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Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: Keep on flyin'.

It's time to close out 2013 on Byzantium's Shores. My other retrospective posts are below this one, so check them out as well. After this I won't be posting here again until the second day of 2014! (That's Thursday, folks. Don't panic, now.)

I do this quiz at the end of each year, so here goes:

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I only ever resolve to read more, write more, and eat healthier. These things, I did!

Did anyone close to you give birth?

My church's former youth pastor did, so yay, her! She then promptly moved to Chicago, so...boo hiss! (But not really.)

Did anyone close to you die?

No.

What countries did you visit?

We never left the US this year, except for my journeys to fictional lands in my mind. But we did get in a trip to Cape May, NJ. It was a really busy year, though!

What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

My usual answer: A book on my shelf, a real book, printed by a publisher and everything, that I wrote. As I've already noted, I'll be self-publishing in 2014, so keep an eye on this space! It's coming. Oh yes, it's coming.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Writing, writing, writing!

Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title): two rounds of edits based on beta-reader commentary. I will make one more pass through this book, with a fine-toothed comb, and then I want to have it available by the end of 2014. (Just in time for Christmas!)

Princesses In SPACE!!! Book II: Attack of the Cloned Princesses (not the actual title): I finished the first draft at the tail end of summer, and I am now making my first pass through the manuscript. My goal is to have to my squad of beta-readers by the Super Bowl. My current plan is to have this one available, via self-pub, at the end of 2014.

GhostCop (not the actual title): First draft is done. I'll make a run through it at some point in 2014. Not sure when.

The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy (not the actual title): Currently writing the first draft. No idea, really, when it will be done -- I'm giving myself license to write as long a book as I want for this one, as it's intended as a stand-alone novel.

Princesses III: I only have a tiny idea of what happens in that book. I don't expect to get around to starting it until sometime in summer 2014.

GhostCop II: No idea at all what will happen here. I'm envisioning this as a series, but this one's so far out that I as yet haven't the faintest idea what's going to happen in it. Winter 2014 at the very earliest.

Second book set in the Lighthouse Boy universe: That's so far out there's no point even thinking about it yet. Which means, of course, that my Muse will torment me with ideas for it any day now.

And finally, there's Deliverance, eh? (not the actual title), the book I started and cranked quite a bit of words on for NaNoWriMo 2012 before I bogged down completely. I still like the idea and I'd like to revisit it someday, but...who knows when.

You may be able to tell from all this that I'm all about planning my writing career out. I don't have time for the luxury of lack-of-focus anymore.

What was your biggest failure?

Well, I didn't get any nibbles on the agent or publisher front. But is that a "failure"? I'm not sure that it is.

What was the best thing you bought?

The Wife and I got smartphones. Suck it, LouisCK!

Whose behavior merited celebration?

The Wife, The Daughter, and generally lots of folks!

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I've really found that burying myself into work as much as possible doesn't leave me enough time to be appalled or depressed. I'm still not thrilled with the political right in this country, but...that's about it, really.

Where did most of your money go?

Food, bills, books. Same as most years!

What did you get really excited about?

A wonderful vacation, and the sense that I'm moving forward as a writer even as I figure I'm doing it myself!

What song will always remind you of 2013?

OK, I really had to think about this one a while, but given recent decisions about the way I'm approaching things, I came up with one that may seem a little corny. But you know what? It fits!

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Happier. I have a good run going now.

Thinner or fatter?

Thinner! Every time I go to the doctor I'm a few pounds lighter. Not a ton, but it's coming off, slowly and surely. I love that.

Richer or poorer?

Richer. We're not "rich", obviously, but a lot of hard work seems to be turning the ship in the direction we want to go, at long long long last.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading and writing, of course. Walking. I love walking, and didn't do nearly enough of it this year.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Wasting time online instead of writing.

How did you spend Christmas?

Quietly.

Did you fall in love in 2013?

As ever, I fall in love on a daily basis.

How many one-night stands?

Zero. I’m taken, as always!

What was your favorite TV program?

Person of Interest. I'm still working on a post in my head about how well-written that show is.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Hate doesn't work for me, so I avoid it.

What was the best book you read?

River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay. (Holy shit, I never reviewed it. I just now realized that. Oy....)

What was your greatest musical discovery?

Bartok, courtesy a concert I attended with The Wife a month or so ago.

What did you want and get?

Two more finished manuscripts. A smartphone. Clarity of purpose and a sense of direction!

What did you want and not get?

An agent or a publishing deal. But hey, I'll just do it myself. There are some power tools I have my eye on that I haven't picked up yet. And somehow, I was never able to get on the calendar for a pieing by The Wife. I'll just have to try and get that done twice in 2014.

What were your favorite films of this year?

We liked Thor II: Thor Harder a lot.

What did you do on your birthday?

As usual, I worked, and then we took our annual trip to Ithaca, NY for the Apple Harvest Festival. This year's Festival was odd because they are completely renovating the public commons area in which the Festival takes place, so this year it was shunted off into a couple of different spaces. Next year should be back to normal, though.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

Yeesh, maybe I should just retire this question, as my answer never changes. I'm all about utilitarian clothes.

What kept you sane?

Same reply as last year: Laughing; reading; writing; discovering that even though we've been together in one way or another for almost twenty twenty-one years, I still have ways of getting to know The Wife; singing loudly in the car when I'm by myself; torturing The Daughter with awful puns (something my father did to me, coincidentally enough!); geeking out to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings; getting hit in the face with pies. It's awfully hard to take yourself seriously when crust, custard, and whipped cream are dripping from your face.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

John Oliver's stint as host of The Daily Show was brilliant from pillar to post. Really, really well done!

What political issue stirred you the most?

I continue to be confused by the "Free enterprise will fix every problem" crowd.

Who did you miss?

Sherlock Holmes. He'd better be back soon -- oh. Excellent!

Who was the best new person you met?

I've connected with a bunch of fellow writers on Twitter and Instagram, which is always wonderful -- the more fellow travelers one has, the easier the journey. Most notable is Natasha Head, a Canadian poet.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013:

Read and write every single day.

And keeping the ones from years past: We learn by screwing up, so embrace your inner FAIL! The Internet is made of people. Never, ever punt. (You know, I’m serious about that one. F*** punting. Always go for it. Even if it’s 4th and 30. From your own 2.) Democracy works wonders, but it works them eventually. Not all tears are an evil. Whipped cream is a miracle substance. So is ice cream.

Use your local library! Limiting your reading to only those books you can afford to buy is madness. OpenOffice rules. Buy good tools, take care of them, don't lend them out, and they'll last forever. Pie is wonderful stuff, whether on your plate or in your face. Screw fashion; if it's comfy, wear it. We're not meant to be alone. No object fits in your hand so perfectly as your wife's hand, and no object fits so perfectly on your shoulder as your child's head. Let it be, and all you need is love.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

See, I was trying to think up a song that abounds with cheery optimism. A song with lyrics about not being stopped, not letting the rules get in the way, and making dreams come true.

So, the Byzantium's Shores 2013 anthem is...

...and yes, I am totally serious...

...the theme song from Laverne and Shirley!



Give us any chance, we'll take it.
Give us any rule, we'll break it.
We're gonna make our dreams come true.
Doin' it our way.

Nothin's gonna turn us back now,
Straight ahead and on the track now.
We're gonna make our dreams come true,
Doin' it our way.

There is nothing we won't try,
Never heard the word impossible.
This time there's no stopping us.
We're gonna do it.

On your mark, get set, and go now,
Got a dream and we just know now,
We're gonna make our dream come true.
And we'll do it our way, yes our way.
Make all our dreams come true,
And do it our way, yes our way,
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you!

No, I will not be starting each writing day with "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Schlemiel, Schlamazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!".

And as always, in a 'last but most certainly not least' vein, I'd like to thank all you fine, wonderful readers for dropping by this year, either regularly or 'once-in-a-while'. May each and every one of you enjoy a healthy, happy, and ultimately heavenly 2014!

What I said, when I said it: the best of 2013!

I think this blog really took a marked shift in focus this year, as it feels like I did a lot less lengthy essay-type writing in this space. I'm guessing this is mainly because I put my focus almost entirely on my fiction work this year, after deciding in 2011 that it was time to stop saying "I hope to be a writer someday" and start saying "I am a writer". My book and movie writing dropped off substantially, which dismays me a little. It's not like I wasn't reading and watching new stuff, but I didn't write about it nearly as much as usual in 2013.

Anyway, here's a selection of posts that I particularly like from the year just passing into memory. And as always, I did some (I think!) good writing for the February and August editions of Ask Me Anything!, as well as the April A to Z.

Tip your servers, folks!
Remembering the VIC-20
On Lemons
Snark sucks
Of chickens and crockpots

Let thy freak flag fly!
On 'Bronies' and fandom
On Roger Ebert
On personal blogging
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Bud Herseth

Hey baseball! F*** your shaving-cream-on-a-towel!
Random thoughts on Once Upon a Time
When The Muse taunts me
You're not a special snowflake, Buffalo.
My (now useless) nomination for Twelfth Doctor

Cold-brewing coffee
The rules for reading
In praise of Bugles
On Tennyson
On Breaking Bad and binge-watching

LouisCK is full of crap.
Encyclopedia Brown's life of crime
Favorite back roads of WNY
Snapshots from Ithaca

My rules for writing
A night with the Buffalo Philharmonic
On whining about other people's content
Another year, another NaNoWriMo victory!
Self-publishing: Here I come!



Books I wrote about this year:

Bleyer, Me the People: One Man's Selfless Quest to Rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America
Bujold: Cetaganda
Campbell: The Lost Fleet: Dauntless
Reese: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter
Scalzi: Redshirts

Films I wrote about this year (these aren't all "in-depth" essays):

Amistad
Apollo 13
Casablanca
Les Miserables
Sneakers
Star Trek Into Darkness

The year in pictures

Thanks to Instagram and the new Flickr app for Android devices, I did a lot more casual picture-taking this year, as well as a lot more posting to Byzantium's Shores of pictorial content.

First, I did some pseudo-photoshopping involving everybody's favorite annoying four-year-old: Caillou In Inappropriate Places, and Caillou In Inappropriate Places II. I also posted a lot of what I see as "potential cover art" here -- this is stuff I've seen online that's kinda-sorta the type of thing I wouldn't mind seeing as possible cover art for volumes in the Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) series. Those posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

And here is a selection of photos from the past year. More are available at my Flickr and Instagram sites.


Created with flickr slideshow.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Your Daily Dose of Christmas! JOY TO THE WORLD!!!

The day is here! Repeat, repeat the sounding joy!




May this day and all those to come shine with the light of Christmas, in whatever way best illuminates your path.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

The Vienna Boys' Choir and "The First Noel". We're oh, so close, now!

"Shiny in the Black: A FIREFLY Christmas", part 4 (repost)

(Concluding my repost of this Very Special, but not in the Blossom way, Episode of Firefly.)


part three
part two
part one

"Those aren't toys," Kaylee said. "Those are agricultural supplies for a new colony. Did you change the job while you were out?"

"Seal it back up," Mal said. "That stuff is perishable, and by breaking the seal, we've started the decay process."

The crew stood around, staring at the crate that was supposed to contain toys for the children of the orphanage on Haven but really contained farming seed and fertilizer that had supposedly been destined for Whitefall. Jayne and Book lifted the facing of the crate back into place and restored the seals. When they were done, Jayne stepped back and looked at Mal.

"Well, Mal, guess we got ourselves another hiccup."

"Yeah, looks that way." Mal muttered another curse in Chinese and then he kicked the crate for good measure.

"That won't hurt the crate," River said.

"It will hurt your foot if you do that again, though," Simon said.

"So, what now?" Jayne said. "That's it then, isn't it?"

"I don't know," Mal said. "I'm thinkin'."

Zoe cleared her throat. "Captain, you know Jonas better than any of us. How likely is he to hold this against us?"

"Worried about us having another enemy?"

"I'm running out of space on the piece of paper where I keep their names written down, sir."

"Yeah. Preacher, how did this happen?"

"I have no idea, Captain," said Book. "I double-checked the numbers. We had the right slot number in the warehouse. The only way this happens is if the warehouse workers put the crates in the wrong slots themselves."

And with that, a silence settled over the crew as they realized what had happened.

"Well, this is new," said Jayne. "Never stolen the wrong goods before."

"Yeah, this is definitely a wrinkle we haven't tried before," said Mal. "All right, I'm open to suggestions."

"Suggestions for what?" It was Wash, who had just come down from the bridge. "Everyone's looking awfully glum here."

"We stole the wrong goods, honey," Zoe said.

"Now there's something we haven't done before!" Wash said. "Now what?"

"See?" Mal said. "Took him all of two sentences to get up to speed on this."

"What do we do?" Kaylee asked. "Captain?"

"Maybe the children want to play as farmers," River offered. "They can grow their own vegetables and work the soil."

"River," Book said, "the orphanage is in the middle of a city that's a hundred miles in diameter. There's no soil except what's in the decorative flower pots."

"That sounds depressing," River said. "Children need space."

"Well, we can't solve every problem at once," Zoe said. "Captain, Jonas is gonna know that he can't open the crate without breaching the shelf-life of the goods that he thinks are in there."

"I was thinking the same thing," Mal said. "If that's the case, then Jonas has no idea that he's got a crate full of toys on his ship. Which means that he's on his way to Whitefall. He won't know anything is wrong until Patience does. Of course, knowing Patience, she'll have already tried to shoot him."

"So that's it then," said Jayne. "We ain't gotta do a gorram thing. Let them shoot each other and then we can sell this stuff to whoever takes over for Patience. Make back our coin, and then some."

Mal considered this. After a moment, Shepherd Book stepped forward.

"Captain, I know that your ship is not a democracy, but I must voice my opposition to what Jayne has suggested."

"Yeah, I thought you might," Mal said. "Wash, go get us on a course for Whitefall. Get us there fast. We want to get there before the shooting starts."

"You got it," Wash said as he headed back up the stairs. "A pilot's job is never done! Until he lands, then he's done until the next job...."

"Zoe," Mal said, "I'm gonna need your help figurin' out how to approach this one. We've got to make a switch without both Jonas and Patience deciding that I'm cheating them."

"Sounds like a challenge," Zoe said.

"Why I'm givin' it to you."

"Wait a minute!" Jayne said. "We're gonna try to get the toys back? Anybody else think that's crazy?"

Simon shrugged. "I think it's kind of shiny," he said. Kaylee grinned at him.

"Doc, I'm gonna do somethin' hurtful to you someday soon," Jayne said. "Mal, how can you even consider this?"

Mal looked at Shepherd Book. "I took a job," he said. "And even though the job's starting to bring some trouble, truth is, that's what jobs do. And there ain't a job in the 'Verse that I'm like to walk away from once I take it."

Jayne shook his head. "I can't ruttin' believe this."

"Hey, look at the bright side," Mal said. "We're goin' to Whitefall to try and do business with Patience."

"Probably be some shooting," Zoe added.

Jayne laughed harshly. "Day's gonna come when you're not gonna be able to buy me off by lettin' me shoot some folk," he said.

Mal considered that. "Well, that's gonna be an interesting day. Come on, Zoe. We need to brainstorm."

***


It took them the better part of a day to get to Whitefall, which was a pretty miserable and dusty rock way out on the fringes. Malcolm Reynolds didn't much like this world; it was run by a crusty woman named Patience who didn't tend to practice any, and who had a nasty habit of trying to shoot him. She'd succeeded once, but the last time, Mal had got the better of her. He'd done the job, and despite some unkind words as regarding his character, he'd gotten paid. But this one was going to be tricky, no doubt about that.

"OK, Mal, we're here," Wash said as Whitefall loomed before the ship. "Now what?"

"Well, Patience is a woman of habit," Mal said. "So I'm thinkin' she'll want to meet with Jonas in that same spot she chose to meet us in last time we were here. Good spot for an ambush. So we'll go there and hope we're in time to avoid some fisticuffs and general tomfoolery."

Zoe looked at Mal. "'Tomfoolery', sir?"

"What? You know I like to dust off archaic words now and then."

"Part of what makes you charming, sir."

"Thanks for sayin'. Now, if I'm Patience, I'm puttin' two snipers in the hills around that meeting spot, after we took care of the one she ahd there last time. And Jonas is gonna have his own sniper up there somewhere too. So Jayne and the Shepherd will take care of the snipers for us, and then we walk in and make everybody happy."

"Aren't we doin' an awful lot of counting on the Shepherd to shoot people on this job?" Zoe asked.

"Probably, but that book of his is nonspecific as regards kneecaps and elbows, if I remember right. Wash, same landing spot as before."

"Sure thing, Mal," Wash said. "And I've got Jonas's ship on the scanner now. They're landing as we speak, two hilltops over. Looks like we got here in time."

"It's a Christmas miracle, Captain," Zoe said.

Mal rolled his eyes. "Now don't you start," he said. "Let's go get ready. Wash, put her down."

"Sure thing, Captain," Wash said.

Mal and Zoe walked down to the hold, where Jayne and Shepherd Book were waiting.

"Captain," Book began, "I feel I should apologize for having gotten you into this business."

"Did it with my eyes open," Mal said. "But if you're volunteering for a month of mess duty, I don't think I'll hear any objections from the rest of the crew." He glanced around at Kaylee, Simon, River, and Inara, who all just stood there placidly. "And a month it is! All right, Zoe and me have come up with what we think is a nicely nuanced plan."

Jayne grunted. "Book and I take out the snipers and cover you while you and Zoe try to talk some sense into Patience and Jonas?"

"Yeah, that's about it."

"We gotta start comin' up with plans that don't have quite as much 'if' in 'em," Jayne grumbled.

"Every time I ask you for input, your first words are 'I shoot them'."

"Yeah. Not a lot of 'if' when the other guy's got bullets in him."

"OK. Get that crate ready. And Kaylee, keep the engines warm. We may need to make a fast break for it."

"Be easier if you'd let me replace that drive inducer that I keep warning you about," Kaylee said.

"New year's comin'," said Mal.

***


The scene that confronted Mal and Zoe when they peered over the edge of the knoll above Patience's rendezvous spot was about what Mal expected: Patience sat atop her horse, while her men had Jonas at gunpoint, and Jonas's men had Patience's men at gunpoint. Everybody had everybody else at gunpoint.

"Whole lot of gunpoint," Mal muttered.

"Not too late to find a desk job, Captain," Zoe replied.

"More of us than there are of you, Jonas," Patience said. "And I've got a sniper aimin' at you right now. You're not walkin' away."

"I got a man took out your sniper," Jonas replied. "I'm not stupid, Patience. And my men are better shots than yours. Now how about you toss me the coin and we'll be on our way?"

"All I see here is a big crate," Patience said. "You might as well open her up and let us see the goods."

"Suits me fine," said Jonas. "Randy? Open it."

Keeping his hands visible at all times, Randy popped open the crate and swung it open. "Uh, Captain?" he said.

"This some kind of joke, Jonas?" Patience asked. "That don't look like seed and fertilizer to me."

"What?" Jonas turned to Randy. "What is she gorram talking about?"

"This crate, sir," Randy said. "It's full of...toys."

"Toys?"

"Toys, sir."

"Toys?!"

"This some kind of joke, Jonas?" Patience sounded annoyed. "So you're gonna dump fake goods on me after you have my money?"

Jonas looked uncomfortable.

"Do we go down now?" Zoe asked.

"Shhhh," Mal said. "Things haven't gone south enough yet."

"Patience," Jonas said. "Uhhhh...."

"I'd like to hear an explanation," Patience said. "Before I shoot you myself." She pulled out her pistol.

"Malcolm Reynolds cheated me!" Jonas said.

"Reynolds?" Patience's eyebrows went up. "What's he got to do with this?"

"Funny you should ask!" Mal called out as he rose up and sauntered over the knoll, his pistol in his hand but not aimed at anything. Zoe came behind him, her shotgun in her hand as well.

"Reynolds!" shouted both Patience and Jonas at the same time. Both also pointed their pistols at him, at the same time.

"Well there we go," Mal said. "Two criminals suddenly united in purpose. Warms the heart, eh, Zoe?"

"Sure does, sir."

"Mal, I'll shoot you where you stand," Patience said.

"And I'll shoot you again before you hit the ground," Jonas said.

"Sure," Mal said. "But then you wouldn't hear the explanation and my counter-proposal."

"Explanation?" Jonas roared. "You switched the crates and took the good stuff! What were you going to do, let me get shot and then sell Patience the real goods?"

Mal thought. "Huh. Zoe, that might have worked."

"Surprised you didn't think of it, sir."

"I gotta be goin' soft in my old age."

"Happens to the best of us, sir."

"Jonas, we didn't switch a gorram thing. The warehouse workers screwed up. Those crates were in the wrong spots. We took what we thought was our crate, but it was really yours. And you got ours, thinkin' it was really yours. Kind of an irony, ain't it?"

Patience rolled her eyes. "Right now I'm wondering which of you is the less competent one," she said.

"Well, that would be him," Mal said. "No offense, Jonas, but at least we discovered the problem and we're here to make it right. Now here's our proposal. We take our crate and go on our way. You get your crate, which we stashed about a mile away from here. Then you two finish your business and everybody goes away happy. Or we go away happy and you shoot each other. Whatever you prefer."

"Or I just take all the goods and keep my coin," Patience said. "Mal, you're still not very bright. Neither are you, Jonas. You may have taken out one of my snipers, but I put two up there."

"Yeah, Patience," Mal said. "As to that, we took out Jonas's sniper who took out your sniper. And then we took out your other sniper. So now the only two snipers up there are mine. And they're good, believe me. Aren't they, Zoe?"

"The best, sir."

"Yup. So, Jonas, we'll take this crate now. Yours is a mile that way." He pointed. "No reason for anybody to get shot."

"You takin' my hauler too, Mal?"

Mal shrugged. "I suppose we can leave it behind once we get our goods back on my ship. As a good-will gesture and all."

"Or we can come with you and make sure we get it back," Jonas said.

Mal shrugged. "Or that," he conceded. "We just want our goods."

"A bunch of toys?" Jonas shook his head. "What are you up to, Reynolds?"

"I'm doin' a job," Mal said. "Why does everybody keep asking me that?" He turned to Patience. "Give him the coin, Patience, and go get your box and keep running your little world. Nobody needs to get shot here. It's Christmas."

Patience blinked. "It's what?"

"Never mind. Just get out of here."

Patience sighed. "Every time you show up on this world I end up losing money," Patience said as she tossed a sack of coin to Jonas. "That crate ain't there and I'm puttin' a bounty on you, Mal."

"Yeah, well, I've got a track record here, Patience," Mal said. "I get you the goods and then I get paid. The way a transaction's supposed to be. You're the one likes shootin' people and tryin' to get out of paying, so I'd just as soon you rode off with your men and stopped disparaging me."

Patience laughed. "Fine, Mal, have it your way. But if you don't mind some advice, you need to stop expecting transactions to run the way they're supposed to. That's why you're still flying around in a rustbucket." She gestured to her men, who stood down, and then they rode off.

"She only says that because she can't fly in a ship for ten minutes without puking," Zoe said.

"Yeah, well, let's get this stuff back to Serenity. We've still got a job to do. Jonas, if you would?"

Jonas sighed. "You heard him, men. Let's go. Least we can with him saving our bacon on this one."

Jonas's men grumbled but obeyed. Mal spoke into the mouthpiece on the wire he wore under his coat. "Jayne? Preacher? You can come down now. We're all good here."

"How'd you know where to find us, anyway?" Jonas asked.

"Dealt with Patience before," Mal replied. "Let's move."

"Did you really leave her goods a mile away?"

"Yup."

Jonas shook his head. "You could've kept them, sold them someplace else. Made double profit."

"Thought of that," Mal said. "But I need to be able to do business. No need to make an enemy out of Patience until I have to."

They moved the crate of toys back to Serenity, whereupon Jonas ordered his men to start back to their own ship. Mal ordered his crew to get the ship ready for departure, and then he went outside with Jonas.

"Well, Mal," Jonas said, "it was a pleasure, as always. Now, if that's all--"

"Not quite," Mal said. "I'll be taking the coin that Patience gave you."

Jonas blinked. "What?"

"You heard me," Mal said. "You took coin from me that wasn't yours to take. And despite that, I still came here and saved your gorram hide. Way I see it, you owe me. Let's square up right now. Get it over with."

Jonas stared at him. Mal sighed.

"Jonas, you really want to see what a good draw I am? And what a good shot?"

Jonas sighed and pulled the bag of coin from his jacket pocket and flipped it to Mal. "Every time I wonder how it is you stay in business, you pull something like this out of your hat."

"Not much of a secret," Mal said. "I don't set my sights too high. I just keep flyin'."

"Yeah. Well, do me a favor and don't tell anyone you took my coin from me."

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a payment offered in good will."

Jonas nodded. "Yeah, call it that. But stay away from me for a while, would you?" He lit a cigar and went to join his men. Mal turned and went aboard the ship.

"OK, Wash, let's fly. We need to be in Haven's air within twelve hours."

"We can just make it," Wash replied over the loudspeaker.

Serenity lifted off.

***


Eleven and one half hours later, they were flying toward Haven. Mal came up to the bridge, where Wash was looking at a scanner.

"So?" Mal asked. "What's the new problem?"

Wash blinked. "I didn't call you!"

"I know, but we're due for the next problem with this job. What is it?"

Wash pointed to the scanner. "Alliance ship in orbit. They haven't scanned us yet, and maybe they won't, but if they do--"

"They might board us," Mal said. "Then again, they might not. They're in stationary orbit?"

"Uh-huh," Wash said. "Right above the part of town where our Shepherd's orphanage is."

Mal muttered several curses in Chinese.

"That's what I said," Wash replied.

"All right. Let me think." Mal thought. And then he pressed the intercom button. "Would everybody please report to the hold? You too, Inara. I need everybody."

***


The plan was this: Mal, Zoe, and Wash would stay aboard Serenity, in stationary orbit on the other side of the planet. They would load all of the toys onto Inara's shuttle – individually, because the shuttle wasn't big enough for something the size of that crate – and then Inara would fly down to the orphanage in the middle of the night, when Shepherd Book assured them no one would notice something like a shuttle landing on the roof. Then, Jayne, Book, Simon, Kaylee, and River would take each toy individually to a child.

It wasn't one of Mal's most thought-out plans, but it was the best he could come up with on fairly short notice. Mal thought it was a decent enough plan, until Zoe said "Nice plan, sir," which was what she usually said when she thought his plans were scenarios for utter disaster. But that was the plan, and so it was that on the night before Christmas, when all through the orphanage not a child was stirring, a shuttlecraft flown by a registered Companion came down to land on the roof.

"All right, we're here," Jayne said as he grabbed an armful of toys. "Let's get this ruttin' job over with."

"Said with the true spirit of the day," Shepherd Book said. "All right, everyone follow me. And keep quiet. The whole place is asleep."

"They always knew when I was sleeping," River said. "They knew when I was awake."

"She's gonna be all right, isn't she?" Jayne asked.

"Sure," Simon said. "Isn't she always?"

Jayne shook his head as Shepherd Book led them across the roof and into the orphanage via the roof access door, which Book lockpicked open in seconds.

"Real great security here," Jayne remarked.

"It's an orphanage," Book said. "One where everybody knows there's nothing worth stealing."

They went downstairs, where they found themselves in a very large room, with bunk beds running down each side, and a child sleeping in each bed.

"All right, there are four more rooms like this," Book whispered. "Every child gets a toy."

"Right," Jayne said, and he ran off and started randomly sticking a toy on each bed.

"Jayne!" Kaylee protested. "You can't do it like that! You can't give a boy a doll!"

"Why not?" Jayne asked. "They don't like it they can trade."

"Just do it right," Kaylee said.

"What kind of toys did he play with?" Simon muttered.

In this way they went through the room, distributing a toy to each child. Somehow, miraculously, they got through all of the rooms without waking a single child, giving a toy to each one, one toy to each of three hundred children.

Except the last bed, which, when Jayne approached it, he discovered was empty. No child here, just rumpled sheets. Kid probably got up to go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water. "Huh," Jayne thought. He looked at the toy in his hand – a teddy bear – and decided that he rather liked it. He'd always wanted one when he was a kid, and never got one. And this one was real nice, with a bow around its neck and everything. So there was a toy left over. So what? Kid shoulda been there in bed. Kid's loss. He turned and headed back for the ship.

Meanwhile, River was taking her time over each gift, gently laying it on each bed, and whispering a rhyme over each child. What made it take even longer was that she was inventing each rhyme off the top of her head. Simon wondered if he should intercede, but since she was speaking in verse about things that weren't somehow grimly dark or eerily foreboding, he thought it was best to just let her go.

Also meanwhile, Kaylee found herself wondering if it was really fair to try to pigeonhole these kids into girl toys and boy toys. After all, her toys had been wrenches and hammers and drivers and blast drills and parts from a hundred different ship engines, and look how she'd turned out! Nothin' to be ashamed of. It was a fine life, even if once in a while she wanted something a little more than engine parts and dirty overalls.

Also meanwhile, Inara saw that the orphanage's one lone security guard had had his curiosity piqued by some strange noises, and he came shuffling up the stairs to find a shuttle sitting on his roof. He was about to blow an alarm whistle when she came down and silenced him with a look and a flash of leg. It always worked, especially with young men like this. Barely old enough to grow a beard. Staring at her as though he'd just seen an angel. Sad world, Haven, she thought. No wonder Companions almost never come here.

"Is there a girl you like?" she asked him.

He managed to nod.

She removed a ruby brooch from her robe and handed it to him. He gulped.

"Give this to her," she said. "And say nothing of me tonight."

He managed to nod, again. A major accomplishment, that. And so she sent him on his way, knowing that this would be their little secret, forever. Inara could keep secrets, and what would he say? Would he talk of the beautiful woman in the spaceship on his roof? No. Of course not. She smiled.

Finally meanwhile, Shepherd Book went all the way to the lowest level of the orphanage, where the oldest kids were. These kids were in the worst shape, the ones most likely to end up in something a bit worst than Mal's line of work, the ones most likely to end up on the wrong end of someone's gun or floating dead through the Black. He had little hope that a toy, just one toy, would be enough to budge more than maybe one or two of them off the trajectory their lives had them on, but lots of miracles had started from smaller stuff than a single toy. He laid each one on a bed, and tried not to linger too much over the one particular bed, the one over there on the left. On his way back up to the roof, he paused at the door to the headmaster's apartment. He wondered if he might say hello, under other circumstances. Or if he might rather go in there with a gun instead of a bible. He lingered there only a moment and then returned to the roof.

"Are we all here?"

"We're just waiting on Jayne," said Simon.

"Where is he?!"

At that moment, Jayne was muttering, "Where's the gorram stairs around here?" He'd gotten lost. It was a bigger orphanage than he'd though, and now he had no idea how to get back up to the roof. But he had to get up there, fast; the night was getting old and people would be getting up soon. He rushed around, all over the place, looking behind every door, until he found the stairs up. "'Bout time," he said. And then he stopped, because there was an eight-year-old girl looking at him.

"Uhhh...hi there," he said. "You should be in bed, youngster."

"I couldn't sleep," said the girl. "I have bad dreams. I wanted a drink of water."

"Well, you got your drink, so back to bed."

"You're not from here," the girl said. "Are you here to steal things?"

"No," Jayne said. "Not this time, anyway. Maybe tomorrow, haven't figured out the next job yet. Don't know. Gotta keep moving." But he didn't move. That girl just stood there, looking at him. All big-eyed, with her tangled hair and bedrobe that wasn't filthy but had seen better days anyway.... "I think your eyes are stuck," he said. "I gotta go."

"Bye," she said. And she stood there watching as he went halfway up the stairs, where he stopped.

"Aww, gorram it," he said as he turned back and came back down. "This is for you." He handed her the teddy bear. "Hold onto it tight when you sleep. Might help with them dreams. I got a preacher friend who says this is Christmas, so...have a ruttin' happy Christmas." And then he went up the stairs, practically running up them, to get away from the girl with the big eyes.

"That all the toys?" he asked when he got on board the shuttle.

"There were about twenty or so left over," said Simon. "I left those in a playroom."

"We're all ready, right?" Inara called back.

"We're all here!" Book said. "Close her up and let's go home."

Inara guided the little shuttle back into the air, and up into the sky toward the planet's other side, where Serenity lay in orbit.

"What took you so long, Jayne?" Kaylee asked.

"Got lost," Jayne said. "And...there was a little girl. Don't worry, I gave her a toy."

River pointed at his shirt, his red shirt. "A man with a beard wearing red came in the night to give her a present," she said. "Just like the old stories!"

Jayne stared at her. "What is she ruttin' talkin' about?"

"Nothing," said Book.

When they arrived on Serenity, Mal was there, waiting.

"Nice work," he said.

"Thank you, Captain," said Shepherd Book. "I appreciate it."

"I did a job," Mal said. "Soon as that tree gets dry and starts dropping those sharp needles all over my mess--"

"I'll have it down, sir."

Mal nodded and headed for his bunk. "Nice work, everyone," he called out. "Zoe, wake me when we get to Persephone."

***


A few weeks later they'd done another job, and they all had a little extra money. Not a lot, but some. So they all decided to exchange gifts. Mal wasn't sure whose idea it was, or if it even was anyone's idea, but it seemed to happen anyway.

Zoe gave her dear husband Wash that stegosaurus figurine he'd wanted. Wash gave his beloved wife Zoe a brand new leather vest.

Shepherd Book gave Simon an old copy of a very old anatomy book, a 'classic text' on the subject, from Old Earth. Simon gave River a rose made out of glass, with gold leaf on the petals; she commented on the fact that it had thorns. River gave the Shepherd a new Bible, which she promised him she would leave 'uncorrected'.

Kaylee gave Jayne a new carrying case for Vera, his favorite gun; Jayne gave Inara a robe that she knew she would look stunning in but would never ever ever wear in front of Jayne. And Inara gave Kaylee a new engine stabilizer and one of her own robes.

And Mal? He got what he always wanted. He got to keep flying.

The End
Merry Ruttin' Christmas
and a Happy Gorram New Year!!!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Silent Night.



"Shiny in the Black: A FIREFLY Christmas", part 3 (repost)

Continuing my repost of this Very Special (but Not Blossomesque) Episode of Firefly.



part two
part one

"Weapons on the ground!" the voice shouted. "Now!"

"Do it," Mal said. He shot a look at Jayne, whose expression of disgust tended to be indistinguishable from his expression of being about to lose his temper. Slowly, Mal, Zoe and Jayne all laid their guns on the floor.

"Put that package on the floor too, preacher," said the voice.

Book put the crate down.

"All right, face the crates."

They complied.

"Put your hands on your head."

They complied.

"Stand on your left feet and recite the first stanza the Alliance anthem!"

Mal glanced at Zoe. "Uh, what?"

Now the voice burst out in laughter. "All right, turn 'em off," he said. The floodlights all shut off, and the light returned to the dim of the warehouse overhead lamps. Mal turned toward the source of the voice to see a stocky man dressed in old army fatigues approaching. The man was bald except for long, stringy hairs that hung from the back of his head; he had a thick mustache and three days' growth of beard. He gave Mal a gap-toothed grin as he put his hands on his hips.

"Ahh, Mal, what am I gonna do with you?"

Mal and the others glanced around at the 'lawmen', and saw that they weren't lawmen at all. They were a motley bunch of thieves. Not unlike themselves.

"Jonas," Mal said. "Fancy meeting you here. I never figured you to be on Ariel. Kind of a rich world for your tastes, isn't it?"

"Gotta go where the money is, my boy," the man named Jonas said as he lit a cigar and took a few puffs. "'Sides, ain't planning on being here long. I'm guessing you weren't either."

"Not really," Mal agreed. "Can we put our hands down? I don't tend to find this posture conducive to friendly chat."

"Ain't so sure we're being friendly," Jonas said. "But sure, let your hands down. Don't make a move toward those weapons, though."

"Of course not," said Mal. "After all, we're just bein' friendly."

"I suppose we are," Jonas replied as Mal and his people lowered their hands. "So, Mal, what are you doing here?"

"Same as you," Mal said. "Doin' a job."

"And what would be the nature of that job?"

"Well, we're purchasing the contents of this crate right here and going with them to a...client on Haven. Easy enough."

"Sounds easy. Haven's a piss-poor world...wait, did you say you were purchasing the goods?"

Mal shrugged. "Yeah, we're doin' it the honest way this time. Wanted to see what that was like."

"Really. Honest. Dumpin' a box of coin here and taking the box? That's a new version of honest. Sounds to me like you've found a way of stealin' that ends up costin' you money."

"Yeah," Mal said, shooting a look at Shepherd Book, "I guess we didn't really work all the kinks out."

"Well, Mal, I can't let you have this box. See, we need it, too. I'm doing a job, myself, and there's a cantankerous old woman out on Whitefall that could use some of what's in that box."

"Whitefall?" Mal laughed. "You're planning on doing business with Patience?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"Oh, no reason," Mal said. "Just make sure you plan for her to try to shoot you."

"Nah," Jonas said. "Patience and me go way back. I was the one who told her that she should shoot you if she got the chance."

"Well that was nice of you," Mal said. "She got the chance. Twice. I'm still here, still flyin'. Counts for somethin'."

"Yeah, I guess it does. But I can't let you take this box, coin or no. You see, Mal--"

"Hey, Captain!" It was one of Jonas's men. Jonas rolled his eyes.

"What is it, Randy? I'm trying to be threatening here, and you're interrupting."

"I know, Cap, but this ain't the box we're here for."

"What?"

"Look!" The wiry man named Randy held out a PDA for Jonas to look at. "See, that's the number of the box we want. It's the next one over. That one."

"Really?"

"Yeah. That one's got the farming seed and fertilizer in it. See, the one we want is in slot number 29-94-77. This slot is number 29-94-75."

"Oh," said Jonas.

"Well, this changes things a bit, doesn't it?" Mal said.

"I think it does, Captain," said Zoe.

"You see, Jonas, there's no need to make this deal confrontational. Instead of goin' that way, we can go another. We're not even here for the same crate. We'll take what we want, you'll take what you want, and everybody's happy."

"Seriously, Mal? You're after this crate? What's in it?"

"I don't think that really matters," said Mal. "Haven's not a big farming world, so you can bet I'm not looking for farming seed and fertilizer. Let's just take what we all want and be done with it."

Jonas kept his gun aimed at Mal as he considered things. Then he nodded at the Shepherd.

"Sure, Mal, we can do that. But I want the coin, too."

Mal shrugged. "Give it to him, Preacher," he said.

"Really?" asked Book.

"Yeah, really," Mal said. "Plan was to leave the coin here anyway. But if you're gonna take the coin, least you could do is have your boys load our crate onto our hauler for us."

"I suppose I could do that," Jonas said. His men grumbled, but he hissed them quiet. "A friendly gesture, right?"

"Yeah," Mal said. "If we promise not to shoot you, can we pick up our guns now?"

"Sure," Jonas said. "But we'll still be coverin' you until this is done."

"I figured," Mal replied as he picked up his pistol. The others followed suit.

"How'd you get in here, anyway?" Jonas asked.

"Door was open."

"Well, I suppose you can thank me for that," Jonas replied. "Paid the guards to leave it open and make themselves scarce. All right, boys, you heard the man. Let's get these boxes loaded! Remember, this one here goes with them, that one down there goes with us. With the Shepherd's coin."

Book handed the box of coin to one of Jonas's men, four of whom turned to the work of loading both crates while Jonas and Randy kept their pistols aimed at Mal and his people.

"Somethin' here ain't right," Jayne said. "We're gonna get screwed on this deal."

"Well, Jayne, the screwing was built into the deal, so at least we're not surprised by it." Mal shook his head. "This is a weird damn job, though."

"Nah," Jayne replied. "There's still some way this is gonna go south. You watch. Always happens to us."

Mal rolled his eyes. "Not all our jobs end in disaster," he said.

"Name one," Jayne said.

"Well, there was--"

"You ended up drunk and with a con-woman pretending to be your wife."

"Yeah, but it was good up to then."

After about ten minutes, they were all outside and both crates were loaded onto their respective haulers.

"Well, Mal," said Jonas, "I'd prefer if you'd drive off first. And try to stay out of my way in the future."

"Pleasure doin' business as always, Jonas," Mal said. "But I wouldn't mind pointin' out that just because we were in the same place, doesn't mean I was in your way."

"Even so. I don't want to get your luck on me, Reynolds. You have a history of taking on work that doesn't leave you much of a profit. One day you're gonna realize that 'Just keep flying' isn't a great strategy for life."

"Thanks for the wisdom, Jonas. Got some for you, too."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"Patience is gonna try to shoot you."

Jonas grinned. "Let her try." He gestured with his pistol, sending Mal and his people off.

"I'm tellin' you, this is gonna be a bad deal for everybody," Jayne said as they neared Serenity.

"Calm down, Jayne. Your opinion is noted."

Mal drove the hauler back onto the ship's cargo hold, and Kaylee closed the hatch behind them. Simon and River were there waiting; Wash was on the bridge, and he called down on the intercom.

"Captain?" Wash said. "I'm ready to lift."

"What are you waiting for!" Mal responded. The ship shifted beneath their feet as the engines roared and Serenity lifted off. Book and Jayne were offloading the crate from the hauler and securing it.

"You see, everybody?" Mal said as he took off his overcoat and tossed it at the foot of the stairs. "Nice, simple job. No big worries, no big fuss. We're out some coin, sure, but we've got a big crate full of nice, shiny toys that will make all the children in an orphanage on Haven happy."

"Everything went all right?" said Simon. "No hiccups?"

"One little hiccup," Mal said. "But it didn't amount to much."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Captain," said Shepherd Book.

"What?"

"Hey Mal," Jayne said. "We got a problem."

Mal glanced at Zoe. They walked aft, to where Book and Jayne were both staring at the crate, which Book had opened. Zoe took one look and let out a string of expletives in Chinese. Mal did the same, only with a string of completely different expletives in Chinese.

The crate was full of farm seed and fertilizer. They had the wrong crate.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Now we're into "It's not Christmas until I hear this song" territory, so in that spirit, here are Bing and Dave.

"Shiny in the Black: A FIREFLY Christmas", part 2 (repost)

(Continuing my repost of last year's Very Special Christmas episode of...)


part one

Wash put Serenity down on the landing pad, nice and gentle. So nice and gentle that Zoe complimented him on it.

"You're getting' more gentle all the time, honey," Zoe said. "You have such a gift for handling sensitive equipment."

"Thanks for sayin' so, my love," Wash replied. "But I could always use more practice--"

"All right, enough of that, you two." Mal came up onto the bridge, fully dressed in his usual brown shirt, brown pants, brown belt, brown holster, brown boots, and probably brown socks too, if one could see them underneath all of that. "Wash, you keep the ship warmed and ready to lift if some part of this job goes south. Zoe, you're coming along."

"I figured, sir."

"Captain," Wash said, "is it really necessary to have contingency plans for this job? We're actually conducting an honest transaction for once."

"Yeah," Mal said. "For once. We don't get a whole lot of practice with this kind of thing, so who knows what might go wrong. You and Kaylee keep the ship ready. River and the Doc will keep you company. Zoe, you'll be with Jayne, the Shepherd, and me."

"What's Inara doing?"

"Well, I think she's still on her shuttle, writing long entries in her diary about how much she hates me right now."

Zoe knew what that meant. "You told her no clients."

"We ain't got time. Why am I always the bad guy on this?"

"Oh, I couldn't begin to venture a guess, Captain," Zoe said. "Let's go."

Mal and Zoe began to exit the bridge.

"Zoe?" Wash called out.

"Yes, love?"

"You're going to buy toys," Wash said. "I could use a new stegosaurus for the collection."

"I'll see what I can do."

The Captain and Zoe left then, and Wash reached into the small footlocker next to his seat and pulled out a handful of his dinosaur figurines.

In the cargo hold, Shepherd Book and Jayne had the cargo hauler ready to go.

"Jayne," Book said, "do you really need that many guns?"

"Preacher, are you carryin' that Bible of yours right now?"

"Good point."

They lifted a crate containing coin up onto the back of the hauler as Mal and Zoe arrived and descended the criss-crossing stairs down to their level.

"Awful lot of coin to be givin' up," Mal said.

"A purchase of good will is never a bad purchase," said Book.

"You get that from that Bible of yours?"

"No, it just came to me," Book replied. "A preacher can't live on the words of one book alone."

"All right," Mal said. "Let's go. Kaylee, open her up."

"Be careful, Captain," Kaylee said as she opened the ship's cargo door and lowered the ramp. Mal, Jayne, Zoe and Book drove off in the hauler. Then Kaylee closed the ship back up. She turned away from the control and nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw that River was standing there, unblinking, just inches away.

"River! You scared me!"

"Would you like me to teach you a song?" River asked.

Kaylee blinked. "Uhhh...sure, honey. I'd love to learn a song."

"It goes like this. 'On the first day of Christmas, the operatives brought to me....'"

"Uh, River?" Kaylee interrupted. "Is this one of those creepy songs you learned while you were captive at...that place?"

"Yes," River said. "I guess I should learn some new songs myself."

"Yeah," Kaylee said. "That would be great."

***


Mal drove the hauler through a warehouse district of Ariel's main city. Unlike the shiny, wealthy area they had visited a few months earlier – to steal some medicine – this area was much darker and dingier. Every planet, no matter how rich, had parts like this, Mal had long since learned. No one was rich enough to banish dirt and grime forever.

"You know where this warehouse is, right, Book?" Mal asked.

"I've got the address right here," Book said, holding up an electronic data organizer. "And the crate number of the merchandise we're getting. It'll be in and out."

Jayne growled. "Every time one of you people says we'll be in and out, I go through half my ammo. I haven't had an in and out job since--"

"Jayne, I'm sure that's fascinating," Mal cut in. "But just in case it ain't, why don't you hold it to yourself?"

"Sure, Mal," Jayne said. "I'll just sit here and be quiet as usual while you and Zoe tell each other the same stories over and over again. Hey, can I hear that one about that time you both got your asses kicked by the Alliance? I love that one."

"Captain," Mal said, pointing to himself. "First mate," he said, pointing to Zoe. "Gun for hire." He pointed to Jayne.

"Thank you for clearing us up on the chain of command, Captain," said Shepherd Book. "But we appear to have reached the warehouse."

"All right." Mal brought the hauler to a stop near an entrance. "Standard procedure. Zoe, you'll get us in. Then, Jayne, you're in first, followed by me, then the Shepherd, and Zoe, you bring up the rear. We're going to try and find this crate, get it, and be done with it before anyone knows were here."

"In and out, Captain?" Zoe said.

"In and out," Mal agreed.

"Not usually our thing," Zoe said as she walked to the door.

"See, Mal?" Jayne said. "This is what I'm talkin' about."

"Well Jayne, that's six hours since I last regretted hirin' you." Mal smiled. "I think that's a new record for you, ain't it? Hey Zoe, you got that door open yet?"

"Think so, sir," Zoe said as she pressed a button that made the large bay door swing open. "Pretty easy, too."

"Huh," said Mal.

"Anybody else thinkin' that was a little too easy?" Jayne put in.

Mal shrugged. "Well, we've got guns, so if we get into some local color, we can make our way out."

"There might be armed guards inside," Book pointed out.

"Cold feet, Shepherd?" Mal said. "This was your idea. But we're here, and I'm not in the habit of runnin' away at the first sign of something unexpected, especially if that unexpected thing is something that actually makes my life a little easier. Like an unlocked door. Shepherd, grab the coin. Jayne?"

Book picked up the crate of coin, and Jayne came forward and led them inside.

The warehouse was, pretty much, like every other warehouse in the 'Verse. There's only so much you can do, really, to dress up hundreds of stacks of thousands of cargo crates in an enormous, cavernous room.

"Well, would you look at that," Jayne said. "A warehouse. We don't see these too often."

"Sure, Jayne."

"I mean, yeah, we go into our share of storehouses, stockpiles, armories...there was that one depository we knocked over that one time...and before I joined you people, there was that distribution center job...but not a lot of warehouses."

"Jayne," Mal said, "are you trying to get on my gorram nerves?"

"Just commentin' on the unique nature of this job, Mal."

"Shut it, Jayne," Zoe said. "Preacher, you got the crate number?"

Book consulted a slip of paper. "It's 29-94-75."

Mal looked at the manifest markings emblazoned on the side of several nearby crates, and determined which way they needed to go. "This way," he said, and with Jayne in the lead and Zoe in the rear, they made their way down the corridor created by line upon line of stacked crates.

It didn't take long to find it. The crate was pretty large, taller than Mal by about two feet, and about eight feet long and six feet across. Mal shone his flashlight on the crate and read the number. "This is it," he said. "29-94-75. No other markings."

"There wouldn't be," Book said. "The number is all they need."

"Yeah, I know how shipping works," Mal said. "All right, here it is. Now we just gotta get it out of here."

"That crate's a little big for me to haul out on my back," Jayne said. "Of all the gorram--"

Zoe cleared her throat. "I think that's the solution to our problem, Captain," she said. She pointed to an open area about thirty feet away, where two forklifts stood silent.

"There it is, then," Mal said. "Easy. Jayne, you'll drive the lift. We'll get the goods back out to our hauler, get back to the ship, before anyone knows we were here. No problem. See, I told you! Easy job."

At that moment six floodlights turned on, three from each side, all trained on Mal and his crew.

"Malcolm Reynolds!" a voice boomed out from the darkness behind the floodlights. "Malcolm Reynolds, you are bound by law to stand down."

Jayne muttered something in Chinese.

"In and out, right, Captain?" Zoe said.

All Mal could do was raise his hands and nod for the others to do the same.

To be continued....

part three

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I really love A Prairie Home Companion. Here is Garrison Keillor doing "The Twelve Days of Christmas", with an assist by his always-able sound effects guy, Tom Keith, who died a couple years ago.

"Shiny in the Black: A FIREFLY Christmas", part 1 (repost)

It's a Christmas tradition here at Byzantium's Shores! I rarely commit acts of fanfiction, but...this is one of them. If Firefly had ever had a "Very Special Christmas Episode", I think it might well look like this. Enjoy! It's in four parts; they will run each day between now and Christmas Eve.



Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me
Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me
There's no place I can be
Since I found Serenity
But you can't take the sky from me...


Captain Malcolm Reynolds was usually the first one to exit his bunk in the morning, which, coupled with the fact that he was also usually the last one to retire to his bunk at night, went a long way to making him the way he was. Even on mornings like this one, when the night before he and the rest of his crew had been up abnormally late celebrating a score on Persephone, he was up before anyone else, no matter how much his head throbbed and the metallic taste of too much bad whiskey filled his mouth. But on this morning, as he climbed up the ladder to the hallway and shuffled toward the mess, he slowly realized that he wasn't the first one up this time. Someone was in the mess already, and they were singing. Mal could make out the words – "God rest ye, merry gentlemen..." -- and he inwardly sighed. On a typical day, Mal needed at least three cups of green tea before he was ready to deal with Shepherd Book. Today he figured to need six cups before he felt ready to talk to anyone.

"Ah! Good morning, Captain! There's water on the stove, just off the boil, if you're looking for tea." The Shepherd beamed.

"Yeah," Mal said. "I'll get to the tea in just a moment, Shepherd, but just now I'm a bit flummoxed as to why there's a tree in the corner of my mess."

"Oh, that," said the Shepherd. "I hoped you wouldn't mind. Just a little something I picked up before we left Persephone yesterday."

"I didn't notice you bringing a tree on board?"

"Yes, I was worried about how to sneak it onto the ship, when I realized that God had provided me a perfect way to get it past your eyes."

"And that was...."

"You and Jayne were ripping drunk. Zoe and Wash and the Doctor carried you on board. You weren't noticing anything last night."

"I wasn't that drunk!"

"Maybe, Captain, but you got out of bed and came all the way to the mess wearing your gun, your slippers, and a pair of women's underwear."

"Oh." Mal staggered over to the stove. "I think I'm gonna have that tea now, while you explain why there's a gorram tree on my gorram boat."

"There's no need for language, Captain." The Shepherd folded his hands in front of his chest, in that prayerful stance that Mal hated. Of course, Book well knew that the Captain hated it when he took that tone, which is why he did it so much more often now. Mal just grunted as he fumbled in the cupboard for his favorite mug and the tea leaves.

"Hand me the kitchen robe," Mal said.

"Certainly." Book opened another cupboard and pulled out a bundle of cloth, which he tossed to the Captain. This was the 'kitchen robe', a bathrobe that Mal kept stashed in the mess just for situations like this. He put on the robe as his tea steeped, and just in time, too, because that's when Zoe and Wash arrived. Zoe looked all cleaned up and ready to go, as did Wash, even if no one could tell because Wash generally looked all cattawumpus, with his unbuttoned shirt over a tank top, shorts, and sandals.

"Well, this is very nice," Zoe said. "Care to let us know what you're wearing underneath the kitchen robe, sir?"

"I do not," said Mal. "And you can stop laughing. We've all had mornings like this."

"Not laughing, sir."

"You laugh on the inside," Mal countered.

"It's true, honey," said Wash. "You do. I, on the other hand, plan to laugh joyously out loud at our Captain and his self-induced plight."

"I hold my liquor better than you," Mal said.

"I never get much chance to develop my skills in that regard," Wash replied, "seeing as how somebody's gotta be sober enough to fly the ship. Speaking of which, do we have a destination, Captain?"

"Can I drink my tea first before I think about business?"

"Certainly, sir."

Shepherd Book took a step forward. "I actually have a few thoughts as to that--"

"Ooooh, pretty!" And with that, everyone turned to greet Kaylee, who had just arrived in the mess as well, wearing a freshly cleaned pair of overalls over a shirt with little red hearts all over it. "I didn't know we could grow trees on board!"

"We can't grow trees on board," Mal said. "This here is a flight of fancy by the good Shepherd, who I'm sure will be explaining himself momentarily."

"Well, I like it," said Kaylee. "It's shiny."

"It's not shiny yet, actually," said Book. "It will be, after we decorate it."

"Decorating?" Mal said. "A tree?"

"Yes sir," said Book.

"So just the fact that there's a tree on my boat isn't even the strangest part of this whole business?"

"It's not strange, Captain," said Book. "It's a tradition."

"Preacher, you got any notion as to how many weird things people do are explained by casual use of the word 'tradition'?" Mal sipped his tea. "That explains a lot of your whole 'Shepherding' job, you know."

"Traditions become traditions because they mean something to people," Book said. "You've got some traditions yourself, Captain."

"Name one."

"For one, your finding of an Alliance-friendly bar every year on Unification Day. And also your overindulgence every time we get a little more money for a job than you'd planned." He smiled. "At least this tradition doesn't involve a headache and the burning of another set of clothes."

"Yeah, well, I'll be taking that explanation now, if you don't mind."

"Certainly, Captain. It all began on--"

He was interrupted by a loud burst of raspy Chinese as Jayne Cobb staggered into the mess. "Smells like a ruttin' forest in here," Jayne said when he'd finished cursing in Chinese."I hate forests. They remind me of my grandmother."

This, as did many things Jayne said, made everyone stop talking and stare at him.

"What? Oh, I suppose you all think that forests are nice places filled with happy little creatures. Like one of Kaylee's storybooks."

"I don't read 'storybooks'," Kaylee protested. "I'm not a child, Jayne. I'm an engineer and I'm a woman with all the needs of a woman, like—"

"Stop! Please!" Mal burst out. "You know I don't want to hear about that, Kaylee."

"Sorry, Captain."

"Wash, can you just get us in the air, please?"

"I wanted to hear about this tree first," Wash said. "I mean, since you haven't given us a destination yet for our next job and all."

More silence, until Zoe cleared her throat.

"By any chance, Captain, did you think to line us up a new job when we finished the old one?"

Mal shrugged. "I had other things on my mind last night," he said.

"I'll say," said the newest arrival into the mess. "Although I don't think he was exactly thinking with his mind last night." It was Inara, who looked typically resplendent in her kimono-like morning robe. "Was she memorable, Mal?"

"Well, she--"

"You don't remember her, do you?"

"You know, I think we've all got off the main topic here, which is why there's a gorram tree on my boat!"

"Well, Captain," said Book, "as I tried to start explaining--"

"A Christmas tree," said yet someone else. Tensions went up as the voice of the ever-enigmatic River Tam cut through. "We had a Christmas tree at the institute. The men there said there would be presents. That was before they started the mental probes."

River stood there in the doorway, with her brother, Simon the good doctor, standing behind her.

"River?" Simon said. "Do you remember something?"

"I remember everything," River said. "I just choose when to talk about it."

"So," Simon said, "you know what the tree is?"

"I just said so," River replied. "It's a Christmas tree. But it's naked. It needs decorations to make it shiny."

"Ah," said Book. "You see, Kaylee? That's what I was getting at. We'll decorate it."

"With what?" Kaylee asked.

"Oh, all sorts of things," said Book. "Ornaments made of painted glass. Little lights. Popcorn that we put on strings. And I even have a figurine of an angel for the very top of the tree."

Jayne cleared his throat. "Anybody else here havin' a hard time figurin' out who's crazier here, the Shepherd or the Doc's sister?"

"I don't think it sounds crazy," said Kaylee. "I think it sounds nice."

"It kind of does," said Wash. Noticing Zoe giving him a skeptical glance, he went on, "What? I've been saying for years that this boat could use some more color on it."

"My boat's got all the color it needs," said Mal. "Look, people, next person other than the Shepherd who talks is on mess patrol for a month. Shepherd, explain this. You've got until I finish my cup of tea, and if your explanation ain't convincing, you're the one on mess patrol."

"A hard bargain as always, Captain," said Book. "It's an Old Earth tradition. The Bible tells us that one day, God decided to come into the world in the form of an infant, so he could save his people. Ever since then, believers have celebrated that night by doing things like exchanging gifts, and bringing trees into their homes to decorate. That's what I'm doing here."

"Shepherd," Mal said, "didn't I once tell you that God ain't welcome on the Serenity?"

"You did, Captain. But it's my belief that God is here, whether you consider him welcome or not."

"Well, be that as it may, you've brought a tree onto my ship without asking me."

"Would you have said 'yes'?"

"No, but that ain't the point. I like to be asked anyway. It's my ship."

"I just thought...it might be a source of pleasure for us," Book said. "You don't have to believe to celebrate."

"You said somethin' about exchangin' gifts," Jayne said. "What's that?"

"Well," Book said, "we could each randomly select a member of the crew and get that person a gift." He noticed the scowl on Mal's face. "Or not."

"We should," Kaylee said. "We don't do enough nice things for one another."

"I let you all stay on board," Mal said. "That's nice of me."

"And your hospitality is known throughout the 'Verse," Inara said. "That's why so many people flock to us to give us money."

"Yeah," Mal said, "I'm a loving man. But as to the money thing, you said something about a job, preacher? You got a lead for us?"

"I do," said Book. "Of a sort."

"Of a sort? The paying sort?"

"Not as such, no."

"Then what is it?"

"There's an orphanage on Haven," Book said.

"Lot of orphanages on Haven," Jayne pointed out.

"Yes, but as it happens, I know this orphanage particularly well." Book looked like he was remembering something...but then he snapped back to the moment. "I would simply like for us to take some of our recently abundant bounty – not all of which was obtained through means the authorities would entirely smile upon – and use it to purchase supplies for the orphanage. We would then deliver said items to the orphanage in time for an upcoming festival."

"Supplies?" Mal asked.

Book nodded. "Food, clothing, and...toys."

"Toys?" Mal repeated.

Jayne frowned. "And we're doin' this in exchange for what?"

Book just smiled.

"No way," Jayne said. "No way, uh-uh. No way I'm givin' some of my ruttin' money to some bunch of orphans. Ain't my fault they ain't got no home. Let 'em grow up, find work, and make an honest livin'."

"Is anyone besides me," Simon said, "unusually touched by Jayne's newfound belief in making an honest living?"

"Shut up, Doc," Jayne said. "Least I ain't hidin' behind a slip of a girl."

"No," River said. "You hide behind a gun that you gave a girl's name."

Jayne's only response to that was a grumbled growl.

"Let me get this straight, preacher," Mal said. "You want us to spend some of the money we've fought and scrimped for and use it to give stuff to children? And you want us to do this on a time frame of...what?"

"Three days, Captain."

"Three days. And we're doing all this with no reward for us?"

"Not all rewards come in the form of money, Captain."

"The ones that keep this boat in the air do," Mal said.

"Come on, Captain!" Kaylee said. "I, for one, would like to do a job for once that don't make me feel like I need a shower after."

"Maybe we put it to a vote of the crew?" Simon offered.

Mal glared at him. "My ship ain't a democracy," he said. "But...Jayne?"

"Can't decide, Mal," he said. "Normally I'd be against this sort of stuff, but I'm thinkin' that if we don't do it, Kaylee here'll be complaining about it for months. Might well be worth doin' to keep her quiet."

"Thanks, Jayne," Kaylee said. "But really, it'll feel good. Don't you all want to feel good about something for once? I mean, feel good about something other than stealin' from the Alliance?"

"There's other things to feel good about?" Jayne asked.

Mal turned to his second in command for help. "Zoe?"

"I don't know, Captain," Zoe replied. "Normally I'm siding with you, but right now, I find myself a bit swayed by Kaylee's youthful exuberance."

"I can't believe I'm even considering this," Mal said.

Shepherd Book put a hand on Mal's shoulder. "I think that maybe some part of you is seeking redemption," Book said.

Mal glared at him.

"Not really helping your cause there, preacher," Zoe said.

Book removed his hand.

"If we do this," Mal said, "I've got some conditions. Kaylee, you are not allowed to badger me for an optional ship's part for one month. Shepherd, you will do all cooking and mess duty for the same month. Jayne, one word that this job makes me soft, and I'm shooting you out the airlock."

"What about me, Captain?" Inara asked, purposely blinking her beautiful eyelashes as she did so.

"Uh...I'll think of something," Mal said. "All right, Shepherd, where are we going first?"

"To buy some toys," Book said. "Which means a trip to Ariel."

"Wash, you heard the man. Let's get in the air. I'm gonna go clean up. Can't believe I'm doing this...." And with that, Mal left the mess to return to his bunk. Wash and Zoe headed for the bridge, and Kaylee left for the engine room. River gave Shepherd Book a look of reproach.

"You didn't tell him the part about the elfin-man dressed in red who flies through the sky to give the children their presents," she said.

"On the whole," Book replied, "I figured it best to leave that part out of it."

"Yeah," Simon said. "That was...probably wise."

Minutes later, Serenity lifted off and flew away from Persephone and toward Ariel.

End Part One
Part Two

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Revisiting cover art

The other day I noted, with some enthusiasm, an image that comes super super close to the kind of cover art I'd love to see for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title). I did try to track down the artist by following Tumblr links, but...well, if you've ever tried to trace the path of a Tumblr image that's been shared a bunch of times, you'll know that "There be dragons there".

Somehow, though, the artist found the post today, and left a gracious comment. Her name is Liza Van Rees, and she is a talented Dutch illustrator. Check her work out!

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Sarah McLachlan channels John Lennon.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wow.

That is all.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Name your favorite Christmas cookie!

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Letting the music speak for itself, here is "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella".

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

A friend of mine who is, shall we say, well-endowed in the strongly-held-opinion department, recently informed me that John Denver sucks.

To which my basic response is:


Here's a bit of John Denver!


Well, that's cheating a bit, since the Muppets are there. But hey, the Muppets!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

I know I've used this for the Daily Dose before, but...well, this is one of the staples for me. Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne" is only tangentially about Christmas, I suppose -- just the song's setting, on Christmas Eve, in the very first verse, and then Christmas isn't really mentioned at all after that. But still, the song almost perfectly captures something about Christmas that doesn't tend to be talked about much.

Christmas is such a time of emotion, isn't it? It's almost certainly our most emotional holiday. I really think it is. Nearly every emotion the heart produces has a home in Christmas, and that includes the sad ones, too. I've not yet met the person who wasn't at least a little bit reflective at Christmastime, some more than others to be sure, but...in amidst the joys of this season, it seems terribly natural to me to also think of choices not made, roads not taken, lives not lived. It's not always bad, even, but there are moments of sparkling sadness when I wonder what else I might have done.

This shouldn't imply dissatisfaction, although for some people, I suppose it does. But I can't imagine that the happiest person, the person most satisfied with the warp and weft of their time on Earth, doesn't at least once in a while glance back and wonder:

"Is she happy now?"

"What if he had lived?"

"Why didn't I accept that offer?"

"Would they be proud of what I've done?"

These feelings always bubble up at Christmastime, and I'm not entirely sure why. Lots of reasons, I suppose -- the holiday's sacred undertones, whether you believe or not; the timing, putting this season at the end of the year, so you can't help feeling the weight of more time behind you. I wonder if Christmas would feel a little less melancholy if it took place in January.

Anyhow, "Same Old Lang Syne" famously recounts the tale of when Dan Fogelberg had a chance encounter in a convenience store with an old girlfriend from years before. They spend the night catching up, talking about where their lives have gone, the good and the less good. There's no affair here, no one-night stand -- they meet by chance, they talk a while, they part -- and Fogelberg sings of remembering "that old familiar pain", which is such a perfect way to put it.

"Same Old Lang Syne" absolutely is a Christmas song, because it expresses something true about Christmas. It's not all about jolly elves and babes in mangers. It can't be, because we're human and we humans bring an awful lot of messy stuff to the table.

Oh, and the song is really best listened to in the car. Even if it's in a parking lot with the engine off.


And for those wondering, yes, the song was inspired by very real events.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

You will RUE THE DAY!!! (Rue the day? Who talks like that?!)

I received another rejection note yesterday for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title), which brings the total to...somewhere I don't want to tally it up, actually. Suffice it to say that I am just about out of places to submit this book, either as a direct submission to a publisher or a query to an agent. Nobody has bitten, and I find myself just about at that point where I have to admit that nobody is likely to bite at this point.

Which reminds me of that scene in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, when Kirk -- having been refused permission to return to the Genesis Planet to pick up Spock's body -- tells his officers, "The word is no. I am therefore going anyway."

I'm not really sure what the process is from here, so I'm going to have to do a lot of research and discussing with people who have been there, but unless something very strange happens, I will be getting Princesses out there myself. I'm going to aim for November 2014 for release (although at this date, don't even think of holding me to that). I know I need to do another round of edits and then start working toward getting this book put together into a coherent form. I'll need cover art, and I know there's a lot of file-formatting work to be done.

Plus, I intend to create a separate website for my work, as a promotional tool. That will also be aimed for late 2014. I want to have multiple books in the pipeline at all times, when I "go live"; I want to be able to say to readers, "If you liked Princesses, tune in late 2015 for Princesses II." And, of course, other books along the way!

The least of this news is that, if all goes as intended, the ACTUAL TITLE will be revealed by the end of the coming year.

This is exciting stuff! I'm fortunate to live in a time when this sort of thing is possible. I'm reminded of Neil Gaiman's words, from that remarkable commencement address of his:

We're in a transitional world right now, if you're in any kind of artistic field, because the nature of distribution is changing, the models by which creators got their work out into the world, and got to keep a roof over their heads and buy sandwiches while they did that, are all changing. I've talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.

Which is, on the one hand, intimidating, and on the other, immensely liberating. The rules, the assumptions, the now-we're supposed to's of how you get your work seen, and what you do then, are breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. You can be as creative as you need to be to get your work seen. YouTube and the web (and whatever comes after YouTube and the web) can give you more people watching than television ever did. The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are.

So make up your own rules.


That's what I'm gonna do! Maybe this story won't get read by a lot of people. Maybe it will. But it's not going to be stuck in a drawer, counted among my "practice" books before I finally manage to break through, becoming one of those novels nobody ever sees but the author, who takes out the manuscript once in a while and remembers with fondness the investment in a tale that was doomed to the drawer.

This book is my story. And it's coming. Soon.

(Give or take. Like I said, uncharted waters and all.)

Zap! Pow!!