Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Zeniff the Spaceman Part Two

I needed a break from editing my novel, and Bob and Larry were both driving me nuts. But I have to write something... So back to the dark and ominous planet where Spaceman Zeniff and his faithful droid have been shipwrecked.

Zeniff jumped to full wakefulness with the same claustrophobic panic that gripped him every time he found himself asleep in a space suit. Fortunately, he regained his senses before his scrabbling hands found the latch and removed his helmet. The sulfur dioxide atmosphere would have been much more suffocating than even the clumsy helmet. He sat still for a moment, waiting for his heart rate and breathing to return to normal. He closed his eyes and imagined the garden in his backyard back home on Earth. After a few minutes all of his bio-indicators were back in the green and he opened his eyes to survey his situation. 

The mining droid was still sitting precisely where he had ordered it to at darkfall. It was staring at him with its odd visual sensors, waiting for the next command. Zeniff puzzled for a few moments as to why it could understand and obey some commands and not others. When he had first set off from the wreckage of his ship and noticed it following him he had turned around to shut it down. When he saw the smashed control panel, he tried to use the wireless controls built into his suit's computer but to no effect. The thing was like a lost puppy that he had made the mistake of feeding. The annoyance he had felt towards it then was completely gone now. Somehow, it had understood last night that he needed light, and some shelter and so when he found a crater and took shelter inside it had joined him, even using its bulky body to further shield him from the wicked night winds that howled across the barren landscape. Still, he was just a little unnerved by the way it sat there staring at him. 

Zeniff brushed some of the orange dust off himself and struggled to his feet. His back ached from sleeping in such an awkward position against the wall of the crater and his feet were tingling as the circulation was restored. Stretching his sore muscles carefully, Zeniff took stock of his situation. Apparently, the navi-computer built into his suit was malfunctioning; it had told him that he had only a short walk back to the mining camp. Instead he had wandered for hours, watching the distance remaining jump up and down crazily. Still kicking himself for not staying with the wreck he wondered if it might not be better to attempt to return to it instead of pushing on into the unknown with a bad navicomp. Checking the water levels in his survival pack he treated himself to a few ounces and an energy pill. The fluid recycler built into the suit would ensure that he didn't dehydrate, at least not before he ran out of breathable air and suffocated. 

The thought of that brought back a memory of his panic at awakening and he knew that he had to get moving towards some objective to clear his mind at least. He stepped past the mining droid and began laboring up and out of the crater. The droid followed him instantly, an orange cloud of dust cascading off the battered chassis as it came to life. Zeniff climbed carefully over the broken, rocky terrain. The boots he wore were intended only for flyers, and were heavy and clumsy on the surface. Suddenly, one of Zeniff's feet slid out from under him and he started sliding backwards down the steep slope. Before he went more than a few meters, the droid was right there to catch him. He lay there on the slope and tried to peer into the machine's sensors again, as if he could read its expression and understand what it was thinking. Yet it was just a machine, and not a very intelligent machine as far as machines go. It was a single-purpose workhorse used to tunnel deep beneath the surface in search of the precious gravitonium. It's value was in its strength and durability, not in its ability to gauge when a human overseer needed help. 

Zeniff found that laying there pondering the inner thoughts of a dumb machine was getting nowhere, so he struggled back upright and continued his tortured trek up the side of the crater. When he reached the rim, he made a small circle while scanning with the sensors in his helmet. No signals of any kind, and the navicomp stubbornly insisted that he only had a kilometer to travel to the mining camp. After pondering the situation for another few minutes, Zeniff turned his back on the crater and set off resolutely, the droid following faithfully a few steps behind.

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bob without Larry for once...

A short episode of Bob and Larry today... I am not entirely sure where this is going, only that I want Bob and Larry to have an adventure of some sort together. In case you want to read the previous episodes...

Sunday dawned gray and colorless. Bob awoke refreshed. The fresh air and exercise from yesterday must have been good for him. He rolled out of bed and began his morning routine. After selecting his morning playlist on his MP3 player, got in the shower. After showering and shaving he sat down to breakfast. As he ate he scanned a few news sites on his laptop. Although he read several, the link on his shortcut list always pointed to the Tech section. Any other news bored him with its irrelevance to his world.

As he scrubbed his dishes off in the sink afterwards, Bob noticed the first few sprinkles of rain splattering across the kitchen window. Worry briefly flickered across his face but he quickly shoved it out of his mind.

When the power went out, Bob was immersed in a thick book of obscure technical knowledge. The sudden sound startled him back to the present and he realized that rain was pounding furiously on the windows and that the trees outside were whipping wildly in the wind. The sudden silence in the house felt thick and ominous, and what little light there was coming through the windows was sickly and yellow. Bob looked out nervously and watched pieces of a neighbor's roof fly past. The roar of the wind increased and now he could hear other pieces of debris hitting the outside of his house, then the sound of glass shattering. Bob jumped and ran away from the window, not sure what to do. 
Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered hearing something about taking shelter in a bathtub, so he sprinted down the hall to the bathroom. With no external windows and no electricity, the room was pitch black and in his haste, Bob collided with the toilet and fell writhing in pain on the floor. As he lay there he heard a new sound, like a giant beast growling in fury as the timbers of his house began to fail under the strain. Bob scrabbled to climb into the bathtub and huddled on the bottom, shaking with terror as his house disintegrated around him.

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Second Chances

It was a Valentine's Day gift for Emily. OK, so maybe it was for me too. I had planted a grapevine in Texas, but we moved before it was mature enough to produce fruit and I was always a bit sad about that. I had already decided to buy Emily a potted plant for Valentine's Day. I get tired of buying expensive flower arrangements that just wither and die in a week. Then I saw that Home Depot had grapevines on sale. They came in a two-pack, and I carefully looked for and found one that had two healthy and strong vines. 

Emily wasn't too sure about this as a V-day gift at first, (She is a pretty smart girl after all...) but she warmed up to it. Since February in Nothern Virginia is not really grapevine planting season, we set it on top of the aquarium where it immediately began shooting up. It was about four or five feet tall and starting to climb along the roof when we decided it was time to plant it. We set it out on the porch in preparation, but then the procrastination started. For one reason or another, we let it sit out there for another few weeks. It didn't seem to mind, it was sending out new creepers and leaves every day and looking very happy. Every time I passed it, I would tell myself that today was a good day to get it in the ground. If only I didn't have to... (fill in the blank. Any excuse will do...)

Then, we had a late frost. We woke up one morning to frosted windshields and wilted, brown grapevines. We were sad, and felt bad for having let this poor plant die through our neglect. The neglect continued however as we just let the package with its brown, dead branches stay out on the porch. Perhaps as a reminder of our failure. I thought a couple of times that maybe I should just put them in the ground anyway, that maybe they weren't completely dead. But procrastination seems to be a way of life at our house, and the poor thing just stayed right there on the porch where it died.

We had given up on our little vines, without even so much as giving them a chance. They died right there in their white plastic bags and we immediately wrote them off as just another thing that we "didn't get around to" in time. No second chances for grapevines around here! If the victory isn't easy, or if we experience a little setback we immediately throw our hands in the air and say: "Oh well, we tried." 

A wise person once said "Do, or do not. There is no try!" But that doesn't really make sense in this case. Another wise person once told me that "I will try" is just opening an escape route to failure. If it gets hard, if things don't go well, you can shrug your shoulders and say: "Oh well, I tried."

Our grapevines didn't make excuses and give up. Despite being left in their packaging for three months. Despite being frozen and left for dead, they kept on striving to succeed. And one day this week, I noticed something. Our vine was not dead! From out of the plastic wrapper that enclosed the roots, one of the vines had shot out a couple of cheerful green leaves. Quickly, before it died again I cut open the bag and put the vine in the ground at the corner of the porch where it will get plenty of sunshine and wrap itself around the porch railing and posts. I cut open the other one too, just to see. Sure enough, there were some small leaf sprouts there too. It was also quickly planted at the opposite end of the porch where they can each climb the railing and posts and creep towards each other. 

Our two little vines didn't give up. They didn't try, they didn't make excuses, they just did.

 Yoda would be proud! 

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bob and Larry, continued...

The Assignment: Take a character you've used before (preferably a part of an ongoing project) and give them a day off.  That is a little break from the story line to lay back a bit, maybe collect their thoughts, and just take it easy.

Days off were pure hell. Bob saw himself with two choices: stay cooped up at home and be miserable, or go out and be miserable. He was really only comfortable in his office with his head buried in lines of code. Making his electronic slaves do ever more fantastic tricks by imagining newer and more novel ways to manipulate memory space, processor time, and bandwidth. His manager had long ago banned him from working from home. He thought it was unhealthy for Bob to spend every hour of every weekend working. Plus, the testing department just couldn't keep up with him.

Bob sighed and sat on the bottom step staring at his shoes, positioned neatly on the doormat. He had intended to go for a drive in the country, find a deserted country road where he could just drive for hours and be out of the house and alone. He clutched a Google map in one hand with directions to just such a road. And yet, he remained there on the bottom step, indecisively staring at his shoes.

Closing his eyes, he put his head between his knees and took a few long, slow breaths. Then, he resolutely stood up and walked to the door. Slipping on his shoes, he opened the door and stepped outside. The bright morning sun glared in his eyes, and he squinted up and down the road in both directions. When he was satisfied that nobody was coming, he locked the door and walked quickly down the stairs. He was fumbling to get his key in the car door when he was startled by a voice.

"Well Bob! Fancy meeting you here! I thought I knew everyone in the neighborhood, and yet I had no idea that someone from my office lived just down the street!"

Larry. His friendly smile as wide as ever and his happy face sweaty with the exertion of an early morning jog. Bob froze, staring at his own reflection in the window.

"Where you off to so early in the morning? Got a hot date or something? Good looking guy like you probably has to beat them off with a stick huh?" Larry guffawed at his own joke, but Bob started frantically jiggling the car keys in the lock. 

"You got a sticky keyhole there Bob? I got some WD-40 in my garage that'll fix that right up. You know what they say about that Bob? If it moves and it should stay still, use duct tape. If it stays still and it should move, use WD-40! Right Bob? Right?" Bob finally got the door unlocked, and wrenched the door open. He slid into the seat and slammed the door on Larry's self-amused laughter. His hands were shaking so badly that he had to fumble with the ignition too, but Larry still stood there, watching him and rambling on as if Bob was not behind a glass and sheet metal wall. Finally the ignition switch turned, the engine purred to life, and without another look at Larry, Bob pulled the gearshift into reverse and backed out of the driveway. As he drove off, he risked one glance at the rearview mirror to see that Larry was still standing there at the end of his driveway watching him drive off. One hand raised briefly in a farewell wave, and Bob flinched and pushed even harder on the gas pedal.

Hours later, he had finally found a place to relax. Although Bob was not a big fan of nature per se, at least he was alone and he had a good viewpoint so that he could see if anyone was approaching. It was a small state park at the site of some inconsequential Civil War battle, and after following a trail for a mile or two, Bob had found a scenic overlook at the top of a bald hill. He sat there in the afternoon sun, actually enjoying the warmth of it on his face. He forgot for a second his disgust at the filthiness of the wooden bench he was sitting on, as he reveled in the enjoyment of the pure aloneness he felt. No sound but the distant calls of birds reached his ears. Bob sat in that same spot for almost four hours, until he noticed that the sun was nearing the western hills. The thought of finding his way back along the trail in the dark petrified him and he sprinted almost the entire distance back to his car. He arrived back at the car just as the sun disappeared and pulled into his driveway long after dark.

Not bad, Bob decided, as far as days off go.

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bob and Larry

Don't even ask me what Bob's problem is. He started out as arrogant
and rude, and ended up something else. And I have no idea about Larry either. I'm as interested as you are! Oh, here's the assignment:

Up to 600 words in any genre, in which a character's actions reveal their nature.

The panhandler rattled a few coins in the ratty old Big Gulp cup as
Bob walked past. Bob didn’t slow his pace even slightly, and his gaze
never turned aside. He walked straight past the man as if he was
invisible, and paused only to wait for the revolving door to present
him with an empty compartment before he entered.

Inside, he hurried to the bank of elevators, and watched three of them
open and close before he found one that was empty. He got on and
impatiently pushed the close button before anyone else could enter.
When he was alone in the elevator, he breathed a sigh of relief and
pushed the button for his floor. There was always the chance that
someone would come on partway up, but there was nothing Bob could do
about that so he just crossed his fingers and watched the floors go by
on the digital display above the doors.

When the doors opened on his floor, he walked quickly out of the
elevator and down the hall to his office. His eyes remained tightly
focused on a spot on the floor about six feet ahead. He didn’t make
eye contact with any of the people he passed; none of them even tried
to acknowledge him. They all knew the futility of speaking to Bob
unless Bob had first spoken to you. Except Larry.

Whether to harass Bob, or because he really was that friendly was a
common topic of debate around the water cooler. Larry was a friendly
guy, and was generally liked by everyone. Still, there were other
friendly people in the office who had learned to leave Bob alone after
only a single freezing glare in response to their greetings. Since
nobody could come up with another feasibly reason why Larry persisted
in trying to talk to Bob, the debate usually leaned towards
harassment. Then, it always turned to speculation on how long it would
take for Larry’s daily greeting to result in an explosion from Bob.

“Good Morning Bob!” Larry’s deep voice rang out over the cubicle
walls. The only recognition Bob made in return was a slight quickening
of his pace and an almost imperceptible reddening of his cheeks. Larry
hurried around the cubicle dividers just in time to intercept Bob at
his office door. Bob stood there, his office key in one hand and his
briefcase in the other and Larry stood resolutely between him and his
“Did you catch the Caps last night? Pity about that call in the third
period huh? I was hoping they could sweep the series until then!”
Larry tried to catch Bob’s eye as he spoke, leaning over so that he
was sure that he was in his range of vision. Bob continued to stare
straight through him, his face turning redder by the second and the
key in his hand beginning to shake.
“No matter Bob, that just means that we are guaranteed at least a game
five, and that means they will be playing at least one more home game.
I am going to try and wrangle some free tickets out of my buddy again;
you want me to see if I can get you one?” Larry’s smile was broad and
genuine, but Bob continued to stare right through him. Finally, Bob
managed a slight shake of his head, and a weak gesture with the key
towards his door.
“Yeah, you’re right Bob, back to the ole’ grindstone! Have a great
day!” Larry aimed a friendly slap at Bob’s shoulder as he stepped
aside to let him unlock his door but Bob deftly dodged it as he
quickly opened the door and slid inside, slamming it behind him and
leaning his back against it. Taking a deep breath, he slid down the
door to the floor, where he sat for few minutes with his head between
his knees.

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Another slice of the Weasels...

My re-write of the Round Table assignment for this week. I chose to hammer out another slice of my NaNo 2008 novel. Oh, and I went WAY over 600 words. Again... Whoops!

Tiriak put the ruined farm behind him resolutely. His father's sword hung at his hip, where it flapped uncomfortably against his thigh. He had no idea where he was headed, just that he needed to put some distance between himself and the Weasels in his village. His mind reeled with all of the events of the past few days, and his belly growled hungrily to remind him of his continuing fast. He knew of a small village a few miles up the Great Road that had an inn. If he could get there before sundown, there was a chance he could get some food in exchange for washing the dishes or something. The only things he had of value were the clothes he wore, the ceremonial dagger and his father's sword. He was willing to part with none of these things in exchange for food. At least not yet.

Several times as he walked, Tiriak heard the sound of approaching hoofbeats and quickly hid in the brush near the road. He had no desire to meet anyone coming or going from his own villiage, at least not until he figured out the reason the farm had been destroyed. Each time, he would slide his father's sword from its scabbard, and clutch it awkwardly.

He wished desperately that his father had seen fit to teach him at least the most basic fundamentals of swordplay, but it was apparently too late for that now. He had not taken time to investigate the still smoldering rubble of the farmhouse, but logic told him that his father would have to be dead to allow such a thing to happen to his family. Finding the sword hidden beneath the old stone bridge gave him some hope, but why would his father hide the sword and run, rather than wielding it in defense of his farm and family?

Fortunately the road was not busy today, and Tiriak finally reached the villiage just as the sun was beginning to touch the jagged peaks of the mountains. He found the inn and doing his best to assume a confident air, pushed open the rough wooden door and entered. He stood just inside the doorway for a few moments to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness, until a pretty girl approached.
"Can I help you sir?" She was only a few years older than Tiriak, and not yet wearing a wedding ring. Her smile was pleasant enough, but he caught her glancing nervously at the long sword at his hip. He placed his hand on the pommel in what he hoped was a nonchalant manner, and forced himself to return her smile.
"Yes ma'am. I have been walking all day, but I don't have any money. Do you know if I could do some work for you to earn some supper?" The girl's smile faded, although her face remained friendly. Tiriak's stomach growled loudly as if to accent his request. She nodded towards the back of the dining area.
"You will have to speak to my father. But I am not sure we have any work for you. I'm sorry." She turned and returned to the long polished bar. Tiriak turned back towards the table she had indicated. A stout man sat there scratchng busily with a quill on a long piece of parchment. By the way his lips were moving, Tiriak thought for a moment he was having an in-depth conversation with himself. Then he realized that the man was calculating under his breath. Tiriak stood at a discreet distance, not wanting to interrupt. After a few seconds, the man cursed loudly and threw the quill across the room. It was only then that he noticed Tiriak standing there.
"Oy! What do you want then? My daughter is running the place, you can see her to order your food and drink." Tiriak gulped nervously.
"Well, sir, as I told your daughter, I was wondering if you had some work I could do to earn my supper. I have been..." The man interrupted with a snort.
"Looking for a handout are ye? Well, unless you know how to cipher, I got no work for wanderin'..." he stopped when he saw Tiriak's face light up.
"My father was very insistent that I learn to read and cipher sir." The innkeeper scowled darkly at Tiriak, his eyes seeming to take him in fully for the first time.
"A bit young to be out wandering the world aren't ya?" he growled, but Tiriak was sure he had softened at least a bit. "And I don't think that sword fits you. Who did you steal that from?" Tiriak blanched at the question, he had not considered how incongruous the sword might appear at his hip.
"It is all that my father left me when he died." Tiriak decided that the truth was the best course, at least for now.

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved