Adventure Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 16

We landed as before. When I got to the airlock, Aurora was already there with some empty boxes, a shovel and pruning shears. 

“Where’d the red plants go? Any idea?” Aurora asked. That’s when I noticed the absence of those red-spotted plants. I looked over at Estella. That was her field. 

“It’s night they probably blend in with the regular ones, we’ll see them when we head out there, if not we can make more.” Estella joined us in the airlock after turning on the electro hull plating and gave us a thumbs up. “Let’s do this.”

The airlock opened and  it was quiet outside. Lines of tree could be seen in the distance. 

Aurora Lieos nodded to me. “Lead the way?”

“I’ll watch our backs.”

I walked out of the ship into the open. Nothing but trees ahead but I headed towards the trees. There was something about the lower foliage, bushes and whatnot that looked a little off to me. I look back across my shoulder to find Estella and pointed at the bushes. “Something seems off with them. What do you think?”

Estella Corwin stepped closer to examine the bushes thoughtfully. “”These are the ones I mutated, I guess it only lasts a short time, so we should be good if we bleed on them.”

“You are looking at the wrong parts.” I went over, bent down next to Estella and pointed at the leaves deeper within the plant.

“Ah, I see now, thanks.” She kneeled down to take a closer look at the leaves I indicated. From this angle, I realised there was actually another plant stuffed inside. Between the two of us, we retrieved the hacked remains of two of them. One looked like the original vine creatures and another had red spots on it. 

“I guess the plants had themselves a civil war in our absence.” Estella concluded with a shrug.

“This is getting more interesting by the minute.” I whistled. 

“I guess the blood vines came out on the losing side of the fight.” Estella pointed at the remains. “Not surprising when the green meanies out numbered them by a few thousand to one.”

“So much for a friendly welcome. Ah well. I guess it’s hedge clippers and anti-plant spray again.” I shrugged. 

“Only if we’re here when dawn comes. Let’s get some samples and back to the ship, I can morph them into blood vines once we’re in the air.” Estella called back to Aurora and Guppy. “It’s safe, come on in!”

Aurora came over with the shovel, clippers and crates to help gather samples. “Let’s do this in a secure area of the cargo hold with electric fencing around the perimeter, that way our ship doesn’t get overrun.”

“Good thinking.” Estella nodded.

We gathered some good samples. There were remains spread around the area, seemingly an even mix between green meanies and blood vines. It looked to have been quite the battle overall. 

“By the way, how’s that cut on your hand doing? The one that turned greed around the edges after you bled on the plant?” Aurora asked Estella.

“Fine last I checked?” She held up her hand with a shrug, exposing a greenish scar. “No magic ability to control plants, yet, unfortunately.”

“You should get that looked at now that we have Jessica on board.” I told her. 

“Just as well, you’d probably regret knowing about every plant’s seedy past.” Aurora quipped with a wink.

“Good idea,” Estella winced, I assumed at Aurora’s pun. “Keep that up and you’ll give me pundigestion.” Estella grinned and left Aurora with a parting shot before going to find Jessica.

It took several more hours as we gathered the samples and more goo for Guppy- Aurora gave her the okay since we might as well. I went straight to the gunning station when we all boarded the Xing again. En route, I went past H squared and Vines. By now, Vines was basically wrapped around Hue to the point where it’s almost like they’re fused together. The two of them were pulling some wires through a conduit in the hallway. The vines and hands of Vines and H squared were acting in complete concert. It was quite a sight so I filed it away as an amusing story to share later. 

“The diner is open for business.” Estella’s voice came over the intercom. “Let’s lay out the salad bar and show them a vegan lifestyle is hazardous to their health.”

Aurora chuckled, “You know it.” A pause as she released the torpedoes, I guessed. ”Delivery placed, just waiting on them to make the pick up.”

I couldn’t see much from the gunning station. But after a while, a number of small explosions showed up on the scanner, suggesting that the mines hit. The other ship has cut power, just floating in space. 

“Delivery made, let’s hope they like my extra gassy recipe.” Aurora nodded in satisfaction.

“Starting the timer now, 10 minutes should be enough, then I’ll bring us around for the torpedo and cannon strafing run!” Estella notified us. 

“Let’s get to the torpedo bay, you’ll get to launch the first one.” Aurora told Guppy, hurrying to the bay and loading the first salvo of torpedoes into the tubes.The other ship threw on its shields so the torpedoes didn’t actually hit. They fired at us in retaliation but were too far away. Guppy squealed in delight, jumping up and down. 

We stood off for about 10 minutes with the other ship. It decided to just be still and do nothing. 

“Sam, ready to knock out their shields on the starboard side for our strafing run?” Aurora asked me over the intercom. “Guppy and me will force feed them the main course as soon as you make a hole.”

“Ready when you are.” I grinned and fired. 

“Bringing us about!” Estella announced. The Xing spun over and ran along the starboard of the other ship at optimal plasma cannon range.  I took out the starboard shields with my shot. 

“Fire!” Aurora came onto the intercom, I assumed that was for Guppy. Two torpedoes were released, one missed but the other one was right on the mark. The other ship fired their own plasma cannons but Estella maneuvered the Xing around and behind them so their engines were exposed to me. 

“You could say our ship has a meaty edge over the competition.” Estella said.

I launched one of the spore activated mines towards the merc ship, crippling it. 

“It occurs to me I could keep us out of their firing arc and let Sam take pot shots at the ship until they jump into life pods and then pick one of those up, or we can proceed with the boarding action in 10 or so minutes? Up to all of you.” Estella suggested. 

“The ship might blow before they take the hint and evac, or the vines and spores might have disabled the escape pods.” Aurora pointed out. “So boarding is probably the best bet, Sam? Jess? Guppy? Any thoughts?”

“I was going to vote for the easier approach but you have a point.” I said. 

A light came on in Guppy’s eye. “I wanna see you kick their butts, Sam.”

“Well, if you want you can try a few shots, see if anything jumps ship, then board if it doesn’t?” Aurora said. 

“I trust Sam’s gunnery, if she wants to give it a go I’ll put her at a solid angle.”

“Okay, try the easier route first and then go back to plan A if it doesn’t work.” I decided. 

“Moving into position, make’em count!”

“Whether barbecuing a rack of ribs on a grill or a warship’s flank with plasma, Sam knows her stuff.” Aurora was telling Guppy. 

My shots tore up a good chunk of the ship. They shot back but Estella dodged most of it. “Now we wait and see what kicks loose.” She said and took us away from the firing range. We got hit one more time that showed up on the shields side but otherwise we made it through clean. 

“We’re clear!” Estella announced, pulling the Xing slowly to a stop and swinging it around. 

“Ten minutes, then we board.” Aurora announced. We waited. Nothing happened. 

“Looks like we do this the hard way.” Aurora said and then signed off. I presumed she had gone to her quarters for bordering prep. 

“I think that torpedo hit their bridge, that and the mines probably messed up their chain of command, mercs like that evac without orders they probably get a firing squad for desertion. Let’s go introduce ourselves as the salad chefs of their nightmares.” Estella was moving the Xing towards the rear of the merc ship for bordering. 

All of us met up at the bordering port at around the same time. “We’ll follow your lead Sam, let us know how you want to proceed.” Estella nodded at me.

“You think a call for surrender would work? We can do a divide and conquer that way.” You never know how large a merc crew is. 

Aurora nodded. “Sounds like a good idea, want to do the honors?”

“Yeah, if we can get some of them to just lay down arms this will go much faster.” Estella patched the ship’s intercom into the radio. “You can transmit when ready, Sam.”

I thanked her and spoke over the intercom. “The crew on the other ship, surrender and we won’t harm you. Those willing to surrender, wave your arms where we can see you.”

Aurora told Estella to angle the ship so the enemy top deck was visible from the view ports and airlock. Some static and gargled speech arrived from the other ship, then screams and gunfire. 

“Good idea.” Estella replied as she adjusted the Xing. Over the radio was just more static. 

“I think they’re busy choking on the salad,” Aurora shrugged. “Was worth a try at least.”

“Let’s go introduce ourselves.” Estella joined us at the airlock with a confident nod. “How do you want to proceed, Sam?”

“Well, looks like they reduce their own advantage of numbers. Guess the rest is muscle work.”

“Right, do you want to take the lead then?” Aurora passed me a glow light. I took it and jumped over to a blasted hole on the other ship. There was a substantial pile of debris. Some bodies, bits of plant from the torpedoes.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- June 2022

Fantasy

Labyrinth Gate by Kate Elliott

I actually spent a long while foraging through my local library website before I settled on this. I do like the setup where each chapter is named for a tarot card but I only like the story so-so. I guess this is more of a romance-fantasy (portal fantasy with Victorian English vibes) as opposed to fantasy with romantic vibe to me. 

A spell for Chameleon by Anthony Piers

I’m liking the underlying world where everything is magical in some way. I also like the story overall. A good light adventure/sword&sorcery.

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

I wasn’t expecting to like this book based on the blurb but actually I’m quite taken by the characters. I personally feel this does fit with GGK’s normal high standards in terms of overall quality. There are a couple of potentially heart wrenching moments (not really for me given how cold I am but I am guessing for others) that do not come to pass and I’m quite glad for that. The overall ending is still sort of bittersweet. Then again, this is GGK and loss is a rampart theme through his historical fictional work that I’ve read so far.

The Source of Magic by Anthony Piers

Again, a nice snappy adventure featuring the same protagonist as book 1 of the Xanth series, A Spell of Chameleon. For a second, I feared that it would drastically change the underlying world that would make me stop following the series but apparently it was just a false alarm. 

The Castle of Roogna by Anthony Piers

I enjoyed this book despite the change in protagonist. In fact, I think I prefer the change in protagonist. And I actually enjoyed the subtle clever humour of the author in this book which is a change from the previous two. Overall, still a good light reading for fans of adventure or sword&sorcery. 

Blood and Honour by Simon R. Green

This is actually a re-read and while I remember the ending still, I’m very glad to learn that all the details are lost on me so it’s still a pleasant experience. Anyway, I really liked it the first time around because it’s fantasy but also features a murder and the mystery of recovering lost items and that combo just appeals to me very much. I also distinctly remember being freaked out by one particular chapter in this book (I had a memory of reading in the back cover flap that the author is supposedly writing fantasy-horror and I did think that chapter justified that particular classification) but the strange thing is that I no longer feel this way. On the second time around this is just standard sword&sorcery fantasy for me. Overall, still a pleasant read and I do prefer this to the first book in the series even though the first book was wittier. I think I just feel more for the protagonist in this particular book compared to those in the first book. 

Down Among the Dead Men by Simon R. Green

I didn’t intend to continue with this series except that the first chapter was tagged onto the end of Blood and Honour so of course I read that and had to continue. It’s okay, has a premise that keeps you reading but I just never found any bonds with any of the characters. Then again, this is one of these books where that is not important.

Once in a Blue Moon by Simon R. Green

My local library had accidentally classified this as book 4 of the Forest Kingdom series instead of Once Again in a Blue Moon (easy to see how that came about) but since it stars Rupert and Julia anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter too much. I didn’t really feel I couldn’t catch up with all the implied previous adventures that I didn’t read about. I like it as the grande finale to the Forest Kingdom series for tying up all the loose ends but since I’m not that keen about Rupert and Julia, I won’t go back and read the actual book 4.

Magicians by Lev Grossman

One of my friends recently finished this and I just remembered it when I was searching for my next fantasy read. I’m almost done with it and I would say that it’s not for everyone. The plot is really wandering and the protagonist seems quite aimless most of the time except that you understand it is something deep seated (I wouldn’t say what it is for fear it becomes a spoiler) that drives him which ties up with the author’s conception of the source of magic which has a bit of freshness to it. And this is also urban fantasy and my preference obviously still runs towards the more classical fantasy set in ancient times. But I still intend to finish this series if only because I first heard of this series during the UBC writing novel courses and I was interested in a development later on in the series. 

Mystery

Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt

I was mostly using this as a way to dip my foot into the waters of audiobooks and I actually like it. The narrator is not bad, especially his ability to capture female voices although a couple male voices sound quite similar. He does tend to over-emphasise all the ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ which made them feel out of the place but that’s a small nitpick. 

Again, this is a solid thriller. Nothing too fancy with the single plot twist which I had a gut feeling in the same moment it was revealed even though I didn’t actually deduce from any of the clues left by the author (I was never that kind of astute mystery reader). 

At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie

I heard the BBC audiobook version (which had a full cast for each character in the book) and it was superb. The whole story sounded like it was made for audio. And I was completely fooled over the main crime of the novel. I haven’t enjoyed such an Agatha Christie for a long while now.

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Another excellent production from BBC radio. The premise actually reminded me of the Girl on the Train a bit (I haven’t read the Girl on the Train yet although it’s on my TBR list) but not quite the same. Good use of misdirection as per Agatha Christie norm. Overall, a quite satisfying experience. 

The Case of the Perfect Carer by Agatha Christie (BBC radio production) 

It works quite nicely as a short story with the twist right at the end and then voila another twist on top of that. 

Nemesis by Agatha Christie  (BBC radio production) 

I was mostly intrigued by the blurb and while the story itself is not as exciting as the blurb promised to be, overall it sticks to the Miss Marple cozy mystery feel nicely. I guessed the culprit this time but it was still a pleasant listen.

Murder at the Lobstah Shack by Maddie Day

I picked up this because I was in the mood for some light reading of the mystery genre and I can readily see that this is a cozy mystery (it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea until Miss Marple). 

Overall, I would say it is solid work. There are many suspects and nobody stands out (or at least to me, for the records I don’t think I’m a particularly astute reader). 

Others (these are just my Broadening Horizon reads essentially) 

Children of the Corn by Stephen King

I was actually creeped out by this short story. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be affected since I’ve always associated being scared with my childhood when I would peek out at a horror movie from behind a cushion. And I didn’t feel anything directly after or during (I felt like I was reading a thriller mostly when I was reading it) and it was more than one hour that I felt the chill. Talk about having a long reactionary arc. Anyway, I guess that’s kudos to Stephen King for a job well done. 

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen

I had never read a Western before so I specifically looked some up and my local library has an electronic copy of this so that settled it. 

Chapter 1 was okay- there seemed something intriguing about the main character- Jesse James. But Chapter 2 seemed too much documentary and then it basically continues pretty much in the same vibe until I decided to give up this book mid-way through Chapter 4 (it was 7 chapters in total). So that’s my final verdict: too documentary and I lost interest.

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Fauna (6)

Water Monkey

Physical Description:

A bipedal creature

Special Properties:

While its main diet is fish and prawns, it will occasionally pull humans asunder and soak the blood from the carcass


The Three Carcass

Physical Description:

The three types of worms that reputedly exist within human bodies according to Taoism. The upper worm Peng Ju is white and indigo. The middle worm Peng Zhi is white and yellow. The lower worm Peng Jiao is white and black.

Special Properties:

When a human dies, the Three Carcass will leave and take on material form. It is said that the upper worm creates gluttonous urges, the middle worm greed and anger and finally, the lower worm vanity and lasciviousness. Hence, there are many legends of Taoist practitioners removing the Three Carcass.


Chicken Crown Snake

Physical Description:

A snake with a rooster’s crown on it head

Special Properties:

It can rear its upper body up in an erect way. Its call is that of hens and it can fly. It is able to constrict humans to death.


Pang

Physical Description:

A massive bird by all accounts. Some said that the Chinese character of Pang is the ancient version of the common character for Phoenix used nowadays. Another version has this massive bird Pang as being evolved from a massive fish

Lore:

In Chinese, this bird is associated with having a grand goal (ambition) and success. In addition, with the increasing popularity of Buddhism in China, the Garuda from Hindu myths (supposedly a massive bird whose main diet is dragons) has been mixed up with the Pang and the Golden Winged Pang has evolved out of that.

Adventure Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 15  

“I never took Scorsby for the blackmailing type, how often does he strong arm you into doing his dirty work?” Aurora asked with a sympathetic nod.

“Not often, really. Occasionally I almost forget he’s there, and then I’ll get some call in the middle of the night.”

“Scorsby might actually feel it’s penence, some kind of justice to do whatever good he tells her to in order to make up for not saving whoever he thinks could of been saved.” Estella pointed out. “From his point of view he might be making her do some kind of community service to pay for a crime the courts let her get away with, even if the reality is different.”

Jessica’s eyes got big. “I… I swear, I didn’t mean to kill him…” She started sobbing and dropped her face into her hands. “I save lives…”

Estella shrugged. “Still, we need to know what kind of data he has in order to steal it back, hard to take something when we don’t even know what we’re looking for.” She puts an arm around Jessica’s shoulders in understanding. “Hey, it’s okay, we believe you, Scorsby just.. He’s a bit of a hard head.”

“He never actually told me what it was. Just… heavily implied he had some footage that wasn’t good.” She enacted a double quotation mark around the words ‘wasn’t good’.

“Footage, sounds like a video file,” Aurora looked thoughtful. “You were in his office recently Sam, did you see a safe anywhere? Stands to reason he’d keep it locked up.”

“There was one against the wall but the old boy is crafty. That might be for looks.”

“We could always just confront him about this, ask him straight up about the data, and what he wants for it?” Estella suggested. “If he’s all about her doing some kind of penance for her alleged crime, he may just give it over if he thinks she’s working for us and we’ll keep making sure she does good?” She gave Jessica a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, I promise once we get the data we’ll let you destroy it yourself.”

Just in time. Jessica had stark terror on her face for a split second before it was replaced by relief.

Aurora nodded in agreement with Estella. “We’re not interested in having leverage over anyone part of us, equality of membership is what makes our ship run so smoothly.”

“I… I would be so grateful. I have no words. Umm…, I’m so sorry to keep going on about myself. This BBQ is delicious. Who is the masterful chef?”

Estella gestured with her chopsticks towards Sam. “She’s the mastermind behind the feast.”

“Thank you Sam. I don’t usually have time to eat properly. I can’t remember the last time I had something so delicious.”

I waved her off. “You should take care of yourself more, girl. Then again you are the doc.”

She chuckled to herself. “Don’t you know? We’re so busy saving everyone else, we forget about ourselves sometimes, you know?”

“You should have more free time being part of us, things are usually kind of laid back on board, when we’re not being overrun by hostile plant life anyway.” Aurora said with a chuckle.

“Hostile plant life?”

“Part of our recent adventure, you are about to see it for yourself. Well, perhaps not. They might have become friends now.” I told her.

“It’s a long story. Before we got Vines here part of us we had some other plant people trying to set up shop.” Estella gave a quick summary of our recent adventures.

Jessica listened intently, eyes wide. “You mean they were, err, are intelligent?”

“Vines certainly is, he’s become Hue’s new assistant, and a good one at that.” Aurora gave H squared an approving nod. “We’re not sure just how smart they are, but they seem smart enough to follow instructions, make tools, and learn from mistakes, so high level animal intelligence at least.”

“A symbiotic relationship if ever there was one.” Estella grinned and I followed her sight towards H squared and Vines tangled together, the man sketching some kind of circuitry perhaps and the plant alternating between stuffing food and beer into his mouth. I was getting used to that by now.

“Careful you don’t pig out too much, otherwise you won’t feel up for playing in the red goo later.” Estella reminded Guppy. Guppy was about to stuff a large piece of pie into her mouth and froze for a moment. Smiling shyly, she took just the barest nib from the corner.

“What do you think, Sam? Should we break into Scorsby’s office and search for a hidden safe and steal the data, or do you think talking to him will get us results?”

“Well, if we are stealing it, who does the job?”

“All of us?” Estella shrugged. “Except for Hue and Vines I mean, two of us to ransack his office, two on lookout to deal with anyone who might interfere and to run interference if Scorsby turns up before the loot team is done.”

“That leaves one extra.” Aurora pointed out.

“True, we can put the third person over watch on a roof with a rifle, they can shoot through windows and give covering fire if things really go nasty and keep an eye out for any ships or large groups incoming.”

“We are actually looting the old boy’s office? I was thinking more along the lines of hacking but figure we don’t really have any hackers amongst us.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Good angle,” Aurora nodded thoughtfully. “You’re right, I don’t think any of us have the skills for that though.”

“I also doubt he’d keep the data somewhere someone could just remotely hack in and delete, a smart man like him would keep a back up copy in a safe or something.” Estella added.

“I figured with hacking, we can get rid of the original first and then get at the copies. But it’s tough finding someone to do that job. The old boy is well connected. Words in the wrong ears, it would go back to him.”

“Yeah, which is why I thought maybe we should just talk to him about it, we ransack his office and he finds out it’s us, we’ll burn him as a friend and contact for life, along with anyone who likes him more than they like us.” Estella pointed out.

“We talk to him and he says no, then what? The data goes missing and he’ll know we’re behind it, and he may just make a back up and hide that to be safe.” Aurora pointed out.

“This is too confusing. We don’t even know what the old boy means by doing something like this. We need a way to loosen up that old boy’s tongue without putting him on alert.” I blurted out. I hate back and forth like this, they always do my head in.

“Hmm..” Aurora smiled suddenly. “Maybe one of us could invite him out drinking for a night? Pump him for information while someone else cases his office to see how hard it would be to break in?”

Estella nodded. “It has potential.”

“I can get him drunk but not sure about the pumping him for information part.” I volunteered.

“One of us could go with you then, help steer the convo?” Estella offered.

“Yes, that would be better.”

“I’ve been in his office numerous times. I might be of use there.” Jessica offered.

“Sounds like two teams then and sounds like we have volunteers for each one already,” Aurora looked over at Guppy, “Want to join me and Jessica to case Scorsby’s office?” She almost nodded her head off.

“Sounds like we got a plan, though I’m thinking we should probably land in a different city and buy a small truck or something for us to use to travel overland, and then land a few hours drive from where Scorsby lives, that way we can hopefully avoid another welcoming committee convoy.” Aurora suggested.

Estella nodded. “Probably a good idea, whoever is gunning for us is probably going to be on the lookout for our ship, so if we land after dark and park it a little ways off near a treeline we should be able to spend some time in the city before they catch on we’re back.”

Jessica was looking between all of us. “You seem like a pretty soild team. I’ve been working solo so long, I didn’t even know what I was missing. But now I definitely want in.” She smiled.

“Welcome to the team.” I told her.

“Thank you all.” She held a bottle up in a toast.

“Welcome aboard, yet again.” Aurora raised her glass with a smile.

“Cheers.” I raised up my own glass.

“Cheers!” Estella echoed my action. “My talent for sensing emotions should help us get to the bottom of Scorsby’s feelings about Jessica, especially after Sam gets him to start knocking back shots.”

“I’d love to get to work, but since nobody has any holes in them that needs sewing, is there something else I can do to pull my weight while we’re traveling? I’m pretty well rested.”

“We have some spare rooms on the ship, maybe you could try to set one up as a sickbay?” Aurora suggested. “Be nice to have a place to bring injured crew for treatment rather than clearing off the dining table and hoping for the best.”

“Yes, that sounds like a wonderful idea.” Jessica frowned at the table. “You fix people up on this thing? That’s… well, brave”

“We make do.” I shrugged.

“Make an inventory of supplies you need too, and we’ll pick them up when we buy the truck,” Estella added, “We have some first aid kits around here you can use to get started with. “We get by, now we can get by even better.”

“Working the way I have, with very little in the way of funds. Well, I get the making do”

“Guppy and me will get started on the torpedo upgrades and casings for the spore mines, hopefully these things will overrun their ship and leave us alone now you’ve bleeded on them.”

“Ooh, torpedoes! Yes! Can I shoot one, Aurora?”

“I think the guess that they’re some kind of alien security system and I added us to the approved list is the right idea, we’ll find out when we harvest the plants, you all may need to bleed on them a bit if they’re still hostile to the rest of you.”

Aurora grinned. “You betcha! You’ll be down with me in engineering and the torpedo bay, Sam here usually mans the gunnery station for the plasma cannons, she’s a pretty crack shot.” Guppy threw me a thumbs up at that.

“I will show you a few of my special tricks one of these days.” I winked at the kiddo. She nearly fell over with excitement, like literally.

“I’ll be on the bridge if anyone needs me, I want to make sure our tail doesn’t lose us completely, and give us enough time to harvest and prep our bio weapons before they can catch up.”

“I’ll get started on the med bay.” Jessica jumped up.

“If you need a handy with anything just give a shout, we’re all here if you need us.” Aurora reminded her.

“Yeah, and don’t just do the med bay, you might as well prepare your own room at the same time.” I added.

“Will do. Sounds like we have a little time before we arrive.”

“About a day or so, depends on the speed I need to keep because of our tail.” Estella said, “Several hours at any rate so no need to rush about.”

“Sounds like plenty of time.”

Guppy pulled Aurora’s sleeve. “Lets go make mines…”

Aurora grinned, “Sure thing, I’ll show you how to make a mine casing that has a magnetic sensor, these ones will detect the enemy ship when it gets close and home in on them stick to their hull with a hollow spike and then spew spores inside the enemy ship.”

Guppy couldn’t grin bigger herself. The two of them were starting to get the same expressions, that was some bonding.

“The torpedoes will have the actual vine creatures in the warheads, so when they penetrate the hull they blast the vines everywhere, together they should overrun the ships defenses in a real hurry, letting Estella swing behind them and Sam to blast their engines out with the cannons, then they’ll be sitting ducks and we can board them at our leisure.” Then she added in an afterthought. “We should also set up a space in the cargo bay to put any prisoners.”

I volunteered for the job and got it.

“Don’t worry Jessica, we’ll treat any prisoners humanely, though they’ll certainly be made to think differently about what will happen if they don’t cooperate.” Estella told Jessica with a wink.

But the girl wasn’t one for humour much, or at least not our kind. She turned a little pale. “I… I’m not sure that I can be in there. I take my oath very seriously”

“Nothing wrong with threatening some bullies with a short walk out the airlock if it loosens their tongue.” Aurora agreed.

“Like Aurora said, threats, if they think we’ll do horrible things if they don’t talk they’ll start talking, truth though the worst we’ll do is stick them in the hold with bread and water until we can dump them off on some colonized planet with the clothes on their backs and a few promises of what will happen if they come after us a second time.” Estella explained.

“Ok, I still don’t think I can be there for that. I don’t have a very good poker face.”

Aurora nodded. “We’re not in the business of killing those who we don’t need to. And Sam is pretty intimidating, she’ll probably want to take the lead on asking questions, she can be scary when she’s angry.”

Jessica looks over at me. “I can believe it.”

“Or we just have her throw another barbecue, and tell the prisoners they get talking and they get a plate of her cooking, that’ll loosen anyone’s tongue.”

“I guess it worked on me.” she blushed. “I don’t tell that story easily.”

Aurora chuckled, “Good food and good company has that effect on people.” She nodded to Guppy. “Let’s go mind our own business and make some mines.” Guppy giggled.

“Baaad pun,” Estella laughed and headed to the bridge. We all went our separate ways.

The many small things…

The jump-off line comes from The Metaphysicians of South Jersey by Stephen Dunn. I’m not actually good with small details, observation doesn’t come naturally to me so below is really just my attempt: 

The many small things I’ve seen… the morning dew on a leaf, the rain droplet on a window pane, a flower petal trodden down in the mud.

The many small things I’ve seen… the sweat bead on my own palm, the movement of my own fingers, twisting around each other in a seemingly secret language of its own. Or perhaps they were just telling me of their anguish. 

The many small things… moments that I could not grasp at, have forgotten, have let slip by. I am not great at remembering. Never was. Not in that way. If you ask me about a certain day, what jumped out at me was the routine. I like routine. I cling on to routine. So this is where my mind takes comfort in, like a well-used pillow or cushion. 

The many small things I’ve heard… cars honking, the noise of the ground underneath the car that almost became a tune as you moved to its rhythm. Talking of tunes, I used to be able to almost make sleeping lullabies out of the sound of passing cars. That was in Hong Kong. It’s not as romantic or magical as the picture I presented. Just habit and my body’s reflexes. 

The many small things I’ve heard… the sound of my own beating heart, I can actually only hear it after exercise. Else I hear nothing. The notes I sang… they never were what I intended to sing. They were always out of tune unless there was an instrument to guide me. 

I hope I am forgiven…

This jump off line comes from Rabbit by Heather Swan. I think I will title this piece Forgiven or forgotten.

I hope I am forgiven for the words I did not mean to hurt but did. 

I hope I am forgiven for the thoughtless deeds. 

I hope I am forgiven for being lazy, for being self centred, for guarding my time so jealously. 

I hope I am forgiven for not knowing myself or perhaps for losing myself. 

I hope I am forgiven for letting time pass me by. 

I hope I am forgiven for skipping out. 

I hope I am forgiven for the past. 

I hope I am forgiven for the future. 

I hope I am forgiven or forgotten. 

I hope I am forgiven or else forgotten. 

Forgiven or forgotten. It was my principle. When I could not forgive, I forgot. It was what I call the ultimate revenge. It’s also time’s revenge.

Forgiven or forgotten. But apparently forgotten is easier said than done. As I found out. 

Forgiveness is letting go sometimes. Forgiveness is saying I still care about you. You are still somebody in my life. Otherwise, forgetting is easier. 

Forgetting is just letting time take over, letting things fade, fade into the background. 

I used to be much better at forgetting. But then I learnt to not forget because it made me vulnerable. I had no artillery to throw back against those who remembered every slightest grudge real or imagined. 

I’m not sure whether I would ever want to unlearn not forgetting. There does not seem a call for that. 

Adventures aboard the Chen Xing- Chapter 14

I was almost done with the marinades when Jessica wandered in, rubbing sleep from her eyes. “I am soo sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to crash so hard. That happens sometimes, when I have to use my power to keep someone from dying during surgery. I hope I didn’t miss anything important.”

“Someone put a tracker on Aurora and we had to hightail it to space. Other than that, you didn’t miss much. And hmm… I didn’t mean to disturb your sleep but I didn’t want you to panic and think we had kidnapped you.”

“Oh… Oh. I guess I did miss a few things” she chuckled a little. “If you woke me up, I don’t remember.” She paused to think for a moment. “Um, are we going somewhere? Or just in space? And, um, is that a normal thing here, trackers?”

“We are heading to an asteroid that we’ve been before. You don’t know about trackers even though you mend people up hush hush?” I raised an eyebrow at her.

“Good point,” she said and laughed again. “Just trying to understand what sort of crew I’ve been kidnapped by. I see all types in my work, but mostly I work with people too poor to get help otherwise so not as many criminals as you’d expect. Not that I’m calling you criminals…” She hastened to add and then trailed off.

“We do odd jobs but we are on the law abiding side. We are more adventurers if anything.”

She looked relieved at that. “So… um, is there a plan? I’m just wondering if we’re going back any time soon. And, oh, that marinade smells delicious. Does that mean the BBQ is still on?”

“Want to try the special marinade I made? I made two types, a normal one and this other one I concocted on the spot. That is not always to everyone’s taste.”

“Yes, please.”

I cut up a cooked sausage, dipped one slice in the special sauce with a fork and handed it to Jessica.

“Oh, that’s good.”

“I am going to do half-half just in case. Now why don’t you go relax in the lounge? I will wrap up here. Feel free to grab stuff from the bar. Snacks should be refilled now.”

“Sounds good. Just let me know if I can help.”

“There might be such a time later.” I smiled but waved her off. She headed off into the lounge. I kept going with the BBQ preparations. After a while, Aurora’s voice came on the intercom asking Estella to come down to the kitchen to discuss a job Jessica had for us. That was interesting.

“Hey, glad to see you’re up and about, Jessica, we were beginning to wonder if you were going to sleep through the entire feast.” Estella said when we were all gathered around.

Jessica did a half-smile. “I didn’t mean to do that, I am sorry.”

“It’s no big deal. Sam invited you to our little celebration, I figured she told you how exciting life usually is on board so you decided to rest up first.” Estella smiled happily as she looked around. “Oh this is going to be a feast of legend, it smells fantastic!”

“Yes, it certainly does.” Jessica replied, still acting all polite-like.

“I’m getting hungry, Aurora. When is it time to eat? Should I go get Hue and Vines? I’m sure Vines would love a BBQ.” Guppy giggled.

“Sure, go let them know it’s almost ready,” Aurora nodded towards Jessica. “Hue is our mechanic, and Vines is our ship mascot, kind of an intelligent plant creature we rescued from inside an alien starport built inside a moon.”

“A place we’re going back to someday.” Estella added. Guppy had shot out the door.

“Oh, that sounds like something I would love to see. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before.”

“You’ll get your chance if you stick around,” Estella told her, “Aurora said something about a job?”

Jessica takes a deep breath. “Yes. I…” she hesitated, mulling it over. “I owe Scorsby a debt I can never repay. He kept me from going to prison for… well, for the thing that got my license taken away. But he has something. Evidence that could get me locked up.” Then a torrent rushed out of her. “I didn’t do anything wrong, except stick to my principles and cross someone very powerful. And so he has me do things for him, like patching up Old Terry. Of course, Terry is a sweetheart, and I would have helped him anyway. He’s got a sad story of his own, but it’s not my place to tell it.”

“Scorsby has blackmail dirt on you?” Estella said in surprise.

“Yes.”

“I never chalked down that old boy for being so devious either.” I said.

“That’s low, extorting you like that,” Aurora growled.

“And I don’t want him to have it anymore. I don’t want him dead, please. His death would not be worth it. I just don’t want him to have this leash on me.”

“I’d like to hear a bit more about the incident, and your principles that pissed off someone powerful.” Estella said.

Aurora nodded. “Scorsby is a… Associate of ours, so we’d prefer not to see him killed either, but I have no qualms about taking away his leverage over you.”

Jessica took another deep breath. “Years ago, there was a woman who lived on the edge of town. She was overlooked, I don’t think most people ever gave her a second look.” H squared sauntered in at this point, with Vines. He sniffed at the smell of the cooking food and smiled. A vine reached out from behind his back, snagged a beer, and put it in his hand.

Jessica did not quite notice the pair and went on. “She was… attacked by some kids. Not very old, but I guess old enough to know how to use bats and rocks.”

Aurora nodded and glanced towards the hatch she saw Guppy exit. “We saved Guppy from a gang like that recently, they’re on a bad path.”

“Oh, yes, I see.”

“Guppy’s one of us now though, you can trust her.” Estella added.

Guppy’s eyes suddenly got big. “You’re the Angel! I never met you, but I heard the stories.”

Jessica blushed. “Yes, it’s what some of the locals call me, because I help them out when I can. Even… even those kids sometimes. Well, that poor old lady came to my table in the ER, and if it hadn’t been for my powers, there is no way she would have survived. The problem is… I got a visit. The son of… well, someone powerful, well, he was in on the attack too. His father came to me, told me that it’d be for the best if I let the old woman ‘succumb to her wounds’ is how he said it. And of course, I would never allow such a thing.”

“If you were the type to let someone die you could of saved, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation honestly.” Estella told her. “Those kinds of people are the sorts we tend to drag in shackles to the local authorities for prosecution.”

“Well, as you can imagine, he didn’t like my answer. Tried to have someone silence me on my way home from work. I… I don’t like to think about this. I can still feel it like it’s happening now… He came at me, and I… I reacted… Somehow I got the knife from him and stabbed him. I don’t think I meant to, but it’s all jumbled up in my head. Under normal circumstances, I could have saved him, but I was weakened from saving the woman.”

“You did what you had to, no one here will fault you for that.” Aurora gave her a sympathetic nod.

“Power being what it was, I was tried for his death, and they used my knowledge of anatomy to say I’d misused my knowledge as a surgeon to take his life.”

“Where does Old Scorby come in then?” I asked.

“Scorsby stepped in. I don’t know what he did, but he got the charges dropped mid trial. However, he has… data somehow showing that I could have used my powers to save my attacker. But I swear I couldn’t have. I was too drained by then. You’ve seen how I get.”

“Data?” Estella blinked. “Has he ever showed you his proof? He could be just conning you into being his puppet and not have anything concrete at all.”

“Scorsby never says anything he can’t back up.” Jessica looked down at the floor with her shoulders slumped.

We must risk the light…

This was a piece of writing that I had written in the middle of last year. And I think it actually comes from A Brief for the Defence by Jack Gilbert and I had misheard the original line which was “We must risk delight.” I don’t think I actually like the prose of this piece that I had written but it felt like it fit very well into a post apocalyptic setting. 

We must risk the light. We must. That is going to be our only salvation. 

We must risk the light, that we see through barred grates, trapped down here in the sewers.

We must risk the light. The light to take us back to who we were. 

We must risk the light. The light that might burn us in its whiteness and starkness, in the truth it reveals. 

We must risk the light, the light that emerges out of darkness, brings us out from under darkness. 

So we have emerged. Under the light. Into a moonlit sky. There were not many stars that night. Only scattered dots in the sky, like scattered pins. 

We must risk the light. We have risked it and we have come through. But we have come through to nothing. An emptiness. There was nowhere to go, not for us who emerged into the light. Can we go back, crawl back into the dark? We could not, not after we had seen the light. We were forever changed by it. The light…

We must risk the light. We will keep risking for the light. We cluster, huddle just beyond the grate, so that we do not block out the light. We wait for more of us to emerge. We know they would. The draw of the light is irresistible. 

We must risk the light. We must. As we huddle together, sometimes the light goes out of one of us. Extinguished as life’s ember burns out. We pray then. Pray that the light is reborn onto the sky, as a star. Perhaps that’s why there are not many stars in the sky, yet. Not enough light reborn onto the sky. 

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (13)- Huang Chong Xia

Who is she:

  • A real historical figure known to have passed herself as a man for long periods of time. I know most of you would say that Mulan is far more famous but the original reference to Mulan came from a long poem starring her and other than that, there is no evidence that she was a real person (she could be but you don’t know anything about her other than that she joined the army in place of her father) 

Notable Life Events:

  • Lived in the era of Former Shu (907-925 AD) of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, born to a noble family but orphaned and grew up under an elderly maid instead 
  • When she grew up, she wanted to travel instead of staying at home so she dressed up as a man to travel in the Sichuan region. During a fire, she was framed and jailed so she wrote a poem declaring her innocence and sent it to the head official, Zhou Yang, presiding over the Sichuan region, who took over her case and proved her innocence. Appreciating her talent, Zhou Yang recommended her for a position at court. 
  • Yang asked her if ‘he’ would become his son-in-law, at which point she wrote a poem about her gender and then resigned her position at court. 

Why is she remarkable:

  • Mainly for the feat of passing herself as a man for long periods: in ancient China both genders tend to wear clothing that make the adam’s apple less prominent compared to modern clothing but I think she still had to correct her posture and everything. Perhaps her orphan status meant that she did not have the posture of a conventional high-born lady but that is just my personal conjecture. 
  • She was not the first female court official ever but probably the first one after the reign of the Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

She sure is an adventurous type and highly intelligent and capable (it was said that the local populace under her governance prospered) but other than that, I’m not seeing any other aspects to her. 

Moonlake and Historical fiction

So historical fiction is my third genre but it is often solely neglected because: 1) I just haven’t really found a comfort author to stick to and for the majority of my life, I have been sticking to comfort authors; 2) I don’t have a personal interest in history so much. Rather, I feel history fiction has a similar draw of fantasy to me, by bringing me into a different ‘world’. But nevertheless, here is a post devoted to my history with this particular genre.

My first historical fiction was the Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa, the English version of it which had been translated into totally beautiful prose. Plus it is an epic story so it wooed me off my feet and I have acquired it for my personal shelf. It also helps that I was very familiar with the series of Koei PC strategy games by the same name to the book which contain snippets of historical events here and there via cut scenes. But long story short, that seemed to have been a once-off for me. I wasn’t interested in Musashi, the other celebrated work by the same Japanese author at all.

Some time later, I found Ellis Peters and Peter Tremayne. But in truth, I was more into them for the mystery angle as opposed to historical. My next serious foray into historical fiction was really Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick, a coming of age story.

But now along comes Guy Gavriel Kay (he’s a serious historical fantasy writer as far as I can tell so it’s not his fault that I’m bypassing the history due to my own personal interest, again) and I’m actually liking his style very much. For me, his works have a strong epic fantasy vibe in that he tells multifaceted stories like a tapestry woven by multiple shimmering threads that you can follow separately as well as together. So I’ve been following him ever since River of Stars. My library only has the Fionavar Tapestry in audiobook formats and now that I’ve had a positive experience with audiobooks I see I will definitely get into this series this year.