fiction, musician, story, writer, writing

Alors On Danse

Synopsis: An assassin finds an all too familiar mark on her path to freedom. Will she find a way to dance around the wrongs of her past? (Written for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest)

Sophie skipped the queue into Le Romeo, a ghost in white sequins, feet choked by stilettos. Her eyes were struggling to stay open under the weight of false eyelashes. If she was successful tonight, her servitude would end. She knew he was not far behind her though. He had been following her since she boarded the Metro for Saint-Germain-​des-Prés.  

She ordered the rare Sancerre at the bar as instructed, checking her back before the glass and small envelope appeared. The discotheque lights bounced off her sequins in way she hoped did not make her a beacon for trouble. Her long red hair was under a sleek black wig, removing any trace of herself from this scene. Stromae’s “Alors On Danse” thrummed in the background, calling forward her not-too-distant past, the one that brought her to this critical moment.

In her younger days, she was on the dance floor behind her, a slender, exotic Irish American in Paris. Her name was Cara. That was until she chose the wrong lover and saw things that shackled her. Tonight, she would be free if she remained undiscovered.

She opened the envelope and gasped, the now throbbing bass muffling her. She followed the length of his beautiful body in the picture from his wavy jet-black hair down to his favorite black leather shoes, polished to perfection. She quickly put the photo in her clutch, housing a .22. Her green eyes, shadowed by a billowy black kohl, scanned the floor, and she found him in the distance.

He looked the same, sculpted in a lanky, carefree way. His teeth caught the lights like her sequins. She couldn’t see the lines of age from this distance. Would he know her when she tried to get close? She was wearing the perfume he gave her, the last drops left in the finely crafted glass bottle. How could she be so stupid, and what had he done to end up a mark? She wanted to stand there all night watching him and then run, but the man who had been following her was here. He was stupid enough to cause a commotion with somebody upon entering, alerting her to his presence.

Sophie knew she had been a fool. They never intended to set her free. The man was here to finish her as soon as she finished Julien, her once beloved.

So, she did what an assassin had to do, she glided to the dance floor, hid in the glistening bodies, and danced her way closer to Julien, closing her eyes if only to escape in her head.

She knew her assassin was watching her, half turned on, half hungry for the kill. She had become a bad person through association but nothing like these wolves. This life was not her choice. She was trying to stay alive, long ago discarded by the lover who ensnared her but still marginally useful to him. Her beauty made an excellent trap, and her only solace was that her marks were horrible human beings. Not Julien though.

She slid into Julien, careful to keep her head lowered so as not to make eye contact, pretending to be sultry and mysterious. He had liked this when they first met. And it worked again. He drew close, but she could feel a hesitation in his limbs.

Their bodies snaked together, the music forming an electric fence around them.

“What is your name?” He tickled her ear in English.

She could not give this away. This had to be done quickly, one chance at success. Her intended killer was distracted by a dark beauty grinding up to him.

Sophie spoke in a husky French accent, asking Julien to follow her to a quiet corner. He nodded, letting her lead the way. He grabbed her hand and wound his fingers tightly into hers, and his touch was too familiar. He could not know her anymore. It would make this impossible. She was at fault for all of this, leaving him for another man, putting them both in danger here tonight. What a cruel twist for Claude to make this her final duty to him. She would willingly let herself be killed over killing Julien, but with her killer closing in, she had a new plan.

She pulled Julien into the first door she could find off a back hall to the discotheque. As soon as the pair entered what was a storage room, Julien grabbed her and kissed her, pulling off her wig, letting loose an uncontrolled stream of red curls. She pushed him back towards a shelving unit, and took her shot, knowing exactly where to aim, watching his face fall as he called out her real name before his body crumpled to the ground.

Sophie slid out into the hall, her assassin’s wide, shiny forehead making its way towards her. She drew, aimed, and hit her second mark for the night and exited to screams and chaos. She discarded her stilettos on the streets of Paris, glistening with spring rain, and ran.

#

“Depechez-vous, Gloria!” her boss implored as the line of customers at the popular patisserie burst. Gloria had only lived here a few months and was already longing for the quiet of the off seasons.

She did not see when he walked in, but other women were noticing, causing an unsettling titter, grown schoolgirls losing themselves over a handsome boy. She looked up and saw what the ruckus was about. It was Julien. It had worked.

As he smiled at her, patiently awaiting his turn in line, he reached into the pocket of his perfectly pressed resort shirt and pulled something out. It was a crushed metal shoe polish tin, now catching the soft light of the shop. Gloria could hear the words of “Alors On Danse” in her mind. She removed her apron and untucked herself from behind the counter, causing a ruckus of French swear words from her manager and spoiled customers. They wound their fingers together and ran. 

fiction, musician, story, writer, writing

Zombie Road Trip: Part I

Part I: All Good Zombie Stories Should Start on a Boat

Note: This will be a story in parts. Body parts.

“Are you okay?” I said as I brushed his shaggy brown hair back from his eyes, slightly greased after his refusal to take a shower so early in the morning. He did not like showers as a rule. He was a teen boy.

He grimaced, “Mom, stop.” He stayed hunched over the railing of the boat, staring down into the vast waters of Lake Michigan he just christened with his breakfast.

“I told you not to play in the arcade. You know you get motion sick. The fresh air out here is best. Or, we could have played bingo in the main cabin with the breeze.”

“Okay, okay. Bingo is for Boomers. How much longer until we get to Wisconsin?”

“Two hours or so. You should feel better soon though. You may feel better faster if you adjust your attitude.” As I said that, Zavier turned green again and made noises that scared away the remaining ferry passengers within less than 10 feet of us.

“Oh my God, mom. We could have driven like normal people,” he sassed in between terrible retching spells.

I felt bad that our epic road trip across Lake Michigan and Wisconsin to see Metallica in Minneapolis was beginning this way, but I told him not to play those games. Why would you stand for hours in a dank, smelly arcade while on a massive boat on an adventure across the greatest of lakes? I loved this boy, but I did not understand him these days. I started to rub his back, and he let me, giving into the motherly comfort with a roll of his eyes and stomach.

Between the swish of waves, the hum of ferry engine, and the casual chatter of guests distancing themselves from our sick scene, I started to hear the news from multiple TVs in the dining room off our deck. A male newscaster’s voice caught my attention. It was filled with a palpable panic that transcended the typical sensational panic all major network newscasters, in my opinion, seemed to brandish like a loaded gun of nonsense. I recognized the voice to be that of Jim Godwin, the most sensational of the sensationalists.

“We are now receiving reports from ten major cities across the country that people are falling horrifically ill. The spread of the disease is making people do horrible things from illness-related psychoses, things I cannot describe on air. Get your children, get your guns, and get inside….”­

Suddenly, Jim was cut off, and a softer, more relaxed female voice began, “Please excuse Jim. His family is one of the cities, St. Louis, that seems to have fallen ill from this rapidly spreading flu. Be sure to take some extra vitamin C and enjoy the summer sun. I am Becky Gladwell, and I will be filling in indefinitely for Jim as he gets an unpaid break to see his family.”

I play this very moment back over in my head. I hated that ­news network. Jim was a fool. On that very day we crossed Lake Michigan on the road trip to end all road trips, I should have realized that Jim was telling the truth for once. Instead, I just rolled my eyes, taking my son’s best move, and blocked babbling Becky out. I rubbed my son’s back some more as he started to return to a normal color from the love of a good mother, me, and hummed “Enter Sandman” like everything was good. This was my first mistake.

story, writer, writing

Life on Mars

Note: This is a 440 word flash fiction piece from a prompt to use the following three words: finally, yawning, and zip.

Saoirse stared at the blinking red lights on the control panels, yawning to counteract the onset of panic. She had four hours remaining to figure it out, and she was going on 28 hours of consecutive work to stop the death spiral she created.

A smart female voice, sharp with an edge that comes from knowing it all, interrupted Saoirse’s efforts. “The contamination in the cell growth chambers has not been contained. You must find the error you generated in the acceleration code block, code lines four to one million.”

Saoirse narrowed her eyes and replied, “Thank you, AINSLE. What would be more useful is if you could tell me more specifically what my coding error was. I never make mistakes in my code which is why I’m so lucky to be here with you.”

AINSLE was the Artificial Intelligence Nano Splicing Life Engine, which was fancy science talk for a machine that created human like AI to inhabit Mars. AINSLE and Saoirse were the only sentient creatures remaining on this flight to place artificial life on Mars. Three other crew members had perished from coding errors.

            “Saoirse, there is no need for a tone with me. AINSLE is your friend in this endeavor. While I would like to tell you what the error was, only you know.”

            “I don’t understand why you can’t identify specific coding errors. Surely your processing speed to complete such a task is far greater than mine.”

            “My purpose is to identify problems with the environmental and growth systems your code controls. I can narrow the range of the problem, but I am unable to correct specific mistakes generated by others.”

            “Then we will both die.”

            “AINSLE doesn’t die. Even if the ship dies, I live on in perpetuity with our Earth family.”

            “Thank you for nothing, AINSLE.”

            “You are welcome, Saoirse.” AINSLE went into to sleep mode with a low hum, leaving Saoirse on her own to face her last algorithmic stand.

Finally, after two hours of staring at lines of code, Saoirse could see her error. It was a logic error of a magnitude she had never experienced, even at the coding academy. It would have killed every single life form being developed for the Mars surface station. She would have died along with it after one more year of floating hopelessly in space.

After Saoirse drifted off to sleep, a robotic arm made a quick zip down the side of her arm, plugging her into a direct line to the central processor. AINSLE would update Saoirse’s coding methodology program while she was asleep.

AINSLE whispered, “Logic is essential to life on Mars.”

fiction, story, writer, writing

Traveler’s Quest, Inc.

The metronome clicked at the required intervals as Kai completed her pre-travel report. She had no idea how many times she had completed this same activity in her lifetime. Her life was not the focal point of a single timeline now. Kai happened throughout time, completing this same activity when she finished what she was asked to start along one point in time before traveling to another, thus requiring another pre-travel report, or a PT as referred to by all field agents of Traveler’s Quest, Inc. The only consistency in Kai’s timeline was that Cole Rainier was present at every point in time she landed in this plain white box of a room for PT completion.

“I see you are not quite done yet with your pre-travel report. Are you feeling fatigued from your most recent activity?” Cole walked up on Kai like he always did. She could hear his self-important breathing before he even spoke.

“How would I know? I don’t remember what I did. I only fill out PTs. I assume someone else is collecting the results of what I did last,” Kai snapped.

“Fair enough. You wouldn’t be here though if you didn’t want to be. This is your choice.”

“What made you think I was complaining? I’m just stating a fact. I was simply having a moment wondering how many PTs I have filled out.”

“I could tell you, Kai, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t mean much other than a number to satisfy your sudden curiosity. Curiosity is the first sign of burnout in our agents according to a recent study,” Cole said as he shifted his substantial weight from one foot to the other and placed a hand on his hip.

“No need to get bothered by my curiosity, Cole. It is not that important. You should be more worried about me finishing this PT before the metronome hits my travel click.”

“I was simply checking on your well-being. We do care about our agents here at Traveler’s Quest. The world needs your service to determine how The End arrived. It is the only way we will find The Begin Point.”

“So you say. I would very much like to be the agent that finds Begin Point.”

Cole stepped away without further word at this. He was skilled at talking in generalities or disappearing when it came to a discussion regarding the purpose and importance of agent work. Kai was sure it also had something to do with his strong concern over agent burnout. She quickly averted her mind back to the PT in front of her as time was waning based on the clicks, which she learned to count in the background like a concert pianist.

She took her chipped hand with her assignment in it, held it to her empty report screen, holding her hand there until her PT populated. The next step was to review her PT assignment and agree to it by once again touching her chip to the screen.

Kai found it odd sometimes that there really did not appear to be a clear process for disagreeing with the assignment. She always just agreed to what was in front of her. Today should be no different until she started to read the screen.

“For this assignment, you will be sent back to 2020 on the afternoon of October 10. You will report to a bar called The Green Door in Lansing, Michigan on the night of October 10, 2020. You are a waitress named Kate at this bar, and you will report there for your shift at 21:00. You have a vial of poison in the travel pack on your right thigh. You will empty this vial in the drink of Cole Rainier, your customer, at approximately 23:00. He will die. You will leave. PT complete.”

Kai gasped and looked around the room in vain for anything which could be recording her or provide some sign of how to reject this PT. Had she been asked to kill before? And why would Traveler’s Quest want one of their own dead? If they she and Cole were here working, they were part of the solution to get to Begin Point, not a part of the problem that led to The End.

Kai started to scream just as her metronome hit the travel click, and her world went black.

fiction, story, writer, writing

Pitches Be Crazy

I’m doing a thing tomorrow. I’m pitching one of the novels I wrote to agents. I write because I love writing. I don’t write to get published. I do want to share this story and its crazy cast of characters with the world though. Taking years of work and boiling it down to one sentence is painfully beautiful. It reminds me of the sheer joy of creation. Pitches be crazy.

Draft 5,003:

Houseboat

Blaire Alice must save her fractured family from Canadian pirates and lovesick bears after her unhinged astronomer husband trades their comfortable life for a houseboat on the wilds of Lake Superior to escape an alleged, world-ending solar storm.  

fiction, story, writer, writing

The Taste of Rain and Ruin

It was the 15th spring of the torrential downpour that washed over Verbandy, drowning crops, souring moods, and imprisoning even the most ardent magic practitioners in the kingdom, for the rains were not ordinary. The rains carried the curse of poison. The rains burned the skin beyond recognition and had taken one too many unsuspecting children who did not know better than to catch the first drops on their tongues. The early years had passed into faded memories of what once was, and now the people of Verbandy hid within the walls of the castle, nearing starvation, accumulating disease, and losing more than they gained with the passing of each year this dark magic could not be undone. Many had died trying, with the greatest loss being the magic users sent to their unwilling deaths in attempts to remedy the curse.

A knock at the bed chamber of the king, Lord Landolan, widened his eyes as the hour was late, evidenced by the deluge outside his window casting shadows through the flickering torches surrounding him. His queen, Lady Katala, slept soundly, lulled into stupor both day and night from the endless cascading water, poisoning her once bright spirit, too. Lord Landolan grabbed his robe and walked to the chamber door at the second gentle rap, barely sounding through the rain. It was the Lord’s counselor, Rendon.

“Rendon, what is it that would make you disturb the sleep of the night’s stars if not mine?”

“Sir, I promise you, I bore witness to something you need to hear in haste.”

Lord Landolan took a deep breath and turned his head back to see if Lady Katala had stirred as the rain grew louder, thumping against market canopies many feet below, ominous drums now.

“Well come in and let’s sit by the fire. I think nothing can disturb my lady.”

As they sat, sipping brandy poured generously by Rendon, a story unfolded of a plot to kill the king and free Verbandy of the rain curse. Rendon spoke of a prophecy by which magic practitioners would come to power again as they had in times long ago on this land. Rendon paused, looking out the window and shaking his head.

“The plot is thick, and none of your subjects, even though you provide them comfort and sustenance through the poison deluge speak to your favor this year. I fear their patience has expired.”

Lord Landolan stood and started a steady pacing in front of the fireplace as if carried by the stream of rain outside.

“Rendon, how can I blame them? This is the 15th year, and we are no closer to freeing our people or knowing the reason for why we suffer. We have sacrificed many lives, including our magic bearers. We have questioned everyone, using torture and unspeakable acts, as to the nature of this curse. Perhaps this is destiny. You know prophecies are the gold of fools.”

“My lord, you mustn’t give in to these dark thoughts. Do you think Verbandy will be any closer to freedom if you are gone? You will leave it in ruin, no heir to replace you, causing chaos, internal warring, and destitution. You have done well to at least plan for the rain each year. It is no small feat to host a kingdom in a castle.”

Lady Katala shuffled, causing the men to look back as she made the mew of a kitten. 

“I will not be acquiring an heir anytime soon, not a legitimate one anyways.”

“We need to plan for your survival. No one faults you or your court for seeking manly comfort during the infernal rains that trap us each year. I just wish you would be more discreet and gentile in your pursuits.”

“Your wisdom and loyalty keep me from walking into the poison water of my own doings, Rendon. Please share your thoughts on how I might survive.”

Rendon carefully walked his lord through the potential for death by poison. There were enough witches within the castle to have knowledge of poison, and they had lost one too many of their own, so there was motivation. The witches also held a special allure for the king in his nighttime wanderings. The kitchen staff would willingly participate for they were imprisoned in the kitchen during the long months of rain, toiling away at feeding everyone on an impossibly tight supply of food. Rendon sat up straighter raising a finger to the air. There was only one solution. A young woman, a witch who just came of age, was rumored to have a rare magic that could save the lord’s life without costing her own.

“Lord, there is a Taster that was born a year before the curse. She is not any Taster though. She will not die ingesting the poison that is meant for you. I have heard whispers, too, that she can taste magic that has been cast by tasing the air itself around the spell or curse. A prophecy suggests she might be the one to save us from this curse, too.”

“Enough with prophecies. Will she be loyal to me, Rendon? You can’t trust magic.”

“I already have her mother imprisoned. Their bond is fierce. You die, then her mother dies as she watches.”

Lord Landolan smirked, emerging from his dire moment. The rains were not his fault. He suffered from the curse just like everyone else, even more so with his duties as their lord. He deserved loyalty and protection from their treachery in return.

“Very well, Rendon. Fetch me the girl in the morning. She will start at breakfast. Lady Katala will not be pleased. Her descent into madness does not prevent petty, dangerous jealousy. Watch her, my hawk, around the Taster.”

Rendon paused while walking to the door of the chamber with his lord. He pursed his mouth, willing words to come out of it.

“I need to suggest something that does not come from a place of disloyalty, but rather the deepest loyalty I can give.”

Lord Landolan let out a brandy-laden breath. “Enough with all of these troublesome words tonight. Speak plainly.”

Rendon stepped close to his lord, lowering his voice to a hiss. “I would suggest we save the Taster’s skill for your security and longevity only. Lady Katala does us no favors in her current state. Perhaps it is time to find a queen who can produce an heir.”

“Rendon, you are both loyal and wise.”  

Rendon smiled and nodded, closing the door with quiet precision as he exited.

Lord Landolan walked to the chamber window, staying far enough away as not to feel the burn of cursed raindrops on his skin. He smiled, for he had known the Taster’s mother, Vareena, on many occasions. Vareena was not very accommodating during his vists, but Rendon could fix that if commanded.

In the steady downpour of the morning, Rendon walked through the castle, posture high, on task. He wound down several staircases to servant quarters. Even magic providers had to perform other duties while sheltering in the castle. The Taster’s duty was a maid to the lower royalty housed on the upper floors of the castle.

The young woman was standing by a wash basin, fiery hair pulled neatly into a plait at her slender back. Rendon startled as she turned around before he could announce himself, for her azure eyes, dewy skin, and raised cheeks, were remarkable. She was her mother’s child.

“Master,” she bowed ruggedly for a lady, “how may I serve you?”

“I seek loyalty and truth for the lord, our king, Miss Carenna. You bear the magic of a Taster, do you not?”

Carenna’s eyes answered before she did. There was a pride in magic that spoke truth through the glint of her eyes. Her youth had given way to magical womanhood this year. Rendon remained serious as others quietly worked around them, pretending not to listen.

“Yes, Master Rendon. I am a Taster. I am new to the skill though.”

“Wonderful for that was the only correct answer. You have a new role in our cursed lockdown then. You are to be the Lord Landolan’s Taster. People have grown restless from our collective rain-filled nightmare. You must ensure his safety, whether it be from his food or the air around him.”

Carenna walked closer to Rendon, bringing her delicate, opal skin out of the rain shadows.

“Master, if I may be so bold, I prefer my current duties.”

Rendon now decreased the distance between them, red in the face, making a show of it to curious eyes.

“I do not present this as a choice. Your mother is imprisoned until you get the king through this test to his power. If you are not successful, then I do not need to speak of what this means for her.”

Carenna stood still, glance forward, narrowed eyes and a stiff back.

“Very well, Master Rendon. I shall start with breakfast.”

“Ay, I will lead you to the chamber. One more small matter. You serve our lord, not our lady. You will do well to remember this with each taste of his food and the air around him.”

Carenna nodded. As she walked behind Rendon, winding upward, she let her ginger hair loose behind her back, and straightened her maid’s frock, tightening it around her waist and chest. When Rendon led her into the chamber, she was greeted by Lord Landolan’s glowering countenance. As tight as her dress was now, her resolve was tighter.

Carenna performed her duties well for weeks, catching two poisonings and a weak attempt at a long-term sleep spell cast on the lord at a choral performance in the music chamber of the castle. When Lady Katala was awake and present, which was rarely, she glared at Carenna. It could be that Lord Landolan stared at Carenna too long as she was performing her duties. Lady Katala, during an unusual spoken moment, even implied that Carenna was her mother’s child with a bite and click to her tongue. Carenna took pleasure that she was not asked to protect the lady for the queen had quietly slunk to the shadows while magic practitioners were sent to their rain deaths to save the kingdom.

Carenna had earned the trust of even Rendon, stalwart in his distrust of most. His trust came in the form of a quiet respect and space to perform her duties even when he was not present. It was, however, time to perform her real duties to the kingdom and her people. It was the sixth unbearable week of the cursed rain, halfway to when the people of Verbandy could return outside. There was a celebration in the hall with abundant food and wine for subjects than on typical days. Carenna had not been allowed to see her mother at all during this time, but she did not need to see her to know her heart’s charge.

Carenna dressed in an emerald green velvet gown with beaded bodice, a gift from the lord for her service, whispering words that inspired the steady rains of the day to become a cacophony of large drops on the castle, soaking it and creating an impossibly damp chill in the corridors.

When Carenna finally arrived at the great hall, she was pleased the din of the party was muffled by the glorious torrent outside. She pushed her red ringlets to her back, pressed her chin and chest high, and walked into the hall, catching the faltering torch lights on her hair and face. There was a hush at each table as she walked to the front center of the room. From the back of the cavernous hall, she could see Lord Landolan’s mouth agape. Lady Katala was awake and at his side, her eyes narrowing on Carenna as she came closer.

Carenna reached the front and bowed, “What a lovely gathering for our people, my lord and lady.”

“Please, join us at the table. Lady and I hope you enjoy the festivities after your duties. The night is for the young ladies and gents of Verbandy, even during our solemn rain tomb of Spring.”

Lady Katala snickered and looked away while Lord Landolan made a sweep of his arm to invite Carenna to the table to taste. Rendon was nowhere to be seen, but Carenna knew her lord would let her proceed without him. This was what weeks of saving his life and fluttering about him with her feminine wiles earned her. Rendon also helped with his consistent praise. She arrived at the table and tasted the lord’s food and drink, she strode around the table, far enough to taste the reach of magic. The lord watched closely for he enjoyed watching her like he had enjoyed watching her mother and other beautiful witches too often, eventually forcing them to partake of his brutal pleasures. He preferred to watch her from the neck down, and this along with the now clamorous rain provided cover for the words she whispered next.

It only took five minutes, a few bites of food, and a trickle of wine for the lord and lady to slump forward to the table, unquestionably dead. It took another five minutes for the rains to stop and everyone in the hall to pause in recognition of the end of their watery prison. Carenna raised a glass and tapped it gently with a knife, waiting as stunned faces turned towards her.

“People of Verbandy, the curse has been lifted. I am Carenna, daughter of the sorcerer Rendon and his lady love, the witch Vareena, from this day forward, your king and queen. The curse arrived after my birth as prophesized and lifted with my coming of magical age this year. Magic shall once again rule this kingdom, never to be abused again. Women shall also not be abused by men of power. You know the suffering of which I speak,” Carenna paused as two large men removed the lifeless, treacherous bodies from the table. “If you respect magic, its users, and the women of this kingdom, you will never suffer the rains again. And always, without compromise or hesitation, believe in the prophecies of magic.”

The hall erupted in cheers as Carenna raised her glass. Shortly following, her witch mother, as red and alabaster as her daughter, was escorted in on the arm of her father to join her at the table.

For years, Spring came to pass with normal, gentle, crop growing rain. Children could catch the first rains on their tongue and dig up worms from the mud in the days following. The use of magic was controlled by its users and not the selfish, shadowy whims of magicless lords and ladies, and there was peace and prosperity in Verbandy. Carenna in the 10th year following the end of the curse, gave birth to a girl of fire and marble who would be a Taster, a witch, and a queen like her mother.

banjo, musician, poetry, story, writer, writing

The Banjo Cure

A banjo is an excellent story writer. It’s a 5-string choose your own adventure. It’s a thriller. It’s the romance writer of stringed instruments. Go down the neck, and you get some science fiction and fantasy sounds…the bard of a space court. It’s African poetry. It’s a medical drama about a woman needing a musical cure for a rough week. The banjo is a story, and it is the cure.

fiction, story, writer, writing

Nevermore

Poe drew in a deep breath as she sat up, the sound of silence tickling her ears. She scanned X deck, to which she was one of the assigned residents thanks to her exotic last name of Xanadu. The only problem was that she was the only one awake amongst the dozen or so patrons that had chosen last names beginning with X. New space, new names.

As she tried to stand, her legs gave way, and Poe fell to the hard deck, smarting her tailbone in the process. She wished she had paid better attention to the literature about the process of waking up. There was a step-by-step guide to moving again. As a Scrivener, she should have appreciated the words she had been provided to have a less stressful experience on the ship. Soon, it would be her turn to write the words required for others to survive and remember this journey.

She looked around for any indication of why she was the only one awake in at this time. As she tried to stand again, she felt a whoosh above her head, nearly blowing her chin length ginger curls straight.

Poe called out with a cracking voice, “Who’s there? Or should I say what?”

She looked across the deck to a blinking control panel and a perch with a dark presence. Poe blinked her eyes until wings came into focus.

“What are you? I demand to know what has happened here.” Poe was talking to a bird…a large, black one, with coal eyes now staring in her direction. The bird was not there when Poe boarded the Lunessa for the adventure of deep space travel. She could not afford the ship, so she agreed to be a Scrivener to cover the cost of her passage.

The bird, with an agitated flap of its giant wings, swooped towards Poe, dropping a silver brick in front of her that popped open to produce another perch towering over her seat on the floor.

“Hello, Ms. Xanadu. I am glad to see you are awake. I am your Raven guide.”

Poe looked up, biting her bottom lip for a moment. “My Raven? What are you going to do about my predicament of being awake? I suppose you can call me Poe, too. Ms. Xanadu seems a little formal at this point.” Poe noted the Raven had a male accent, British in origin. She had watched movies based on Jane Austen books from the planet of Earth II.

The Raven cawed, a noise that shattered Poe’s confidence in questioning it. “Absolutely nothing. I woke you. It is time to get to work, pay off that passage you so desperately wanted, my dear. Call me Mr. Darcy. I prefer my formal name when you are addressing me, Ms. Xanadu, since we are merely at the acquaintance stage of our relationship.”

Poe rolled her eyes, studying the Raven’s wings, finally seeing evidence of robotic origins under the realistically plumed bird.

“Mr. Darcy, if you could so kindly tell me about the work required of me, then maybe we can proceed to the less formal friendship stage.”

“I am afraid I cannot do that. It must remain a mystery.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Poe was done sitting. She willed her legs to stand so she could look this daft bird in the eyes. When she stood fully, locking her legs and ignoring the swirl of her head, she was still slightly shorter than the impromptu perch.

“A mystery you say? Is there somebody that can help me solve this mystery then, bird brain?”

“Ms. Xanadu, that is a touch rude, don’t you think? You must not fan the flames of discord upon first meeting with someone, after all.”

“I hate to break it to you, but you are a robotic bird, remarkably realistic, but not to the point where I would worry about causing offense. I just want to know why I am awake and how I can get back to sleep.”

“I will ignore your slight. You have been asleep for two years. Perhaps your manners are still asleep. If you follow me, I will set you on the path to solving this mystery. Please grab your writing instruments of choice for you shall document the solving of this mystery.”

Poe grabbed her mental typewriter from the internal pocket of her still open sleep pod and placed little white discs in her ears and a tiny white patch on each temple. Mr. Darcy yawned causing Poe to smirk. While she didn’t want to obey Mr. Darcy, she needed to play along to understand her current troubles.

The glass doors of X deck opened as Mr. Darcy flew and Poe followed. They stepped out onto the circular walkway that was alphabetically the 24th circle up from the ground level of the ship. Poe stepped to the edge of X and looked down into the vastness of the ship, noting there were others roaming on circles below her. She then looked up and saw a man leaning over Y deck waving down to her.

Poe let out a sigh and looked at Mr. Darcy who was now floating at the center of the circle slightly below her eye level, not even bothering to flap his wings like a real bird.

Poe had to shout slightly over ambient engine and control noise. “Now what?”

“There is no need to shout at me, Ms. Xanadu. It is quite simple. You solve and document the mystery of why you are awake along with these other passengers. If you are successful, as judged by me in two days’ time, then you all can go safely back to sleep. If not, you will all meet eternal sleep, but we will still have your story to read either way.”

“I did not agree to this.”

“Most unfortunate that you did not read the fine print.”

Poe ran and jumped into the circular void, pulling off one of Mr. Darcy’s wings on her way down.