You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
So here I am to try, and to fail, so I can learn.
Paul Fail. For The Win!

08 July 2010

#FridayFlash: Jack and Jill Hook Up

Friday Flash
Jack & Jill Hook Up
©2010 D. Paul Angel

Jill went to the bar feeling old, tired, and fat.  The last few months had taken their toll, and she was hoping for something different.  Just some connection with some reasonably decent guy to re-light her fire and get her out of this rut.  At least that's what my friends all think...

Jack looked in the mirror, popped his collar, unbuttoned just one more button so his gold chain shone, and headed for the door.  Tonight is Jack's time to shine!

They each found their way to Mulligan O'Shamrock's, a borderline bar just on the other side of the gentrification line.  The lighting was just dark enough to make everyone look more attractive, but not so dark as to make you look too close.  Neither had really picked it by chance.  She was already at the bar, sipping on her Appletini when he sat next to her and ordered a Fosters.

They talked.  Hesitatingly at first, but then with a bit more ease.  Well, he's not a complete douchebagYou are the MAN Jack! Whoo! Hottest woman at the bar and YOU are talking to HER! then aloud he added, "I'm sorry I couldn't I hear you."

"I said, 'I should probably be going.'  I have work, you know."

"You wanna join me at Jack's place?"

Oh God, did he just refer to himself in the third person she asked herself, though all she said aloud was "Jack's?"

"You know: me.  Jack," he replied, flashing his best grin.  Don't forget the nod.

What the Hell.  At least I won't hesitate leaving in the morning.


Jack paid for both and left a paltry enough tip that he earned a sneer from the bartender on their way out.  They walked to his flat slow enough that it didn't seem like they were rushing, but fast enough that she wouldn't have time to reconsider.  I am so glad I did the dishes and hung some of those little smelling tree things where no one would notice.

I can't believe I'm going with him.  Although, if he was a serial killer, he would be a Hell of a lot smoother.  And I have always wanted a Jack...

He opened the door and let her.  Good God there must be dozens of those damn little car trees stuffed everywhere.  I wonder what he left out that stunk?  She tried not to look too close after that.  I wonder how many Appletini's she had?  "Tequila?" he asked with a sly dog affect.

Anything.  "Sounds good."  After downing a couple shots of Cuervo, she followed his looks to the bedroom, and soon enough was following.  He caught her eye over his shoulder, stopped, turned, and began kissing her up against the wall.

Whoa... well at least he realizes there's more to my body just boobs.

I can't believe she's letting me feel her up!

Never mind.

She pushed him away, but not too hard.  She pulled at his shirt, got it off, and then maneuvered him towards the bed.  I'm in this far, let's just get this over with.  After varying degrees of success she was finally starting to enjoy things.  It really has been a long time she admitted to herself, allowing her to relax enough to enjoy his attentions.

"Like that, baby?" he whispered huskily in her ear.

Well I was... Sort of... But, Really?

"Shh.  Don't talk."

"Okay.  Yeah.  Quiet.  I like that.  Yeah."

Shut up, Jack.

Shut up, Jack.

His efforts increased and she felt herself atop a precipice just about to plunge into a whirlpool of fiery passion when it just stopped.  That's it?  Godfuckindammit!

"I know what you're thinking," he said, laying down next to her, "but we're not done." She needs a man to take care of her, a real man.

Thank God he noticed!

"Don't worry baby, Jack'll hold you all night."


04 July 2010

FridayFlash: An Immortal Question

Friday Flash
An Immortal Question
©2010 D. Paul Angel

It was a Hansen family tradition.  They'd BBQ behind their old Brownstone, load up their plates, then come inside and watch whoever happened to be playing the O's that day.  Grandpa Tyler was sitting in his chair as a singer wholly unknown to him, some Lady or something, sang the national anthem.

His oldest granddaughter, 15 year old Stephanie, announced in a challenging voice to all present, "Well I think the Star Spangled Banner is simply too violent a song to represent a country that claims to be peaceful.  I think America the Beautiful would be a much better choice.  Don't you Grandpa?"

He met her eyes and considered.  A mere 6 months ago she would be looking to him for validation.  Now she was steeling herself for a challenge.  The tie-die top, torn jeans, and the peace sign belly button piercing had taken root since then however.  (The last had sent his daughter-in-law into apoplectic fury, but, however unmentionable it was, it had remained.)  He wondered if he might have judged her a bit too quickly, afraid of yet another disappointment.  She had a strength and determination far beyond expectations.

"Well Grandpa?" she asked exasperated, "I mean I know you like fought in Vietnam, but wouldn't that mean you've seen how idiotic War is?"

"Give your Grandpa a moment, Steph," said his son, whilst arching an eyebrow at him.  These discussion usually just happened, contemplation was for after.

True, he had served honorably in Vietnam.  They just didn't know he had served before that, too.  He had fought in almost every major action the US had fought, including the Revolutionary War when the US was more of a thought than an actual country.  Before that he had been everything from a Viking raider, to a King's Guard, to a mercenary, to that single wrenching cruise as a Conquistidor.  War saw humans at their very worst.  And he'd seen centuries of it.

For an Immortal, however, it was the easiest way to leave one life and start another.  The physical pain he was immune from had not given a pass to the psychological terrors he had eventually accepted.  Knowing that every woman he had loved would die.  Along with his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, ad infinitum.  Couple that with survivor's guilt and it was a wonder he hadn't snapped after raiding the Incas with Pizarro.  Some of the guys he fought alongside would make it home.  In fact, most of them did.  But he alone knew that he would.  Always.

So he remembered back to a spot not too far from where he was now.  Is that why I always seem to make it back to Baltimore every century or so? he asked himself.  He remembered the field.  The poorly white-washed fence and the lonely herd of cows methodically chewing their cuds.  The crisp smell of grass that punctuated the field at the start was replaced by a butcher-yards stench at the end.  Unlike the last century of warfare, with bullets constantly whizzing past, the Revolutionary muskets fired either as volleys or in small, isolated clusters.  The bullets then were big enough and slow enough that you could catch sight of them sometimes going to and fro across the field.

What he remember most was the men.  The line of young Americans had started the day almost giddy.  They didn't know about the horror of war.  They thought the British arrogant and stupid for parading around in bright red shirts, not realizing that red shirts also hid any blood spilt.  Most of them suffered enormously that day at the hands of the greater disciplined British.  But thought the individuals suffered, their overall sacrifice for an ideal led to a Nation's birth.  The Grand Experiment.  He'd fought for land, women, cattle, minerals, and Gods.  He'd fought for the noble and the greedy, he'd watched atrocities happen and committed some of his own; but this was the first war he'd ever fought in for an idea.

The War of 1812, in which he'd watched D.C. burn from a Frigate, had been the last direct threat to her soil.  Those were the rockets above Fort McHenry of which Key so eloquently wrote.  It was he felt apt, and told his granddaughter such, leaving aside his reminisces and demons.

She looked at him and considered.  It was a counter-view, but not one steeped in the mysticism of "patriotism," nor merely knee-jerk reaction.  "I will consider it," she said with deeply abiding gravity.

"Good," he replied with a new twinkle in his venerable eye, "I look forward to talking to you about it in much more depth one of these days."

24 June 2010

FlashFriday: Warrior Regret

#Friday Flash
Warrior Regret
©2010, D. Paul Angel

Once again he's running along the Warrior's top past Q Turret.  Just as he ducks below decks he sees a hole punched through the falling splashes just abeam her.  An instant later the rolling, all consuming thunder of the shell's hit passes through him on its way to the bow, knocking him down.  The energy's reverberation knocks the breath out of him as it passes through him on its return.  Gasping, he sucks in the fetid air's cloying stench of burning cordite, seared flesh, and lost bowels.  Fighting off nausea, he pushes himself aft.

As the foul, bilious smoke clears, grieved shouts call him to an open hatch over the compartments below.  Through the weak, crackling electrical light he watches the North Sea rush into the far chamber.  A group of men are fighting to close the watertight door in a desperate attempt to stop the implacable flood's rising.  Although they have it almost completely closed, the blast's force distorted the frame; rendering it, ultimately, useless.

Realizing their futility, they give up on the door and turn to him at the hatch.  Dozens of voices now shout at him.  Alternately pleading and cursing, they implore him for help.  Panic enters the men's voices as the North Sea simply pushes the watertight door aside to rush into the small space.  The light's flick off with a pop, but not before the Men's anguished faces are seared into his memory.

For the first time their siren song calls him
through the hatch, and he joins them in the salty embrace of their iron tomb.

"Hey! Get out of that box!  I told you both to never come up here!"

William and Bradley looked up from the box to the flushed face of their Grandpa.  "We're sorry," said Bradley, the oldest at ten, "We couldn't help ourselves."

"Well put it all back then and come back downstairs."

"But Grandpa..."

"Yes?  What?  Come, come.  Leave it.  There is nothing of good in that box."

"But Grandpa!  This is a, 'Distinguished Service Order'" said Bradley, proudly holding it aloft by it's ribbon, and reading its inscription.

Their grandpa sagged when he saw it.  "Grandpa?" asked William, through an eight year old's black and white perspective, "Doesn't this mean you were a Hero?  Isn't that good?"

"Not always Billy.  Not always."

The box might have been returned to its dusty place in the attic, but it could  no longer be forgotten.  Bradley and William asked him about as often as they dared, and though she wouldn't admit to it, he could see the look of curiosity on his daughter's face as well.  With things starting to turn bad in Korea, and his son-in-law possibly being recalled in the next few months, he wondered if it was, finally, time to share.  He had always told himself he would talk of that late, May afternoon, "when the time was right." but in the 33 years since, that time had never seemed to come.

Then, one Sunday evening after dinner, as the family sat around the fire, he started to talk.  He listened to his own voice, shocked that he had started to share, frightened by what they would think, and wholly unable to stop himself.  "I was an Ordinary Seaman on the Warrior.  We sailed out as part of the First Cruiser Squadron towards Jutland, our own four ship piece of the Grand Fleet.  The day started disastrously with the Battlecruisers, and the the mists played havoc with us early on.  We didn't even know it, but we were at almost  point blank range with a line of German Dreadnoughts.  They started firing at us, and soon had us bracketed, even though all we could see of them through the haze was the flashes from their big guns.

"We got hit over a dozen times by their 11 and 12 inch shells.  I thought her doomed until the Warspite did two complete circles, ending up practically next to the bloody Huns!  None of us had seen anything like it.  She was such a riper target they let us be and started hammering her.  Well, all except one that is.  I was being sent from midships to the stern and was just passing the seven and a half inch turrets when I heard another salvo of shells falling on us.

"I'll never forget that sound.  Never.  Like a whistling train ripping through sheets of canvas.  Well, I instinctively braced behind the turret's shielding and most of them, thank God, landed well short.  They threw up towering splashes of water all around our Port quarter, but one..." he paused and looked far past the family portrait above the fire.  He seemed completely alone in the room before he continued, "One more came through.  Right through the spray and into her shuddering bones, just at the waterline.

"I ducked below to avoid the cloud of smoke and yellow gas heading over the topdeck when I heard shouts from a hatch below me.  I could see the compartment starting to flood with a dozen or so men in it.  The watertight door had been knocked a kilter, and they were vainly trying to stop the flow.  When they realized the couldn't they turned to the hatch and to me, but I could see the wall of water coming through."

He stopped again, removed his spectacles, and wiped a single, salty tear from his wrinkled cheek, "I could see there wasn't much more than a few seconds before the compartment would be lost.  So I...  So I-"

His pause filled the air with an oppressive quietus which found them all, save William, looking away from him.

"So you helped them out Grandpa?" asked William.  His eyes were wide in both wonder and horror as he tried to fit his Grandfather's story into the reality created by the Medal. "You got them out before it flooded, right Grandpa?  Right?"

"No Billy, I didn't.  I closed the hatch and dogged it down."

10 June 2010

#Friday Flash: Last Scene Leaving the Hall

#Friday Flash
Last Scene Leaving the Hall
©2010, D. Paul Angel

David and Renee walked across the polished mahogany entrance hall of their Grandfather's palatial home. They were amongst the last to arrive, and quickly spotted him as aanother group left him. The iconic tycoon as always, he was in his wheelchair with a plaid blanket over his legs speaking to a young man in a beret. They began walking towards him, already exasperated at the evening's ordeal, and ready to let their old Grandfather know their displeasure. Then Renee realized who the man next to his Grandfather was and slammed her gin and tonic to the floor before stamping over to them with David trying to intervene.

"What the fuck are you doing here you poodle-fucking sack of shit?" she screeched at the man.

"Rene. Really! That is quite unladylike," snapped their grandfather as the man in the beret smugly met the glances of everyone who was now watching them. "After his refreshingly honest expose I asked Mr. Holmes to film my will. Which, I might add, you were almost late to see. Come. There was no reserved seating, so I hope your tardiness did not cost you much."

Chester Holmes raised his glass of scotch Renee, but quickly turned before she could knock it out of his hands. He followed his patron into the hall, but David and Renee were turned away by a serious man in a crisp suit, who made it clear that he not only knew who they were, but he very much did not care. Embarrassed and insulted in front of several hundred people in their own Grandfather's Great Hall, they bitterly stalked to their seats.

"All because that fucking old prick refuses to just fucking die," Renee hissed into David's ear.

"And now he's embracing the shit who tore us apart with that damned movie of his," he spat back.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," began their Grandfather, "I am an old man, but still very much in control of my facilities." It was hard to tell whether Renee or David, or both, had snorted, but he ignored them whilst continuing, "So while still very much in this world, I felt it important to share my Last Will and Testament. Just not in that order.

"Mr. Holmes?"

Chester Holmes turned to start the video. Adding Mr. DeMauneaux's Will to the end had been the easiest money he had ever made. Being able to add back in the segments even he had found too libelous was icing on the cake. As the movie flared to life on the protable screens around the room, Renee and David began a loudly whispered commentary on the video.

"Oh boo-fucking-hoo..."

"God I get so sick about people whining..."

"Wanna keep your fucking house? Pay the fucking mortgage..."

"God-damned eco-fucks...

Their commentary crashed to halt as images of their dead parents came across the screen. The music, of which they were only vaguely aware of before, switched to one of Mahler's sadder pieces. Then they saw their Grandfather speak on the screen with more emotion and passion then he had ever showed them over their entire lives. As it continued, it changed it changed. They sat mesmerized, as his mea culpa grew inexorably, like a slowly rising tide made of small, gently lapping waves.

His head bowed, both on the screen and in his chair, before he continued in the video, "Now that you have heard my Testament, I hope you can fully appreciate my will. I have been a man of considerable means for a great many years. I have enjoyed them, and I tried to share them with my only daughter and her children.

"I understand now, that I was substituting my money for emotions. I did the same thing with my beloved Viola." He paused to brush back a single tear, "And now that I will soon be with her again, I wanted to see her again in good conscious. So I have liquidated the whole entirety of my assets, with the exception of this house and estate."

Renee and David looked at each other with mutually shared greed. Despite their Grandfather taking a bizarre turn towards the end, they had no doubt of their place. So each began counting the funds in their imaginary trust funds.

"Those funds, just shy of 3 billion dollars, I have dispersed across a wide spectrum of charities."

Renee and David's imaginations jarred to a stop mid fantasy. Their money, their money was gone. Not just gone, but given to the freeloading filth of the world.

"And this estate has been transferred to the State for a much needed rehabilitation center."

Renee's fists clenched as she went pale. She started to rise, but David's hand stopped her. Their Grandfather now looked markedly different. No longer a fragile man of ninety-three, he looked like a vigorous man in his early fifties. "Finally, to my beloved David and Renee, I leave a legacy of self-determination." Renee and David sat speechless, their dreams of easy wealth simply, irrevocably, gone.

The image on the screen flickered with a brief burst of static, and he was once again sitting before them."I do thank you all for coming, and I beg forgiveness from everyone's whose life I have hurt. Would that I could offer more." Chester Holmes looked at the screen in disbelief. This wasn't in the video he had made. Indeed he could've sworn he had turned it off when it flickered back to life. The murmurs, whispers, and even indignant mutterings of Renee and David all ceased in their transfixed silence. "Now, if you all please excuse me, I must leave. I am late for my first date with Viola in thirty-seven years."

With that he rose from the chair, smiled and left the plaid blanket behind as he spryly walked off screen.

The lights came on full and the large, silent audience all gaped at him. He wore a faint smile, most of his wrinkles were gone, and he was very much dead.

06 June 2010

Photowalk: Ships and Trees

A new photowalk is up, Ships and Trees.  It is Rose Festival time in Portland again, and that means Fleet Week.  Saturday was the only day during their stay that there was no rain, so it was a nice excuse to get some pics in.  I also managed to stumble into fulfilling Daily Shoot assignment #202 when I just happened to turn the camera down on the Steel Bridge after shooting the US Navy ships.

05 June 2010

Notes: The Sailing of the Hawaii

Notes: The Sailing of the Hawaii

1400 Words

This was the Fourth time that I wrote this story.  The concept started simply enough, a conversation with a friend dur a game of Axis & Allies War at Sea Miniature game.  What if they remade some of the older battleships?  Use newer materials, but keep a good deal of the original armament.  Since I the coolest mini I have is of the USS Alaska, a US Navy Battlecruiser from WW II, I decided to go with that.  When I researched it I saw there were three ships in the class, the last of which was the USS Hawaii.  Despite never having been completed, she became superfluous with the ending of the war, she would have been a heckuva ship.

So she sailed again in my story yesterday.  I was, I think, trying to do too much.  I had the sinister backstory of the Pentagon types spooking a ship into sailing up the Taedong River and into the very heart of Pyongyang's.  I also had what was happening on the ship itself.  And I had to lay the groundwork for the ship's existence in the first place.  And describe what happened to trick them.  And Explain who did the trick.  A lot.  Not necessarily too much for a 2,500 word Clancyesque short story, but just far and away too much for a Flash.

In trying to keep it to the barest of bones I lost much of those little details that always made the Clancy books so enthralling to me.  So in the end, it wasn't a very good flash, and, it wasn't enough description to acheive what I wanted to achieve anyway.  The fix is to either make it into a larger Short Story, or serialize it.  I kind of like the latter idea best.  Six episodes around 500-700 words would've done quite nicely. 
  1. The ship as seen from the Captain's point of view when the "nuke" detonates.
  2. The Pentagon.  Admiral Hutchinson sees the men and senses that there is something wrong. (It may be superfluous, but I am too enamored of "the world's most exclusive Starbuck's" line to let it go just yet.)
  3. Back to the USS Hawaii. In the finest Clancy tradition they effect their plan.
  4. Admiral Hutchinson confronts the men, and discovers their sinister plan.
  5. The USS Hawaii does what it must, as does the First Officer.  The Captain may not survive, but his ship and crew will.  Demonstrating everything that the Pentagon bastards aren't.
  6. Finally, Admiral Hutchinson is eliminated in, if not fine Clancy fashion, than at least in best of Shakespearean tradition.  And the twist when the men realize the Battlecruiser, and crew, might survive after all.

At least, that's my thoughts.  Any other suggestions?

(BTW, I used Google Maps to look at Pyongyang itself, but didn't bother to look at the head of the river, here.  Note the nice, sturdy sea wall to prevent exactly what the Hawaii did. *sigh*)

04 June 2010

The Sailing of the Hawaii

The Sailing of the Hawaii
©2010 D. Paul Angel

"Report?" asked Captain Barnes, in the privacy of his Ready Room, away from the rest of the CIC crew.

"I saw the flash, too, Captain. It lit up the entire Southern sky. Whatever it was, it was huge," reported Captain Barnes' First Officer Commander Locke.

"The radiation indicators are all pegged, Captain," Said his ship's Doctor Captain Imley. "With the dosage the crew got, I'd say 72 hours before the first symptoms show. Then, maybe another 72 before you'll have about 90% casualties. I'm sorry Captain." She added the latter with more concern for her patients than herself, even though she knew she would share their agony

"Chief?" he asked his Chief Engineer.

"Anything electronic is pretty much lost. Anything mechanical is still working. We lost the FADEC, but the mechanical interlocks engines on line again. Main turrets are working with the original pneumatic and mechanical systems. God bless 70 year old technology, eh? We don't have fire-control worth a shit, sir, but our main batteries can still reach out and touch anything in 30 miles, sir."

"Alright. Chief, Doc, I want you to go ahead and get back to your posts. No one is to speak one word of this. Not one. The electrical systems were burned out by a bus overload fault. It affected the radiation indicators, too. That's all."

"Sir, with all due respect...

"Go ahead Chief."

"Well, sir, in 30 years of the Navy, I've never heard of a, 'bus overload fault.'"

"Good. That's because I just made it up. But no one will tag to it for at least another 8 hours. And believe me, they'll be too busy to think about it. You two are dismissed. Jim, a word."

"Yes sir. Jim, I need you to make sure no one who was on the Bridge with you says anything about the flash. Understood?"

"Yes sir."

"And there's one more thing I'm going to need you to do."

"Of course."

"Don't be too eager, it's going to make you sick."

"Half-caff, grande soy, mocha. No whip," Admiral Ed Hutchinson said to the Barista at the world's most exclusive Starbuck's, deep inside the inner ring of the pentagon. As he took the cup, declining the ubiquitous sleeve, he noticed General Yates in a corner booth with a couple of civilians, laughing. Laughter was a rare enough thing in Pentagon, let alone with a couple of civilians. Yates shushed them as they left.

As a Marine General, Hutchinson was nominally his superior officer, but the vast schism in paperwork made it, ironically enough, more of a theory on paper than in real life. With his instincts twitched, however, Admiral Hutchinson decided that now was as good a time as any to insist. He followed them down the hall into General Yates' office.

He stood outside the door and held his breath for a moment. When more laughing erupted he burst through the door and, in the kind of booming "I am your GOD" voice that can be heard from one of a Battleship to another, demanded with righteous fury to know, "What in the Sam-Fucking Hell is going on?"

The three men stood immediately, and Hutchinson was pleased to see Yates look extremelu uncomfrotable. The man shriveled before him, even though the two civies did not. What in the Sam Hell is going on? he asked himself.

The civie on the left, the scrawny one with the expensive but badly rumpled suit looked over to the one on the right. The one who looked like a used car salesman at a Ferrari lot. They nodded, and the car salesmen type nodded to the professor type.

"I am Dr. Claude Daubert. This is Heinriech Jencks. I am Professor Emeritus at the American University in Psychology. Specifically, battlefield decision making. Mr. Jencks is a, shall we say, purveyor of fine weaponry?"

"Yates? What the Fuck? Yates?"

"Yates!" boomed Admiral Hutchison again as Yates looked anywhere but at him. Yates ran his hands over his head, down his chest, and fingered row after row of combat ribbons he had there.

"It's all I have, Admiral. All I know." He reached into a drawer, pulled out a flask with the Marine Logo on it and drank deeply.

"Admiral, I can explain. Frankly, it involves things well above even you, or likely anyone currently even in the building. If you would General Yates, the feed? It is, I believe, perfect timing"

As Yates typed on his computer, a live satellite feed appeared. At the center was a large ship in a smallish river. Hutchinson recognized it immediately as the Hawaii, his newest ship, and his oldest.

"Rebuilding a World War II Battlecruiser was a stroke of genius, Admiral. It's armor can withstand any of the current anti-ship missiles designed for sinking lightly built ships. Eighty year old mechanical technology which is unfazed by any EMP. She's perfect. And, as it happens, the type of weapons system that Mr. Jencks specializes in."

Hutchinson felt his skin grow cold. The tiny ship on the screen wasn't terribly detailed, but he recognized now that particular river bend, and knew that his ship, HIS Hawaii, was just outside Pyongyang. It should be off the Coast of N Korea, not in it, Godfuckindammit. As he watched, he saw it fire, and saw part of Pyongyang dissappear in a cloud of dust.

The professor looked at the monitor. "Based on the RNK response, I think they got there sooner than expected." He smiled broadly at Mr Jencks.

Dumbfounded Admiral Hutchinson looked at the smug little man. "Talk. Now," he said, already feeling the little man's throat in his hands.

Professor Daubert noticed the threat immediately, and accurately judging its seriousness, spoke. "Admiral, you must realize that America is at her best when she is fighting. Our Golden Ages have all come as a result of massive mobilization efforts. The problem with the Koreas, the Vietnams, and our most recent debacles in the Middle East stem from trying to go to war without decisive consensus. They are not 'Good' wars; like World War II was. So, we had to make one.

"Mr. Jencks built the largest conventional explosive, and General Yates, with many, many like minded officers, deployed it. The Hawaii's systems were sabotaged before she even left port. These stimuli that I carefully crafted and modelled made them believe that the fleet has been wiped out by a RNK nuclear weapon. They are, in their minds, retaliating."

"My God," was all Admiral Hutchinson could muster to say as he fought back nausea.

"Finally, since their radiation sensor was tweaked to show a lethal dose of radiation as well, this is not a mission from which any of them expect to return. In a few moments, when they're guns are either crippled or out of shells, they will scuttle their ship, choosing a quick, valiant death over the suffering agonies of radiation sickness. We have a war, it is righteous, and, when the RNK recovers the Hawaii, we shall have an opponent worth fighting against."

"We're expecting a hell of year Admiral. America is going to return to a Golden Age, General Yates won't be retired, and, well, there's still time to... ah... invest?"

"You set up my ship to start a war with the idea that she'll go down with all her crew and you expect my support? My Help? You sick sons of bitches!

The harsh bang of the forty-five filled the little office. General Yates returned the gun to it's holster, sat down, and took another sip from his flask.

Half a world away the echo of the gunshot reverberated.

Jim Locke stood over his dead Captain. The 9mm in his hand seemed to pull all of his weight with it in his grip. "The Captain sabotaged the ship as part of a plan to start a war." he said numbly. "Pull out immediately and head back to sea. All possible speed. Ensign, remove his body. He may have been a traitor, but he was a good Captain until then. At least afford him that respect."

The crew, stunned after the craziness of the last few hours, went back to the familiarity their stations and duties. It did, unfortunately, explain everything far too well.
"Uh, professor," said General Yates quietly, "What happens if the ship makes it out of North Korea and comes back safely?"

28 May 2010

#FridayFlash: A Passing Delight

A Passing Delight
©2010 D. Paul Angel

I was almost down the stairs when she came around the corner.  I saw her mere moments before she saw me.  She was wearing a silky, dark green blouse, black Capris, and her usual array of gold necklaces, rings, and bracelets.  Blonde curls bounced across her slender shoulders as she entered the stairwell.  I fought the temptation of letting my eyes linger on the hint of cleavage promised by her blouse to focus on her eyes.  Naturally grey, today they reflected her blouse with a shimmery jade.

Even though the stairwell was usually loud, I could tell I had surprised her by the way her eyes, her beautiful eyes, widened ever so slightly at my sight.  She smiled automatically as she would at anyone, but then her lips pursed in unconscious evaluation.  The far corner of her ruby red lips lifted in a beckoning tease of flirty subtlety; a half smile of acknowledged attraction.  She knew who I was, too.

We moved away from each other without thought.  The polite parting of ways so another can pass through a narrow space.  But not so far as we would for a stranger or another co-worker.  She passed by closely.  Sipping from the same air, I could smell the sweetness of her shampoo, the subtle tones of her light perfume; the complex fruits of her lotion.  I knew as well she could smell my essence, and I wondered if it conveyed my desire as we each leaned in a bit more as we passed.  The motion was fluid, a continuation of the movements we were both in the middle of not more than a second before, but we each still slowed, too.  Even if it was just a touch.

My mind raced ahead as I reached out and put my arm around her back, arresting her motion, and pulling her into my grasp.  She held me close as well and as our eyes locked onto each others, as though for the first time, conveying the most primal of messages.  I could feel my heart race as her lips, now moist, parted ever so slightly.  I leaned in and gently brushed my lips against hers.  She responded, her eyes closed, reaching forward seeking out my lips...

The jangling of the bracelets on her arm as she raised her hand to wave snapped me back from my reverie.  The dream, the fantasy, in my mind lasted for all the time it took for her to raise her arm.  But in my head it was long enough to build a life with her.

"Hello," she said.  Softly.

01 April 2010

The Circle of Flight

The Circle of Flight
D. Paul Angel ©2010

The cockpit of the future is going to have a man, a dog, and a single red button. The man is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to bite him if he ever reaches for the button.
-- Glen Marshall

I feel the wind buffet the Jenny through the stick as I fly through the cold, dawn air. I don't honestly remember if I'm over Kansas or Nebraska at this point, but it doesn't really matter either. They're all just fields still grey below the dawn. It's just nice to feel the wind and the engines rumble as I head West. Putting the Sun to my back and just flying. As it starts to rise behind me I can just start making out the wheat swaying in time to the wind, and matching the strumming of the gusts through the wires between the wings.

Even though I counted the change again last night, and I'll be having to give rides again tomorrow, it's nice to be alone for now. Some of it is the familiarity of the Dawn Patrol routine from the War, I guess. Mostly though, well, mostly it's that there just aren't as many people around. I've met some good people giving rides though; a lot of Dough Boys thinking we lived the glamor life in the war. I wish.

~ ~ ~

"Contact!" I pull my right leg back while pulling down and away on the smooth wooden prop. I can feel the trailing edge with my fingertips, though I'm careful not to let them overhang. A couple steps back and after a couple sputters the little Continental clunks to life. Holding on to the strut, I pass around the back of the little Yellow Cub, untying the tail-wheel before maneuvering myself awkwardly into the rear seat.

I'm not sure what's wrong when my instructor gets out until he raises his voice over the engine, "Three take-offs, three full-stop landings. You're ready." He runs back to the hanger, and she's all mine. My first Solo. I take the runway, ease the throttle forward, nudge the stick, and balance the plane with stick and rudder as I accelerate down the runway. Keeping it balanced until it simply leaves the ground of its own accord, giving itself to the wind's gentle clutch.

~ ~ ~

As I run up the Pratt & Whitney Single Wasp the North Atlantic pitches the Escort Carrier about like a cork in a toddler's tub. Only a crazy man would take-off on a day like this, unless of course someone saw a periscope.

With the wind is coming straight down the deck now, the Martlet is on the verge of flying whether I want it to or not. I release the brakes and the prop pulls it down the deck and into the air, dropping off the end as I strain on the right rudder to keep it straight.

I madly pump the gear handle, hydraulically raising the gear before banking to the South. The turbulence pounds my legs through the rudder pedals, but I don't even feel it anymore. That's just part of flying by the seat of your pants. And it's better flying than sitting. Especially when there's a wolf down there, and I have dozen grey sheep to protect.

~ ~ ~

The Jungle flashes below as a rippling blur of mottled greens and browns. My RIO has the signal from the SAM now, and it's only a matter of a minute, maybe, two, before I dump raw fuel into the J79 and streak directly at them. Some days we hit the SAM site, but today, well, today we're the decoy. It's what the Thud does best.

"Signal engaged, left to heading two zero four."

"Coming left, two zero four." I reply while pulling the 'burner tab, rolling to knife edge, and pulling back on the stick in a high G turn.

"Inbound SAM's,” my RIO calmly calls out, “Charlie-Two, start your run."

~ ~ ~

My wingman and me are on CAP again, boring holes through the air, ten miles up; waiting for an enemy that will never come. They came that first night, I'll never forget it even if they didn't come into my sector, but at a loss of over half their Air Force. So I fly my lazy patterns, keep my feet on the floor, and dogfight in my mind. I miss the Academy's glider.

~ ~ ~

The Predator has easily the longest endurance and highest payload for any aircraft of its size. All they had to do was eliminate the pilot. I fly my UAV from half a world away. Literally. And to think my mom told me playing Xbox wasn't ever going to help me land a job.

~ ~ ~

It's been almost a year since since the Colony ship left and we're just now hitting full stride.. Laelnizo IV is a beautiful planet. Not the best soil, which is why the grass is so short, but there's lots of it. The more we work it, the better it gets, too. But that also means our farms are spread out, so I'm constantly flying people, parts, and everything else around.

It's just us here, and anything that breaks, well, we have to fix ourselves. My Grasshopper has more in common with a 1930's monoplane than the Wasp's which delivered the Colony two containers at a time. I flew them, too. Spce to Surface and back. There's nothing quite like rolling in on an approach to a Colony Ship. At two miles long, half a mile wide, and a quarter mile tall, it all seemed like it should be falling into the planet, not floating above it like a brick hovering over a lake.

Now I'm following the steady dot-dash-dash dot-dot-dot-dash dot-dot of the Main City's NDB back home. I can feel the wind shift a bit through the stick, and kick in a little more rudder to keep the ball centered. The more things change...

26 February 2010

#FridayFlash: The Alchemist's Wish

The Alchemist's Wish
By D. Paul Angel

Far from the city, distant even from the farms and villages too small for even an inn; nestled the tiny valley of Witherbark.  It was the kind of locale which wasn't so much mentioned on maps as it tended to reside under such labels as, "Wilderness," "Elf Be Here," or "tread ye not here after dark."  It earned its name from the nebbish, weathered hide of the birches and oaks which densely filled its ripples.  Deep within it, however, there was also a pure spring of fresh water, around which tightly wound an ancient, almost forgotten, Ley line.  Next to it sat an old, weathered cabin, which housed a single, gruntled, occupant.

Lam Thion emerged from the forest, pushing back the branches, snags, and vines that were ever trying to absorb the paths.  He held an arm-full of dead branches and crossed the tiny clearing around his cabin while his unquiet eyes flitted from the cabin to the forest with varying degrees of distrust and malice.

He entered the cabin to a sickly obsequies voice greeting him, "So good to see you again, Master Thion."

"Sod off Skaeal," snapped Thiol, "You miserable Imp."

"At your service," the Imp replied, materializing, next to the fireplace.

"I said 'Sod Off!' not, 'appear!'" shouted Thion, allowing the wood to tumble from his arms across the cabin's hard packed dirt floor in his anger.

"Of course, Master, I was merely trying to be respectful." replied Skaeal cooly, "Perhaps Master does not wish the lowly Skaeal's help with the Master's experiments anymore?"

"Curse you to the pain, Skaeal.  You bloody well know I need you, you, you-" Thion's anger filled tirade would've made Skaeal blush, were he not already naturally beet red and a minor Daemon.  Thion's coarse words continued as he built a fire around the medium cast-iron cauldron that filled corner of the room closest to the spring.  It slowly died out of its own accord as he grabbed the misshapen ingots of lead off the floor and placed them in the cauldron, but you could tell that the anger still rippled through him.

He had done this ritual many, many times, and it had always ended in abject failure.  There was only one ingredient missing.  One last thing that Skaeal had yet to figure out which was all that separated harnessing the Ley energy into the conversion.

"If only you could read the book," he said finally, plaintively, in Skael's general vicinity.  The Book did not exist tangibly so much as it was the collected lore of Skaeal's line of Daemons.  When Thion had summoned and bound Skaeal to do his bidding, he had not counted on the Daemon being unable to read the whole of the tome.

"Master understood that Skaeal could not read when Master bound Skaeal," said the Imp matter of factly, raising his small arms to his side and knocking over some books from the shelf on which he was suddenly sitting.  "Perhaps Master is tiring of turning lead into gold and wishes Skaeal to try and read something else?"

"No, I cannot leave here without gold.  My life is forfeit until I do.  As you know all too well!"

Skaeal made no reply but was suddenly next to the cauldron, wrapping the flames around his fingers.  "Perhaps Master would like to try a hotter fire this time?"

"Is that what the book says?" asked Thion with piqued excitement.

"Skaeal will help the help the flames."

Thion looked into the Imps's shiny, solid black eyes.  There was a glint in them that he had never seen before. "You can read it now, can't you?  Can't you!"  Skaeal made no reply, but started building the flames hot enough that Thion could feel the sweat drop from his brow.  He grabbed the little Daemon's form, and turning it away fromt he fire and towards him shouted, "What's changed? Tell me what's changed!  What do you know?  Tell me!"

"What is it the Master wishes?" asked Skaeal, matching Thion's level stare,  "Above all else?"

"Gold of course!  I want to turn lead into gold."

"Then Master shall."

"You can read the formula!  The last ingredient! Tell me, what it is?  Tell me!"

"A willing Human," said Skaeal simply, as Thion was immolated with a piercing scream.

The next day, Skaeal pushed through the charred reamins of the cabin.  He heaved a smoldering beam aside and uncovered the cauldron, looking at the gold within it.  "We both got what we wanted," he said as he pulled it out. "I get my freedom, and you, Master," he said mockingly, "finally turned lead into gold."

18 February 2010

Pirate Timing

Pirate Timing
D. Paul Angel

Llewelen walked around the large crate lashed down between the Main and Fore masts with his gait matching the Ocean's easy rolls.  The air had a crisp saltiness to it, and the tropical Sun hung just above a quickly fading mist.  The breeze was picking up, and Llewelen inspected the taught sails on either side of the crate.  As he was looking up, a lithe man dressed in ill-fitting black clothes walked up to him.

"Are ye sure today is it?" asked Llewelen without looking away from the rippling canvas.  The stranger, who gave only the name Stanton and had paid handsomely for the voyage with him and his crate, seemed both familiar to the sea and yet a stranger to sailing.  He had promised much, subtly threatened more, but was nothing if not assured of himself.  He had been adamant that his crate stay above deck, and had spoken to the crew in superstitious tones of what would happen were anything placed on or near it.

"Yes, Captain Llewelen," Stanton replied through an exaggerated yawn, "Just as sure as when I told you this time was coming some days hence."

Llewelen grunted and continued his walk.  He opened his mouth to speak but a flash of light to the Northeast caught everyone's eye.  Moments later a resounding craaack pulsed over the ship.  Thus far, the stranger had been right in his predictions, but bets had been made about this particular one.  Money and prayers were soon abounding around the ship.

Llewelen moved aft to the quarter deck, and felt his neck prickle.  He had taken part in his share of combat, ordered his share of discipline, and personally carried out the harshest of penalties; that he was particularly adept at any or all within the realm of violent conflict, however, had not yet made him actually enjoy the craft.  He turned and regarded Stanton smugly standing at his side
"And now gun boats that aren't?"  He asked Stanton in as matter of fact tone as he could muster.

"Yes, and I would remind you again that it would be best for your crew to show as little resolve against them as possible.  Resistance would be... futile at best," he finished with a wry smile.

Llewelen held an ancient spyglass to his eye and saw four grey shapes, low in the water, and moving far faster than any ship of sail could hope to.  They crisscrossed and began firing guns that sounded like booming, ripping canvas, with one shot flowing after the other.  They truly were, Llewelen realized, no match for the half dozen 24 pounders the ship carried, let alone the score of cannonades.

The shells quickly tore through his sails until the wind leaked through like a sieve, and the ship slowly eased to, until it was drifting with the current.  The four grey boats came to a stop almost as readily as they had sped in circles around the much larger brig.  They each had a low rumbling sound and a cloud of black smoke following them around.

The Stanger sidled up next to Llewelen, "Now you believe me?  The whole British Navy is no match for them."

"We know you carry pieces of eight," came a voice amplified somehow from across the waves, "You will bring them to us or we will kill you all and take them."

"What is your decision Captain?" asked Stanton, "Either way, they will kill you.  And you cannot fight."

"Aye," said Llewelen, turning to look into the Stranger's eye, "Let's see if you can really protect us.

The Stranger's hand went into his breast pocket.  As the announcement began to repeat itself, the huge crate in the middle of the ship disintegrated in a cloud of smoke.  Almost as quickly, trails of green smoke arced across the sky from the box to the four boats.  In an instant the rockets had fired, found their targets, and each boat had been hit multiple times.  When it was over, only one grey hull remained afloat, burning and slowly breaking apart.  Two others were merely odd bits of grey flotsam, and the fourth was little more than an oil stain shimmering across the waves.

"I think, Captain, that I have quite lived up to my end of the bargain.  A tenth of your doubloons, if you please."

"Aye, but, how would you be taking them?"

"Yes, that."  The stranger reached in his pocket again and a ripple rose next to the ship.  A black shape emerged from under the water and a small submarine was soon bobbing next to the ship.

"Now.  My reward Captain," Stanton said insistently.

"Certainly Mr. Stanton, You'll be getting what ye earned, but tell me, don't ye worry about hurting Time?  What will the men say when they get back to port?"

"I didn't tell them anything about Time, Captain, that way if you say anything, no one will believe you.  As for the men, well it was green smoke for a reason.  Hold a mass tonight and thank God for calling forth a Kraken to kill thy enemies.  Say it enough and they'll believe you."

Llewelen regarded Stanton's arrogance and asked, "Will ye be back?"

"Yeah, probably.  I'll check on what they try next," he nodded towards the wrecks for emphasis, "and just get here first.  Again.

"And now Captain enough.  My doubloons."

Llewelen responded by pulling a pistol out of his belt and aimed it at Stanton.  Stanton no longer deigned politeness and sneered at Llewelen.  "My clothes may not look it, Captain, but they are more than sufficient armor for any 18th century weapon."

The condescending smile remained frozen on his face as his body was torn in half underneath it by the plasma pistol's discharge.

Llewelen squatted next to Stanton's body, "True, lad, true.  But how's it do against 28th century weapons?"

15 February 2010

Submitting a #FlashFriday Piece?

When I wrote my last #FlashFriday piece, "Deau <3 Machina" the first draft was 1,700 words and I felt like I had not said nearly enough.  The story works as it is, I feel, but I really liked that first draft.  Cutting almost half of it hurt, because each of the different characters was given so much more depth, and it was each of their little individual decisions that eventually led to the culminating Deus ex Machina.

So the question is, if I go back and write that story, expand it out by another 2,000 to 2,500 words words or so while adding in another twist or two; what are the ethics of then submitting it?  I would, of course, mention that a much smaller version was already published online, but just because I can doesn't necessarily mean I should.
If anyone has any thoughts experience or recommendations I would greatly appreciate it.

A Glenfiddich Trifecta

My wife surprised me a few years back with a couple 375ml bottles of single malt Scotch whisky.  One was Glenlivet, the other Glenfiddich (pronounced with a hard "ick" I soon found out).  I had avoided drinking for years for reasons detailed in an earlier post, but had finally started.  I had also come to find that I enjoyed single malts, and this was a fine introduction.  I liked the Glenlivet.  I loved the Glenfiddich.  Indeed, it became the first single malt that was "mine."

Since I was new to the single malt game at this point, I went on to trying more single malts, and fell away from Glenfiddich.  It wasn't that I didn't still like it so much as there are just a wealth of other whiskies out there to try.  Recently, however, I came to back to it.

I was on the road not too long ago and ordered a Glenfiddich from the hotel bar.  I was chatting with the bartender, who was an amazingly cool person, and we were talking about whiskey.  She was not, "A whiskey girl," but was thinking of trying some.  Well, she got distracted whilst pouring and almost overpoured the glass.  She apologized and said that it was all mine for no extra.  So I invited her to try a sip: after all, if you're going to be sampling whiskey, why not start with a whisky?

Well she poured some off into a separate glass took a sip and... just about died.  She coughed, sputtered, ran out of the bar and I could see her downing water.  She was absolutely mortified, and was apologizing profusely for, "insulting my drink."  I was laughing and told her there were no worries, and its all about taste; I even got to share some Latin with her, "De Gustibus non est Disputandem. (Of taste there is no argument.)"  I also told her that if she didn't like Glenfiddich, her foray into whiskey was probably not going to go very well.

Regardless of her reaction, however, I still ended up with a double, if not a triple of my old friend to enjoy the game with!

During the Super Bowl I was at a friend's house and they asked if I wanted the usual beer or wine.  I'm not a fan of beer at all, and wine is OK, but it is not a football drink.  Sorry 49er fans.  Then they looked at each other and said, "Hey, you, like whisky, right?  Because we have this whisky sampler..."  It was the Glenfiddich 12, 15, and 18 year sampler, with a single shot of each.  "Oh yeah, I could help you out with that."  The little Glenfiddich bottles each have their own canister, too.  So cool!

I had the 18 and the 12, with another friend of their's having the 15.  It was like enjoying my good old friend and his hot, exotic cousin.  Fun for an afternoon, but still out of my league.  So far.

Finally, the third of the trifecta (introductions don't count).  We had an office ger together after work at a local brew pub.  They have a decent bar so I tried asking about a few more whiskies I could try.  No luck.  After the third I just asked if they had Glenfiddich.  Success. Finally!  I shared a sip with a co-worker who really liked it, and then just enjoyed the Hell out of it myself.

Like any good, old friend I know I can rely on Glenfiddich for a pleasant time.  Sure there've been other times shared with other whiskies inbetween, and even, yes, blends; but I always like coming back to my oldest friend.

12 February 2010

Deus Heart Machina

Deus <3 Machina
D. Paul Angel
The World watched as the Hubble's feed focused on the single point of light headed towards the Asteroid, and held its collective breath as the light intersected with the slowly twisting mass.


"You can do this Vinny.  Been long time since anyone remembered Temple's Big V Vandano, heart and soul of the of the Owl's Vaunted V-fense.  Who owns the records?  You.  That's right Vinny V, you. And today you're going run, RUN!, to the park and back! Yeah!"  His pep talk to himself complete, Vinny "Big V" Vandano went for his first jog in two decades.


A lifetime later, when even the TV executives were beginning to wonder if the Asteroid ratings boon was really worth the extinction of mankind, a silent, brilliant flash split the Asteroid neatly in two.


Danielle swept through the kitchen with light feet and a happy smile until she saw her beloved cat Charlie sitting by the window; the open window she had forgot to close.  Charlie coolly regarded her as she slowly stepped closer, but he was out the window and down the fire escape before her lunging grasp could catch him.


"It's kind of like the difference between an elephant getting shot with a cannon ball and a shotgun," explained exasperated astrophysicist to the reporters, "Just because it's not going to kill him, doesn't mean it's not going to really sting."


Smooth Tony regarded the pathetic man in front of him.  He held the engagement ring the Boys had found in the man's pocket up to the ill, grimy light the abandoned warehouse afforded.  Even in the dimness Tony could see that it was Cubic Zirconia.  Despite their obvious similarities, this was not the man Tony had actually conducted business with, so he regarded the man's babbling sobs about his brother Grant as likely true.

"What would you like for us to do with him Mr. Noland?" asked his top underling, Bren.
Smooth Tony considered.  "Anyway you cut it," he thought, "Truth a pretty lousy business partner in this line of work."
"Bren.  Joey.  Take a couple of the boys and this chump to his girlfriend's."
"Yes, Mr. Noland," said Bren without a trace of emotion.
"Beat him till he dies."


"Just keep the legs pumping V! Whoo!"  Vandano continued shouting to himself as he stumbled back from the park.  The day was warmer than expected, and he was more out of shape than he accepted.  The smell of grass at the park had reminded his brain so strongly of his football days that it interpreted his numb, bloated hands as being taped, and the lack of peripheral vision from the lingering heat stroke as a helmet.  So when he turned the corner to his alley, and saw a small, desperate looking guy surrounded by five huge men, Vinny knew that quarterback was his.


The entire Earth wobbled ever so slightly as the two mountain sized pieces of asteroid safely passed on either side.  In between a cloud of dust and rocks hit the atmosphere with radiant light.  Thousands of tiny specks winked into vapor, but a few still continued their fateful plunge towards the heart of Philadelphia.


Smooth Tony wasn't sure why, but he liked the ring.  He had even opened the sunroof of his limo so he could look at it better in the sunlight.  While it wouldn't do to linger, Smooth Tony enjoyed watching his men work enough that they were approaching the alley.  A man accustomed to having his way, Smooth Tony was stunned to see a huge man in a sweat stained, grey sweat-suit bulldoze through his men before leveling the chump.  Smooth Tony only just managed to start shouting at his driver to stop before a largish meteorite punched through the engine block of the limo doing it for him, cold, and throwing the ring through the sunroof mere moments before him.


Sherman saw a blur of grey explode between the goons and knock them aside.  As time dilated he watched as the massive arms sweep down, gain momentum and then connect with his chest.  The blow knocked him off his feet and sent him skittering against a curb.  Shaken, with one knee awkwardly on the ground, Sherman held out his arms to regain his balance.


Holding the Charlie tightly, Danielle whispered both curses and love into his ear.  She didn't even notice the windowless van pull into the alley until a large, sour-faced man stepped out.  Once she saw him though she knew she didn't want to be anywhere near the alley.  She turned and ran for her door.  She got up on her stoop, and was struggling with the door, trying to block out the commotion behind her, when she heard a reedy gasp behind her.
She turned and saw Sherman, on one knee with his arms spread, below her.


One of the smaller pieces of asteroid was a particularly hard form of Carbon.  It's lattice structure had enormous strength, but was still brittle at the right angle.  So even as it ablated away layers until it took on a pointed shape, when it hit the sharp metal edge of the hydrant it had split.  Part of it ricocheted off of the pavement and a brownstone wall before arcing back skywards. 

At its apex, it intercepted a slowly tumbling ring, hitting its Cubic Zirconia centerpiece hard enough that the fake stone simply vaporized.  It threw the ring even higher in the air and gave it an even more eccentric tumble as the impact's remaining energy was dissipated through melting the small metallic prongs onto the new, glittering stone.


As she was looking down at Sherman, she saw a ring slowly arc across the sky and land delicately on Charlie's back.

"Oh, I do Sherman!  I do!"

29 January 2010

The Barrier Crossroads

"Just remember," she said to me with a professionally charming smile, "Whatever you do, do not try and open the barrier door until the green light is lit.  But don't wait too long either."

"I understand the not going through too soon," trying to talk to her and help play down some of my own nervousness, "I just don't know why they warn you about hesitating."

"Well, sir," she replied with an obviously often stated response, "It is just *different* once you get there.  It is a big decision you've made and, once you're at the crossroads, there's a hesitancy to pull away from taking that step."

"But it's not like people would do this on a whim, would they?  It just seems too much of a commitment to back away now."

"It's not really about backing away," she continued, and I was surprised when I realized that this wasn't part of the standard answer, that this was the true her, "It's about shying away from the enormity of it.  Imagine you're standing on a sheer cliff looking down into a lake.  Behind you is a forest fire that will consume you if you don't jump.  You know that.  You know you'll be consumed if you stay and safe if you jump, but still, on the precipice itself, you hesitate."  I looked through her light brown eyes into a woman of deep thoughts, spirit, and feelings.  Her short red hair only just brushed her shoulders, and I realized that, for the first time since I'd lost Faye, I was looking at a woman I could love.

The outer door opened, and as she waved me in I saw the ring on her finger.  It only made sense, after all, that a woman such as her would already be taken.  It actually made the decision all the easier.  I walked in with a lightness that I hadn't felt before.  I stopped and turned to thank her, but I could see already tell that her professional demeanor had returned, cutting of any further connection beyond client and greeter, "Once the outer doors close, there is no moving back; only forward."

"Good luck," she added with the briefest lifting of her emotional veil, "I hope you find what you're looking for."

The outer doors closed.

The chamber I was in had plain, white walls behind me, and a single huge glass wall in front of me.  A door was cut out of the glass with two lights overhead.  The red light was solidly lit and the green was off, but I scarcely noticed either one.  Before me was the Time Barrier.  It ebbed and flowed as a visceral cloud of colors, ebbing and flowing against the glass.  The colors cycled through in gentle patterns that could be seen as deeply evocative in one way, and frighten disturbing in another.  It was beautiful, terrifying, and thoroughly overwhelming.

The Red light started flashing, and I understood why some hesitated.  The cloud waves were flowing with more regularity, and the flashing was starting to sync with their motions.  All I had to do was open the door when it turned green, step through, and my consciousness would be returned in time to a place before I lost Faye.  Open the door and step through, and all the pain will end.  The lonely days and lonelier nights would be gone, and Faye... Faye would be back.  Open the door-

The cloud was staying longer and longer against the door, the flashing was slower and slower, and I knew it would be green any second.  I was jarred out of my reverie by a sudden mental image of the girl in the lobby.  I didn't know her name but I suddenly saw her smile, her obvious depth; her passion.  A jagged flash of memory hung in the air before me: the picture of her waving me into the room.  The ring was on her middle finger.

Maybe she wasn't taken?  The smile, her eyes, they all flashed past me one after the other.  I suddenly knew that she saw me as differently as I saw her.  Or was I misreading her?  Was it all just some last minute ploy by my mind trying to keep me from Faye?  How could this stranger's smile be suddenly more familiar to me than Faye's?

The light turned green.