Remarkable Women in Ancient China (14)- Feng Liao

Who is she:

  • The first official female diplomat in ancient China 

Notable Life Events:

  • Actual birth date and date of death both unknown but active around the long reign of Emperor Wu of the Western Han dynasty 
  • In 101 BC, she accompanied the second Han princess to be married off to the Wusun king for an alliance, as her maid 
  • She learnt the Wusun language and customs relatively quickly and accompanied the princess when she toured neighbouring tribes on behalf of the Han dynasty. She became known as Madame Feng. 
  • She married the Right General of Wusun (I think that is one of the highest military positions) 
  • She was the official diplomat on at least three occasions in intervention of Wusun succession issues. In fact, she had already returned to China with the princess but then volunteered for her third diplomatic mission to Wusun after the princess’ grandson could not manage the throne well and there was political instability again. 

Why is she remarkable:

  • Besides the obvious, I think it will be useful if I summarise a bit of the foregin relations of the Han dynasty at that time. Basically, the Emperor Wu was engaged in this extensive and difficult campaign against a group of nomads known as the Xiangnu which was the goal underlying the Wusun alliance and other diplomatic contact with other nomadic tribes. So what Feng Liao did was important in that light. Moreover, her contribution was even deemed important across the long history of ancient China. 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

  • Not sure what to think of her, I’m not seeing much personality. Rather what I’m seeing here is a capable woman, with a flair for language and political savvy. 

English reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feng_Liao

One day she looked out the window…

The jump-off line comes from In the Middle by Barbara Crooker. It’s the first piece of Wild Writing I had done in third person. And personally I quite like it. Also, my norm for fiction is to write in third person. I mean, I can write in first person as well but my go-to is just the third person because it comes more naturally to me and I realise I have a tendency to write about mild-tempered protagonists (and from personal experience the first person seems to work better with an opinionated character). Anyway, the piece is below: 

One day she looked out the window and saw herself. Saw herself for what she really was. She ran outside joyously and embraced herself. 

One day she looked out the window and saw her father. She turned her face away, not deigning to look at that unworthy face. A face she had forgotten anway. 

One day she looked out the window and saw her sister. She never had a sister. All she had wanted was a brother. An elder brother. Someone who would adore her, protect her. She looked at that face outside the window. There was not a face there at all. She was looking at air. 

One day she looked out the window and saw only the sky. No clouds, just a wide expanse of sky like an unending bolt of cloth. She smiled and closed her eyes. 

One day she looked out the window and breathed in spring. No scents but she knew it was spring. It hummed in the air. 

One day she looked out the window and heard autumn. The quiet fluttering as leaves returned to their roots, to be fuel for the next spring. 

One day she looked out the window and saw time. It was not a clock or a person. It was a cube, then a prism, then a serpent, then a sun, then shapes she could no longer recognise. It did not speak to her. Neither did she to it. There was a blink. It left. IT was just passing through. 

One day she looked out the window and saw herself again. She ran out joyously and embraced herself.

Audiobooks- new uncharted waters

I think it was late last night but someone threw up a link to scientific research on how reading physical books and listening to audiobooks activate the same region in the brain whereas reading ebooks activates a different region. That coupled with my interest in Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay which is only available in my local library in audiobooks format in terms of having an electronic copy has finally made me decide to dip my toes into previously uncharted waters as this format of book delivery is concerned. 

As you would have learnt if you had been following my blog, I did this with a mystery- Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt. The narrator for the version I listened is Fred Barman and he does a solid job of managing multiple voices. At any rate, I had already talked about this in my June Book Discoveries so won’t rehash it. 

I’ve since had a conversation with a good friend I met on the Internet and he told me audiobooks were one of his favourite things. So, this means I will probably pick up the Fionavar Tapestry this year and possibly Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb (most of the quartet is available as ebooks except for book 2 which my local library only stocks in audiobook format in terms of electronic copies) this year. 

Meanwhile, I was also trying to chart some new waters with fantasy authors but unfortunately my library does not necessarily stock everyone I’m interested in for the right works or right formats. For example, I can’t find any adult fantasy work by Neil Gaiman in an ebook format as opposed to a large collection of graphic novels or his juvenile literature. In fact, it took a whole hour over two sessions on my local library website for me to find a fantasy novel to read back in April. But then I remember that one of the friends from my gaming group recommended Xanth. I do like the basic world so I might read more from this long running series. Meanwhile, I will still keep searching for new fantasy authors that I haven’t read before. And you will know all about them in September. 

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Flora (7)

This is the last of my flora compendium so it’s a bit short but enjoy: 

Meng Tree

Physical Description:

A tree resembling the locust tree in shape, bears yellow flowers but no fruits.

Special Properties:

Consuming it will help you to tell right from wrong.


Niu Shang

Physical Description:

A plant whose leaves are shaped similar to those of elms, has a squarish stem with thorns growing out of it and patterned roots.

Special Properties:

Consuming it will prevent you from fainting. The plant itself can also be used to fend off enemies.

Time peels away from the wall…

This time the starting prompt is actually from a Mandarin pop song titled Broken East Wind based on a poem by Su Shi (or Su Dong Po as he is better known as) the ancient Chinese poet which bears the same title as the pop song. 

Time peels away from the wall. I look at what is left. 

Time peels away from the wall. What falls off splinters. 

Time peels away from the wall. I am still left behind in yesterday. 

Time peels away from the wall. I am adrift in photos turning yellow. 

Time peels away from the wall. There is nothing to grasp onto. 

Time peels away from the wall. What does that make you think of? 

Time peels away from the wall. I was half awake, half asleep still. 

Time peels away from the wall. In stripes, spots or flakes. 

Time peels away from the wall. Water peeling away from the sands. 

Time peels away from the wall. I am pulling back from you. 

Time peels away from the wall. I am standing here alone. 

Time peels away from the wall. If only time can stand still. 

Time peels away from the wall. Everything crumbles with the sands of time. 

Time peels away from the wall. There is my shadow on the wall. 

Time peels away from the wall. What will I do with what remains? 

Time peels away from the wall. Everything starting afresh. 

Time peels away from the wall. What would you do differently this time? 

Time peels away from the wall. What do you want to stay behind? 

Time peels away from the wall. Who and what that leave us, that we leave behind us. 

Time peels away from the wall. A vacant house that we used to inhabit. 

Time peels away from the wall. We live there still. 

Time peels away from the wall. I know not when time peels away from me. 

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.