Thursday, October 22, 2009

Friday Fiction for October 23rd, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Lynn, over at Faith, Fiction, Fun and Fanciful, where you’ll find MckLinky with the list of the other participants this week.

Thirty years ago this weekend, I asked Nancy to marry me, and we made that decision to undertake this wild, incredible adventure called Marriage. Around that same time frame, I wrote this week’s entry for her. Nancy has always loved horses, and that first autumn we were together, she started collecting unicorns (which weren’t nearly as easy to find then as they are now). “Equestrian Fantasy” was a natural expression of her fascination with unicorns, and the crazy obsession of a man in love trying to find them for her.

I’m not sure she’s ever explicitly said so, but I suspect that, of all the things I’ve written, this has long remained her favorite.

I love you Nancy, and I’m looking forward to our next thirty years together.

Equestrian Fantasy
By Rick Higginson c. late 1979
For Nancy

I turned my eyes to a fantasy,
Of other things that I might be.
I fancied myself a jet-black colt
With a single mark like a thunderbolt.
I danced on fields and amidst the trees,
So light to run, so quick to tease.
For maids I had no care nor eye,
My heart was young, my spirit high.

Pegasus I saw me then,
Stately there from knowing when
These bonds of Earth grew too proud,
I’d leave them humble beneath a cloud.
From humankind I’d naught to gain,
I sought only wind to pull my mane.
In summer skies I dance on wings
Keeping time to the song the moonlight sings.

A unicorn I dreamt me now
Upon soil that’d known no plow,
Lord of all free and untamed
In a naked world, yet unashamed.
Then I saw you cross a downy field,
To this princess fair I had to yield.
They called your name – a plea to stay,
But upon my back you rode away.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Friday Fiction for October 16, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sara, on her wildly imaginative blog, Fiction Fusion. With a busy couple of weeks, I’m behind on FF again, but I hope to get caught up this weekend, and I’m looking forward to some great reading.

This Sunday marks one year since my Dad went home through the veil. I’ve commented before that aspects of him show up in a lot of my stories. The good husband and good father characters I write always have some of his traits, and I consider myself extremely blessed to have been given the kind of man that I could seek to emulate in my life, and to honor through my characters.

I think what I miss most are those talks we had. Dad had a great deal of practical sense, with the ability to share it without sounding superior or condescending, and I wanted to post something this week that reminded me especially of him. In this excerpt from “The Eridanus Dream,” the main character, Sean, is speaking with his father-in-law, S’Ru. For those unfamiliar with previous excerpts from the Eridanus series, the italicized dialogue is in the Eridani language. The culture of the world is Matriarchal, with women being the dominant gender, and men expected to be submissive. For background, S’Ru is the husband of the priestess Noma, but when he had failed to sire a child, Noma had taken Plei as her manservant to provide children. It was only after she had done so that she learned she was already pregnant with S’Ru’s only child.

This week is for my father, Frank Higginson, zikhrono livrakha (may his memory be for a blessing). I miss you, Dad.



The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves.

~ Leon Trotsky

The onset of spring not only brought new life to the forest, but to the crew as well. As the white mantle slowly retreated to the higher elevations, the trees all around began to echo with the sounds of life. The snow that had surrounded Pisces had been replaced by mud and fragrant weeds, and one of the first tasks the crew undertook was to gather stones and build a walkway from the ramp to the drier ground beneath the trees. The hatch on the lander remained open for hours at a time, allowing the recycled stale air within to be replaced by fresh air from outside, even though it was still a bit cooler than most found comfortable.

Sean remained busy with various maintenance jobs on the outside of Pisces, having procrastinated on performing them during the freezing temperatures. Systems were disassembled, cleaned, lubricated, and reassembled in a painstaking process that had defied automation over the years. Y’La helped as she could by drawing expertise from his memory for some of the simpler tasks, when her services were not required elsewhere. It was Plei, though, who spent the most time assisting the process. While he could not handle any of the processes alone, he remained close by and offered an extra pair of hands to hold parts and to steady assemblies while Sean worked. The help was welcome, though seldom seriously needed, and the only aspect that bothered Sean was Plei’s nearly puppy-like following in his shadow. He now understood what a former schoolmate had meant when he had talked of how annoying his little brother’s obsessive tagging along was.

S’ru confirmed the situation one day at Sean’s inquiry. I have told him he should not follow you so,” the older man commented. He seldom listens to me, though. Noma fusses about it some; she wishes he had taken such an interest in me when she first took him in, but I do not think he ever fully forgave me for fathering the firstborn.” He glanced about, as though making sure his words would remain private between them. Plei walks on a thin branch with Noma; while his actions are submissive to her, his attitude is not. She sees his subtle rebellion as a minor embarrassment.

That does not explain why he follows me so,” Sean complained.

You do not see it?” S’ru continued patiently. My daughter has a unique relationship with you, even in the realm of B’sela. Tell me honestly; are you submissive to Y’La?

Sean scratched at the beard he’d grown over the winter. I cannot say either of us is really submissive to the other. We consider decisions together.

Exactly; Plei sees you as a reachable example and proof that a man can comfortably be equal with a woman. It has not occurred to him yet that you two are equal by mutual consent, which is something he will never receive from Noma.”

Why not? Y’La is comfortable with it.

Why are you not submissive to Y’La?” S’ru asked pointedly. I am comfortable being submissive to Noma.

Such is not the way men in my world are raised. When Y’La first found me, I told her I would not apologize for being a man of my world.

And Noma should apologize for being a woman of ours?

But Y’La is also a woman of your world, and yet she was able to accept her husband as an equal.

Y’La has the benefit of your mind and your experience to draw upon, and she knows that she can have you no other way. That does not mean that is how she prefers it; I am certain that with the B’sela you have sensed more than a few times when she has felt impatience that you were not more like a priestess’ husband should be.

Sean laughed. You seem to know much about Y’La and me.”

S’ru shared the laughter. This is not a large village and your equality with Y’La is obvious to everyone. I will tell you, it is the subject of a great deal of gossip around here, and nothing short of a scandal. You should have heard the rumors when your friend was allowed into your bedchamber while Y’La was not there.

But with the B’sela, Y’La was effectively present anyway, and even if Amanda had been there for an illicit purpose, the B’sela prevents me from being able to perform that way for anyone but Y’La.”

That is not the point; it is considered highly improper for a woman to visit another’s husband in such intimate confines.”

I would hardly call it intimate, either, with Plei just outside the door.

Again, that does not matter; what the people heard is that another woman came to your bedchamber when your wife was not at home. A proper husband would not have allowed her into the bedchamber, much less invited her to it.” His look was gentle, even as his words were firm. It reflects badly on Y’La as well for her to have allowed you to do such a thing. There are those who are saying that she lacks the strength to be a priestess if she will not control her own husband.”

She says to tell you that any who wishes to dispute her qualifications to be a priestess is welcome to approach her at any time and discuss the matter with her. They will not find her strength lacking.”

S’ru laughed. She is certainly Noma’s daughter,” he observed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Fiction for October 9, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted again this week by Karlene at Homespun Expressions. Be sure to find MckLinky there, and visit the other submissions for some great reading.

This week, I’ve dug out a project that has been on the back burner for a while.
The Peculiar People group on Faithwriters has another story in work, and this one has me well outside my comfort zone. My contribution for this project is a historical fiction piece titled, “If I Forget Jerusalem,” set during the Lisbon Massacre of 1506. I need to dig up my research materials for this again, and get ready to finish the piece before the end of the year. For now, I don’t think it violates the Peculiar People project to share this short excerpt from my section (particularly since it doesn’t contain any spoilers to the story).

If I Forget Jerusalem
By Rick Higginson

Chapter 1
Shushan Purim – The Feast of Esther
Wednesday, March 11th, 1506 – early afternoon

“It is foolish, Sh’muel, to keep it in the open. You should hide it away.”

“So you have told me before, Baruch, but my answer remains the same. We may have been forced to be baptized as Christians when we came here to leave Portugal; they may force us to attend their church, and to eat pork, and to hide our observance of the Shabbat, but they cannot force me to forget Yerushalayim,” Sh’muel ben Moshe said, before placing the box back on the shelf.

“It is only a wooden box; it is not Jerusalem,” Baruch said. “It is not a good time to risk offending the Christians. With this drought and the plague, I have heard whispers; some are saying it is a judgment against the New Christians that are actually heretics.”

“If it is a judgment, perhaps it is against the people who have tried to force us to stop being Jews. Was not the promise to our father Abraham, ‘those who bless you, I will bless, and those who curse you, I will curse’?”

He turned a nervous glance towards the window. “Sh’muel, please; do not say such things aloud. Is it not enough that you will not hide this box? Do you wish to bring the wrath of the goyim on us with your words as well?”

“If the wrath of the goyim falls on us, my friend, it will be from the words of the king of Spain. Had not King Manuel wished to marry the Spanish princesses then we would not be under the Royal Edict to convert.” He gave his friend a reassuring smile. “I believe that God will send a deliverer for us if we need one, just as He did for our people in Persia.” He laughed and raised his cup of wine. “Perhaps Manuel will find his wife unpleasing, and God will place another Esther in the royal palace. You have a lovely young daughter named Esther; she could be a queen and restore us to the king’s favor!” He drained the cup and refilled both it and Baruch’s. “Drink, my friend; this is a feast of joy and the Christians do not need to know why we celebrate.”

He took a swallow and sighed, staring down into the cup. “It has been ten years since the edict. Do you really believe Manuel will relent now and allow us to be Jews?”

“I do not know what King Manuel might do, but this I do know: Im eshkachech Yerushalayim, tishkach yemeeni. If I forget you, o Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill. This box was made in Israel while the Temple still stood, and the stones I keep in the box are from Jerusalem. It reminds me God will restore us to our land someday.”

“Would it not serve as a reminder just as well if you kept it where only you could see it?”

“What if I hide it and then forget it? What if I hide it, and my wife and my children forget it? This box has served as a reminder of Jerusalem for my fathers for six generations now. None of them hid it away, and I will not either. If God is willing, my children will carry it joyfully into Jerusalem someday when we return to Israel.”

“From your lips to God’s ears, Sh’muel; I fear, though, that neither of us will live to see that day.”

“You may be right, Baruch, but for today we celebrate the miracles that God has done for our fathers in delivering them from our enemies.” He took another drink. The wine was not the best, but it had been all he could afford. Most of it had been drunk the night before, and it was only fitting to share what remained with his friend. “Even inferior joy is better than no joy at all.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Friday Fiction for October 2, 2009

Friday Fiction is now organized and directed by Karlene, so make extra sure to pop over to her blog and give her a special thank-you for taking the reins on this project. Since she’s also hosting this week on Homespun Expressions, you have double the reason to visit.

And now, without further ado, here is the conclusion to Hogs of the Heavens. I hope this fulfills my promise of the story making sense.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Hogs of the Heavens

Part 6 – Conclusion

By Rick Higginson

“I don’t know, but I think we need to get her back to Voidrunner and get some food in her before she can tell us much.”

Cranston kept a close watch on Violet as they followed the green lights through Erikson’s labyrinthine passages. It wasn’t just the blood-sugar crash; the woman had become as emotionally broken as Minerva had been when he’d first met her. Did it just hit you that everyone you ever knew is dead? No – it couldn’t be that. You still had drive right up until you saw Minerva.

They paused for a few moments when one of the ship’s remotes intercepted them, carrying a folded bundle. It waited while Minerva slipped into the tailored jumpsuit, and then took her discarded rags for recycling.

The uniform only increased the disparity between the two. While the sow grew more confident and excited with the addition of decent clothing, Violet descended into a deeper morosity. She was, if possible, even more listless as they resumed progress towards the scout vessel.

At the docking collar, Cranston entered first and then reached back to draw Violet through. Minerva followed as he settled her into the cramped galley and strapped the woman into the seat. He prompted the synthesizer for three servings of food, and pressed the first delivered into Violet’s hands.

She gave the compressed wafer a blank look.

“Trust me,” he said. “It’s much better than anything the Erikson was able to synthesize. The technology has advanced a long way since your mission launched. If we were under normal gravity conditions, it would even look like normal food.”

Minerva accepted the second serving from him, and sniffed it. She took a bite and chewed it slowly. “Interesting,” she said. “I can identify the flavors blended in this, but I can’t really isolate the ingredients.”

“The ingredients are atomic elements,” Cranston said. “The synthesizer combines them into the molecular chains for the desired product, which, in this case, is a balanced carbohydrate and protein biscuit.”

“You have so many wonderful things,” Minerva said. She ate the remainder of her wafer quickly.

Cranston consumed his serving, and waited while Violet slowly finished hers. “Your color is better now,” he said, when she folded her empty hands into her lap. “Are you ready to talk yet?”

After a quiet moment, Violet nodded.

He spoke softly. “You weren’t surprised by Minerva, were you? You’re scared, but you’re not surprised. Tell us what happened here, Violet.”

She sniffed. “We lost over half our laborers in the accident,” she said. “We ended up heavens knows how far from where we were supposed to go, and without the primary navigation systems, we couldn’t even program a drone to carry a distress message back to Earthrise. We wound up close to this system, and after some preliminary scans, we limped our way to this planet. It had enough of an atmosphere to work with, including a thick shroud of water vapor in the atmosphere we could use.” She accepted a tissue from him and blew her nose. “The problem was, we no longer had enough workers to carry out the terraforming process.”

“So you created workers?”

She nodded, but avoided his eyes. “There were quite a few of us that objected to the idea, but the science team said it was the only option that made sense and gave us a chance, even if it was forbidden by Colonial Law. They said it would take far too long to produce enough workers with humans being able to deliver one child per year, and then having another ten to twenty years before they’re able to undertake the work. We had the flock of weanling pigs in the livestock SusAn storage, though, and they told us that pigs matured in only about a year, could produce two litters of between eight and fifteen offspring a year, and had already been proven compatible with human traits. All they had to do was raise the flock we had to breeding age, manipulate the genetics for the next generation, and we’d have plenty of workers in a fraction of the time it would take to replenish the human roster.” She turned the tissue and held it to her nose again. “The Mission Commander gave them the go-ahead, so they engineered pigs with usable hands, feet suitable for bipedal walking, and the necessary intelligence to learn language and work skills quickly.”

Minerva turned puzzled eyes towards him. “Cranston? What does she mean?”

He took a deep breath and slowly released it before answering. “I probably should have told you this before. Pigs on Earth have hooves and stay on all fours. They don’t have sufficient intelligence to speak. They changed your ancestors to make them like you are now.” He turned back to Violet. “What went wrong?”

She shrugged. “At first, nothing at all. It worked just the way they said it would. We soon had plenty of work-capable pigs doing the labor required to get the planet habitable. They even had a provision to correct the disparity when the time came that the human population reached sustainable levels.”

“A ‘provision?’ What kind of provision?” he asked.

“They encoded a chemical trigger into the pigs that would be activated by a certain food they would find irresistible. When the pigs were no longer needed, the engineers would plant these genetically modified truffles all over the planet, and once the pigs ate them, the genetic code would revert and all subsequent generations would be normal pigs again.”

Minerva stared at Violet, and though her mouth moved, no words came out.

“So what contingency did the brilliant biological engineers overlook?” Cranston asked.

“Ourselves. As the population of the pigs continued to grow like crazy, the food supplies couldn’t keep up. The leadership council imposed strict rationing, and a lot of people resented having to share the limited supply with pigs.”

“You had us doing your work!” Minerva blurted.

“I came back up to the Erikson to see if I could somehow remove the synthesizer system and adapt it to work on the planet’s surface. They took the Percheron back down with as much food as we could produce, and were supposed to make a return trip a week or so later.”

“’Supposed to’? I assume they didn’t?” Cranston said.

“They transmitted an incident report that week. It seems one group of men decided it was crazy to go hungry when there were hundreds of suckling pigs a short walk away. When it was discovered, the pigs were crying for justice, but the Leadership Council apparently didn’t take it serious enough. The last transmission from the Percheron said the pigs were in all-out revolt.”

“The stories were true,” Minerva said. “Humans did take pigs and eat them.”

“I waited for further word from the surface, and when it hadn’t come a year later, I went into the SusAn chamber because I couldn’t bear the loneliness any longer. I thought, maybe, the Percheron was damaged and they’d get it repaired eventually and come get me.”

Cranston looked at Minerva. “What did you find in that old settlement where you found the Datab?”

“A few old buildings with broken doors, and a lot of things we couldn’t identify.”

“How did the doors appear to have been broken?”

“Like they were hit from outside with something big and heavy,” she said.

“Your creations revolted, all right,” he said to Violet.

“They weren’t my creations,” she objected. “I was opposed to the idea.”

“Do you think that helped any of the people on the surface? When the slaves rose up, they were too angry to care which humans wanted them there, which ones thought they were just ham on the hoof, and which ones planned on taking away the sentience they had given them. Humans are the bogey-man down there, and apparently for good reason.” He rubbed his forehead. “There’s your truth that you were looking for, Minerva. What do you want to do with it?”

“I want to go home,” she said. “I want his Boarness to see what our history really is, and to let us learn from the truth instead of from silly myths that just perpetuate the ignorance. I want to learn all I can from you, and how we can use knowledge to make our lives better.”

“Will he accept the truth from you now?”

“He’ll have to, if you show him what you’ve shown me.”

“What if we want to go home, Minerva? Your kind has made this into your world now – a place for hogs and not humans. Voidrunner can return us to the Kino, and from there back to Procyon and the rest of the Archipelago. There are over a hundred worlds full of humans now, and any one of those could be home to us.”

Violet shook her head. “It’s been too long. Any semblance of home that I might have had ceased to exist a long time ago. I was better off in SusAn.”

“You could stay here,” Minerva said. “You know things that have long been lost to us. Your people created us – shouldn’t you also help us?” She turned pleading eyes on Cranston. “Don’t give me a glimpse of all of this, and then make me go back to being Mocking Sow again.”

He met her eyes and swallowed. “Voidrunner, prepare two relay drones. First destination is SRV Eusebio Kino, and second destination is Colonial Council Headquarter, Earthrise City. Copy all data collected here on both, and advise that I will be remaining to prepare this world for introduction to the Archipelago. Confirm.”

“Confirmed,” Voidrunner replied.

He smiled at Violet. “I couldn’t let you stay here alone, could I? Somehow, I think you’d like a chance to fix what the Erikson mission started, wouldn’t you?”

She thought a moment, and then slowly nodded.

Voidrunner, commence pre-descent diagnostics and calculate a return trajectory to the last landing spot. Let’s go help a certain boar redefine his idea of Hog Heaven.”

The End (or not)