Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Lament of the Reborn

In darkness hold
No sovereign light
The dark wind blows
Through endless night

In days of old
And ancient wars
Brought seas of gold
To silver shores

When eyes grow cold
And boots are worn
As once foretold
A life reborn

May light enfold
A clarion horn
Rings ever bold
A life reborn

Rings ever bold
Your life reborn

Warms darkness cold
Your life reborn

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Concept Art: Takeo Sato

“They’re almost here,” noted Taryn upon reaching the massive door, and she wrung the grip of her claw hammer.

Takeo gripped a section of heavy pipe.

Father Stone’s zealots shambled into view, drawn from a mix of races. They advanced along the stairs and dropped down from nearby roofs and catwalks. Bound with red ropes, festooned with liturgical ribbons, their tattered attire did little to hide their ruined bodies. Faced with nightmarish death, millions had accepted Father Stone’s nepenthe. It left them with patchwork flesh, silvered eyes and glinting clusters of glutted nanobots. Moving in unison, they spread out to form a semicircle around D’Arro’s team.

“Cajun, get that door open,” he said and faced the mob directly.

“Right away.” Fumbling somewhat, Cajun retrieved a prybar from his pack. Takeo and Taryn formed a protective wall at D’Arro’s back, separating Cajun from the horde.

“Back off,” Takeo growled, and he raised his heavy pipe. “We’ll defend ourselves if you force us.” He narrowed his eyes.

A wiry, gaunt human man stepped forth, wearing a crown of jagged teeth that had been embedded into his scalp. “You are trespassing,” he rasped as he moved close to Takeo.

“We’re here for Father Stone.”

With all his might, Cajun strained against the door. He heard something pop within, but it didn’t budge. “Oh, come on,” he huffed, and he drove the prybar deeper into the space between the door and its jamb.

The gaunt man smiled wickedly, a rictus of metal teeth and receded gums. He reached for Takeo’s arm. “You would defend yourself with something so crude? How unprepared you are to face the might of this army. The blessing of conversion will deliver you from your small thinking.”

As one, a thundering chorus resounded, “Conversion!”

Takeo warned, “I said back off. Look, we’re just here for Father Stone.”

“Stone is lost.” Lowering his brow, he held Takeo’s gaze. In a deep snarl, the crowned man said, “Again, I offer you conversion.” The throng boomed, “Conversion!”

Reaching back with the pipe, Takeo said, “Don’t force me to do this.”

With a derisive cackle, the crowned man jeered, “Don’t force you to strike me with your primitive weapon? By all means, take your best shot.”

“Not so primitive,” Takeo breathed, and he swung at the old man’s head with all the strength he could bring to bear. However, when the pipe struck home, there was no crack, or clang or crunch. Instead, there was a muted splat as Fogg deformed and spread around the crowned man’s face. He set to reprogramming the nanobot symbiotes.

Moving as one, the ravening horde swarmed toward D’Arro’s team. Howling, they reached out with claws and hungrily peeled open their mouths.

“It didn’t work!” Taryn shouted, and she lunged and dodged, her hammer striking and gutting in short arcs.

“Fogg needs time,” Takeo barked. He was a blur of precise hits and kicks, and he sent a dozen opponents to the ground. “Just hold them off until it’s done!”

The door at last gave way. “There!” Cajun triumphantly announced. “Door’s open, guys!”

“How’ll we know?” D’Arro asked. His enormous wrench struck with crushing force, taking out two or three enemies with each hit.

Takeo insisted, “You’ll know!”

Thanks to Regular Jane for her delicious bokeh background. :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Concept Art: Fogg

He blew into his hands, rubbed them together and glanced down the street. “There you are,” he muttered to himself. He watched Takeo slip in and out of visibility as he rode his bicycle under the street lamps bobbing in place over the sidewalk. Dressed in a black suit and long coat, Takeo looked as sharply dressed as ever. He drew close, drifted to a stop, and dismounted. Gavin smiled slightly. “Still rocking the bike, huh? I like it. Totally old school.”

Takeo lifted a brow. “Stop that.”

Gavin pointed toward the bicycle. “Want to put it inside?”

“No need,” answered Takeo, and his bicycle vanished in a puff of swirling, fading fog.

Gavin recoiled. “What?”

Takeo hunched his shoulders as he looked sidelong at his friend. “Fogg… ate it,” he answered, and he laughed dryly. “Completely by accident, of course, so he offered to be my bike until he can replace it.”

The first thing most people noticed about Takeo Sato was how absurdly tall he was. Graceful despite his height, he was lean, had black hair, and his eyes were dark as coal. His father was a distinguished kobun of the Yakuza’s Yubitsume Syndicate, and Takeo was being groomed to take his place in the family business.

Peering toward where he had seen the haze dissipate, Gavin said, “Hey, Fogg. You can come too, if you like. I’m sure Taryn would be happy to see you.”

The metallic mist coalesced into a small, spinning saucer-style craft with a bank of bright lights that flashed in sequence. A tiny orb dropped out and displayed the words, “Yes please.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Concept Art: Filan Portssi

“Let’s see who else wants to do some eleventh hour delving.” Zerki asked around. Before long, she, Valerie, Gavin, Filan and Takeo gathered and began their search for a way to enter the mountainous corpse of the planet-shaper droid.

“Taryn didn’t want to come?” Gavin asked.

Takeo said, “No, she’s helping D’Arro direct traffic.”

“There!” Filan interjected. “Oh, sorry.” She practically bounced as she pointed to a well hidden hatch some distance from the harvest site, seated along Behemothylax’s dorsal segmentation. Impatiently, she hurried to the passageway and strained against an embedded handle. It slowly turned and opened with a hiss of icy fog.

“Good find,” said Zerki, and she stepped close, hunched down to peer into the guts of the leviathan. “We’ll need light.” With the rip of Velcro, she loosened a pouch cover on her vest and produced a small disc mounted to a heavy band that had been sewn into its pocket. Glancing to Gavin, she added, “You have one, too,” and she tapped hers on. A brilliant cone of light issued forth.

“Oh,” he muttered and soon had his own torch ready for use.

Filan offered, “I can go full body, if we need it.” Her hands and forearms faintly glowed.

“Good to know,” said Zerki, and she descended through the hatch. Her companions followed.

Darkness gnawed at them, shrouded recesses filled with glinting blades and jagged points. Carefully, they made their way along the sub-dorsal service catwalks. Below them, rows upon immeasurable rows of devices sagged in immense ropes and stacks, hung indifferently over the scarred heart of the mountain so very far below. Regularly, the silvery blue wash of lighting danced up along vaults of machinery.

Zerki raised her hand, and the others paused while she checked her data tablet. “If these old schematics are still accurate, we’re heading for the central computer core.” She looked long at the darkened, cramped, grime-coated, grated pathways. “It’ll be tough going, by the look of it, but it’s possible we could find out why it went haywire, and ultimately why it just shut itself down.” An excited smile tugged on her lips. “We could be the first people in the entire galaxy to know the truth. What do you think?”

Filan said, “Ooh, I could access its deep core.” She beamed giddily. “I’m in!”

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Concept Art: Salvador Santiago

One of the hooded thugs weakly gripped his gun, and trembling, pointed it at Salvador, but the maugal backhanded the battered assailant into a nearby parcel truck hard enough to dent its side. “I can handle these two pieces of worthless bludder drek without your help!”

“And you have,” said Salvador, his tone almost soothing. “Now what happens?”

“I kill you!” He shook his head. “We’ve established that. Now what?” “I… kill. I…”

“Right, we’re dead. What a mess!” Salvador held his opponent’s stone gaze. He leaned in and asked, “Now what?”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Concept Art: Taryn Sikes

Zerki fumed, her face red. “Explain yourself, Sikes!”
Cajun raised his hand. “I can't concentrate with you yelling, Captain.”
Zerki shot him a withering glare.
“Right, earphones,” he answered. “Good idea.”
Taryn squared her jaw and crossed her arms. “Hey, back off! I saved his life.” She drew a deep breath and recounted the events that had unfolded aboard the ellogon cruiser. She spared no details.
When Taryn had finished the telling, Zerki sagged against the wall. “You killed him?”
Taryn nodded, unashamed. “He was going to kill D’Arro. I had no choice. Check the helmet cams, if you don't believe me.”
The captain rubbed her eyes and puffed out her cheeks. “Ospyreans,” she muttered.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Zerki smiled wanly and chewed on her upper lip for a moment before answering. “It means… at times, I envy how fiercely loyal you are to each other, but other times… Times like this…” She trailed off. “We’ve brought the Union to the brink of another galactic war.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Remembrance of the Acquainted

In Path of the Time Walker, I delve a little deeper into ellogon culture, traditions and the beliefs they uphold.  At one point in Chapter 12, after the loss of three allies, an ellogon crewman named Elsummu feels moved to recite the sacred Remembrance of the Acquainted.  Here's the passage:

Drawing a deep breath, Elsummu raised one arm high, cocking the other back to form something of a crescent with his shoulders.
He spoke loudly in his native tongue.

He appeared to me with seven faces,
He approached with seven sounds
Footsteps shared.

Who would travel my road matching paces,
Who did seek once sacred grounds
Lessons we bared.

Seven Suns before forgotten gods rose,
Seven fates they had composed
On fiery sands.

Our paths to cross as the Wanting Sun shows,
Our true faces ever closed
By the Woeful Sun’s hands.

To you who were taken before friendship brightly burned,
You are remembered here before the Seven Suns!

Seven faces and seven sounds,
You are remembered now before the Seven Suns!

Elsummu bowed deeply, his arms forming an arch upon the ground.  He held the pose for some time before beginning the second verse.

Thanks for reading!  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Concept Art: Valerie Sawyer

“I'm not your friend?” Tucking her hair behind her ear, she cast him a playful wink. Before he could stammer out a response, she said, “It's OK, you can stare. If I didn't want anyone to see, I'd have had the work done somewhere else on my body.” She soaped up her hands, scrubbed them as she hummed “Happy Birthday” to herself, and her hair fell back into place.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

History into Fantasy

Ah, Ren Faire…  Or, more properly, The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire.  It is a place of visual wonder and an almost palpable sense of enchantment.  For anyone who follows my Facebook page, it's clear I love the place, judging by the 30 Ren Faire pictures I've posted thus far.  I go at least once a year.  

It takes place annually at the Santa Fe Dam Rec Center in Irwindale, CA, and runs from the first weekend in April to the third weekend in May.  There are stage shows, jousting, trained falcons, a food court (I desperately want that to be a pun, somehow) and craft booths everywhere you turn.  And there's something so magical about being immersed in the Elizabethan era, surrounded by people dressed in both period-correct and fantastic costumes: fairies, assassins, pirates, nobles, commoners and steampunk.  Needless to say, it's inspiring!

This year, I spent a little extra time in the back of the Faire, at the St. Michael's military camps, at first enthralled by a blonde fellow attired in plate-and-mail armor.  He tended a storehouse of knowledge regarding weapons and fighting styles of the times, of military groups and tactics, and I found myself following his lead as he guided a group of us along the path through the camp.  We listened to a host of knowledgeable Elizabethan-era military historians.

Some highlights:
• The axe was so common, because it was a tool every plowman or farmer could also use as a weapon.
• Austrian mercenaries wore brightly colored uniforms to strike fear into the hearts of their untrained foes.
• The Zweihänder (two-handed) sword was used defensively, as well as offensively, and had seven killing points along its length.  It was used to parry and bludgeon, much more so than the foolhardy downward chop we currently see presented in so many fighting games (I'm looking at you, Nightmare from the Soul Calibur series).
• The prow-style helmet, while extensively associated with the Spanish conquistadors, was actually of English design.
• There was a breed of pony that could travel without being guided through the swamps of England,  They were so troublesome as used by Scottish mercenaries, that the Queen of England ordered them hunted to extinction.
• It cost a typical shopkeeper a year's wages to buy a sword; 12 years' wages to buy a greatsword.
• It was far more profitable to ransom a knight back to his family than it was to kill him.
• Pikemen got promoted by surviving battles.  The more you survived, the further back in the ranks you got to go, hence increasing your chances of survival.

In light of all this, I feel a completely new fantasy epic coming on!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Story Putty II

Below, I have listed my top ten most inspirational books (and series) and why.  Next, I'll post TV series! 

10. Sphere, by Michael Crichton - I picked it up around 10 AM one summer morning and set it down at 5 AM, 19 hours later, having finished reading it completely.  It was the first time I had ever read a scifi thriller, and it showed me how well fantastic elements paired with interesting characters to create a gripping page turner.  Not that Shadow Galactic could ever be called a thriller, but there's a lot more of that in the upcoming sequel, and a lot of my slow-reveal pacing was influenced by this novel.

9. Xanth (series), by Piers Anthony - From A Spell for Chameleon to The Color of her Panties, I followed this charming series.  Anthony's characters continually had to think their way through challenges, as opposed to shooting their way out of them, and it wasn't until I started writing scifi that I realized just how much that influenced me.  Plus, the puns.  Oh, the puns…

8. Forgotten Realms: The Moonshae Trilogy (series), by Douglas Niles - A Darkwalker on Moonshae was the first fantasy book I read by choice (as opposed to required reading for school).  At the time, I had been playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with a small group of friends, and a book set in that world interested me.  I don't know what I expected, but it definitely WASN'T a clearly high-level captain getting his head smashed in with a single hit by a rampaging firbolg!  What about his Hit Points?  What??  Regardless, Douglas Niles wrote a host of complex, believable characters within the parameters of an established world setting, and he taught me the value of extensive, persistent world-building.

7. The Riftwar Saga (series), by Raymond E. Feist - Pug is the epitome of unlocked potential, and Midkemia is such a magical, dangerous place.  It's epic, fantastic and brutal, filled with generous doses of humanity's best and worst, pitted against truly dark forces.  I learned a lot about consistency of character voice and how to bring disparate groups of people together in a believable fashion.

6. The Magic Kingdom of Landover (series), by Terry Brooks - This is my favorite fish-out-of-water fantasy series.  While Loud Foul's Bane was my first encounter with a real world person shunted into a fantasy realm, Thomas Covenant had issues, and he was a lot harder to relate to than Ben Holiday.  ;)  His love for Willow opened my mind to interspecies romance, and I will always count Questor Thews as one of the greatest wizards of all time.  The humor and sweetness of this series still echoes in my own writing. 

5. Glory Lane, by Alan Dean Foster - It may sound stupid, or even dumb (possibly even dimwitted) to claim that a book was the 5th most influential thing on my writing when I don't recall many of the details.  I suppose it's the details I *do* recall that give this assertion some legs.  This is another fish-out-of-water story, but this time humorous scifi.  I remember Izmir (the missing 12% of the matter of the universe, who could take any shape he wanted, including a bowling ball that did as the female protagonist wanted), and I remember Seeth and a valley girl, and a lot of escapes…  Also, some sort of epic interstellar conflict…  Squirrel!!

4. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (series) - Look, it's a whole school of fish-out-of-water!  This hilarious scifi farce has probably influenced, to some extent, every writer that's ever read it.  It's smart, absurd, and filled with a wealth of memorable characters.  So many of my favorite fictional people came from the mind of this brilliant man - the Vogons (who bear a striking similarity to the ellogons), Agrajag, Zarniwoop, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Slartibartfast, Marvin the Paranoid Android, Trillian and Deep Thought.  If you've read any of these books, I would bet cash money you just now smiled at the memories, at least once. ;)

3. The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan - I read this when AD&D 2nd Edition came out, when everyone else was reading (or re-reading) Lord of the Rings.  From the opening devastation to Rand's touching the One Power, it was all the drama and beauty I could have hoped for from any fantasy epic.  It jumped off the pages for me, and I think I had a crush on Moiraine. ;)  His description and courageous characters left an indelible mark on my fantasy voice, and eventually my writing voice as a whole. 

2. Foundation, by Isaac Azimov - Future history at its finest.  The scope of his vision was sweeping, telling the tale of a noble society dedicated to preserving knowledge in the face of an impending new Dark Age.  It was the first time I had ever experienced civilization as a character, and it unlocked my deep love for history.

1. Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), by Philip K. Dick - The single greatest influence on my writing style, this novel combined sympathetic villains, a desolate and believable near future with amazing technology and a vast moral gray zone.  It went toe-to-toe with the darker aspects of the human condition while at the same time filling my mind with wonder.  Dick is a master of taking the normal and making it fantastic: electric animals, the mood organ, and that poor (probably real?) cat…  Filled with action, intrigue and adventure, it is all I aspire to be as a writer.  Plus, it's one of the best movies.  Like, ever.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Volume I

I'm not going to make you go to my Facebook page. That was silly of me! So, in light of that epiphany, here's the first four parts of this series, collected into a single volume. Enjoy!

The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part I: Plasma Shields
One of the technologies used to protect ships from micrometeorites, and to insulate local space during a jump event is the plasma shield. Here's some hard science to back it up!
Plasma Shield: Missile Stopper? (from

The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part II: Jump Events
A core transportation technology used to get around the pesky light speed barrier is the jump event - or, quantum entanglement-assisted teleportation. While admittedly, such an event can't transfer entire systems of matter, the essence is founded on solid quantum physics. Here's the science:
The Race to Bring Quantum Teleportation to Your World (from

The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part II.5: Jump Events
And here's the humor...
xkcd: Quantum Teleportation (from

The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part III: Repulsor Lamps
It's a background technology, meant to add a dash of the fantastic to otherwise familiar elements, but founded on 100% real science. :)
Electrostatic Levitation (from - a great place to start!)

The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part IV: Municipal Transit Shuttles
Again, more of a background piece, but how do they function? How can they possibly be cost effective? How?? Here's how: they're VTOL assisted, but rely on plasma aerodynamics to move so much mass with great efficiency (UFO's, anyone?). Check out this awesome science:
Will Plasma Revolutionize Aircraft Design? (from

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wrath of the Void Strider Excerpt

Up ahead, huddled near a payphone under a shadowy overhang, two hooded fellows took note of them and moved quickly away, deeper into the darkness of a shuttered restaurant.  “Such subtlety,” Takeo mocked, and he rested his hand near the small of his back.  He whispered to Gavin, “Whatever those guys have to say, don’t talk to them.”
“Why not?” Gavin asked, as one of the hooded men stepped back into view, his hands in his pockets.
“Got a smoke?” asked the stranger, his companion close behind him.  He glanced this way and that.  Other shadows loomed deeper within the shuttered restaurant.
Gavin answered, “Not on me,” and he felt a sharp jab to his arm as Takeo nudged him along.  “Sorry.  Good luck.”
“Slow down,” a deep voice rumbled, and a massive creature of stone skin stomped into view from further down the walk.  The others swept in behind Gavin and Takeo as they regarded the stone man.  “Really could’ve used that smoke.  What else you got?”
“One or two things,” Takeo growled, and he pulled Gavin stumbling to the wall.  In a flash, he produced a heavy revolver that had been tucked into the back of his pants, and he leveled it fearlessly at the stone man.  “You are all leaving, now!”
“I don’t think so,” snarled the stone man, and he charged.
Takeo squeezed the trigger twice, and two shots struck their mark, near where the heart would be on a human, but only a shower of sparks rained down from the stone assailant’s chest.  Two more hooded figures bolted from the deeper shadows, as the first two lunged.  Takeo gripped and swung a hooded man around, sent him careening into the stone attacker.  A blur of kicks and punches, and two more toppled with a crunch to the ground.
“Fogg, I could use some help!” urged Takeo, as the mechanical pup playfully dodged the swirling melee.
Gavin threw all his might into a punch aimed at the fourth hooded man.  It failed to connect, and he found himself cast to the ground, his feet swept out from under him.  His head spun as his back struck the concrete, knocking the wind out of him.
Several loud pops filled the night air, flashes of light as bullets streaked through the darkness.  Gavin heard joints crack, saw guns and knives hit the ground as he tried to regain his senses.  He rolled away just in time for the stone man’s fist to crash down on where his chest had been a moment earlier.  Another pop from Takeo’s gun resulted merely in a waterfall of embers.
Grimacing, his lungs on fire, Gavin forced himself to breathe in and struggled back to his feet.  He watched the stone man stomp toward his friend.  Takeo dove behind a trash bin, but the attacker smashed it flat with his massive fists, sending garbage in every direction.
Gavin opened his mouth to shout, but a raspy squeak came out.  Clearing his throat, he finally bellowed, “Maugal!”
The stone attacker paused, and it pivoted to regard him.
Glad for the reprieve, Takeo bolted to the space behind an unhitched semi-truck and set to reloading his pistol.
“You’re a maugal, right?”  Gavin took in the towering, pitted and cracked, blue stone skin of the thing that now lumbered inexorably toward him.  The other four attackers writhed slowly on the ground, moaning in pain.  To Gavin’s surprise, Takeo jumped protectively between Gavin and the moving slab, his gun leveled.  Fogg trotted to his human’s feet and promptly sat.
“I’m impressed,” spat the maugal.  “You even got the pronunciation right.”
Gavin slipped past Takeo and pushed against the attacker’s chin with his loosely balled fist.  “Hey, beautiful,” he grinned, and he slowly shook his head as the monolithic thug focused on him.  His heart pounded in his ears.  “I’ve never actually seen a living maugal.  Word on the wire is the Union’s done with you.”
“Choose your next words carefully, bludder,” seethed the glowering, blue cliff face.  “This doesn’t have to be painless.”  One of the human attackers hunched up to his knees, leaned over on his hands, and Takeo promptly kicked him out cold.  “Call off your guard dog.”
“He’s my friend, ghyl’la sorna (Old Maugal slang meaning, “One who serves as a warning to others.”  Highly offensive).  Not my guard dog.  Look, you’re an ancient, noble thing, and the wonders you’ve seen would put any one of us humans to shame.  We’re beneath you.  Far beneath you, but here you are, relying on human trash just to get by.”  Gavin held the maugal’s baleful glare, though it demanded every scrap of courage he had to do so. His voice cracked slightly as he whispered, “How disgraceful.”
It snarled, “Now it’s personal!”  And it drew back an earthen fist.
“You’ve killed me,” announced Gavin.  “I’m dead on the ground.”
You’re about to be!” it roared.
He shook his head.  “No, maugal, I’m dead!  We both are.  Takeo and I are two red stains on the drive.  Dead as dead.”
One of the hooded thugs weakly gripped his gun, and trembling, pointed it at Gavin, but the maugal backhanded the battered assailant into a nearby parcel truck hard enough to dent its side.  “I can handle these two pieces of worthless bludder drek without your help!”
“And you have,” said Gavin, his tone almost soothing.  “Now what happens?”
“I kill you!”
He shook his head.  “We’ve established that.  Now what?”
“I… kill.  I…”
“Right, we’re dead.  What a mess!”  Gavin held his opponent’s stone gaze.  He leaned in and asked, “Now what?”
“I… take your things.”
“Wrong.  Ever heard of Hohiro Sato?  Probably not, so I’ll tell you.  He’s works for the Yubitsume’s oyabun.  Pretty important guy.”  He glanced toward Takeo.  “That’s his dad.  There’s a gene key linked to his gun that sent out a distress signal the instant he squeezed off that first round.  A Yakuza fire team is already en route.”  He straightened.  “Sure, you might start sifting through whatever’s left of us, but it’s hard to find anything that’s even intact when one of us humans gets struck by a ton of stone.  Simple physics.  And then you’ll have his blood all over you, and trust me, they will not stop looking for you until you’ve been broken.  You’re an old stone, maugal.  Probably fresh off a prison rock, am I right?”
It regarded Gavin as if it had just suddenly become aware of his existence, and its shoulders avalanched down to slump.  “But…”
He rested his hand on the maugal’s neck.  “Go to ground.  Keep low and hop on a shuttle to someplace deep in the dark, maybe one of the new colonies.”  He regarded the remaining thugs as they stirred.  “Leave them.  You’re better than that, better than them.  Plus, I think you killed one.”  Gavin nodded toward the limp heap at the base of the dented parcel truck.
“Right,” growled the monolith.
“Go,” urged Gavin.  “I saved your life, and you spared me mine.  That’s square in my book.”
The maugal straightened and smiled steeply with a flicker of dignity.  It stomped back toward the shadows.  “Thanks.”  It paused and turned around.  “I won’t see you again, bludder,” it added before vanishing from sight.
Gavin exhaled, relieved, and he glanced to his stunned companion.
Takeo stared at him with wide eyes, his mouth slightly open.  “How…?”
“I’ll explain after we’re back on the road.”  He nodded toward the looming stone edifice of Supernova Express before turning sharp eyes to his friend.  “Wait.  When the hell did you start carrying a gun?”
Takeo regarded the three surviving attackers.  “I’ve always carried a gun.  You just never noticed.”
“Are you serious?” 
His friend nodded.  “Since I was sixteen.  My father insisted on it.  I’m going to ask these guys a few questions before the police arrive.”  One by one, Takeo dragged the assailants to the curb and retrieved a bundle of zip ties from Gavin’s toolbox.  After he had bound their hands behind their backs and their feet at the ankles, he returned to Gavin’s side.  Fogg took the form of a parking meter crowned by a rotating blue and red lamp.  “Go get her.”
Bright light flashed from the east as the sun crested the horizon, and it lit up Afskya’s indigo sky.
Gavin nodded and clapped Takeo’s arm.  “We’ll be right back.”  He turned and hurried along the sidewalk, closing quickly on the club.
He slowed as he approached the front doors, where a bulky, horned male rhidorm served as bouncer.  Around the corner of the building near a pair of trash bins, Gavin noticed a huddle of people keeping out of sight.  His eyes flitted over the shadowed group.  A very tall woman whispered, “It’s not an exact science, Captain.  He’ll be here… eventually.  Trust me.”  Her eyes tracked directly to him, and she held his gaze.
Gavin looked uneasily away, but he felt her eyes fixed upon him.  “Hey, Chris,” he said to the cornuted rhidorm bouncer, and he nodded.  He rushed the last few steps to the entrance.
“Hey, Gavin,” rumbled the bouncer, and he pulled the door open.  Thumping dance anthems roared out into the night.  “That your friend shooting off fireworks in the alley?”
He chuckled in response and nodded.  “Something like that.”
Chris’s thick, gray skin wrinkled deeply as he winked.  “Go on in.”
Gavin stepped through, and the door closed behind him.  A young woman with matted blonde dreadlocks waved him past the ticket booth, and he muttered his thanks.  He scanned the foyer for Taryn.
He hardly had time to seek before she stumbled into him.  “I’m so glad you’re here,” she breathed.  “The guy I came here with was a total creeper.  He was literally all over me.”  She paused.  “OK, not literally, but you get the idea.”
“Are you alright?”
Taryn nodded.  “He wasn’t hearing no, so I bent back his fingers.  Maybe broke one or two, not sure.  The jerk ditched me after that.”  She smiled brightly.  “So… I figured it’s been a while since I’ve seen you, and I really wasn’t in the mood to call a cab.”  Taryn Sikes looked taller than she was, lean and strong of build, yet elegant besides.  She was ospyrean, proud and fierce.  Snow-white down blanketed her birch-white skin, and brilliant red feathers cascaded from her head, tied up loosely at the shoulders.  Her keen eyes were more golden than brown.  She wore knee high steel-toed boots draped in buckles, tattered net leggings under ripped shorts and a threadbare black T-shirt over a tight, long-sleeved grey undershirt.
“Stop dating humans,” he chuckled.
“Fat chance.  Is Takeo with you?”
Gavin nodded.  “Fogg is too.”  He led Taryn back to the entryway, smiled toward the woman with blonde dreadlocks and pulled open the door.  “We should hurry.”
Taryn glanced about.  “Where are they?”
“See you, Chris,” Gavin said to the bouncer, and he pointed further down the block toward Fogg’s rotating police light.
“Hasta.”  Chris dipped his massive forehead horn toward Taryn.  “Ma’am.”
She gasped as she took note of the bound assailants, of Takeo looming over them in the distance.  “Oh my God!  What happened!?”
Gavin laughed quietly, dryly as they stepped out into the cool morning air.  The door closed behind them, and it was suddenly and deafeningly quiet.  “That’s part of why we need to hurry.  We got mugged by a maugal and his crew of human thugs, but it’s alright.  Takeo took care of it.”
“We’re so lucky he’s our friend,” she said.
“And that he agreed to come,” Gavin added.  “I talked down the maugal, though.”
Taryn smirked.  “Yeah, right.”  She squeezed Gavin’s hand, quickly kissed its knuckles, and held it close against her chest.  “Not everyone gets to be a hero, and you don’t need to impress me, anymore.”
“I really did, though!  Right after I got my ass kicked by one of his goons.”  He pulled free his hand.
Taryn stopped, stood directly across from Gavin.  “You promised.”
He breathed out heavily.  “I’m not lying.  I swear.  Not to you.”  His ears were quite red, and his shoulders sank.  “I swear.”
She nodded and returned to his side as they resumed walking.  They passed the group of people near the trash bins Gavin had earlier encountered.  “Fine, I’m choosing to believe you.  How did you do it?”
Gavin stole a glance toward the huddle and shivered to find the tall woman silently staring at him.  He leaned in and whispered, “I told him there was a radio signal broadcast as soon as Takeo took his first shot, that there was a Yakuza special weapons team already en route.”  He looked at her sidelong.  “I sort of charmed him after that, and he left.”
Taryn huffed, amused.  “Only you, Gavin.  It still counts as lying, though.”
Gavin shook his head gravely, gesturing as if cutting his throat and mouthing “no” repeatedly.
“What?  There’s no Yakuza weapons team.  So you lied, but in this case, I can excuse it.”  She winked, before suddenly noticing his growing panic.  “What is it?”
Now you die!” roared the stone giant as it stepped back into view on the far side of Gavin’s truck.
“Maugals have excellent hearing,” breathed Gavin, and he swallowed visibly.
“No more of your tricks!”  The maugal looked up and down the street, ignored Takeo as he demanded the granite thug stand down.
“We should run,” advised Gavin.
Taryn’s eyes went wide.  She spun her friend around back toward the club as music roared from its momentarily opened doors.  “Good idea!” she urged and gripped his elbow, led him stumbling as they dashed toward a group of club goers that had just exited.
From behind him, he heard Takeo bellow, “Gavin, look out!”  He heard the creek of his truck’s shocks, the groan of its metal as the maugal lifted it off the ground.  Takeo emptied his gun into the truck near its fuel tank, but none of the bullets struck home.
Startled by the gunfire, the small crowd of club goers screamed and started to scatter.
Like a cannonball, the pickup rocketed through the air toward Taryn and Gavin.
Taryn lost Gavin’s elbow, spun about in time to behold his massive vehicle on a direct course for his back.  She stumbled and fell.  Breathing out, she closed her eyes and hit the sidewalk hard.  Gavin dove with arms outstretched, and he landed protectively on top of Taryn.  Terrified screams filled the air, but they abruptly stopped.
They were replaced by astonished gasps, and whispers of, “That’s impossible!”
Gavin rolled away with Taryn in his grip, tumbled into the alley and came to rest with her atop him.  Her eyes met his only briefly however, and she fixed her attention on where the two of them had just been.  Suspended in the air, nearly as high up as the street lamps, was his Hulkr Rhino.
Thunderously, it crashed down, a burst of broken things, skewed wheels and a shower of glass.
Gavin breathed out and closed his eyes.  “My truck.”

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