train rolled through the airlock into San Vital, even though it wouldn’t unlock until the pressure washer finished. Dust got into everything regardless, but rinsing the train at least meant there was less of it. She looked back. No sign of the guy who’d been tailing her, a known runner for the anti-alien Progressives. Liza knew better than to touch her pocket. Either the packet was there or it wasn’t; nothing she could do right now except attract attention.

She slipped out the door the instant it slid open, muttering apologies to the people she shoved past. Her steady walk toward the Pratt Avenue exit barely faltered when the man fell into step alongside. She glanced around for a cop. “Officer, I’m smuggling alien artifacts and this guy is following me.” Yeah, no.

Liza looked up at him. “Let’s talk.”

What a prompt: the 1969 Manitoba election.
You will see some inspiration from that article, maybe, but only in the vaguest sense

Notes from the field

There were no roads into these hills, barely any paths. Donkeys didn’t need much, nor did people used to the climbs. Used to nothing else, living in this landscape. I didn’t have a donkey, just a notebook, a set of sample jars, and a sturdy staff. Somewhere down this dusty path was a village, mentioned in the last census. Nobody had recorded how big it was, or exactly where it was located. I doubted the census taker even managed to find it.

These hills were the epicenter of wild caraway diversity: more wild kinds than than the single weak species grown commercially. More flavor, different volatiles; more power to repel demons. We were desperate. I’d evaded patrols to get this far, hidden by the resistance. I scanned the vegetation as I walked, saving seeds in labeled jars, heading toward an unknown village, hoping someone could point me to a cure.

Tentacles!

I was rummaging thru my files this afternoon, and found a short story I’d written a few years ago. It was ostensibly for a theme anthology, but really I wrote it to entertain myself, and crammed in as many steampunk tropes as I could think of. Except goggles. There are no goggles.

Hold on…

Okay, fixed that.

It still amuses me, and it would make a fun Halloween treat. Unless you don’t like it, in which case it’s a trick and I will be by to TP your house shortly.

If you like it, you might consider picking up the Genius Loci anthology, or checking out my other fiction, much of which is available online.

Happy Halloween!


The Hydraulliope of Dr. Cummerbund

The professor had the mind of a tinkerer, the body of a music hall comedian and the unfortunate name of Cummerbund. He was short, pudgy and entirely obsessed with building a great musical instrument, a pipe organ that would summon the Elder Gods from the abyssal depths where they slept. Some days Dr. Cummerbund wished them to give him the body he deserved, while on others he wanted them to take revenge on the masses of humanity who had laughed at him, believing that nobody named Cummerbund could possibly be a genius of his true stature. Perhaps, he ruminated, the Elder Gods could do both. Yes, that was certainly the correct solution.

The organ pipes were installed along the brick walls of his laboratory, formerly a riverfront warehouse. Some were straight, while others were bent into curves through which no pipe should go. Each pipe had been meticulously engraved with mystical signs. The professor looked at the pipes as little as possible. The eldritch sigils twined around the network of pipes, combining to seem as though the pipes themselves were writhing, though he knew that was entirely impossible. His assistant had fallen into the bass pipe earlier that week and been lost. The boy had been on a ladder adjusting the fittings and slipped headfirst down the pipe, vanishing somewhere before the bottom. Dr. Cummerbund had been unable to secure a replacement, much though he disliked fetching his own tea.

A dilapidated steam engine sat in the corner surrounded by flakes of rust from its decrepit boiler. The doctor had never gotten around to connecting it to the organ, nor even to buying in coal. After contemplating the matter extensively, he had given up on steam power and instead harnessed the river itself to power his pipe organ. He’d christened his new invention the “hydraulliope”. All the best inventions require novel nomenclature.

Dr. Cummerbund surveyed his handiwork, wrench clutched in one hand. He ran the fingers of his other hand through his untidy hair, leaving a foul smear of grease and more odious substances on his already-unclean temple, cutting across the slightly paler streak where his goggle strap had been. In his early experiments Dr. Cummerbund had only managed to summon up a coven of overly-large rats which had probably consumed his cat. At any rate he hadn’t seen the orange tom lately, and the rats had taken to lounging on his workbench and making off with his biscuits. But now, now the hydraulliope was connected to the river, and through the transmissive medium of the water to the ocean beyond. The engraving was completed, the pipes were adjusted into their proper configurations and the organ was ready for its final test. A properly auspicious celestial configuration for calling the Elder Gods would not occur until three days hence (or would that be ominous configuration?), but a thorough assessment of the organ’s performance could still be conducted.

Dr. Cummerbund threw the lever diverting the river’s flow to power the bellows of the hydraulliope. He pulled out a single stop and tentatively pressed a key in the middle of the first rank with one finger. Nothing happened. He pressed another more firmly and a faint wail drifted through the basement. The professor pressed a third key as hard as he could. An unearthly howl echoed from the brick walls, tickling the recesses of the professor’s mind with images of the monsters that wait in the shadows. Dr. Cummerbund shivered and released the key.

He pulled out another set of stops and pounded on the keyboards, one hand on each rank. He’d never learned to play the piano properly, but it hardly mattered. He mashed the keys, one after another and then all together, as many as his hands could span. The individual tones of the pipes blended into something more like the cries of pelagic leviathans than any terrestrial music. The sigils engraved on the pipes began to glow softly as harmonies not intended for human ears filled the basement and washed out into the night. Even the rats retreated from the sound.

A hint of movement might have caught the professor’s eye if only he had raised his eyes from the keys arrayed before him in black and white. A tentacle rose slowly from a pipe, its pallid sucker-laden tip swaying slightly in time to the music. A second pale appendage slipped out from a neighboring pipe, and a third, and then too many to count, all swaying with the erratic rhythm emanating from the hydraulliope.

The professor grew bolder with his playing, running through arpeggios and glissandos that spanned the keys and jumped from one keyboard to another. He paused once to adjust the stops, and the tentacles froze. Dr. Cummerbund returned his hands to the keyboard and began anew, never once lifting his eyes to the pipes lining the walls. The tentacles oozed further from the pipes, feeling their way blindly downward. The music covered the moist burping sounds of the suckers attaching and releasing as they slithered ever closer.

Dr. Cummerbund was unused to vigorous exercise, so his short arms soon began to tremble from the strain. Even the satisfaction of experimenting with different combinations of stops was not enough to entice him to continue. A final crash on the keyboard, and he raised his arms triumphantly, proud of his hydraulliope and its din, proud of his first and only hydraulliope solo. However short the composition, it had already been far too long. The back of his right hand brushed a moist, rubbery surface in what should be empty space. He started, looking up to see an inverted forest of tentacles protruding from the pipes, arching gracefully down into the laboratory. The doctor had taken only a single staggering step back when a tentacle wrapped itself firmly around his ankles and swung him into the air. As he dangled inverted, a second tentacle stroked his back almost sensually then twined around his chest, pinning his arms. The professor cried out when a sucker fastened wetly on his cheek, until the tip of a tentacle shoved into his mouth, silencing him. Tentacles converged on his suspended form until he was entirely hidden from view, a fly dangling neatly wrapped in a spider’s web.

Dr. Cummerbund struggled, but the tentacles were like steel cables encased in malodorous rubber and he achieved no lessening in their insistent squeezing. His whimpers and cries were stifled by the tentacle in his mouth, tasting of mineral-laden salt from the ocean’s depths. Eventually his moans ceased altogether, and the tentacles gently unrolled the professor onto the floor. His new form was as long and as lean as any of the men that he had once admired, and his hated name was no longer his – nor did it belong to any living man, genius or not.

All was silent in the basement laboratory for a long moment, until the questing tentacles found the keyboards of the hydraulliope. They hovered for a moment then struck the keyboards with a crash, the abyssal gods playing themselves into existence.

Guess what?

Still no cancer here!

CEA as of today: 2.3. Less than 5 is normal.

I’m normal!

Stories and panels

Look! It exists!

At long last, an author copy of Genius Loci arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Hooray!

Genius Loci anthology cover

I’m thrilled to be appearing in a ToC with so many great writers.

Speaking of ToCs, I have sold a second story to Fireside Fiction. Unlike the last one, this one is completely fictional. It also contains one of my favorite images to date, but you’ll just have to wait to find out what that is. I will let you know when it will be available when I know.

I have my schedule for Confluence, in Pittsburgh on July 29-31. Saladin Ahmed is Guest of Honor, and I expect it to be a great deal of fun. I’ll be a busy human, with four panels and a Kaffeeklatsch. I’m doing the latter with Chet Gottfried again, because we had fun last year. I expect there will once again be plenty of cookies.

Saturday, July 30
12pm Medicine in Fantasy
1pm Kaffeeklatsch: Favorite fictional catastrophes
4pm Fantasy Costuming
6pm Arabian Fantasy
7pm Mapping the Fantastic

Whew! If you see me, say hi and provide caffeine and snacks, since I won’t have time for meals. Or just say hi: treats not actually required or expected.

#SFWApro

I can’t even

This is… surreal.

Velocikittenraptors

Critter posts properly go on Stringpage, but that apparently isn’t as fixed as I thought it was, so.

The velocikittenraptors are three today, and thus properly and thoroughly velocicatraptors.

pair of sleeping sister-cats

They still attain a decent velocity, especially at 3am, but not as often as they once did, and they no longer squeak at exactly the Jurassic World velociraptor pitch, but being velocicatraptors suits them.

snuggling Cawti cat

May they have many more years of sunbeams and tummy rubs.

Norathar cat in a sunbeam

Every so often

Let me quote my oncologist:

I reviewed your CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis done on 3/28/2016, it shows no new suspicious findings, no evidence of recurrence of cancer noted and it is quite encouraging good result.

I’m starting to think I might actually pull this off. I’ve had no evidence of disease for 18 months, and have made it to 26 months after diagnosis. The magic number is 60 months: at that point the doctors shrug and admit they have no idea what happens next. I’m well on my way there!

Whatever else happens, I get to do all the things I’m planning for this spring and summer. Can anyone say Hamilton?

Kingfisher

Guess what?!? The March issue of Fireside Fiction is out early, and you can read “The Kingfisher Manifesto” right now!

Fireside is a good outfit, and I’d like it if you subscribed, joined their Patreon, or whatever, so they can keep paying writers and artists.

Fungus!

This SMBC nearly illustrates a story of mine.

SMBC

If you haven’t read Two Kilograms (my least-favorite title but most popular story), it’s available here, or as a podcast, or in Polish.

Sorry I don’t have much else in the way of news, unless you want to hear the gory details of rectangular and non-rectangular hyperbolas with temperature correct. And trust me, you don’t.

My life right now is clearly illustrated by my intent to leave early today to take full advantage of the long weekend. Instead, it’s 7:21 and I’m still at work, waiting on the last bit of computer code to finish running so I can look at my hyperbolas.