Moonlake’s Writing Updates- Jan 2023

I am still battling on for the WIP. Currently, I am working on adding more obstacles to Act 2 and potentially Act 3 of my story. 

I continue to be in my low energy phase with the WIP and I have cut down to one session per weeking day (5 times a week now) with a word count of 100. To that end, I am looking towards earning money now and am in the process of applying to tutor algebra, general studying skills, improving English and providing English essay feedback and teaching free writing on Outschool. 

I am now on draft 0.83 although the numbering is starting to lose meaning now- I have no idea whether I will have to go up by 0.01 from now on, I started off at 0.5 and incremented by 0.1 at first until this 0.01 thing just started creeping in and it’s been going on for a while now. 

The tentative next project is on the backburner now. I’ve given it two tries in between my decimal drafts and I knew what I needed to do to fix it- rather than peg a bunch of historical events and have them drive my story, I need to basically start from scratch and approach it from my protagonist’s angle and add pertinent events, perhaps borrowing from historical events. After all, I’m not a historical fiction author and what I was doing with it was too much historical fiction for me. 

That’s it for updates. Still continuing to write in my incremental way forwards. 

Adventure Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 22

The interior of the building stood up to what was advertised outside. There were machines halfway set up for building something and other machines in another part that looked like they were for tearing things apart. A collision of different minds wanting to build different factories squashed into one. 

“This place is a disaster.” Aurora commented. 

We were led to an area still under construction and mostly open space, before they were occupied by shipping containers that could be transported on trucks. Our captive pointed at them. 

“What’s in them?” Estella asked as she padded over to the crates, not letting down her guards as she did so.

He shrugged. “I get paid enough to not care.” Realising how that sounded, he hastened to elaborate. “I mean, it’s nothing harmful or anything. We wouldn’t get involved in anything like that. You can tell the sheriff that too, yes?”

“Assuming that’s the case, sure.” Aurora nodded at me, “Let’s open’em up and see if they’re worth hauling back?”

I moved over and lifted off the lid of the closest container. It pays to be vigilant, I always say. I dodged the blast of spores that shot out. Our captive turned and tried to run, as much as his limping allowed. Some people just never gave up. 

Aurora tripped him and he went sprawling. “You’re really, really burning through the last of our goodwill here.” She told him.Her curled up and covered his head, sobbing again. 

I sighed. “There he goes again. Pathetic to tricky back to pathetic.”

Estella told Guppy, “Scum like this is what keep us in business.”

“Anything in the crate besides the trap?” Aurora asked.

“I don’t know. They just said I’d regret it if I ever looked inside. And they wouldn’t even have to find me or lay a finger on me”

“I wonder if they were trafficking in the spores?”

“We did see a bunch of the plants growing outside.” Estella pointed out.

“We should collect a sample for Jessica to analyse.” I figured we should leave it for the specialist. 

“Good thinking,” Estella said as she hurried outside. 

“Grab some of the spores from the box too.” Aurora called after her. “So, which one was it?” She pressed the captive. “Are they coming in a few weeks? Or are they showing up sooner? Remember if we take care of them they won’t be able to hurt you.”

I looked down into the container whose lid I just prised open, to see whether I could identify its contents without touching anything. There were some coiled up vines insides, with some open flowers that might be the source of the spores. There was a flat, transparent container lying on the bottom. There was some clear fluid inside, which the vines had dipped into via tiny filaments. It looked like some kind of hydroponic setup. 

I whistled. “A container full of our viney friends being grown? Estella should come and look at this.”

The man sighed deeply. “There is a message they send when they plan on coming. But it’s not what you think. They send it to me, personally. I’m a telepath of sorts. I can hear thoughts directed at me by anyone I’ve met previously.”

“Okay, then what number am I thinking about right now?” Aurora gave him a test. 

“Are you offering me one?” He replied, which made no sense to me. Perhaps that was the point. 

“Okay, he’s for real, on that part anyway.” Estella gave her a blank look.

“I was imagining a mug of ale, he picked up on it.”

“So these people deliver these crates to you right? Or were you lying about this being a delivery zone?” Estella asked him. 

He waved his hands defensively. “I was telling the truth, about that at least. And I did find the kid while waiting for a new delivery.”

The vines started to uncoil and moved slowly towards me, as if it wanted to touch me. I moved back out of their range. It flopped back into the box. 

“We thought the kid was one of…” He stopped and put a hand over his mouth. 

“Finish the sentence or I’ll pass the kid a knife and she can fulfill all those promises she’s no doubt been making about gutting you.” Estella threatened him. 

Guppy gave him a toothy grin. “Ya know, it’s been awhile since I gutted a body. I could be outta practice.”

He gulped and started talking, without taking his eyes from Guppy. 

“You can try multiple times until you get it right, we can just have the doc heal him up in between.” Aurora added her contribution. 

“We thought she was one of Camdon’s tunnel rats. They don’t usually come out this way, but… the kid looked familiar. And we don’t get along too well with Camdon.”

“So who do you work for then? Scorsby?” Aurora asked him. 

“Scorsby?” He looked confused. “Rupert? I’d rather let Camdon sneak up on my back than do a deal with Scorsby.”

“Let’s hear what dirt you have on both of them, then.” I prodded him. 

“Not much to tell. Camdon and us, well, we are what you might call competitors. Except we deliver and he’s always looking for a way to cheat whoever works with him. And Scorsby, well, he’s just someone you don’t mess with. Always got some game going on that’s above and beyond us penny ante players.”

“So who brings you these shipments, and who do you give them to?” Estella asked him. 

He shut his mouth into a thin line. After a pause he said, “We’re just middle men who know better than to ask for names when it doesn’t matter.”

“You’re also savvy enough to make sure you’re not working for Scorsby or Comdon by mistake, so either you tell us…” Aurora glanced meaningfully over at Guppy. “Or our girl here will start making herself a new belt from your intestines.”

He mumbled something, then he came forth with the goods.  “Star Analytics. I’m not supposed to know that. They work through intermediaries. But, like you said, I’m too savvy not to know who I’m working for.”

“The twits who own the big black building in town?” That was getting to be Estella’s new obsession, after gardening. 

He nodded. 

“Sounds like we just found our source of local trouble,” Aurora nodded to us.”Now the question is where are they getting the plants from if not the asteroid?”

“Asteroid?” 

“Too  much knowledge is not to your own good.” I warned him. He took the hint and didn’t say a word more. 

“The bigger question is how did they get onboard our ship in the first place?” Estella said. 

“We landed near the junkyard originally, we might of picked some up there, or when you two were crawling around the tunnels maybe?” 

“Yeah, maybe, still, at least we have a name for the locals, and who is probably been hunting us, they want the plants for themselves.” Estella said. 

Guppy starts poking around at the other boxes. Not opening any, just being curious. Aurora cautioned her and she said she was just bored. 

“Well it’s pretty obvious where the shipments are being taken anyway.” Estella gestures towards town, “That big black monolith.”

“Now we just need to decide what to do about it all, I mean, taking on an entire corporation like that? I’m not sure we got the numbers, or the firepower to come out on the winning side.” Aurora said. 

“Let’s talk about that back on the ship, after we dump tweedle dumb and tweedle dee off at the local sheriffs.” Estella said. Aurora assented. 

“You… you’re going to put in a word for me, right?”

“Let’s see, you’ve lied to us, tried to flee, let us open a spore mine, and kidnapped my little girl, anything else I’m missing?” Aurora asked him with a glare.

“I told you all sorts of things that could get me killed! I put a lot of trust in you. You can’t expect me not to test that a little, right?”

“We’ll encourage them not to hang you, don’t worry, we keep our word.” Estella said. 

He hung his head in despair. “They’ll come after me if they know I talked.”

“A word?” Aurora gestured to us and stepped off to the side out of ear shot of him. I followed her. 

“Let’s hear it. This guy is desperate to save his own skin, we can count on him trying to double cross us if it helps him somehow, I was thinking maybe we could use that to our advantage, let him over hear us talking, feed him some misinformation, and then let him escape from the sled while we stop to buy groceries or something.”

“I’m not sure what misinfo we’d want to spread to that company?” Estella pointed out. 

“I had a thought of getting him to rat out Jake but he’s way too smart for his own good.” I admitted. 

“That we’re working for Camden maybe? Put them on his ass instead of ours for a while, buy us time to figure out how to handle this mess?” Aurora grinned at me, “We think alike.”

“Problem is, we let him go, we have a lot of nothing to show to the locals for what’s behind this mess, and he might just be the sorts to want payback, and come after us later if we let him run free.” Estella pointed out. 

“Yeah, that’s a pretty solid point.” Aurora admitted and glanced over at the captive, thinking I assumed.

“He has me stumped, not worth killing him yet but too tricky to do anything about.” I put up my hands in defeat.

“I say we turn him over to the local sheriff and complete our contract, if we need him later we can always work something out with the locals.” Estella said. 

“Fair enough, the locals aren’t in bed with the company at least, or they wouldn’t of hired us to look into things, so they’ll make sure he stays locked up.”

“All right.” I agreed. 

Aurora looked at her caree. “You got a say in this too, he did tie you up and whatnot.” She made an evil smile. “Well… He did punch me in the face. See my bruise?”

He started squirming. 

“I mean, I still think I need some guttin practice. But…” She dragged out the word as sweat rolled off our captive. “Yeah, send him to be locked up. Sounds like justice to me”

“It’s decided then we take him to the sheriff.” Aurora knelt down and started pulling off the man’s socks and belt.

“What you doing?” Estella raised an eyebrow at this.

“Bound and gag him?” I supplied. 

“Gagging him so he can’t scream for help while we drive through town.” Aurora nodded to me. 

“With his own socks?” Estella smirked at the notion. “Fitting. Nasty, but fitting.”

He looked defeated and didn’t struggle at all.  “Okay, lets deliver the garbage and collect our payday.” Aurora looked at the crates. “We shouldn’t leave these laying around either, might be best to destroy them.”

“Hey, Aurora?” Does this look familiar?” Guppy handed Aurora an open case with some test tubes that contained a blue-green liquid. 

For…

This is using the form of the poem Prayer in my boot by Naomi Shihab Nye which essentially uses the For… motive repetitively. I am an atheist so I’m not writing fors as prayers, I guess these are more my contemplations. 

For the breeze that caressed my face. For the shards of light from the rainbow prism that had fallen on my face. For the whispering among the leaves. For myself and others. For the bygone years, the birthdays celebrated with cakes on which laid candles that I could never blow out in one go; I don’t know how they ever did it on TV. For my palm which used to sweat so much. For my black lustrous hair that spilled down my back like a cascading waterfall. I wish. For my tomorrows that are yet to come, bubbles that are yet to form. For my wandering thoughts. 

For sunshine and rainfall. For light and darkness. For destiny and personal struggles, a stand to say I make my own fate. For apathy and compassion. For appreciation and indifference. For laughter and tears. For family and friends versus strangers and enemies. For the mind against the heart. For logic warring with emotions. For us versus them. For myself against the world. For the past I turned my back on versus the tomorrow I’ve yet to carve out for myself. 

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Fauna (9)

Ju Fu

Physical Description:

An ape-like creature with patterned arms.

Special Properties:

It is good at throwing at tigers and leopards.

Translation Quirks:

A more mundane alternative translation was that it is just good at throwing with striped arms like tigers and leopards. I went with the more unusual translation.


Xi Qu

Physical Description:

A cow-like creature.

Special Properties:

The sound it makes is like that of babies. It eats humans.

Translation Quirks:

Its colour is in dispute. It might be indigo, black or just some dark colour.


Chang Fu

Physical Description:

A chicken-like bird with three heads, six eyes, six feet but only three wings.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat makes you insomniac.


Ying Shao (or Baby Spoon)

Physical Description:

A magpie-like bird that has red eyes, a red beak, a white body and a tail shaped like a spoon.

Special Properties:

It makes a sound like its name.

TBR for 2023

For my Oriental fantasy reading this year, I’m reading book 1 of the Poppy War series which is available in audiobook format. 

On fantasy, I might read the Essex Serpent which I had put down as a historical fiction/fantasy. But other than that, I’m short on ideas. My library always gives me pages of stuff on YA fantasy and I’m not that hot on it. I’m timid to try Brandon Sandersen after Mistborn which I abandoned already during book 1 (although I’m wondering whether I should give Stormlight Archive a try as I heard it’s more traditional epic fantasy) and Robin Hobb’s Farseer world doesn’t really intrigue me much (I read the Livership Traders trilogy and it’s fresh but I’m not that motivated to take up the Rain Wilds Chronicles). And plus, I’m into reading electronic books nowadays and it’s just all become so much harder. Like last year when I looked up the Dresden Files book 1 it was not available and then I just forgot about the whole series although I took up book 1 at the end of last year. Guess I will just let the whims hit me. 

I had managed to prune some mystery series from a post about Sue Grafton (I knew she died before completing Z of her alphabet series which was a bit of a shame since I was waiting to read it since I had read every other alphabet book of hers, I was that fond of Kinsey. But I knew she was not a young author so…). They are basically the Rabbi Small series and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. I actually read book 1 of the Rabbi Small series in December (my library had the whole series) and it was okay. I might pick up further books in the series or I might not. Not sure. On the other hand, my library only has 3 of the Travis McGee and I’m yet to try him so I will definitely do that this year. 

For craft and curiosity reads, I’m going to read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye to study the omniscient voice (an electronic copy of this has somehow surfaced at my local library again). I’m not sure what constitutes my curiosity read for this year yet. Guess I will prune my local library site and see what turns up from reading the blurb (I had cultivated a list but a lot of them are not available in ebook format or I realised they would end up being too literary fiction for my taste even if I was curious about certain elements). 

My Broadening Horizon reads this year will include The Leviathan wakes for science fiction and the Years of Rice and Salt for alternate history (I mostly read straight historical fiction or historical fantasy so alternate history would be a first). 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- December 2022

Back to more of a balance between fantasy and mystery this quarter.

Fantasy 

The Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

This is basically a standalone trilogy starring three different protagonists. I liked book 1- for a fantasy, the prophecy thing that surrounds the protagonist was twisted a couple of times making this a bit fresh and mysetrish. Book 2’s protagonist is interesting (I actually find her more so than Nicodemus who was the protagonist in book 1). It also continues in the same vein as book 1 of having some plot twists. Book 3’s protagonist is also interesting but I like her a bit less compared to book 2 and it continues the fashion of having plot twists. Overall, I would call this debut trilogy a satisfying read. 

Across the Nightingale Floor by Liam Hearn 

This is a fantasy loosely inspired by ancient Japan. It’s part of my Oriental fantasy reading. I had heard good things about it before but it turned out to be more romance than fantasy even though it’s quite plot centric. But I think I might have been outraged or substantially disappointed with it if I didn’t at least see it as predominantly a romance rather than fantasy. I had intended to finish the trilogy before but now I think I will pass. 

Master of Furies by Raymond E. Feist 

I was fully expecting to not able to get to this book until next year but I finally got my hands on my local library’s copy which had a queue of 12 people. And the first thing I noticed was that I was a bit disoriented because there was a gap of at least half a year between my finishing book 2 and this particular novel. I did eventually catch up and remembered but the Prologue really threw me (given his signature of presenting the antagonists in prologues). 

I actually wasn’t expecting a throwback to the Midkemian series as I call his earlier work and I can’t say I’m particularly pleased or displeased about the reference to one of my favourite sidecasts. And after I finished this book, I felt like actually this whole series was written as an invitation for new readers to go back and read all his earlier books/series if they haven’t. I had kind of wished that this was something more standalone from the Midkemia world because while I loved the early Midkemian works (Riftwar, Serpentwar, Prince and Blood, King of Buccaneers), the series in that setting had really started to lose its charm for me even though I stuck with it as far as Darkwars and then I just didn’t like what the author was doing with it to keep such a long running series alive. But overall, this is still an okay series. 

As for my personal satisfaction, the author had a tall bar to match in terms of his earlier works and I was really hoping that he would capture the magic in his earlier works with a brand new setting. But I guess this is where his publisher and marketing and probably staying safe has taken over and my hope was firmly dashed. Oh well. Solid work, just not up there with his best. 

Mystery

Cold Iron by Alex Blakeley

It has a quite clipping pace and is really short. I felt like I could finish the physical book in 2 days or something since it only has 11 chapters. For that, it doesn’t disappoint. Something big already occurs at the end of chapter 2 and it does have one or two twists that I don’t expect. 

Before she Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

I was intrigued by the premise of what the main character does- searching out cold cases of disappeared youths. I mean, I’ve been used to reading murder mysteries mostly and this is just a somewhat fresh angle to things. Also, I haven’t read a thriller where the stakes keep on increasing like in this one for a while now. Definitely recommend this for those who like plot centric thrillers.

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

The premise is pretty intriguing/chilling as presented on the blurb- the protagonist’s ex boyfriend is making his way back to her, one murder at a time. But the actual reading experience is not as fast paced as I would have thought. In fact, I kind of feel bored sometimes when the chapters delve into the past memories of the protagonist in high school that involved an abusive relationship with said ex and the love-bitchy dynamics between her and her best friend. I also guessed one of the big twists because the clues were so obvious. The ending kind of bournes out the necessities of all the memories and one memory at the ends serves as the big twist but overall, I think I’m so-so with this book. 

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman

I got to this series because I was looking up Sue Grafton out of a whim (I knew she had died and I was very fond of her alphabet series and her quirky heroine Kinsey) and the Rabbi Small series was listed as one of the inspirations for the alphabet series in that the books follow a loose theme. 

At first, it wasn’t what I expected- I mean, a murder mystery where the murder happens at the quarter mark? It felt like the coziest of the cozy mystery to me although not really- basically, in the first quarter we are familiarising with the Jewish community as the rabbi is part of and I think after the book ‘moves into the zone’ for me, I do feel like all the pace setting is needed for the non-Jewish among us readers. And even during the first quarter when I was waiting for the murder to happen, I was actually wondering when it would drop in as opposed to ‘I’m ditching this book right now, nothing happens” so I think that means the author is doing something right, at least by me. 
Overall, I am satisfied with this book and I might read some more of the series. But that’s probably for next year since I’m devoting the rest of this year to finishing the King of Furies at the time of writing. 

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Fauna (8)

Zhu Tun Snake

Physical Description:

A meter-long snake that has four feet and is hairy throughout its body

Special Properties:

Its call is like that of pigs.

Lore:

Legend tells that in the Song Dynasty, a Zhu Tun Snake had appeared in front of a soldier who was undergoing training and had swallows him whole. This snake was finally vanquished by a soldier who knew how to use magic.


Xiu Snake

Physical Description:

A large snake that grows near the Dong Ting Lake

Special Properties:

It is able to swallow a whole elephant.

Lore:

At the time of the Ten Suns, there was a riot of the Xiu Snakes and this was put down by Hou Yi (who shot down nine Suns to end the reign of the Ten Suns) who killed off the perpetrating Xiu Snakes.


Zao Teeth

Physical Description:

A creature with really long teeth and shaped like a pick

Lore:

It is reputedly a creature slain by the arrows of Hou Yi.


Horse Tripping Snake

Physical Description:

A water wyrm that belongs to the group of Jiao Dragon, a kind of half-dragon creature or subservient branch to the dragon family. It is as massive as a dragon but basically still of serpent form except that its head is shaped like a cat or mouse and there are star-shaped spots on the top of its head.

Special Properties:

It is hostile to humans and will attack and devour them. Its body is slippery and stinks. Whenever its appears, not only will the water that it is in be polluted, but the air will become intolerable in terms of smell.

Forgive yourself

The jump-off line comes from A Course In Miracles by Megan Freitag. 

Forgive yourself the words of retort that you were too slow to say. Forgive yourself the fear and helplessness behind the dignity maintained in front of the public which everyone else saw as silence and passiveness. Forgive yourself the sleepless nights in which you had thought unspeakable thoughts. Forgive yourself the bursts of memories you had rather remained forgotten. Forgive yourself what you had failed to deliver to yourself or others. Forgive yourself the yesterdays you could have used in a different way, to a different end. Forgive yourself the anguish you once felt about being abandoned by that someone. Forgive yourself the treasures of your childhood that you had cast aside over the years until you no longer remembered let alone treasured them. Such was life. Things kept losing significance as we aged. Time wrote different meanings into things old and new. 

Adventure Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 21

We ended up tracking Guppy by the beacon on the buggy, which indicated a factory at the edge of town, with a forest and farmlands lying beyond. Estella assumed she’d been kidnapped. 

“Let’s not waste any time then, we can follow the road until we’re close, and then circle around through the forest, get a good look at the place and see if we can find a good way in?” Mother-hen Aurora was getting anxious. Whoever did this would have it coming. 

I stood up in response, in a “What are we waiting for?” way.

“We should commandeer a vehicle,” Aurora suggested, “An hours a long way to go on foot.”

“Let’s ask the barkeep?” Estella looked over at me, “Do you want to give it a go? You’ve been drinking here longest, he’s probably more inclined to do a well paying customer a favor.”

“Sammy, you heard us, can you help?” I asked friendly-like.

He peered over at the display. “Where did you say you needed to go?”

“The factory at the edge of the town. You know the one?”

He looked at it and got a weird expression. “Um, yeah, I’ve heard of it. They started building it, I don’t know, a couple years ago? And they’ve been building and refitting and working on it ever since. Far as I know, it’s not even in operation.”

“And what else?”

“I’m not ever really sure whose factory it is. I think it was maybe in some kind of dispute at one point but I never heard what happened.”

“And that’s all?”

“That’s all I know.” He shrugged.

“And how do we hitch a ride to there?”

“Since you’re helping out here, you can take my ride if you promise to be nice to it.” He tossed a keyring to me.

I caught it easily. “No worries. We will take good care of it.” 

***

We went back to the Xing to gather our gears and there it occurred to Estella that we could just fly the Xing over the factory and call for surrender else we razed the whole building. 

“Risky, if they call our bluff we’ll have tipped our hand, and they’ll probably realize we won’t level the place with Guppy inside.” Aurora said. 

Estella nodded. “You’re right, let’s stick to the original plan.”

So we ended up hiding in the woods so that we could do some connoisseur first. The factory was not your standard fare. The main structure was huge with various sections that had been cut out or built onto the outside. If you asked me, I would say it looked like someone was running a freak experiment of architecture on it or it was this fusion architecture style that was all the rage on one of the outer fringer planets that I once visited. I didn’t think it would have carried across. There were no windows. 

“That’s some odd architecture work.” I commented.

Estella nodded, “It’s like they changed the design specs a half dozen times during building.” She took the spyglass in hand and looked through it. 

“Definitely bizarre, maybe it’s some kind of automated production process they’re trying out that ran wild?” Aurora, our resident theoriser. 

“Not a lot of ways in from this angle,” Estella passed the spyglass to me. “I’ll slip around through the forest to get a look at the two sides, see if maybe there’s an air vent or something we can sneak in through.”

Aurora eyed one of the trees, “Might be worth climbing up and getting a better vantage, good shot with a rifle could provide covering fire up there too.”

I did as Aurora suggested. From that vantage point, I found a slatted vent in the side of the building. I could see shadows thrown against the wall, showing the outlines of two large persons and one smaller one. Some vines grew along one wall that looked a little odd and just a tad familiar. 

I clambered back down and described what I saw. “That small shadow might be Guppy.”

“The vent sounds like the best way in, but the plants… I wonder what those are doing here?” Estella said. 

“They are getting to become familiar faces. I would think they put a tracker on us somehow if I didn’t know better.”

“Stray spores from when we took off the first time?” Aurora shrugged. “They got on our ship somehow in the first place, we can worry about that after.”

“Right, do we all want to head in through the vent or maybe pull a distraction to draw off the people while one of us rescues Guppy?” Estella gestured towards the back door. “We could throw a grenade at that, have a couple of us shoot from the trees at whoever shows up to see what the mess is.”

I put my vote up for the distraction trick. Aurora did but worried over where to put me, given that I seemed to be good at both. Estella decided I should grab Guppy out from through the vent and Aurora agreed that was the priority. 

“So I shall leave you two out here with the fireworks then.”

Aurora nodded in approval. “Sounds good.”

“Understood, the grate should be easy enough for you to rip off or whatever, let us know when you’re ready to get in there and we’ll demo the door.” Estella told me. 

“I will let you know through the com once I get into position.” I said and hurried off. I got about three quarters of the way across when two guards came rushing out of a door holding guns. “Stop right there!”

I opened fire on the left one and tried to swerve around the other.

The one I shot went down. He was not dead, but he was not fighting. The other one saw that and looked uncertain. 

I went up, kicked the weapon away from the one down and looked at the one still standing. “If you put your weapon down now, I might settle for a talk. Otherwise…” She signaled with my gun.

He nodded, threw down his gun and ran off away from the factory and me. 

I let him go but told Aurora and Estella over the intercom, “Watch out for him in case he sneaks back.”

I kept on running towards the vent. No one else came out. “In position.” I said before I climbed in. I tried to not touch the vines on the wall, in case they came alive. It wasn’t hard. I pried the vent off and climbed in. 

It led to a room inside with a desk. It appeared to be a sparsely furnished office. A large bald man was just walking out the door, with his back turned to me. He closed it behind him after he walked out. 

Not hearing any other noise in the room, I climbed out and went to the desk. Some small spots of blood were on the desk. I inspected them and saw that there were some more droplets on the edge of the desk, not seen easily unless you looked closely like I was. 

“One large bald man who just exited the room. Blood on the edge of desk .” I summarised over the intercom. 

“Stand by one sec, Estella’s questioning the guy you got to surrender.” Aurora told me.

“Only three more inside according to this guy, they’ll probably come out here to see what the gunshots of Sam’s were, when they do we’ll take’em down, See if you can find Guppy and take out anyone who gets in your way, this guy apparently has no idea that her, or our ride is in there.” Estella told me after a few minutes had gone by. 

“Roger.” I listened at the door, to see if there was any sound. None. Then the delivery door opened. 

“Someone coming out from the delivery door.” I told the gals. 

“On it,” Aurora told me. 

I opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, with doors lined along it. There was a set of steps leading down towards the end. 

I decided to check out these other doors, just in case Guppy was trapped inside one. Then a shot rang outside. I assumed it was the girls. 

“One down, Guppy’s in the sled near the rear door!” Aurora yelled over the intercom. 

“Coming.” I stopped what I was doing and hurried down the steps towards the back door. En route, I saw the bald guy who left the office when I was in the vent running from the sled deeper into the factory. I chased him down. 

He put his hands up. “Please, don’t shoot.” He shook. 

“Now what’s the kidnapping about?”

“It wasn’t me, I swear.” Sweat dripped off his forehead. His eyes darted back and forth. 

“No tricks.” I warned him.

“Just please don’t shoot me.”

“Now walk slowly around to the side facing me. Make sure to move very slowly.” I stretched out the word very, to make sure that he understood me. 

He took a step, then tried to run past me towards a door. I shot him in the leg. He fell down, crying out “I’m sorry.” 

Exasperated, I went over, locked an arm around his throat while lifting him. He had the sense to not struggle. 

“Now I will just walk you out the door so we can talk about what happened.”

I brought him outside. Estella was bending over a guy on the ground, frisking him over. Aurora was doing some motherly thing with Guppy. I brought my captive over to the side of the sled and then let go, letting him bang against it. He slid down to the ground, held his head as he cowered. 

“Now, tell the story from the beginning.” I told Guppy who was sobbing into Aurora’s arms. 

“It’s okay, you’re safe now, tell us what happened, start from the beginning.” 

Estella stood up and came over, “I’m going to back up Sam.”

“Stay sharp, I’ll move the sled outside and cuff our other prisoner.” Aurora said. 

“I was just gonna go out and play with the sled a little, honest, Aurora.” Guppy told us amidst crying hiccups. “It was a lot of fun, and then I came out this way to see how fast it could go. You know, in the open. But then I… I’m sorry, but I hit something, and I was so worried that I dented it. Dented the sled. And so I stopped to look at it. But then these guys, they just grabbed me from behind.”

“And they were saying, ‘Tell us what you saw!’ and ‘Why are you out here!’ and I thought they were really going to hurt me. They took me in a room, and one of them, he hit me, and they were asking me things and I couldn’t answer.”

“Sounds like they assumed you were spying on them, guessing this factory is being built by the same types as that black tower you three mentioned when you bought the sled.” 

“What about this guy?” Aurora glared at another unconscious guy lying on the ground. I didn’t really notice him at first. 

“I didn’t see anyone but those other two.”

“Guess he might of been telling the truth then,” Aurora shrugged and hefted the guy up to load him into the back of the sled. She went out of sight. 

I glared at my coward still in the thralls of his patheticness. 

“We might want to poke around this place a bit, see if there’s anything interesting going on, and if there’s anything we could salvage, as restitution for taking our crew mate prisoner.” Aurora said over the comlink to us.

“We’ve got a cowering idiot too shaky for anything. What do you want to do with him?” I asked her. 

“Bring him out here, he can blubber in the back with his unconscious pal, we’ll turn them over to the local sheriff once we’re done here, let them do some time for kidnapping.”

I grabbed hold of him and lugged him across to the back of the sled. He  started nodding. “Yes! Yes! Call the sheriff. I can tell him how you shot me in the leg!” I cuffed him on the back of the head. “Shut up!” He did. 

Estella snickered. “Shot you in the leg after you kidnapped a little girl and roughed her up you mean.”

He stayed quiet. 

“Aurora? Can I look around with you? I don’t want to sit here in the sled with him. And I’m really sorry I took the sled without asking.” Aurora agreed, of course. 

“I think you learned a powerful lesson already why you don’t go running off without letting the rest of us know where you went.” She told Guppy, “This is why we have rules, to keep people safe.”

Guppy bought that like syrup, going by how big eyes looked. She nodded. “Yes, Aurora.”

“Given the troubles the locals have been having with people lately, I don’t expect they’ll take too kindly to a kidnapper of little girls,” Estella started on my captive, “They might just lynch you to make an example to the rest, your only real chance of avoiding that is us putting in a good word for you, and for that..” She gestured to the building. “You’re going to tell us everything about this place, why it looks like three drunk architects with dyslexia built it, what goes on here, what your job is, and who you report to.”

He looked over at me, then back to Estella, and his face went pale. He blubbed a bit, sweaty profusely. He tried to talk but his voice cracked so he cleared his throat. He looked carefully between me and Estella again before finally telling us that it’s some discarded factory that was under a legal dispute and they decided to use it from time to time. 

“Use it for what?” I prodded him. 

“Well…” He went quiet, I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. He looked up after a bit and admitted to being part of a smuggling operation. 

“He’s up to his tricks again.” I warned the others. “Right, now you are talking.”

“I swear, it’s the truth. They come by every few weeks, we help them sneak stuff on or off planet. We thought the kid there, um, was going to blow our meet.”

“When are they due next?” Estella asked him.

“Well… uh, they got scared off this time. Probably be a few more weeks. More, if they’re spooked.” His gaze was firmly fixed to the floor as he said this. 

I looked across at the two gals, silenting asking “What do you do about him now?”

“That means you’ve got supplies waiting for the next pick up, show us where they’re stashed.” Aurora told him. That startled him. 

“No, this was a drop off meet. They were delivering. We didn’t have anything for them. Are you going to put in a good word about us now? I mean, we aren’t doing anything to hurt anyone. The kid was just, a, uh, misunderstanding.”

Estella shook her head. “Drop off, that means the supplies are going somewhere, where specifically?”

“We, uh, hold the goods, get them stored away here in the factory. Then someone else comes by a few days later, we load up their trucks, and it’s all good. We don’t know anything else about anything. Honest.”

“So you expect us to believe you decided to just hang out at an empty drop point for a few weeks in the middle of nowhere?” Aurora gave him a doubtful expression. “You wouldn’t waste your time babysitting a lot of nothing.”

“They send us a coded message when they’re coming. That’s how we know to be there.”

“So you’re saying they sent you a message which is why you’re here?” Estella repeated what he said. 

He nodded eagerly. 

Estella sighed, “You’re not a very good liar, you’ve told us they won’t be here for weeks, maybe more, and now you’re saying they sent you a message so you showed up, which is it?”

He started sobbing. 

“Pathetic,” Aurora glanced over at us, “Let’s take him on a walk thru of the factory, he can show us the secret places they stash stuff, maybe he forgot about some of the supplies left behind, and it will give him time to realize telling us the truth is his only hope.”

“I don’t want them to kill me.” He said through sniffles. 

“You spill what you know and we’ll guarantee your safety.” Estella told him. “Dump you on the far side of the planet where they’ll never find you, otherwise we’ll leave in the locals hands and a helpful note behind saying how useful you were and where they can find you.”

“Please no! I’ll tell you everything I know.” He went silent, furiously thinking in that bald head of his. “You want to see the supplies? I can show you what’s still here.”

I motioned with my gun for him to start moving. He headed inside. 

Adventure Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 20

I walked into a bar that I espied on the way. It was a little place tucked away in a corner. When I walked in, I realised it was one of these dingy places. Still, I’ve seen worse. I sat myself down on the bar stool. Before I could even order, a woman walked right up to me. She had a lined face and grey hair but still looked strong as if she was used to a life of physical labour. And she had the skin tone to show it too. She had on well-worn but good quality work clothes. “Excuse me…”

I moved a little out of the way to make room for her, thinking that’s what she’s asking.

“Um… no, I mean, umm, do you have a moment?” She looked nervous. 

I looked at her and wondered what she could be wanting. “I guess.” I finally said.

“If I’m not mistaken… you look like a soldier or at least someone who knows their way around a tough spot. I mean, everyone else here is like me, a rancher or farmer. We don’t see rougher types like you very often. Am I right about that?”

“Yes, are you hiring?”

“Well, um, yes. You see, me, and well, a few others, could use some help, and we’d all pitch in to pay.”

“The job is? I will consider it after I hear about it.”

“Well… um, let me order you another drink” and she signaled to the bartender. “You see, a lot of us have been having problems. Machinery broken, animals slaughtered, crops poisoned, but we don’t seem to be able to find out whoever is behind it all. Our bosses are getting nervous and we’re getting nervous ourselves. A few have been injured by the busted machinery, and our bosses don’t have endless money to keep pouring into this place. But it’s home to the rest of us, and we want to keep building something here”

“Hmm…” I drummed my fingers against the table top, “a bigger job that I expected. How much are you paying?”

“I guess it depends on what you can do for us. None of us are rich, so not a lot. At least finding out who’s responsible. I don’t know about taking them on or anything, but if we knew what was going on, maybe we could take care of it. But I also think it’s a dangerous job. These are people willing to do very bad things.”

“I’m not alone, I have a crew, so let me take this back to the others. If we make a decision, do I come back here for you or?”

“Yeah, I’ll either be here or just tell Sammy over there,” she pointed at the bartender, “and he’ll know how to get hold of me.”

“All right.” Sometimes things just fall into your lap. For good or ill. I could really use a drink to drown the worries with the Old Boy, though, as least for a while. So I ordered my drink and then a couple more after that. 

At some point, Aurora walked in. “How’s the local brew? Next rounds on me.” 

Estella nodded to me, “Guppy here is a real natural at driving, makes me wonder if she might not be able to take our old girl out for a space jaunt someday too.” That excited Guppy no end. 

“Light refreshments only.” I answered Aurora, pointing to the glass in my hand. “I have a potential job, Sammy here will act as our messenger if we agree to take it on.” I indicated the bartender.

“You’ve been busy it seems,” Aurora smiled wider, “What needs doing?”

“Sure,” Estella ordered a light mixed drink and 2 slices of pie. “We could use the extra cash, so long as it isn’t too seedy.”

“Well, it’s a bit like the converter job, except on a larger scale. Someone tampering with machinery and crops alike. Local workers are gonna chip in and pay us to do what we can.” I told them. 

“So they want us to find the people responsible. and then what? Run’em out of the area?” Aurora tilted her head as if in thought. 

“I wonder if the incidents are related? Whoever’s putting the squeeze on the miner might be doing the same to every independent business on the frontier here, trying to drive them all under so a corporation can set up shop.” Estella contributed her thoughts. 

“Find out who did it, at least. The rest is up in the airs. We might not get paid for anything after that. I doubt they can afford it.”

“Investigating whoever it is might also lead us to find out more about who else might have the pull to hire mercs,” Aurora nodded at that prospect. 

“Sounds like an easy enough job, did they say how much they were willing to pay?” Estella asked me. 

“Not directly, I told the woman we will chat again after I discuss it with you all. I’m not expecting much, something to tie us over for the short term.”

“Sounds good,” Estella glanced over at the bar tender. “We might be able to get a better deal in local goods and services rather than straight up credits as well, if there’s anything we need for the ship or our crew still?”

“Depends what they have to offer, but credits are useful beyond today, let’s hear their full offer first, also we can ask them about that black building you mentioned, I’m sure they know something, it’s not as if it sprang up over night, someone had to buy the land, build it, they probably know what services it offers at least.” Aurora suggested. 

“Something hush-hush or uppity-uppity, I’m guessing.” I shrugged. 

“Yeah, probably, either way feel free to let them know we’re interested in the job.”

“You heard all of that.” I told the bartender as a way of officially accepting the job offer. He told us that the woman, Julie apparently, would be back soon. 

“In the meantime, what’s the deal with the black spire building in town?” Aurora leaned forward towards him. 

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, them. Bunch of annoying types from the Inner Worlds. Came out here to do surveys or some crap. Bunch of scientists in lab coats running around being useless. Each and every one with a stick rammed up their asses and looking down on the rest of us.”

“How long after they showed up did your problems start?” Estella asked him.

He blinked and went silent as if he didn’t understand what was being asked. 

“I’m pretty sure they’ve already ruled out the obvious suspect.” Aurora said so quietly it was almost a whisper.

“Umm… let’s see. They were here before that. Maybe a year or more? I’m not really sure, come to think of it”

“Thanks, that’s helpful.” Estella shrugged. “No harm in being thorough.”

“True that. The pie will be here soon.”

“Anyone see where Guppy ran off to?” Aurora asked us, out of the blue. Then I realised the kiddo was gone. 

Estella looked down, into her pockets. “”Out for a joy ride would be my guess.” She shook her head and concluded. 

“I’d be mad, but given none of us told her not to.” Aurora chuckled, “So long as she brings it back in one piece and the fuel cost comes out of her cut of the job I won’t make a fuss.”

“You’re way too soft on her, she needs to learn she can’t just run off without telling anyone.” Estella gave me a mock glare, as if I had rubbed off on the kiddo. “Can’t imagine where she might of learned that little stunt.”

I shrugged.

“I’ll speak to her, don’t worry, let’s get this job sorted first.” Aurora assured Estella. 

Julie came up. “Hi. Sammy said you’re ready to talk about the job?”

The gals and her made the necessary intro, and we went through the job again. She was under the impression that it could be a dangerous job and did not want us unaware. 

Estella grinned while looking over at me. “I half expected that’s the reason you were hiring people like us rather than more.. Respectable sorts.”

She blushed and looked down. “Well, you look like you can take care of yourself if it comes to it…”

Aurora admitted that we were no strangers to violence.  “Though we prefer to keep on the side of law and justice, when there’s a way to.”

“We also don’t have much money. We can get together 4, maybe 5 thousand, but that’s it. Better to give you what little we have though than to be driven out of our homes.”

Aurora nodded in understanding, “Two thousand sounds pretty fair to put a name to your hostiles.” Then she looked over at me and Estella. 

“Closer to 2500 was my thought, we do need some more fuel for the ship and some spare parts for the buggy.”

I shrugged. I can live pretty lean if I needed to. 

“That’s a deal,” she said. “Do you need anything from me before you begin? I’ve got a list here of some of the places that were hit and what happened.”

“I was just about to ask that,” Aurora looked over at Estella, “Also my companion here was wondering about the sciencey types at that shiny building in town, have any of the locals had any unpleasant dealings with them of late? Or ever really.”

She half smiled. “Define ‘unpleasant’.”

“Anything beyond the usual haughty attitude and coldness.” Estella complied. 

“They’d rather run us over than admit we exist. Keep to themselves. Far as we can tell they work in wilderness areas that haven’t been settled so we don’t really see what they do. Everything they got is as shiny as that building. New looking, fancy, high-tech. But the bosses say they’re ‘surveying’, whatever that actually means.”

“I doubt they’d bother pestering the locals then, no profit in it.” Estella took the list from Julie and looked it over, reading out loud the highlights to me and Aurora. It seemingly covered a wide range. Sabotaged machinery, poisoned crops and livestock, a few injuries… 

“Wait, what was that last you just said?” I asked. 

“Was it an Atherium converter that was sabotaged?” Estella tried to confirm with Julie. 

“Oh, yeah, that was a bad one. I thought ol’ Frank was dead for sure. That doc sure patched him up but good.”

“He’s lucky to be alive.” Estella commented. 

“That doc, would her name be Jessica by chance?” Aurora asked her.

“Sounds familiar, maybe. I didn’t meet her though.”

“I don’t suppose you know where we can get a map of the local area?”

“I can bring you one early tomorrow. Or they got some at the shop down the street.”

“I’m also wondering, has your local sheriff looked into this?” Estella started a different thread. 

Julie rolled her eyes. “Yeah, he’s looked at every single one of them. Just shuffles his feet, says he can’t find a single clue, and just wanders off. I think inept is the word I’m looking for.”

“Inept, or bought off. Either way, we’ll do our own investigation, kick over some rocks, see what crawls out,” Aurora promised her. 

She thanked us and shook all of our hands. 

“We’ll get to the bottom of this, and provide you with all the proof you need to take further action.” Estella promised her as she returned the handshake. 

“Or have us take it for you.” Aurora added. “Vigilante locals on a lynching party can get out of hand in a real hurry, hurt a lot of innocent folks, and that’s no good for anyone.”

Her face went blank. “I suppose it will depend on what you find.” I didn’t have a good feeling about that but didn’t comment. 

“Fair enough, we’ll keep you in the loop.” Aurora said. She nodded and left us. 

Estella suggested we go back to the Xing, except that we were short of transport. But Guppy had a com band from the ship so we called her. Or Aurora tried. All we heard was static and other background noise. 

“You know Sam, I get the real impression some days Aurora has a lot more in common with Guppy than she lets on, the way she never seems surprised or upset by that girl’s antics.” Estella commented to me. 

“Help Aurora!” came through in a high-pitched squeal, and then silence. 

“And like any good drama, the too adventurous kid now needs rescue.” I commented. 

Aurora  sighed. “We’re coming kid, but we need to know where you are first, can you describe your surroundings?”

Just silence.