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Confluence: real soon now

The Confluence convention is rapidly approaching. It’s in Pittsburgh, July 27-29. Seanan McGuire is Guest of Honor, which is awesome.

I have Sekrit Plans. Which are also awesome.

I’ve been added to another panel, making five plus a kaffee klatsch (full schedule here).

The bar at this hotel isn’t as conducive to hanging out as one might like, but I will nonetheless be making a valiant effort to sustain a BarCon as well. Do come, and if you’re going to be there please look me up. You might just benefit from the Sekrit Plans (see also: kaffee klatsch, and whenever I can catch Seanan for a minute or two).

Fri 5:00 pm OakAre You a Member Here? – Steve Ramey; Lawrence Connolly; John Joseph Adams; Sarah Goslee

The question is whether we, as a group of readers (bunch of geeks, tribe of SF/F/H fans) and writers have gotten too exclusive–with tropes, words and shorthand universes–and if there is new stuff being written that would be accessible to Joe and Jill Common-Person. Would they have as much fun reading “A Game of Thrones” or “We Can Remember if for You Wholesale” as watching it?

Fri 8:00 pm WillowDon’t Make Me Sick – Ken Chiacchia; Susan Urbanek Linville; Kathleen Sloane; Sarah Goslee

Biologic and biomedical science fiction is still a lot of unused territory Why do we insist that it has to be space? And when we have the technology to make ourselves, or at least our characters better than before, why don’t we?

Sat 12:00 pm Con SuiteKaffee Klatsch – Larry Ivkovich ; Jason Jack Miller; Sarah Goslee

Sat 1:00 pm WillowHalf Past the Apocolypse – Tim Waggoner; Cathy Seckman; Sarah Goslee; Kenneth Cain

Dystopias: are they all worked out? What do the doomsday scenarios tell us about our ideas of entertainment? Is it time to swing the pendulum in a different direction? or is it too much fun to talk about how dreadful things are gonna get?

Sat 4:00 pm OakEditors: What do they Really Want – John Joseph Adams; Jeff Young; Eric Beebe; Danielle Ackley-McPhail; Sarah Goslee

Good question–here are a few, what do they have to say?

Sun 10:00 am WillowThey’re Coming to Get You, Barbara – Kenneth Cain; C. Bryan Brown; Jonathan Maberry; Sarah Goslee

Zombies have dominated the mainstream horror landscape for over a decade. Some people are sick to death (pun not intended) of them, while others look to the living dead as a necessary balance to twinkly, sparkly, moral-tastic vamps. Why do zombies work and why hasn’t even a good shot to the head put this trope down?


Feather, A Tale in Three Parts

I. Beauty

The crow fluffed her feathers before the bathroom mirror. The new highlights were quite fetching, she thought. He was sure to notice her now. She launched herself from the sink and out the door, heedless of the one striped feather spiraling down to the floor.

II. Fashion

The little green-eyed creature eyed the mirror uncertainly. Why would humans wish to look at themselves in such a way? Perhaps because they wore such complicated amounts and arrangements of clothing. It wriggled its ears, all three of them, in a way that indicated confused resignation, then tried again to get the garments arranged correctly. Why they couldn’t practice before landing! This bit pinched, that one tickled, and it had no idea where this one would go, being intended for a part of the anatomy that it was entirely lacking. But it was important to blend in with the locals, so on it went. The final bit was a headcovering that just missed covering its eyes completely. The green-eyed creature pushed it back at a jaunty angle. No, no. That was entirely too much. It pulled the feather out of the hatband in two multijointed twiglike fingers and dropped it on the floor. Now it was ready to meet this new species on their own terms.

III. Science

It looked like a Northern Mockingbird feather, Mimus polyglottos, but only DNA testing could provide 99.9% certainty. He pulled his ever-present field kit from his pocket and removed forceps and a small polyethylene bag. Lifting the feather carefully with the forceps, he examined it closely before sealing it in the bag and jotting down a label.

Faint traces of blood, dried. The bird may have been hit by an automobile. Birds of this size tend to explode in a cloud of feathers when hit by a moving vehicle. It may be possible-

“James Alexander Drogan, just what do you think you are doing in here?” Jimmy jumped as his mother grabbed him by the ear, nearly dropping his forceps. He stuffed them and the feather into his pocket.

“But Mom,” he began.

“You know you don’t belong in the ladies’ room. Get out.”

Jimmy patted his pocket proudly. Scientists had been persecuted throughout history, and he’d gotten the sample all the same.

My local writer’s group often has a writing challenge for the monthly social. I proposed the latest one: a short explanation for the black and white feather on the floor in the women’s bathroom at the previous social, to be read to the group tonight. It was my challenge, and I ended up writing three separate stories. I only read the first to the group.

Making the List

A couple of writer friends of mine are getting some well-deserved recognition this week as the summer reading top ten lists appear.

Kirkus Reviews, 10 Must-Read Fiction Books for Spring: Toni Morrison, John Irving, Paul Theroux, Elizabeth Bear… Oh wait, Bear is first.

eSchool News, 10 books for high school summer reading: Charlotte Brontë, Alice Walker, Daryl Gregory.

I’ve been pushing Range of Ghosts for a while, and now that I’ve finally finished Raising Stony Mayhall I can recommend that to you all. You could do much, much worse than listen to the experts and pick up both of these books.

Not only does it make me no end of happy to see both of them getting such recognition, it’s just as exciting to see spec fic playing with the supposed mainstream on both lists.

Dinosaurs Don’t Eat Flowers

Today is International Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch Day. In honor of the holiday, please accept my pixel-stained flash piece, and all the other flash fiction stories I’ve posted over the past year.

“Maybe dinosaurs ate them.”

Alice looked at her little sister in disgust. “Dinosaurs didn’t eat flowers, dummy. Flowers hadn’t been invented yet.”

Meg looked up at her. “You’re not smarter than me just because you’re older.” Anyone watching would have recognized a long-standing sibling disagreement, if there had been anyone left to watch. “Dinosaurs did so eat flowers, so maybe we can too.”

“I’ve never heard of anyone eating flowers. I don’t know if people can do that.” Alice screwed up her face, trying so hard to remember whether people could eat flowers. She was kind of hungry, but somehow flowers just didn’t seem right. Meg ripped a handful of blossoms from the shrub and stuffed them in her mouth. She spit them out again before Alice could do more than take a breath to yell at her. “Ick. Dinosaurs definitely didn’t eat flowers.”

“Dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs,” Alice replied with all the certainty of an older sister who’s nearly eleven, almost. “So that doesn’t help, because there aren’t any more dinosaurs.”

“There aren’t any more airplanes either,” Meg retorted. Alice wasn’t sure why that mattered, since nothing ate airplanes. Or maybe something did, and that’s why there weren’t any more. Their mama was supposed to be on an airplane coming home, only the airplanes all stopped. The internet stopped too, and that’s what they noticed first because the iPad went dark in the middle of a cartoon. Their babysitter said some words Meg wasn’t supposed to know. Alice wasn’t sure where she went after that. She told them to stay in the house, but after a couple hours in the dark they got bored and went outside.

Meg stomped around like a T. Rex for a few minutes, while Alice tried to listen to the grownups. She was the big sister, after all, and she needed to know what was going on. That’s where she heard about the airplanes. They all fell out of the sky, Mr. Neely from down the street said. He was out in his yard talking to Mrs. Singh who lived on the other side of him. All the houses were dark, so people were standing around in the street. Alice wondered what they’d do when it got dark.

Then Alice wondered what she and Meg would do when it got dark. “Meg. Enough dinosaurs.” She grabbed her sister’s arm and tugged her back toward the house.

Meg started to object, then looked at Alice’s face and stopped mid-complaint. “What do we do? Where’s our babysitter? Where’s Mama?”

Alice decided they should stay in the house until Mama got home. Mama always told her to be responsible, and that would be the responsible thing to do. Something outside made a horrible noise, like when she dropped a plate only much, much worse. Alice peeked out the window. Somebody she didn’t know has smashed the Gonzalez’s door in across the street. Maybe they couldn’t stay here after all.

Alice dumped the schoolwork out of Meg’s backpack, the green one with the allosaurus on it. She put in two bottles of water, some Oreos, and a whole bag of Goldfish crackers, plus Meg’s favorite stuffed animal. In her own she put the biggest knives from the kitchen, the things from her mother’s jewelry box wrapped up in a clean towel, and clean t-shirts and underwear for both of them. She left their cell phones because they wouldn’t turn on.

The forest started right behind their house. She and Meg could go out the back without anybody seeing them. She knew how to get into the old mine shaft; she spent lots of time running around in the woods. Hardly anybody knew it was there, so she and Meg could hide from the monsters that ate airplanes. They had food and water and clothes, and they could take care of themselves until Mama came back.

That’s what dinosaurs do.

This one differs slightly from the usual twitter flash. Same time limit (an hour), but different source for ideas, and it wasn’t written on a Friday.
From me – spring flowers, dinosaurs
From Nick – Forest, airplane, abandoned tunnel


Yeast bread and spices. That’s what the house smelled like. How could the current inhabitants do something as comforting as bake hot cross bun? Satai stood on the porch. The railing was painted bright blue, and the floor a deep piney green. The vivid red door looked cheerful and welcoming. The fading daffodils and the budding tulips only added to the general good nature of the house. It was the kind of house where your beloved grandmother lived, or your best friend.

She’d been hunting them for what felt like forever, from the court of Catherine the Great to Timbuktu. That sounded like a metaphor for a long time and a long distance, but it was nothing but the truth. It wouldn’t have taken nearly so long, but she lost them during the chaos of the Crimean War.

Here and now Satai could hardly believe she’d found them. Her informant had been certain, and she’d left him in no condition to warn anyone of her presence. She stared at the forsythia golden along the steps. A house like this, it should have encysted them, pushed them out whole before they had time to infect it. When she’d circled the place earlier, counting the possible exits, she’d even seen a beehive in the back, in a small orchard.

The tiny video camera she was wearing would pick up the colors, the sounds of birds singing in the trees overhead, but not the smell of cinnamon and cloves. Satai hoped it wouldn’t betray her trembling, though she could probably edit that out when she made the DVD.

Standing here for too long was suspicious. This time of day, people would probably take her for a visiting friend, but the last thing she needed was a garrulous neighbor coming over to say hello. The inhabitants of the house would be sound asleep by now, not to wake until the sun was firmly set.

The lock was old. Satai slipped it easily, then closed the red door behind herself. The buns were on the counter on a cooling rack. She touched one, but they were cold. And crosses? Why would they have put the crosses on the tops?

A white porcelain bowl was heaped with dyed eggs, mostly red like the Easter eggs of her childhood, but some drawn with the intricate designs that the court had come to favor. She didn’t think anyone remembered how to make those eggs. She hadn’t seen any for so long, and the red ones in even longer. There was no skill to those, just boiling the eggs with onion skins, but nobody bothered.

She touched one, ran her finger over the smooth ovoid. They should be in a basket, in a kitchen that smelled of smoke, in a farm waiting eagerly for spring. April was a hard month back then, with winter stores nearly exhausted and summer’s bounty a long way off. Here and now, it was flowers and trips to the grocery store, an easier life but one that slipped by, leaving no mark.

Satai wondered if those she pursued missed their homes as much as she did, just then. They were the only ones who might remember, who had been shaped by the same spring, and the only ones who might help her forget.

She picked up an egg, turning it over and over in her hands, then took it out onto the porch to watch the bees rumble through the forsythia and wait for the dusk.

Twitter flash, with contributors:
Timbuktu, DVD production, Crimean War espionage – @quasigeo
Beekeeping and Easter eggs – @qitou


My workload roughly doubled in the past week, from its already-high state to something approaching insane. Deadlines moved, cancelled activities resurfaced, new projects fell from the sky. It’s all good, but blogging will be rare to nonexistent until mid-April, as will fiction writing, and pretty much anything that isn’t work.

Except Sunday evenings – that’s writers group time, and I intend to keep that up. After a day spent editing grant proposals and book chapters, I didn’t have much brainpower left for anything major, so I solicited ideas on twitter. The usual suspects contributed, and here’s the result.

The stone pillar loomed over the town square. Today only a trio of pigeons occupied its flat top, their inevitable leavings sinking down through cracks in the stone. The pigeons had no use for the stairs spiraling up its sides, carved from the same block of granite as the pillar they encircled, their centers eroded by centuries of footsteps. Grooves around the edges of the steps, worn and faded, showed which parts the apprentice wielded the laser cutter on. The overslip lessened as the stairs ascended, until at the top the work of master and student stonecutter were indistinguishable.

Clouds scudded across the azure sky, trailing blotches of shadow across the square. Nothing moved except the sliding light and darkness. Even the feral cat that haunted the square dozed on a window ledge, having given up on pigeons for the time being.
The windows surrounding the square opened into house and guildhall and kirk, but all were blank. No faces looked out, no blurred motion appeared through the glass. One of the windows at the corner of the square had shattered, shards littering the ground beneath it, the jagged bits covered in dust and pollen.

Whatever force had broken the window came from the inside.

Once the square had been full of noise and movement and music far into the night. The three men and one woman who stood on the plinth watched over the barely-controlled chaos. Traveling vacuum cleaner salesmen–their products guaranteed to suck–vied with peddlers of cut-rate powders and potions for everything from healing broken bones to loosening stiff muscles, and the bars fronting the square did brisk business in gin martinis, or whatever drinks were currently fashionable. Glowing chartreuse cocktails had been a brilliant if short-lived sensation.

The entertainers had been the main attraction: jugglers of iridescent fire, dancers in antigrav bubbles, courtesans of all genders garbed in modes from eighteenth century high court to the finest nanofabrics. After sunset the square glowed with gemlike light limning the forms of the participants, trailing from the walls, puddling on the ground, flowing in luminescent rivulets and runnels around the plinth, but never touching its black silhouette.
As the sun moved toward the west, the shadow of the plinth extended across the square, touching the base and then the top of the building on the far side before merging with the shadows of dusk. No light glimmered anywhere. The cat had vanished with the sun. The pigeons had flown to their roost long before sunset.

Even the people had fled from the shadow of the plinth, but not before blood soaked into the stone where the light had refused to flow.


@fadeaccompli plinths

@ChiaLynn Pieces of glass

@qitou vacuum cleaners, gin martinis, muscle relaxants.

@marjorie73 18th century harlot

Under the Moons

Machines have always been easy to fool.

People too, but if enough people look hard enough, eventually someone will notice. Usually they’re declared insane and locked up, though. The Mars base was nearly eight years old before anyone noticed the forest, and nine by the time anyone else believed her.

After that it was obvious.

The canals, the forests and plains and seas: all around us, enclosed in the tiny ring of red dirt that we’d been circling endlessly, and our rovers before us, convinced we were seeing a whole world.

It was only a matter of time before someone spotted a thoat.

It was rather nice not to have to wear space suits all the time. Mars was a lot warmer than we’d thought, and the atmosphere was a whole lot more accommodating. I hear they’re going to send a crew to Venus to see what it really looks like. Jungles, I’m betting, but I’m not planning on leaving Mars any time soon.

We got a tiny mass ration for personal goods. Most people brought special foods, or some little luxuries. I brought a sword. Single edged, lightly curved, sharp enough to cut between raindrops. Oh yes, we had rain too, enough to keep the canals flowing. A couple of guys were building kayaks in their spare time. The sword belonged to my umpty-great grandfather, according to family legend, part of the Mongol armies of the twelfth century. It was really meant for use on horseback, but I practiced forms with it every day, kept it sharp and clean and oiled. I swung it. The blade whistled through a precise arc, stopped dead at an exact point.

I’d never used it on a living being. Once I practiced on straw-filled dummies, but there was no straw on Mars. Or actually, there probably was, we just hadn’t found it yet. I twisted the blade, admired the way the reflections of the double moons slid across the steel, catching on each slight ridge. Once I’d daydreamed of riding across the endless plains on my smart and faithful mare, falcon on her perch, sword sheathed at my side and bow slung along the saddle. Then I daydreamed of visiting Mars. Studying science, engineering, calculus, earning a doctoral degree and undertaking NASA training, waiting and more waiting: that’s the daydream I worked toward, though every day the sword and I exercised together.

Now I dreamed of riding thoat-back across the plains of Mars, with the Barsoomian equivalent of a falcon circling overhead. Deja Thoris might be too much to ask, but it was my daydream so I could have whoever I wanted.

I toweled my sweat away. It had been a warm day for Terra, let alone Mars, and hadn’t yet cooled off, though the sun was below the horizon. I’d be chilled if I stayed out much longer, damp and no longer working hard.

Akiko met me inside the airlock, a vital necessity on an airless planet. We no longer bothered to seal it, but it was still the main accessway. “Susan,” she said, falling in next to me when I didn’t stop, “I was getting worried. You were out so late.”

When I married her, Akiko and I had both just finished grad school, were both entirely focused on getting into NASA, still a boy’s club, and onto the Mars team. As much as anything, we’d fallen together because nobody else understood our obsession. Everyone else I’d dated had drifted away before too long, uninterested in a partner who worked most of the time, and talked about Mars incessantly for the rest.

Shared obsession might not have been the strongest foundation for a marriage ever, but it worked for them. Until the illusions were broken, anyway. Akiko was entirely unable to cope with Mars-as-it-was. She wouldn’t go outside, and fretted incessantly when I spent time outside the walls, something I did more and more often.

I loved the smell of the breeze, the volatiles that reminded me of creosotebush after a rain, the flowers opening in the long Martian spring. I was a geophysicist, but only because that was the specialty most likely to get me onto the team. If things were different, I would have been a botanist. But who knew we’d need botanists on Mars? My childhood of tramping around in the fields and forests, then looking up my finds, had catapulted me into the leading botanical expert on the whole planet, even though I’d discarded plants entirely once the Mars bug bit me.

Akiko didn’t understand that either. She’d never done anything in her life that wasn’t focused on her one goal, even marrying me. My sword practice had always perplexed her, but she understood the necessity for exercise so she left it alone. This, though: studying plants that shouldn’t even exist. She couldn’t handle it. She’d been drinking more and more. I could smell beer on her breath even now.

I pulled away as she clutched at my arm. Tomorrow I’d try again. I’d go out with my sword and drill in the field under the light of two tiny moons, a few essentials tucked in my pockets just in case.

Tomorrow my thoat would appear, or the tomorrow after that.

This is a Friday flash, only on Sunday. As always, I asked for ideas on twitter, wrote the story in one fell swoop, then posted it here completely unedited.

Tonight’s contributors:
@fadeaccompli – the romance of the second moon
@soundym – beer, marriage, awkward conversation
@quasigeo – falconry, calculus, a 12th c. Mongol sword

The general consensus was that it should be science fantasy in space.

Top 10 Braaaaiiiinnns!

From the Barnes and Noble 2011 Best Zombie Fiction:

#10: Rigor Amortis, edited by Jaym Gates and Erika Holt.

Congrats everyone!

All the Tea in China

A tiny crescent moon, just past new, hovered in the west. Rick hadn’t seen so many stars in years. Ruined castles were a good place to escape light pollution, he supposed. And with no roof on this section, there was nothing to interfere with moongazing. Not that he had any interest in that himself. Of course, if he’d been the one to relocate an entire thirteenth-century ruined castle from Normandy to Newfoundland, he would have at least put the roof back on.

“How the fuck can you do that,” he asked? The object of his inquiry was sprawled on a folding lounge chair, a sidecar in one hand and a bowl of smarties at his side. Even as Rick watched, he popped a few more smarties into his mouth, and washed them down with his cocktail.

“Do what, my dear?” Arthur asked, not taking his gaze from the sky.

“Smarties and cocktails. Yuck.”

“Smarties improve brain function, thus the name. But only the blue ones.” Arthur looked down at his drink before returning his gaze to the sky. “And sidecars make me happy. Smart and content: I generate my best ideas that way.”

Rick hoped Arthur would choke on his smarties.

“And what the fuck are we doing way out here anyway?”

“I came for the peace and quiet,” Arthur replied. “And you came because I pay you. And you are interfering with the peace. And the quiet. Kindly cease.”

Rick scowled, but only because it was too dark for Arthur to see his expression.

Arthur leaned back, setting his drink down so he could point at the moon. “See that?” he asked, but Rick didn’t think his boss was really talking to him. “That’s the same crescent moon that shone over Sarajevo on the 28th of June, the night that this whole chain of events were set in motion.” He lifted his drink again, slugged it, then threw the glass into the darkness. It crashed against a crumbling wall that was faintly silhouetted against the stars and disturbing the geese who were roosting there. They were probably Canada geese, Rick supposed, or at least Canadian. “A war began that day, a global catastrophe that resulted in the love of my life never having been born.”

Rick knew better than to ask how Arthur could possibly know that some unborn woman would have been the love of his life. Or man, maybe. Rick had never seen Arthur in a relationship of any sort. Whatever.

All Rick knew is that he didn’t want to listen to this. He retreated quietly into one of the more intact rooms, where he could at least have a battery lantern. Some kind of hippie group had been living here, or reenactors, or some shit like that, and they’d left a bunch of crap. The lantern was resting on what he thought was probably a broken loom, or maybe a torture device, and there was a longbow hanging on the wall. That he recognized for sure. Fucking hippies. He fished a beer out of the cooler. The sandwiches were starting to look good, but he’d wait until Arthur came in to eat. He still didn’t know why there was five pounds of fresh ginger in the cooler. Maybe Arthur was expecting a serious stomach upset from all the Smarties. The ginger was better than the biohazard-marked package labeled monkey serum, though. Rick really didn’t want to know what that was.

“Rick,” called Arthur from the outer darkness. “I have an idea.”

Rick rolled his eyes, but set his bottle on the loom-thing next to the lamp and went back out.

Arthur was up from his chair, pacing back and forth. “The Hubble Space Telescope can see back in time, billions of years back. Right?”

Rick nodded. Arthur couldn’t see him do it, but kept going anyway. “So how far away do you have to get to see back in time a hundred years. I could see my lost love’s ancestors, if I could just get a telescope in the right place and pointed this way.”

Rick didn’t think that was how it worked, but what did he know?

“What about Cassini? No, that’s not far enough, quite. There must be something.” Arthur stopped abruptly. “I must go talk to my contacts at NASA. What are you waiting for, Rick? We must leave immediately. And be careful with the bioluminescent camouflage suit. It’s very fragile.”

Arthur stared up, his face limned faintly in silver. Rick went back in to pack. His boss might be a lunatic, but he paid very well.

This, as with all the Friday Flash stories, was based on prompts suggested on twitter. I ask for ideas, and then use all of them. I give myself an hour, no more. There’s no planning, little plotting, and absolutely no editing whatsoever. There might however be drinking.

The whole thing is rather fun.

Tonight’s prompts came from:

@thc1972 bioluminescent camouflage
@quasigeo Sarajevo 1914, a broken loom, five pounds of raw ginger.
@notmoro monkey serum
@quasigeo ruins of a 13th c Normandy castle, Cassini/Huygens probe, flock of canada geese
@carolelaine a space telescope
@ravenbait a tube of smarties, all blue
@marjorie73 unrequited love and a longbow
@qitou sidecar (the drink)

The Emperor’s Decrees

The Emperor sneezed. Even the torrential downpour hadn’t settled the spring pollen. Curse those catilies! Everyone planted them for the vibrant pink blooms, but he was violently allergic. There should be a law.

The Emperor looked down at the paper he held. No, ninety decrees was enough, even if he’d forgotten the catily flowers. One couldn’t expect one’s subjects to bear too much.

The Emperor stepped out from the doorway where he’d huddled against the rain. Scattered hailstones crunched underfoot. He could feel each one through the worn soles of his boots. Nobody was in the square, but the Emperor knew they would come.

“Decree the First: There shall be no talking goldfish in municipal fountains.” This worried him. A goldfish had spoken to him yesterday while he was washing his face.

It said, “Blurble blurb,” and he couldn’t figure out what that meant, but he knew it was important. The Emperor didn’t want the goldfish repeating its message to his enemies. The simple solution was to ban all talking goldfish in public places. He’d never seen a goldfish swimming on the cobblestones, so he only needed to ban them from the fountains.

A little girl in a grubby dress stopped before him as he read the fourth decree, the one about encouragement of fireflies. They should be offered food and drink in exchange for their flickering lights. He didn’t know what exactly they ate or drank, but that was why one had advisors, to attend to such details.

The little girl threw something at him. He was momentarily distracted by the way her pigtails swirled as she pulled her arm back, then released, but he still managed to dodge the whatever-it-was, and it splatted on the cobblestones behind him.

The square filled with people, flushed couples arm in arm, a few with stern-faced chaperones. The musicians must be taking a break, giving everyone a bit of fresh air before they returned to the whirl of the dance. The Emperor raised his voice, pleased to have such a large audience for his decrees. “Fifteen. The dreadnaughts of the Empire shall be kept free of limpets at all times.” He was a bit fuzzy on what a limpet was, perhaps a large goldfish, but the Emperor was quite certain that they did not mix well with his navy’s ships.

He sneezed again. His throat was getting rough with reading all these decrees, but the Emperor knew that he could make it through all ninety. He was the divinely-anointed Emperor, and he could do whatever was needful. He read on.

“Forty-three.” He was interrupted by a pair of his city guards before he could start to read the body of the forty-third decree.

“We’re sorry, Your Emperorship, but there’s been a threat on your life. You need to come with us, and we’ll protect you. The Emperor recognized the guard who spoke. The man was a loyal subject, often protecting him at night. The second guard grinned foolishly at his companion. The Emperor saw, but chose to ignore the man’s disrespect.

“I must finish announcing my decrees to my loyal subjects,” he replied. “You may wait here until I’m finished.”

“I don’t think so, old man,” the second guard said. “We’ve got orders to bring you in. You’re disturbing the law-abiding citizens, the ones who ain’t crazy.”

The Emperor folded up his ninety decrees and tucked them into his breast pocket, his hands shaking. He would read the next batch tomorrow evening. Eventually his subjects would have heard them all, and the best empire in the world would become even better. He followed the guards, secure in the knowledge that they would protect him for the evening, keep him warm and out of the rain, maybe even feed him. They didn’t bother to take his arms; he’d never given them any trouble.

He felt for the tiny gold coin sewn into the hem of his tattered jacket. It comforted him to feel it there. It reminded him of his mother when she was happy. Before she died screaming, bathed in her own blood and that of his father, as he watched through the fringe that concealed his hiding place.

His father’s face was on the coin, though the Emperor never dared take it out of its concealment to look at his features, so like what he saw reflected in the fountain. Before he got old, at least, and without so many goldfish.

Sometimes, late at night, the Emperor wished his mother’s face had been stamped on the coin instead.

This is another twitter-inspired short piece. I collected prompts, and spent under an hour plotting and writing. No revision, no editing; what you get is what you get, but they’re a great antidote to writer angst.

Tonight’s prompts:

the Universe: 90 decrees (geometry typo); catilies (fascinating captcha word)
Nick: dreadnaught; harassment
@quasigeo: hailstorm; contra dance
@notmoro: fireflies
@notanyani: allergies; pink
@jaymgates: mismanaged schedules; talking goldfish; pigtails
@ravyn the Incredible Mr. Limpet