Self-Learning Updates

I’m still taking a two-pronged approach to this via reading and writing exercises. In terms of reading, I’m still taking down notes about my feelings to selected novels that I knew had made me feel something and I’m essentially typing up bullet point lists of where I’ve felt anything, what did I feel and what prompted the emotion. At first, I was only focusing on all the bits where I was moved to tears or slighter degrees of such but now I’m broadening to include smiles because else it becomes just a documentary of what touches me or saddens me and is a lop-sided exploration of my emotional reactions as a reader. The new update, however, is that I’m writing the Help by Kathryn Stockett now. Larry Brooks has devoted a whole chapter to analysing it in terms of the Three Act structure in his book Story Physics which I read last year. So the aim is to do my own analysis of the Help myself and then read Larry Brooks’ analysis. Btw, I’m not sure whether I should recommend his two non-fictions. I think he’s got some valid things to say but I’m hard-pressed to find what he talks about really that enlightening (I mean, I kinda like his conception of the story of six buckets of factors and his other model of the six core writing competencies and the criteria based approach he comes up to assess a story in execution). But he has this really preachy tone that annoys me so in retrospect, I’m not sure if it’s really worth it except that it fills up slots of time that I can categorise under writing-related. Not sure I’ve talked about this on the blog before but since end of last year or early this year, I started aiming for 6 hour writing-related days 5 times a week when I don’t have work at all or 4 hours on a part time work schedule. I got an unexpected long holiday break this year (only did some brief work in Jan and then end of April but I think pending a data request that will be fulfilled next week latest, I think I’m going back to a Mon-Fri part-time schedule) so that was my way of trying to capitalise on this unexpected bonus of free time available. 

On writing type of self-learning, there’s the novella to help me get into first-person and I’ve been supplementing it with another writing exercise which was focused on writing action scenes (which is another of my weak points). I’ve talked about Disney movie consumption binge, right? So basically I was just taking action scenes from these movies I watch every week (now I watch about 6 movies per week) and trying to write them up and I’ve mostly used first-person for these as well (except where the scene I was trying to capture involves too many character and then I’ve switched to omniscient). Now, meaning two days ago, I started a new writing exercise that I call empathy (I actually got the idea from Toni Morrison) where I ground the setting time to be ancient China (since I’m writing Chinese fantasy) and then I’m randomly coming up with a character daily based on 3 traits: gender, occupation and a single descriptor. The first day I did a decadent Emperor and then yesterday I did a sensitive female prostitute. 

So just on the topic of self-learning, what are everyone else doing? Let me know in comments. 

Maybe there is nothing going on

This piece below is still prompted by a line in the poem Starfish: Maybe there is nothing going on. 

Maybe there is nothing going on. Nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing except my imagination. Oh, I’ve always had imagination. When clouds flowed by in the sky, I could see shapes in them. I could conjure stories sometimes based on the cloud shapes. I loved stories. I devoured TV. Anything, not just cartoons. As a child, I had this hunger, to devour stories of any kind. But I thought in surprisingly black and white. No greys for me. No middle grounds. I knew what I didn’t want and I didn’t want these with determination. With stubbornness. With defiance. Still like that now. 

Maybe there is nothing going on. Is there? Is there anything going on with my life? Well, I hope there is. Don’t you? If nothing is going on, what are you doing? How are you living? Are you living or are you just existing? Sometimes I think that’s just semantics. Sometimes I think no, the two two are distinct. Like the sun and the moon. Like day and night. Are they distinct or two sides of the same coin? There I go again, I have a philosophical streak if you can’t tell already. 

Maybe there is nothing going on. Nothing going on.  Nothing going on.  Nothing going on. Wow, now you think I’m hiding something, don’t you? Am I? Now, I’m just being coy. Raising an eyebrow and saying, well? Now you tell what you think of that. What you think of me. Go on. Judge me. I give you full permission to. You know you want to. 

Typing this up and inadvertently re-reading this now, I only realised the end of this piece was quite passive aggressive. And the start of the third paragraph, that was just my mind going blank for a second and perhaps the frustration of that permeated the piece thereafter? Anyway, that’s the original raw piece. I did trim the first paragraph because that was basically from my WIP but the rest was all me or my subconscious mind.

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (9)- Li Qing Zhao

Who is she:

  • Probably the most famous female poet across ancient Chinese history (there had been a number of other women known for poetry such as Ban Zhao but they were all way before her times. I’m not sure but I think her poetry work survived the most).  

Notable Life Events:

  • Born in 1084 during the Song dynasty, to a family of scholar-officials i.e. high born
  • Married Zhao Ming Cheng at the age of 17 and had a happy relationship with him for the majority of the time (she had apparently written a poem to mock his cowardice when he fled a city that he was governing upon its being invaded by nomads) until his death in 1129
  • Briefly married for a second time but quickly divorced the second husband despite that meant she had to be jailed for two years in order to get the divorce (she was released after nine days because she was personally pardoned by the Emperor) 

Why is she remarkable:

  • The fact that her poetry stands out does speak a lot for her work since it was a very male-dominated field, needless to say. I mean, this was ancient China. Except for perhaps cloth-weaving and embroidery, every field was probably male-dominated. 
  • She was considered quite rebellious and not upholding the conventional conception of how a proper high-born woman should behave (by the Song dynasty, female repression was getting under way and being uneducated was being viewed as a virtue for women), given to enjoying wine (which tends to be a trait for Chinese poets), gambling and spending large amount of money on the hobbies of epigraphy and literature (which are shared hobbies with her first husband and might be why they had such cordial relationships) 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

Li Qing Zhao strikes me as very modern actually. Or maybe she is just very well-born and knows what she wants and has all the resources at hand to achieve that exactly. I think I quite like her, actually. I get the sense that she is immensely proud and since I’m also immensely proud, I tend to appreciate that in a woman. 

English reference on her:

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 4

“What’s going on?” I bumped into Estella as she was moving towards the bridge.

“No idea, either Guppy learned how to fly or the ship’s taking us somewhere important of its own will.” The Xing did that from time to time, we knew that. Side effect of the junkyard exercise. “Let’s get to the bridge and find out, if that kid’s an Astropath, then she’s going places.” Estella chuckled at her own joke. She punched the controls for the door to open and nothing happened. “This is new. Only other way onto the bridge is the air vents as I recall, think you can pull a grate open for us?”

I did so. Estella held out her hands to give me a boost up and I took the help. I started to pull myself in when something offered to do my work for me by wrapping around my hand. I declined its offer. “There is something in the vent. It tries to grab me.” I warned Estella.

“Must of picked up some kind of scavenger from that trash pile.” Estella replied, “It’s probably hungry, might of been chewing on the power cables too, which is why the door won’t work.” 

A muted echo of a commotion came from some faraway parts of the ship. 

“We could lure it out with some food, or crawl in there with knives and try to kill it?” Estella’s voice came from below me. “I’m not real eager to get into a knife fight in an air vent.”

I jumped back down onto the ground. 

“Sounds like whatever it is, it’s not happy.” Estella remarked. 

“Where is Aurora, do you know?” Aurora could well take care of herself but I was not liking the idea of people unaccounted for on the ship. 

“In the garden with Guppy, she didn’t want the kid running off in the night so was bunking in there.” Estella told me. “I’ll go fetch her, see if she can get this door open.”

I stopped her, told her my thinking and we decided to get H squared and then all meet at the garden. 

At the Engineering quarter, I shook H squared awake. “There is something in the vent. We are going to meet up with Aurora and Guppy in the garden and talk about what to do with it.”

H squared shook his head and rubbed at his eyes, then followed along docilely. Outside the garden, the hammock was still hung across the door way, but no sign of Aurora and Guppy. 

I turned around to look at the other two. “Crap, they are not here.”

Aurora backed herself out of the overhead vent at that point. “Some thing made of vines and ship parts took Guppy!” She told us, “My knife didn’t do much against it but I sprayed them with glow fruit juice.”

“Vines and ship parts? That’s a new one on me.” Estella started turning a security guard glance on the plants in the garden. 

H squared looked like someone just devoured his child. Aurora looked at him with a grim nod. “Yeah, I’m not happy about it either.”

“Something almost grabbed me up there but I didn’t quite see what it is. Do you think it comes with the alien bit perhaps?” I filled her in on what transpired before. 

“Maybe?” Estella shrugged. “The garden looks normal to me, so it must be something else, something we picked up from that trash pile that got into the vents and sprouted.”

“This way!” Aurora called out as she headed for the nearest hatch, “It was dragging Guppy in this direction.” I followed right on her heels.

H-squared mumbled something about Engineering. The party split at this point: me and Estella off to find Guppy while Aurora went with H squared to shut off vents in specific sections of the Xing so we could contain the plant encroachment.

I headed over to the hatch that Aurora was aiming for.  Seeing the vent in the bulkhead near it, I tried to shield Estella in case something sneaked out of it. 

“Same as before, I go up first and warn you if the thing tries its grabbing trick again.” I told Estella as we arrived below the vent. The vines stood out clearly, outlined in glowing juice as Aurora said. Guppy’s panicked eyes also looked out on me. 

Estella nodded in response to me. “If it grabs you and you can pull the vine out I can snip it off.” She lifted up a set of pruning scissors for emphasis. 

I reached up, tucked on a vine and passed it behind for Estella to snip off. But it was slippery and I couldn’t quite get a grip on it. Giving up the useless tussle, I took aim at one of vines not directly entangled with Guppy.

“See if you can lure it into trying to grab you.” Estella said over my back. “Then I can snip the vines while you pull back.”

One vine drooped at my shot and flopped around aimlessly. I hurriedly grabbed it and passed it behind to Estella. The vine started squirming in my hand frantically and finally slipped out of my grasp. It retreated back into the vent and scuttled away from us. 

“Keep tracking it, I’m going to go fetch some weed killer, trying to do this the hard way doesn’t seem to be working.” Estella told me. 

“Okay. Look out for vents on the way so it doesn’t sneak out at you.”

I made sure to see her nod in agreement before climbing back up to the vent and following after a clear trail of glowing juice. Some time passed and a blast of cold air punched me in the face. I assumed that was Aurora and H squared. I shivered but forged on. I had gone past the garden but not quite reaching Engineering when I saw the juice thinning out. Thinking better over handling the creature alone, I retreated back to the vent near the hatch. Estella was already back from the garden. 

We spoke over the intercom and met up with Aurora and H squared in a corridor between the garden and Engineering. Cold air was seeping out of one of the vents. “I got the atmo controls set to freezing, should slow it down for now,” Aurora held up a buzz saw. “It’s somewhere in this area, probably a storage closet.”

“It didn’t seem to be fungus based so it probably started growing somewhere with plenty of light, cargo storage, or a passenger cabin with clean windows is my guess.” Estella patted the sprayer she had in her hands. “Killer Weed Killer, should take care of the problem.”

Aurora looked over at me at that point, eyeing Estella’s hedge clippers. “You want the saw or the hedge clippers?”

I shrugged to indicate my indifference. Estella handed me the hedge clippers. “All yours, I got the dressing, let’s go make ourselves a salad!”

“That stuff won’t hurt Guppy, will it?” Aurora asked Estella, gesturing to the sprayer.

“It might wash some of the dirt off her, and make her smell like chemicals until she showers, but as long as she doesn’t drink it she’ll be okay.” 

Aurora got a new idea based on that assurance and we all sprayed ourselves. Except it didn’t cling and just dripped off. 

“It’s the cold air, keeps it from foaming properly, should still work fine against the plant.” Estella remarked. 

We went along the corridor checking each room along the way, with Aurora in the lead. It took several tries until we arrived at the one that was stuck. I went up, put my shoulder against it and it crashed open, with me rolling inside. 

A huge mass of vines and metal parts lay inside on the ground, all twisted around each other and pulsating to a strange beat. I picked myself off the ground just in time to dodge a vine that reached out to grab me. Behind me, I could hear Aurora’s buzz saw and Estella’s spray busy at work. I set to work with the hedge clippers. The vines fell to the floor and twitched a couple of times before becoming still. 

“It really doesn’t like the cold!” Aurora announced triumphantly and the vines erupted everywhere. They tried to wrap around me but I dodged their slow motion attack. 

“Masscare time!” I said, seeing the green light for a laser field projection popping up on my bow-gun. Bits of vine flew everywhere, as well as gobs of greenish goo. The thing screeched in an inhuman way. The few remaining vines that weren’t busy with Estella swivelled around to me as if I had just become a homing beacon for them. 

“I think you hit it somewhere delicate!” Aurora yelled over the screech. 

“Oops, my apologies.” I said insincerely, fending off the vines with mincing steps here and there. 

“Poof!” The writhing mass exploded outward in chunks and splatters of green. It sprayed the entire left side of my body. I looked at the other two girls. Aurora seemed to have caught most of it on one arm whereas Estella wore the goo like a coat of paint. I assumed the explosion was her work. 

“I need a shower.” Estella sighed in relief. Instinctively, I brushed the goo off me but got a handful instead. Urgh. 

“That’s it! I’m going to gut whoever did this to me!” A high-pitched voice came out of a mass of flopping vine-parts. 

“We already gutted it for ya kid, we’re wearing its inner bits.” Estella struggled in vain to pull the sticky sap from her hair.

“Anyone hurt?” Aurora asked as she set to freeing Guppy. “We don’t need that thing causing some kind of nasty fungus infection.”

“Nope, except for my nose, which wants to retreat back into my face if it can.” I told her. 

“Just a few bruises, nothing a hot meal and bath won’t take care of.” Estella added and then looked around the garden. “I’m damned curious where this came from, if it’s something we brought on board or picked up by accident.”

“I’m more curious how it knew to use parts of the ship to make itself stronger, most plants are pretty dumb, not crafters.” Aurora said in a dreamy voice. I kept silent, unlike the too curious duo. 

“Good question, but the mess in here makes it impossible to tell when it started off as.” Estella shook her head. “Hopefully you and Hue can figure out where it started from what ship parts it used.” She came around to me, congratulating me on my good shots and put her arm around me. 

A foul odor was starting to build up around the remnant of the plant-metal hybrid. Some of the more solid pieces appeared to be liquifying. Aurora finally extracted Guppy from the tangled mess. A Guppy that was basically green with white eyes. 

“I think we better all go off to our rooms and have a shower. The stench is getting unbearable.” I said as I retreated from Estella.

Aurora gave Guppy a near crushing hug in relief. “I thought that thing had eaten you, I’m glad you’re safe!”

Guppy muffled something amidst the hug, her eyes flashing with anger. 

“She has a soft spot for strays.” Estella whispered to me. “I’ll be on the bridge after getting cleaned up, and see where we’re off to now, hopefully not too far since we still haven’t been paid fully for our work on the converter.”

I nodded and wandered off towards my own room for the shower. An extended shower during which I nearly scrubbed my own skin off and had to let be even though my nose wrinkled of its own accord at how refreshing I smelled. 

Craft/Curiousity Reads

So thanks to COVID and working at home, I’m actually already into the 9th book this year whereas last year I just reached my goal of 10 books. And because I’m stepping up my efforts to improve my writing craft and trying to leverage reading more for that end goal as opposed to pure leisure, I have now decided to add 2 spots for craft/curiousity reads. 

In fact, I have already built up a list of candidates and in brackets is the reason why I’m intrigued or what craft element I’m trying to study: 

  • The book thief (narrator is Death)
  • The Lovely Bones (mystery from the POV of the victim)
  • The Girl on the Train (unreliable narrator)
  • Gone girl (big reversal in the middle) 
  • The Virgin Suicides (written from first person plural)
  • The God of Small Things/The Gathering by Anne Enright  (past-present narrative)
  • The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison/Shipping News (omniscient) 
  • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (Reverse Chronology)
  • Catcher in the Rye/Room (voice-driven/child’s voice) 
  • Americana (uneven past-present narrative) 
  • The Fifth season by N. K. Jemisin (1st, 2nd and 3rd POVs)

Initially I was rather intrigued by the Book Thief but then I read the blurb and I worry about it being too much literary fiction. And I figured I wanted to give literary fiction a little bit of a rest after Cloud Atlas. Then I looked up the Lovely Bones because the premise is of course intriguing but well…. For some reason I was really worried about hype for particular books. Like I always looked a bit askance at books that suddenly got immensely popular and asked “Now, is this book going to fit my particular reading taste?”. I’ve somehow always thought of myself as having reading taste that doesn’t quite conform to everyone else’s even though my favourite novels (LOTR and Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar and Serpentwar) were immensely popular in their own rights. Anyway, so I looked it up in my library and it only had a physical copy but I was more in the mood for an electronic copy so currently I’m reading Wych Elm by Tana French. I’ve heard good things about her and I’m about half way through the story right now. 

I think I will read either the Lovely Bones or the Girl on the Train and then Shipping News perhaps for my Craft/Curiousity reading spots this year. 

Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Fauna (3)

Tiao Fish

Physical Description:

A fish that looks like a four-headed chicken with red feathers, six feet and three tails. Its call sounds like that of the magpie.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat is a cure for anxiety.

Heng Gong Fish

Physical Description:

A 1.5-1.6m long fish that looks like a carp that is red throughout.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat is a cure for illnesses created by evil or the supernatural.


It lives in a frozen lake by day and becomes human at night. Its flesh cannot be penetrated by conventional weaponry nor can it be killed by boiling. However, it will die instantly if you cook it in a pot with two dark plums.


Physical Description:

A creature that looks like a wild cat except for only having one eye and three tails.

Special Properties:

Its call can beat that of one hundred other species of animals. Adopting it as a pet can protect against villainy. Consuming its meat is a cure for jaundice.

Ru Pi

Physical Description:

A fish that looks like an upside-down pot, with a bird’s head.

Special Properties:

Its call sounds like the sound of striking rock. It can spit out gems from its mouth.

This is what life does

I had started doing a form of free writing called Wild Writing, using prompts from poetry. Below is the piece that emerged from the particular line that this post is titled. Enjoy.

This is what life does. It lets you alone most of the time. It does. Until you screw yourself big time. And then you feel like life is in your way. Life is your biggest enemy. Life is out to get you. But no. Really no. You are out to get yourself. You wish for the never been. You wish to undo things. Undo the past. Undo your mistakes. Undo the many opportunities lost to caution, lost to fear, lost to disbelief.

This is what life does. It lets you speed along or crawl along. Everyone at their own pace. Really, it does. Occasionally, you feel out of sync, out of whack. Then you wish for a different life, or life as quite different as it is right now. A time in years past most likely. That’s when we wistful, longing for a different, better time. Always we look backwards, seldom forwards. I wonder why that is. Is it because we were happiest when we were simple, naive and ignorant? Ignorance is bliss, they say. Ignorance is bliss, I’ve said before.

This is what life does. It walks with you, shoulder to shoulder. It is your companion. Oh, treat it like one and it will be exactly that. But it is an odd one, you know. Or it’s a bit of a Libra or a mimic. The point is that it will treat you how you treat it. If you think of it as a companion, companion it be to you. If you think of it as your enemy, then enemy it be. If you think of it as an other sentience, an in between, a power with no power, none except what you imbue it with, then it will be all those also. Believe what it is as you like. But believe in yourself foremost.

P.S. For those curious, the prompt came from a poem titled Starfish by Eleanor Lerman.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- March 2021

I seem to have mostly split my time between fantasy and mystery this quarter. So I might as well split it by genre in this post so you can only read the relevant genres for you. 


Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier
I do think this is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy even though I was expecting the ending to provide more emotional release for the main plot tying the series together. Still, I like that the main mystery this time is not romance-related else there will be too much romance for my taste. I also like the ending for Blackthorn and Grim and the sense of openness for further adventures.

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
I finally picked up the conclusion to this trilogy starring a character that I’m quite fond of. I find it a satisfying conclusion as far as Beka’s ultimate fate goes.

One thing to note is that I read this series out of order (I read Bloodhound first years ago and then Terrier last year) so this might be why I was not really hit by the twist so much. To be honest, I seem to have no response to the twist whatsoever. Like none. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Let me start by saying this is actually pushing towards a 4 star for me. I enjoyed the voice- it’s got a kind of children tale ring to it that just makes you relax. And if I read it a bit younger, like in my 20s, I probably would have given it a 4 star. It came to me one day while reading this book that I was very much like a rabbit in my 20s- prone to startle and run.

A good light reading for those who want a break from epic fantasy but still appreciate adventure and thrills now and then.

A Telling of Stars By Caitlin Sweet
This reads a lot of an odyssey of a young girl after severe loss. I like the author’s prose, the dreamy quality of the story that is consistent with my conception of the disorienting effect of sudden, overwhelming grief. I think I am onto reading the other book by this author set in the same world but with another character. Not sure whether this year but it’s on my TBR list.

Nemeton by Christopher Lee
I DNF’ed this in January. I got up to Chap 15 which is roughly the half way mark and then it fizzed out. It’s meant to be an epic and I’m used to epics and their necessary large cast of characters and I’m usually okay if I don’t warm up to characters. But I think my enthusiasm for this book waned because I don’t get enough cohesion between the myriad cast of characters and their storylines, I mean I can see there are different angles to this one story but it’s like from chapter to chapter, I’m just sampling all these myriad sides and no one side actually sticks to me.

Science Fiction

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
I am still reading this. For those not familiar with the book, this is basically comprised of six short stories that are nestled within one another such that story 1 dips into story 2…. into story 6 and then back again all the way to story 1. As of the time of writing, I’m up to story 4 in the first half of the book. So far, I’m liking the way that it moves from one story to the next and the way each story is connected. It doesn’t feel much like a short story collection at all but more like a novel. But as with all other books, I’m going to reserve my judgement until I’ve finished the book. So check back with the June Book Discoveries of this year for a full verdict.


The Game by Laurie R. King
Up to maybe half way, I was actually feeling like this book is a letdown, with too slow a pace sacrificed to describing India and the Indian life as travelling magicians. But the story came around nicely. And it got me interested in the book Kim which I had never read before.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
For unknown reason, I’ve been a bit reluctant to pick up the Miss Marple series (even though I remember reading one mystery of her already but that one didn’t really stay in my mind), perhaps due to the influence of Poirot which I never quite liked as a character. Then again, I like Christie’s books because they are more plot-centric than character-centric as a rule. But I’m finding that I actually enjoy Miss Marple more than Poirot. I mean, what’s there not to like about an old woman like that? So yes, I’m pleasantly surprised by this first book of her series.

Other than this observation about the character, though, I would say this is typical solid work from Christie but not above her cut.

As Long as She Lives by Darcy Conroy
A solid work which pace really picks towards the end. I’m a slow to warm up kind of person with characters so while I sometimes like the humour of Cait she mostly remains at arms length.

Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Fauna (2)

Ri Ji

Physical Description:

A normal cow

Special Properties:

Its meat (up to 2-3 Chinese pounds in weight) will grow back fully the day after being cut off with a knife.


A species supposedly local to the area now known as the province of Gan Su

Dan Prawn

Physical Description:

A giant prawn as long as ten zhang (equivalent to 32m) and whose whiskers are as long as eight Chinese feet (equivalent to 2.56m). It is a pair of wings and its nose is like a saw.


Ma Dan (someone’s name but I have no idea who this person is) had broken off one of its whiskers to use as a walking stick. When he abandoned the stick for flying, the whisker tuned into a round pill.

Translation Quirk:

The Dan character here can refer to a round pill that is often associated with magical/supernatural/divine properties or origins. Sometimes, it also a synonym for the colour red.

Bo Yi

Physical Description:

A goat with nine tails and four ears and whose eyes grow on its back.


It is reputedly that wearing its hide or wool would make one courageous.

Guan Guan

Physical Description:

A dove-like bird.

Special Properties:

Its call sounds like humans yelling at each other. Wearing its feathers helps you tell right from wrong.

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 3

Jake had a weasley voice, making his words hard to hear. I had to read his lips at some places. He was talking to H squared. “You see, Mr Fixit man, I don’t really need you. I just need you to not fix any converters, you see? So tell me why I shouldn’t just have Eddie here put some holes in you and dump your corpse out in the middle of the street?”

Mumbling from H squared. It made Jake’s face turn red in annoyance. 

“Any ideas for a rescue?” Estella whispered in my ear. “My best idea is we start shooting from the shadows and surprise them, then try to flee with Hue in the chaos? I’m more of a pilot that a brawler.” She added the last sentence in an uncertain note. 

I was thinking aloud to myself. “Can we distract some of them away somehow? But these tunnels are too tight.”

Estella supplied the solution in the next beat. Trust that girl’s brains to work so fast. “If we fill the glow stick with sugar and throw it, it’ll spray everywhere and the glow flies will form into a cloud trying to eat up all the sugar.” 

I gave her my verbal thumbs up. A minute later, she passed me her glow stick to throw. I tossed it down below. The makeshift grenade flew into the cavern and exploded in a puff of blue mist and buzzing, flying things. 

I descended into the cavern, hurrying towards the spot where I last saw H squared.

“Get me out, quick, before they grab me!” “Shoot something!” Jake was telling his lackeys. 

“I’ll save Hue, you put the hurt on Jake?” Estella suggested as we moved amidst the fray of bodies. My eyes scanned around and saw him quickly. He was down on his knees cowering. I gave Estella brief directions before taking an aim at the pathetic sight on the ground. 

The shot flew true but at the last moment, someone stumbled in the way of the energy bolt and took it in the knee, going down with a scream that reverberated in the cavern. 

A shot came at me. I ducked out of the way. Looking around for Jake, I saw him trying to hide behind a pile of trash but his crown was a dead give-away. I took a last shot at his direction and ran towards Estella and H squared. 


I made a big stretch once I climbed out of the trash pile back onto the surface. Estella breathed a sigh of relief next to me. “Remind me to scratch cramped tunnels off my list of vacation spots.” She said with a grin. H squared was panting on my other side and looked white as flour. 

“How’d it go?” Aurora asked us. 

“Cramped but otherwise okay. H squared, you need more exercise. Now you go and sit down and rewind yourself.”

Estella briefed Aurora on what transpired down in the tunnel, then glanced around curiously. “Where’s Guppy? She gives you the slip?”

“I strung her up in the garden,” Aurora said with a wink. “I’ll fill you in on the details later over a drink.” She gave H squared a friendly grasp on the shoulder in greeting. “I’m glad you’re okay, I can finish up here if you want some time to recover, or you can get back at making this converter purr if you’d rather, your call.”

I pulled a sour face as I reflected on how I did. “Didn’t hit any of them that I intended to. But I was mostly shooting to buy us time.”

H-squared and Aurora exchanged some technical jargon over Aurora’s work on the converter and then he moved off. 

“Unless anyone objects I’m of a mind to move the ship, land us on the other side of town, maybe near Roland’s place of business.” Estella decided. “I’m not super comfy with a tunnel to Jake’s lair being on our doorstep, and him knowing right where we’re parked.”

Roland looked confused. “Who’s this Jake fellow?”

“Jake Comdon, he’s a thug, uses his brawn to force people to pay for protection from him and whoever he browbeats into working for him. He’s the kind of man that values life about as much as you value an empty beer can.”

His face brightened with recognition. “Well, I dunno if he’s called Jake, but sounds a lot like the feller we was talking about earlier. Never really used his name.”

“Yeah, that’s him all right, not using his name is probably his idea of keeping a low profile.” Aurora shook her head. 

“Them gutter rats does jobs fer him a lot.”

“Used to, I think we broke up his rat ring when we rescued Hue.” Estella corrected him and looked over at me, “Any objections to relocating the ship?”


“I’ll be on the bridge then prepping for dust off.” 

Roland looked a little thoughtful. “Ya know, that feller does a lot more harm and just tryin ta get money off us. He busted up this here converter and I don think he’s done causin trouble. You want some extra cash, I think my boss’d be more’n happy ta pay ya fer haulin in that Jake feller. I dunno, he got papers on him somewhere, ya might just be able ta make some takin him in all legal like too.”

Aurora gave me a sly smile, “Sam, how do you feel about a little hunting trip before we resupply and head back out into the black? Maybe set Jake up with a nice little prison cell suite and deliver him to Scorsby?”

“Sure, I would love that.”

“Count me in too, putting that guy behind bars, or penning him in the dead book, would make the entire fringe a better place.” Estella said before heading back into the ship, humming a cheerful tune.

“Sounds like your boss just found himself a willing group of head hunters, let’s get this converter back to him and then Sam can suss out the details for the job?” Aurora told Roland.

Roland rubbed his hands. “Yeah, let’s get this converter back in. Boss man’ll be real happy ta know yer a bunch what does what they say.”

Aurora and Roland worked out a deal to be settled tomorrow. He drove back happily. 


“How did you and the kid get along? I think we need her to get to Jake, you know how slippery he is.” I asked Aurora, leaning back against the wall. I was planning to go straight to shower but the two gals called a little meeting so here we all were on the bridge. 

“She’s a little rough around the edges, but warmed up once she found out we weren’t slavers and my promise of cake was more than an empty offer. She’s plenty scared of Jake though, and some kid called knife boy, getting her to help might take some doing.  But you’re not wrong, she might know how to find him.” She paused. “I don’t want her put in any danger if we can help it though, she’s been through enough.”

“Strung her up in the garden huh?” Estella teased Aurora with a chuckle.

“I was more thinking get her to tell us where to find him.” I assured Aurora. 

“Your hammock turned out to be a nice sleeping spot for her, when she wakes up later I’ll see about finding her an actual room, and maybe a bath.” Aurora told Estella with a wink. “Yeah, I think pancakes and bacon for breakfast will help show our good intentions, and help her open up to us.” 

“Actual room? Did she sign up as part of the crew while we were gone?” Estella shot me a grin. I told you, it said. I groaned.

“Can’t bring myself to send her back to that pack of ferals, she’ll come to a bad end or turn into a mini Jake in a few years if I did.” Aurora gave me her Virgin Mary smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep her from pestering you, she gets on your nerves you can just threaten her with a bar of soap.” 

I was feeling all clammy by then. I told them I needed a bath right away. I could hear the girls still talking as I walked off. 

“There’s some left over cake and stew in the galley if you’re hungry.” Aurora called after me. I gave a little finger-wave over my back to signify I had heard.


I sat myself down next to Aurora in the lounge and grabbed a piece of cake. There were small fingerprints on it in the frosting. “Hmm… Guppy saved herself another piece, it seems.” I put the piece back down and chose another with no fingerprint on it.

“While you two were playing tunnel rat and rescuing Hue, I managed to get some useful intel out of Roland after putting Guppy to bed.” Aurora slid a rewritten copy of her notes across the table for me to look at.

Estella joined us. “Hey, cake!” She said cheerfully, helping herself to the piece I set aside, oblivious to the finger prints.

“It’s the last of it until we get the rest of our pay from Roland’s boss and restock the pantry.” Aurora reminded us. “Though if we secure a good contract for bringing Jake in, we should be able to stockpile a nice reserve of quality foods for the road ahead.”

I nodded.

“You okay?” Estella asked me, “You seem lost in thought.”

“I just feel lazy after a nice hot bath.”

“It is one of life’s best luxuries.” Aurora agreed with me, “So how many thugs did Jake have working for him? Besides the pack of ferals.”

Estella looked over at me. “Three? Maybe four? I didn’t get a real good look, Sam was in the lead on our way in.”

“I got one down and besides the boss, perhaps five more. I couldn’t be sure with the distraction we made going in.” I praised Estella on her glowstick distraction trick. 

Estella smiled at the compliment and filled Aurora in on our adventure. “You should of been there! Sam threw the vial perfectly and pow!” She slapped the counter for emphasis. “Complete and utter chaos!”

“You both seemed to do just fine without me.” Aurora said with a note of approval in her voice. “The one you took down, how bad was he hit? If he survived he might go somewhere to get patched up, we find the guy and lean on him a bit, we might get some extra intel beyond what Guppy knows.”

“I heard a scream but he could be a big baby for all we knew.” I shrugged. 

“Big babies run to the doctor over the smallest scratches too, don’t they?” Estella asked around a mouthful of cake.

“Depends on the baby, and how charitable the local saw bones is.” Aurora shrugged, looking over her notes from her talk with Roland about the mention of any local doctors. “Roland mentioned a company doc, he might be moonlighting at the local doc while in the area too, when Sam speaks with his boss tomorrow I’ll press Roland for the guy’s location, if nothing else he’ll know about any other healers in the local area.”

“Right, we might also want to find out if the Boss has anyone within his ring that mends his thugs up. I guess we hit up Old Scorby for that.” The Boss was the local mafia boss, the Frontier might be a busy hub but it was a surprisingly small world where the law and lawless co-resided. 

Aurora nodded. “Any objections to me stringing a second hammock in the garden tonight, Estella? I don’t want the Guppy waking up in the morning and giving us the slip.”

Estella shrugged. “Go for it if you want, but string it across the door way, kids her age are awfully quiet.” 

After that, we bid each other good night. I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow. The next thing I knew was the sensation of lift up. “What on earth?” I jumped up out of my bed.