Adventure Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 18

When Guppy came in the gunnery deck, she looked like she had scrawled the words “I’m serious” on her forehead. And she looked like that all the way when she was helping out and did not speak one word to me.

“Loosen up, kiddo, you need your concentration for the shots.” I told her. She nodded and furrowed her brow in concentration.

The actual shot was not worth that much seriousness from her, no. It hit the reactor and then the ship just blew apart.

“That’s one less problem for the universe to deal with.” Estella said.

“Now to find that torpedo.” Aurora reminded us.

“Nothing too useful here, unless one of you can slice these files?” Aurora asked us. “Without them erasing themselves in the process.”

“Not really my area. If no one else on board can we can always hunt down a specialist planetside.” Estella replied.

“Looks like the only option to me.” I said.

“It’s headed for a small asteroid field, we should be able to find it, and if need be blast the asteroids to rubble to make sure it doesn’t cause any trouble, and give Guppy some more gunnery practice.” Estella informed us of the missing torp.

“Sounds like a plan, set us on course?” Aurora said.

“Already done.”

“We should also sow quarantine buoys around that asteroid with the plants on it in the first place, keep other people from making similar mistakes.” Aurora suggested.

“We can drop a note to the planetary governor, let them make it all nice and official and not come out of our funds.” Estella suggested as she walked into the lounge.

“Good plan, also keeps us from being responsible if the buoys fail or whatnot.”

Jessica came wandering in. “Well, that was interesting”

“Oh?” Aurora looked at her while Estella poured a drink into an empty glass. I assume that was for Jessica.

“I wasn’t sure what I was looking at at first. Some kind of plant extract maybe. But the closer I looked, I think it’s a blood sample. But, you know, not a normal one. I don’t think I’ve seen turquoise blood before. Maybe it’s been processed? I don’t know. I’ll need better equipment to look deeper. But it’s not like anything I’ve seen before.”

“Turquoise? Fascinating.” Estella slid the drink across the bar to Jessica. “Whatever’s going on with that planet’s plant life, it’s a lot more dangerous than we first suspected.”

“It’s quite possibly what wiped out that underground place’s original owners.” Aurora said.

Jessica took a deep drink and sighed appreciatively.

I wasn’t trying to whitewash us but I thought it would be good to be clear on things. “This may be conspiracy theory but do you think this blood sample could be the cause for what happens to that crew? Or at least one of the causes? Maybe our bio mines speeded things up?”

Jessica looked into her glass in contemplation. “That’s a really good question. I don’t know for sure, but it’s entirely possible.”

“So they were already ill with something?” Aurora nodded thoughtfully.

“Any kind of fungal infection might of mutated horribly from the bio mines, or whatever mold was lurking in their trash compactors and under the bathroom tiles?” Estella suggested.

Jessica tapped her chin as she answered. “What Sam said is getting me thinking. What if there was already some kind of mutation going on over there and then the mine hit and blew it way out of all sanity? The samples are old enough that they were taken well before the mines hit.”

“So then the pirates might have been hunting us because they were crazy and not hired by someone?” Aurora went off on another train of thought.

“Looks like our hire for a hacker is really on. That encrypted file seems our only lead now.” I concluded.

“That would explain why they never answered anything over the comlink.” Estella nodded to what I said, “We need to make sure we’re there while they do the hacking too, so they don’t keep any of the data for themselves.”

“I thought some of them wanted to surrender but were killed off by those that didn’t. But it could equally be that some of them were still sane and then killed by those whose minds went to pieces.” I said.

It’s horrifying to think about” Jessica said with a pale face. She hurriedly took another sip to steady herself.

“It makes me wonder how they got infected with whatever it is in the first place.” Aurora said with a glance out of the window, fidgeting slightly as she did so.

“Well, it was in that case… What did you say that company did again Sam?” Jessica asked me.

“Data mining, you know, looking at data and getting to spot trends. Something like that.”

“Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would lead to them being infected by something.” Estella said doubtfully.

“Well, depends on the kind of data they’re looking for…” An alarm went off.

“We’re close, I’ll be on the bridge!” Estella told us excitedly and hurried back towards the bridge.

“Time to hone your gunnery girl.” Aurora winked at Guppy, who grabbed my hand and ran us all the way to the gunnery station. We were apparently in an asteroid although nothing near enough to present a danger. The torp was just ahead, not far from crashing into one of the asteroids. “Port side five hundred yards!” Estella yelled over the com.

“I’m on it! Sam, does this look right?” I eyeballed it and directed her to make some tiny adjustments.Guppy fired. The shot skimmed the edge of the torpedo, breaking it apart.

“Nice shot, now finish off the pieces.” Aurora encouraged her with a smile.

“Ok, Aurora.” Guppy took a few shots. “I’m messing it up!” She yelled as she hit one of the asteroids instead. At the same time some of the torp pieces crashed into the asteroid as well.

“Load up some plasma torps, let her practice on the debris field with those, that’ll clean up the infection and give her some practice with the heavy stuff.” Estella suggests, pulling around to torpedo range.

“You’re learning” Aurora spoke to Guppy gently. “This is how you learn, by practicing, and learning how to get it right.”

Guppy kept at it, ended up blowing up half the asteroid along with the other pieces. But she got the hang of it.

“Now that’s a spicy meatball!” Aurora said, at which Guppy burst up laughing. Aurora told her she was getting the hang of it, proud mother style.

“Guppy guts the torpedo!” Guppy shouted in typical child enthusiasm.

“You’ve certainly cleaned up this asteroid field.” Estella told her over the com with a chuckle. “Unless anyone objects I’ll set us on course for the planet so we can buy the buggy and follow our previous plans?”

“And maybe get my sick bay set up. And a nice lab if you can swing it…”

“We’ll make that a priority, I’ll rest easier knowing we have some treatments on hand for… Whatever this is?” Aurora said.

“Agreed.” From Estella.

“I must say, I’m really curious to find out.” Jessica said.

“We’ll set up your lab with some quarantine doors and an emergency jettison bolts.Things get out of hand, we can blast it loose and torpedo it from a safe distance, safer than risking our ship being over run.” Aurora was thinking ahead.

“Umm, just hopefully not with me in it…”

“Again.” Estella reminded us. “Overrun again, we already got overrun once by plants, but those ones were… Gentle by comparison to what happened over there.”

“We’ll put in an airlock at the quarantine seal, then you can evac if it jettisons with you inside and we just pick you back up.” Aurora said.

“Good thinking.”

“As exciting as things get here, it seemed like a reasonable worry” Jessica smiled.

“Things are usually much more tame, I assure you,” Aurora said with a grin. “Just lately… Well we’ve found the fringe of colonized space is a lot more exciting than the core worlds.”

“Oh, it’s definitely better than being blackmailed.”

“I’m still a bit shocked Scorsby would stoop to such a level, but if he thinks it’s some form of justice it makes sense.” Estella said.

“That reminds me, we still have to get Old Scorby drunk.” I reminded her.

“I just know it’ll feel a lot better once that’s cleared up.” Jessica said.

“Lets hope you can drink him under the table.” Aurora chimed in.

“I have every confidence in Sam’s ability to trade shots with the guy,” Estella said confidently. “Besides, she doesn’t have to out drink him, just get him drunk enough I can use my talent to tell the truth of the questions we ask him while you and Guppy and Jessica case his office.”

“Leave it to me.” I winked.

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Fauna (7)

Dan Fish

Physical Description:

A fish surrounded by a red light whenever it appears.

Special Properties:

Smearing one’s feet with its blood allows one to walk on water.

Fire Mouse (aka Firelight Beast)

Physical Description:

Same as a normal mouse

Special Properties:

Humans can weave clothes out of its skin. After burning, it is possible to extract the essence from it. Such clothes are called Huo Huan Bu (Cloth of the Fire Washing)

Zou Yu

Physical Description:

A creature with a tiger’s body and a lion’s head. It has a white fur with black stripes and a long and sleek tail.

Special Properties:

It is said to be of a tender and compassionate nature and not consume meat off a carcass

Ice Silkworm

Physical Description:

A black worm approximately seven Chinese inches in length that is scaled and has a horn

Special Properties:

It will cover itself with ice and form a cocoon of five colours that is about 1 Chinese foot in length (~0.32m). A cloth woven out of these cocoons will not get wet nor be burned in fire.

Why I’m here…

The jump-off line is just the title of the poem Why I’m Here by Jacqueline Berger. And the whole piece is just a response to the line. 

Because of the year 1997, when Hong Kong passed back into the hands of China. A mother decided to take her daughter away before that happened. 

Because my aunt’s family had settled here. 

Because I had sunk down my roots here. I could have chosen to go interstate: most of the jobs in my field actually called me to go interstate but I had made up my mind to stay. 

Because an introvert could still find a graduate job for an introvert despite what she believed after failing so many interviews and half-decided to do a Masters if she could not find a job. 

Because a line moved her when she attended Laurie Wagner’s session during a writing summit. We already love you. What an incredibly generous and empowering thing to say to others. 

Because I didn’t want to do housework but also because habit is comfort. I didn’t- don’t- believe in getting out of the comfort zone. 

Because I have been swept along but also because I have chosen in all the ways I have chosen. 

Because time passes either way. 

Because my core remains the same from teenagehood to approaching 40s. 

Because I inherited my core from Mum but we are still different. 

Because I’m looking for the good fits and want nothing less. 

Adventure Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 17

I moved forward down a buckled hallway listening intently for any sound. It was not far before the debris piled up was blocking most of the way. I could see the outline of a door ahead but it was buried under junk metal. I started clearing away all the debris so that we could open the door. 

“There’s… something beyond the door.” Estella warned me as I was clearing the debris, “If it’s a person they’re… messed up somehow, their thoughts are.. broken?” 

“Could be the spores infected them from the mines, drove them mad?” Aurora asked. 

“I’m not sure, just be on guard.”

Some of the odd pieces were damn heavy to life. I started panting from exhaustion. Guppy ran up and tried to help me, but was mostly getting in the way. 

The other gals just talked and talked. I finally broke in. “We have a more pressing issue at hand. I need some help clearing these debris away.”

“I think I might be stuck here…” Guppy piped up and when I looked down, she was wedged between two pieces of metal. I lifted up one of the metal parts so she could climb out. She squirmed free. “I’m not used to these suits. I used to be so good at climbing through stuff.”

“I’ll give you a hand Sam, Guppy, can you help Estella keep watch?” Aurora volunteered. Between the two of us, we made much quicker progress. 

And then the door was yanked open from the other side. Estella screamed behind me, “Kill it!”

What came through that door were monstrosities, once-humans with vines poking out of their skins, distorted flesh, bones sticking out, limbs connected together by another vine. I let loose an arrow on them upon reflex. It might have been a good shot except that it went through a hole where there should have been a shoulder. A vine lashed out at me. I danced out of the way. 

Aurora fired a shot behind me and bits of the ceiling came crashing down. “Sam, can you help me carry Estella back to the ship?” She asked me as more debris rained down on us. Estella, by this point, was clutching her head as she rolled on the floor in pain. I went over and slugged her over my shoulder. Jessica looked disoriented right next to Estella but I didn’t have time to console her. I figured it’s time to hightail it out of there. 

“I’ll bring up the rear. We should fall back to our ship, I don’t think there’s anything left alive here for us to question.” Aurora said. 

I heard that sound of vines dragging on the ground somewhere behind us that told me more of the human-vine monsters were coming through. I let loose a laser field blast on them. That punched some holes into one which got wobbly but still were able to stand. Aurora also let loose with her shotgun on the creature. It ran/clambered away while bleeding in red and green. But the other one tried to snag me. I went sideways and twisted out of its way. Aurora shot at it to clear the way for the rest of us. Green liquid spewed out and a wine fell to the floor. Everyone ran. 

Halfway, a vine with a clawed hand on the end swiped at Aurora. She tried to slide under it but it tripped her up so that she didn’t quite make it. My heart clearly jumped to my throat as I knew I couldn’t make it to her in time. But she saved herself by firing point blank at the creature. Good girl. Although the aim was a little off, letting the creature strike at her again. But she made it through. All clear back to the Xing. 

Estella thanked me. I asked if she was okay. She nodded, giving the pirate ship a haunted look. “I-I’ll be okay, but that… We need to blow that ship to scrap, no one deserves to exist like that, not dead, not alive, just.. Torn.”

We agreed to stop making those bio mines and torps in case they winded upon landing on the wrong places like a colonized planet. 

“I’ll head to the bridge and bring us around, some more cannon shots into the engines should blow the reactor, and that ship to pieces.” 

Aurora stopped Estella by holding up a hand. “On second thought, we should attach towing lines to it, set it on a high speed trajectory for the sun and let it burn, we blast it and bits of it could reach the nearby planet and infest the locals.”

“You saw how those things were tearing up our ship, they might fix it before it reaches the sun and then fly who knows where.” Estella pointed out.

“What have we unleashed?” I felt my brain getting too small for this discussion and decided to let Estella and Aurora figure things out.

“Fair enough, we can always let Guppy shoot the pieces that are left with the plasma cannons, get in some gunnery practice with Sam after to make sure nothing’s left.”

“I get to shoot stuff?” Guppy smiled. 

“We got it under control,” Estella reassured me, “Just need to make sure to shoot it real good.”

“You know it girl,” Aurora told Guppy with a grin. “Sam here will show you how to fire the main cannons real good.”


“All right, let’s get to work.” I said. 

“Oh, hey, Aurora, I found this when I was trying to help Sam.” I turned back to see Guppy handing Aurora a dented case with a symbol stamped on it. A single star with an arrow encircling it. 

“What is that?” I looked at the case in Aurora’s hand.

Aurora looked at the symbol for a while before opening the case. “Nice work.” She said to Guppy. “No idea, yet.” To me. 

“Looks like someone’s lunch box maybe?” Estella joked. 

Inside the case were some test tubes with a greenish-blue liquid inside and some data chips. 

“Looks familiar somehow.” That symbol joted a memory, something from Earth. 

“It’s…” Aurora’s voice trailed off halfway. “It’s something for Jessica to figure out.” She finally said and held out the case to Jessica. Jessica took it but her brow crinkled as she looked at it.  “Doesn’t look familiar, but if you have a lab, I can analyze it.”

It hit me then. It was some data company, to do with marketing or something like that. I used to pass through its headquarters a lot on Earth when I was travelling to and from work. I told the others. 

“Hmm, I wonder if they’re the ones who hired the mercs?” Aurora said and fell into thinking mode. Then she looked up in alarm,  “I just realized something.”


“Guppy’s torpedo missed, it was loaded with that same stuff, we need to figure out its trajectory and whether or not it will make planet fall or just head out into the black.”

“Best as I can recall it wasn’t so that torps gone, probably will freeze out in the black, unless some ship finds it.” She decided after a while. 

“So we have to head out to Great Black chasing the missing torpedo?” I was excited rather than alarmed.

We probably should, yeah,” She nodded, “If not and it winds up being hauled in by some salvage ship the mess it causes, that’s on us.” Aurora hit the intercom and filled Estella in. 

“Once we blast this ship to scrap, sure, we can give it a try, the torp should be shiny enough to see if we look through a telescope, or get close. Next time I come up with a brilliant idea, Guppy, remind me to think about all the ways it could go horribly wrong and bite me in the ass. Mom always used to say I was my own worst enemy, and my smarts got me into more trouble than it got me out of, guess she was right.”

“It’s ok Stella. I know you didn’t mean it to happen. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I mean, you and Aurora and Sam have all been very good to me when you could have just left me behind. You’ve all been good to me”

“Thanks Guppy, and you’re right, we just wanted to deal with the pirates, we didn’t really expect this to happen, not when the plants were more… Tame when they got loose on our ship. You should head down to the cannon deck, Sam’s probably waiting to give you those gunnery lessons.”

I was barefoot…

The line came from Forest Fires by Sarah Kay. Mostly I was talking about a fictional self but perhaps because of that, I quite like this piece. 

I was barefoot, standing on rough ground. The ground is always rough when you stand barefoot. 

I was barefoot, a wild child, running across rough ground, heedless of what she felt underneath. 

I was barefoot, alone, atopa mountain. But I did not howl down it. I still stood and looked down. 

I was barefoot, and naked. Nowhere. 

I was barefoot, had a holo on my head. Or had sprouted a pair of raven wings. Or had a crystalline heart that shone the colours of the rainbow. 

I was barefoot, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. The T-shirt was close-fitting, always a little bit of struggle when I pulled it off. But it was the one T-shirt that I wore out, that wasn’t part of my pajamas ensemble. 

I was barefoot, grounded on earth. 

I was barefoot, trodden through and worn out numerous pairs of shoes. 

I was barefoot, in a barren land. 

I was barefoot, dancing in a sunlit meadow. 

I was barefoot, dancing through the rain. 

I was barefoot, burying my toes in the warm sand. 

I was barefoot, soaking my sand-streaked toes into the water at the edge of the beach. 

I was barefoot, alone at the rooftop to read under the moon and starlight. 

I was barefoot, in bed, warm under the fluffiness of three blankets of down. 

I was barefoot, in the shower, letting my mind wander as I tasted the delightfulness of water droplets spraying my body and coursing down it, warming me to quiet ecstasy. 

Broadening Horizon Reads 2022

Children of the Corn by Stephen King

He certainly has a very economical way of writing that suits his genre. But personally I tend to favour longer prose with a bit of flair so I’m not quite sure what I’m taking away from it in terms of technique. As for the horror genre, I don’t foresee myself adding it to my reading list. 

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

This is the first novel of my Broadening Horizon Reads that I had DNFed and I’m not sure if I’m considering reading another Western this year. I mean, I’m not interested in romance normally and I think I picked this explicitly because this isn’t Western romance while a lot of the Western novels I pruned from a list of great Western novels are romance. I guess I’m going to wait and see about my personal whims. 

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:

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.