I am in Austin, Texas today, participating in an International Baccalaureate program. I got here early Sunday morning, after having flown all night. Yesterday and today I am enjoying some seminars and workshops on teaching. Austin is a lovely city, but I am melting from the humidity. Coming from the desert, I have no problem walking around in 110 degree heat, but 90 degrees with 90% humidity kills me. Fortunately everything (cars and buildings at least that I’ve been in) has air conditioning.
Due to this IB Conference, I won’t be getting much writing done over the next three days. I am really close to the end of the draft of “The Price of Magic.” I’ll keep you informed.
Though winter was well on its way out in Birmisia, it was still cold enough at night—cold enough to bundle up tight, cold enough to blow steam in the air with your breath, and cold enough that the Lizzies moved with their characteristically slow gate. Police Constable Saba Colbshallow watched them from behind the corner of a warehouse building across the street from the dock. He didn’t know why they were working in the middle of the night, but he hadn’t spotted them taking from the ship any of the curious long crates which he had seen on previous occasions. He watched for more than thirty minutes as the reptilians moved freight.
Finally deciding that the activity represented nothing nefarious, Saba stretched his sore back, pulled a sulfur match from his pocket, and lit the oil lantern sitting on a barrel next to him. Then taking the lantern with him, he made his way across the street. There were half a dozen Lizzies loading wooden crates onto a pallet that was attached to the crane to be loaded aboard the ship. As he approached, several of the lizardmen eyed him. Half of them were taller than his six foot three, but all of them hunkered down to look shorter than they actually were. It was a demonstration of submissiveness that the constable had grown used to over the years. Coming to a stop beside the workers, he crossed his hands over his chest.
“Working awfully late, gentlemen.”
One of the lizardmen hissed. Even though Saba was not fluent in the aboriginal language, he could tell it was a non-verbal expression of anger or annoyance.
The two closest lizardmen held out their arms. They each wore a wooden and twine identity bracelet. Saba held up the lantern and read the engraved information on each of the tags. “Finn: Serial Number 22211 BL”, and “Ishee: Serial Number 22214 BI”.
“Alright. The rest of you too.”
“Does there seem to be some problem, PC?”
Saba looked up to see the tall silhouetted form of a man walking toward him from the direction of the ship. When he reached the circle of lantern light he was revealed as Professor Merced Calliere.
“Good evening, Professor. Just checking identifications.”
“I would appreciate some haste then. These fellows have work to do.”
“So they’re working for you? I noticed these two don’t seem to have night passes, and my guess is that the others don’t either.”
“Yes, well I needed help on what you might call an ad-hoc basis. It’s very important business—government business. So I would prefer it if you not delay them any longer.”
“Then I had best let them get back to work,” said Saba. “As soon as I check the rest of their identification.”
“This ship is leaving first thing in the morning.” Professor Calliere hissed from between clenched teeth.
“I am aware of that, Professor,” said Saba, then to the other lizardmen. “Stick your arms out.”
The two reptilians who he had already checked stepped aside, and the remaining four held out their arms to show their identification bracelets. Calliere folded his arms and scowled. Saba read them off one by one.
“Maddy: Serial Number 19705 BL. Sassine: Serial Number 18234 BI. Guster: Serial Number 10100 BI. Swoosy: Serial Number 11995 BI. Oh, I know you, don’t I?”
Saba looked up at the last of the lizardmen. It was a hulking brute, at least six foot five, though it was doing its best to seem shorter. Its skin was deep forest green with large mottled patches of grey here and there. It looked nothing like the lightly colored, rather short female that the constable had seen saved by Graham Dokkins from the new arrivals.
“Hold on,” said the constable, grabbing the wrist with the bracelet.
With a hiss which bordered on a roar, the lizardman leapt forward, grabbing Saba’s helmet in its clawed right hand as its momentum carried both of them backwards. As he fell, Saba felt the alligator-like mouth clamp shut on his right shoulder. The gravel of the street flew as the man and the reptilian landed. The latter flipped completely over and onto his back. Saba jumped to his feet, his hand suddenly holding his truncheon even though he didn’t consciously grab it. With a speed belying its supposed cold-blood, the lizardman rolled onto his stomach, and without even getting up, launched himself into Saba. They both fell into the pallet of crates, one of which splintered, spilling its contents onto the ground. Saba swung his truncheon, but couldn’t tell if it connected. The next moment, his opponent was gone.
Jumping to his feet, the constable saw his attacker disappearing into the darkness, running south. All of the other lizardmen were either running or were already gone. Saba reached into his reefer jacket to feel his shoulder and pulled out a hand with several streaks of blood upon it. His pulse was pounding in his ears. Professor Calliere stood with his mouth open. The ground was strewn with papers.
Saba reached down and picked up a fist full of the papers. They were white, eight and a half by eleven inch papers, covered on one side with long strings of numbers. He kicked the damaged crate and it busted open completely, spilling out more of the number filled sheets.
“Papers? Just papers?”
Calliere looked unhappily at the ground.
“What the hell are these?”
“Just… just some calculations.”
“Are all these crates filled with these calculations?”
Calliere bit his lip.
“Professor, you’re going to need to come with me.”
Calliere’s eyes shifted but then he nodded.
Senta strolled down the white gravel street toward her home, singing the latest song to arrive from Brech. The wax cylinder had come by ship exactly one month before, and it was already almost worn smooth by constant playing on the music box in Parnorsham’s store.
I’ll pay you a pfennig for your dreams,
Dreaming’s not as easy as it seems,
Images of her, are keeping me awake,
And so I’ll have to pay a pfennig for your dreams.
When Senta sang it, she replaced “images of her” with “images of him”. She thought that it made more sense for a girl to be kept awake with images of a boy than the other way around. If it had been her choice, she would have chosen a girl to sing the song, rather than the somewhat effeminate-voiced man on the recording.
“Not a very catchy tune.”
Senta turned to see a man emerging from behind a tree along the east side of the road. It was the same tall, dark man that she had seen arriving on the Majestic. His long, black rifle frock coat had made him blend into the background of the woods in the shadows of the late afternoon. She didn’t need to guess that he was a wizard. She could see the magic aura amorphously floating around him. She wondered if he could see hers.
“I’ve been waiting quite a while for you, sorceress.” He smiled broadly, his thin-lipped mouth seeming abnormally wide across his heavy jaw line.
“I’m not a sorceress. I’m just a little girl and you should leave me alone.”
“Ah, I know that game.” He pulled the horn-rimmed spectacles from his upturned nose and wiped first his eyes and then the lenses with a handkerchief, replacing the glasses on his face and the handkerchief in his pocket. “You make three statements. One is true and the other two are lies. Then I have to guess which is true. Right? Then I will have to say, you are a little girl.”
Senta crossed her arms and rocked back onto the heels of her shoes.
“My turn,” said the wizard. “My name is Smedley Bassington. I was born in Natine, Mirsanna. I know nothing about magic.”
“That’s too easy,” said Senta. “Smedley.”
“You should say Mr. Bassington. After all, I am your elder. One mustn’t be rude.”
“Okay, this one is harder,” replied Senta. “I’m going to have to say, number two, you are my elder.”
Bassington took a step forward, and then another.
“Uuthanum,” said Senta, waving her hand.
“Uuthanum,” said Bassington, waving his hand in an almost identical motion.
It might have seemed as though the two were exchanging some kind of secret greeting. In actuality, Senta had cast an invisible protective barrier between them. Bassington had dispelled the magic, destroying the barrier.
“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, the chosen apprentice of the most powerful sorceress in the world. That is, after I found out Zurfina was here. I had no idea where she had gotten to. Here I was, checking out that idiot and his machine, and instead I find the two of you.”
“I think that’s too many statements,” said Senta.
He stopped in the middle of the road about five feet away from her. A little wisp of wind whipped his short graying hair.
“Did she leave you here alone to take care of yourself? That’s just what she does, you know? She’s totally unreliable.”
“Are you allowed to use questions?” asked Senta, thinking to herself that this wizard did indeed seem to have her guardian pegged.
“Let’s not play that game,” said Bassington. “Let’s play something a little better suited to our unique abilities.”
He held out his hand, waist high, palm down and said. “Maiius Uuthanum nejor.”
Red smoke rose up from the ground just below his hand. It swirled and coalesced into a shape. The shape became a wolf. Its red eyes seemed to glow and the hair on its back and shoulders stood up as it bared its dripping fangs and snarled at Senta. She held out her own hand, palm pointed down.
“Maiius Uuthanum,” she said.
Green smoke rose from the ground below her hand, swirling around in a little cloud, finally billowing away to reveal a velociraptor with bright green and red feathers.
“A bird?” said Bassington, derisively.
The wolf lunged forward, snapping its teeth. The velociraptor clamped its long jaw shut on the wolf’s snout, and grasped its head in its front claws. The huge curved claw on the velociraptor’s hind foot slid down the canine’s belly, slicing it open and spilling steaming entrails out onto the gravel. A moment later, in a swirl of multihued smoke, both creatures disappeared again.
“Prestus Uuthanum,” said Bassington, placing his right palm on his chest, and casting a spell of protection on his own body.
“Uuthanum uusteros pestor,” said Senta, spreading her arms out wide. She seemed to split down the center as she stepped both right and left at the same time. Where there had been one twelve year old girl a moment ago, there were now four twelve year old girls who looked exactly the same.
The wizard waved his hand and said. “Ariana Uuthanum sembor.” All four Sentas found themselves stuck in a mass of giant, sticky spider webs.
One of the blond girls fell down. One of them pulled vainly at the webbing. The third picked up a rock from the ground and threw it with all of her might at Bassington hitting him just above the temple. The fourth waved her hand, saying the magic word “uuthanum”, and dispelling the webs. The girl who had pulled at the webbing helped the fallen girl stand up, and then the two of them merged together. The other two girls merged into her, and once again, there was only one Senta.
“Uuthanum uusteros vadia,” said Bassington and he disappeared.
Senta stood there for a moment, and then out of the corner of her eye, she saw several pieces of gravel shift on the ground to her left. She pointed her finger in the direction.
“Uuthanum Regnum,” she said.
A ray of colorful, sparkling light sprayed from her fingertip in the direction she pointed. Bassington cried out in surprise and reappeared, though he didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects of the spell, which usually left its victims covered in painful rashes.
“Erros Uuthanum tijiia,” he said.
A huge spectral hand, more than five feet across, appeared in the air in front of Senta. The middle finger was bent back beneath the thumb, and then flicked Senta in the chest. She fell backwards onto her bottom, crunching her bustle, and sliding several feet across the gravel road. She struggled to suck in a breath.
“Time to say ‘uncle’, don’t you think?” Bassington crossed his arms.
Senta tilted her head back and at last managed to pull some air into her lungs. The wizard waited.
“Well,” he said, finally.
“The sky is purple,” said Senta. “My dress is orange, and my dragon is going to bite your head off.”
Bassington stared for only a moment at Senta’s blue dress, before diving out of the way, just as Bessemer landed with a huge whomp right where he had been standing.
A few years ago I wrote about how my son was angry with me when I killed off a character in The Voyage of the Minotaur. If you have read any of the books in Senta and the Steel Dragon, you know that major characters get killed off fairly regularly. Now, I’m in the process of finishing The Price of Magic, book 7 (8, if you count book 0) in the series. In this book several long-time characters meet their ends. One of these caused me more than a little grief. After reading the chapter, my wife cried inconsolably for more than an hour! Then she was angry at me all the next day! What’s a writer to do?
Had her lavender top hat not been tied onto her head with a thick strand of lace, Yuah was sure that it would have been blown away and lost. The wind whipped around her face and she tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Scenery was flying past her on both sides at an alarming pace—trees, houses, lizardmen, a group of playing boys. Suddenly something appeared at her left elbow. She carefully turned her eyes left without looking away from the road. One of the boys that she had passed was running beside the carriage. A second later, the others had caught up and were running along beside her as well.
“Hey lady!” yelled one boy. “Why don’t you open her up?”
“Yeah!” called another. “We want to see this thing go!”
Yuah turned her attention back to her driving. She was sure that the steam carriage would outpace the children shortly, but they stayed right at her side, encouraging her to increase her speed. When she finally pulled up to the front of Mrs. Bratihn’s, the boys gathered beside the vehicle, scarcely breathing hard.
“Why didn’t you go faster?”
“Yeah, how come?”
Tears welled up in Yuah’s eyes.
“I was going as fast as I could!” She let out a sob.
“Don’t cry, lady,” said the oldest boy, apparently the one who had called out first on the road. “Here. Let me open the relief cock for you.”
Yuah pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and pressed it to her face, as the boy moved around to the back of the vehicle and turned the lever.
“Be sure and don’t –sob– burn your fingers on the steam.”
“What are you boys doing here!” yelled Mrs. Bratihn, shooting out from the door of her shop with her own head of steam. “Get out of here and leave Mrs. Dechantagne alone!”
“We didn’t do nothing!” yelled back one small boy, but they never-the-less went running.
“What did they do to you, dear?” asked the older woman, placing her arm around Yuah’s shoulder, once she had climbed down.
“They didn’t do anything. It’s this damned steam carriage. I hate it, but Terrence wants me to drive it.”
“Did he tell you that you have to drive it?”
“No, but he brought it all the way here from Brech.”
“Come inside and have some tea.”
Yuah followed Mrs. Bratihn into her shop where they both sat down on the couch. Mrs. Luebking, who was already in the process of pouring tea, added another cup and handed one to each of the other women, then took the last for herself and sat down in a chair. Yuah sipped the tea and took a deep breath.
“Now tell me all about it,” said Mrs. Bratihn.
“You know I used to watch the steam carriages zipping around Brech every day and I always thought it would be just ace to have one of my own. But it’s just so bleeding complicated. You have to push in the clutch to shift gears and you have to press down on the forward accelerator just the right amount when you let the clutch out. And you always have to watch the steam gauge or the whole thing might explode. It’s just too much pressure.”
“You should just tell your husband that it’s too much for you,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “Men love it when you act helpless anyway.”
“That may be fine for most,” replied Yuah, putting away the handkerchief. “But I’m a Dechantagne. At least I am now. There are different expectations for me than there are for most women.”
“Maybe you could tell him that you want a driver,” suggested Mrs. Luebking. “Back in Brech, most of the ladies have drivers. After all, driving is a lot of manual labor.”
Yuah was thoughtful for a moment.
“That might work,” she said. “Mrs. Calliere is always saying that women of our station should do less.”
“Mrs. Calliere, your sister-in-law?”
“Oh no, the professor’s mother.”
“Ah,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “There you go. Tell him you need a driver and Bob’s your uncle. Now what else can we do for you today?”
“I need another new dress.”
“My dear, do you even have room in your closets?”
Yuah smiled slightly. “I have spent rather a lot on fashion in the past few months. But this one needs to be different. I need a dress for shrine. It needs to be a little more subdued.”
Mrs. Bratihn and Mrs. Luebking looked at one another.
“I’ll be quite frank, dear,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “I don’t know anything about the requirements of your religion and what might be appropriate for your shrine.”
“Oh, there’s nothing special really. I just need something nice, but simple, without a lot of extras—you know, no feathers or flowers, and not too much brocade.”
“I don’t know…”
“Here. Just a moment.”
Yuah sat down her tea cup, got up, and stepping out the door. She was back a moment later, having retrieved a periodical from the steam carriage. It was the Brysin’s Weekly Ladies’ Journal from Magnius of last year, the newest issue likely to be found in Birmisia. Flipping it open, she showed the dressmaker a photograph of a woman wearing a new creation from Freedonia. The dress was black and simple, featuring black lace around the waist and in a square collar around the neckline. Though it was swept up in back and emphasized with a massive bow, the bow too was black and didn’t stand out from the rest of the dress.
“I think we may be able to do that,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “Yes, yes, I quite like that. It’s simple but elegant. You may become a real trend-setter. I imagine with you wearing that, many women here will want to copy it. Of course you are always good for business, dear.”
“I’m going to need a new hip-bag,” said Yuah, pointing to the enormous back-side of the dress.
“Please,” said Mrs. Bratihn. “Call it a bustle if you must, but here in the store we like to call them dress improvers. We certainly do not call them hip-bags.”
“Well, I’m going to need quite an improvement to my ass, if this picture is any indication.”
Well, here it is, past the mid point of July. I’ve finally finished my classes to get a pay raise, just in time for our school board to announce they are freezing teacher pay. I’m finally back to writing, literally just a few pages away from finishing the draft of The Price of Magic. In the coming weeks though I still have plenty of things coming up, not the least of which are a three-day trip to Texas and surgery on my Achilles tendon.
I really want to get some half-done projects cleared out this year– The Price of Magic, Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar Challenge, 82 Eridani: Journey, and who knows, maybe even The Jungle Girl. As usual, whenever I’m trying to get some old projects finish, I end up coming up with something new. I just wrote the first chapter of a new idea– this time a story about a time traveler and his companion. And they are definitely not Dr. Who! This one will probably resonate with fans of Tesla’s Stepdaughters.
Finally, I’ve just finished the outline of the next robot story– His Robot Wife: A Great Deal of Patience. I’d really like to write it. Now, if I only had an extra 16 hours each day.
Lastly, thanks to all of your who visit this site, either to drop a word about a story you enjoyed, offer some constructive criticism, or just to check in. Thanks.