Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Fiction for June 25, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Laury on her “Fill Your Paper…” blog. There’s already a good turn-out there, so be sure to visit for some great weekend reading.

I’ve been working on a short intro-type story into an idea I’ve been mulling over for a long time, but it’s not finished yet. Instead, I’ve decided to post a short excerpt from “Lana’s Pack.” In this scene from chapter 13, Marshall Bittman has been charged with tracking down and retrieving two dogs that were stolen from a research facility. While not having caught up to the dogs yet, he has become suspicious that he and his team have not been told the whole story on the dogs. He returns to the facility to confront the head researcher, Dr. Emil Sonders.


From Lana’s Pack

He was waiting in the office on Wednesday morning when Dr. Sonders walked in. The scientist regarded him with a questioning look. “Deputy Marshal Bittman; to what do I owe the pleasure? Have you recovered my other two dogs?”

“No, Dr. Sonders, I have not, though we do know who has them.”

“If you know who has them, then why aren’t they back here where they belong?”

“Sit down, Dr. Sonders, and let’s have a little chat about those two dogs, shall we? Do you have any idea what your dogs were up to yesterday?”

He sighed impatiently. “How would I know anything about what they were doing yesterday?”

He handed over a newspaper. “A little boy was abducted in Morro Bay, and despite the fact that the woman they were with knows nothing about handling dogs, they tracked down the child, got him away from the pedophile, returned him to his mother, and held the pervert for the police.”

The doctor’s smile was smug. “I would have expected nothing less of them; Freki and Geri were developed and trained as search and rescue dogs, though we anticipated putting them through field trials up at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. Our aim was to produce such working dogs that are autonomous once given their tasks. Dogs are able to move faster than their human handlers, and to go places humans cannot go; if they are able to analyze the situation and to react appropriately without a human constantly directing them, they can better serve their mission.”

“I don’t suppose it occurred to you that your dogs ability to act this independently was important to mention to us, did you?”

“I gave you what you needed, Marshal.”

“Did you now? I’ve learned a lot about Freki and Geri in the last twenty-four hours, Dr. Sonders, and some of what I’m now suspecting seems like information I should have been told right from the start. Tell me, doctor, is there a valid reason why I have two people who claim to have heard one of these dogs talking, and I have a third that would not be surprised if she had?”

“I’m not authorized to discuss this with you.”

“You gave these dogs sufficient intelligence to understand human speech, and to respond in kind, didn’t you? You know, doctor, when we figured out the Malamutes were traveling with someone else, we assumed she was another accomplice. It didn’t occur to me until last night that she might be nothing more than a good Samaritan that the dogs recruited to help them. If they can talk, they can ask for help, can’t they?”

“They can also instruct victims, inform rescuers of conditions, and coordinate between themselves as needed.”

“In my line of work, Dr. Sonders, it’s what we don’t know that burns us every time. We didn’t know we were dealing with dogs that are capable of rational thought and communication, trained to work as a team to achieve a goal.”

“I told you these animals are classified by the Government; while you might have argued a convincing need to know, you didn’t have the proper clearance level to have been given the full scope of the project.”

“So now I know anyway, and I’m very unhappy about the circumstances. No more nonsense and double-talk, Sonders; I want to know the full scope of what I’m dealing with here.”

The man took a deep breath and regarded him for a moment, considering the demand. “Come with me, Marshal.” He led the way to an elevator and keyed in the code to access it. They rode it down to a basement level, and when the door opened they stepped into a large kennel area. “We have been charged by the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice to develop dogs for various purposes. We have drug dogs that can not only sniff out most commonly smuggled narcotics, but they can also tell their handler what they detect. We have dogs for the military and homeland security capable of discriminating different kinds of explosives, scenting fugitives out, working autonomously to take down armed suspects, you name it.”

“How do these dogs compare to Freki and Geri?”

“Baron, come here, please”

A Belgian Malinois trotted up and sat at Sonder’s feet.

“Baron, is Mr. Bittman carrying a weapon?”

“Gun,” the dog said. “Clean.”

“You’re carrying a gun that has not been fired since the last time you cleaned it.”

“Dear merciful God,” Ray said. “What in heaven’s name have you done?”

“What we have done, Marshal, is create the next innovation in keeping law enforcement officers safe. Baron doesn’t need to frisk a suspect to know if he’s armed; he can smell the metals used in most weapons and accurately identify them better than eighty percent of the time. He can identify the most common street drugs, tell the officer what liquor someone has been drinking, if they are sweating out alcohol or chemicals, track suspects by scent, sight, and sound – including, I might add, eavesdropping on suspects or bystanders to obtain tactical information, and react intelligently to the dynamic threat situation. Get used to the idea; within the decade teams like yours will include a dog like Baron.”

“And our Government is okay with this?”

“Who do you think paid for these projects? Well, except for the Malamutes; that was my own project. Many search and rescue dogs are owned by private citizens who volunteer with police or emergency services as needed. I chose the Alaskan Malamute for the pilot rescue dog program for their strength, endurance, intelligence, ability to work in teams, and almost obnoxious independent streaks. To have heard that Freki and Geri performed so admirably under real world conditions is just the ultimate proof of the concept.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Friday Fiction for June 18, 2010

Welcome to Friday Fiction, which I get to host this week. Be sure to find the Linky tool at the end of this post, to either enter your submission for the week, or to read the other submissions.

After the rather serious nature of “Maelstrom’s Eye,” I thought I would go with something lighter this week. I wrote this short story a couple of years ago, and it takes place in the time between “Cardan’s Pod” and the first sequel, “Marta’s Pod.” It was mostly written to play a bit with life inside the Pod’s Family Room, and the dynamics of relationships within the Pod. I hope you enjoy it, and the extra look it gives of Eva.

Second Love

By Rick Higginson

Suzanne watched as Daniel carried the laughing two year old around the Family Room pool. She had to remind herself that the boy was Josh and Marta’s son, and not the progeny of the Pod itself. All of them tended to dote on the boy, and it was difficult to tell at that moment if Marcel Cardan enjoyed the horseplay more, or if Daniel did.

Marta’s successful pregnancy and her delivery of a healthy normal child had given all of them a measure of hope. They could have children, and their children would have the choices that were open to the average American child. The prospect of having their own families within the Pod was no longer the fearful idea it had been before Joshua Cardan had joined them.

Daniel passed Marcel to Erica and headed towards the far bathroom. Suzanne waited a moment, and then crawled towards the same bathroom. He was just positioning himself over the floor-level toilet as she moved passed him to the shower.

“Would you scrub my back when you’re done?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said. “Just give me a minute.”

She squeezed the trigger on the hand-held shower head and adjusted the temperature to her preference. She sprayed the fresh water through her hair, displacing the brine that still dripped from the tips, and then rinsed her body. Pumping some shampoo into one hand and applying it to her hair, she switched hands to work the other side of her head. It would be nice, she thought, to be able to stand or even sit in a position that allowed the use of both hands at once. Keeping her torso weight on one arm while lathering with the other accomplished the purpose, but not with any comfort or efficiency.

“You know,” Daniel said from the edge of the shower floor, “I seem to be everyone’s favorite back-scrubber. I got asked to scrub Leanna’s, Timothy’s, Rebecca’s, Mark’s, David’s, and Gretchen’s backs yesterday.”

“You don’t have to scrub mine if you don’t want to.”

“I like scrubbing yours.” He took the washcloth from beside her, applied a large spot of liquid soap from the dispenser, and lathered it on her shoulder blade.

She folded her arms under her head and dropped flat to the floor, relishing the weight he put behind the effort. When he reached over her to scrub the far side of her back, she rolled away from him, grabbing his support arm to make him drop atop her. It was uncomfortable lying on her back, but she pulled his face close to hers.

“Suzanne, what are you doing?” he asked with an amused smile on his face.

She kissed him; the effort clumsy and awkward on the shower floor, especially with her arms soapy.

“We’re not supposed to be doing this,” he said.

“Does that mean you don’t want to kiss me?”

“No, it means I don’t want to know what Eva is liable to do if she catches us.”

“Well, for starters I would tell you to quit hogging the shower. There are others of us who would like to use it,” Eva said from behind him.

Daniel scrambled to put a more polite distance between his and Suzanne’s bodies. His arms slipped on some soap and he fell on her belly.

Eva shook her head and laughed. “Daniel, what is the main rule in the Pod?”

“Never argue with Eva,” he said, still trying to find an acceptable position in the confines between the two mermaids.

“Are you going to argue with what I tell you?”

“No, Eva; you should know me better than that.”

“Good; now kiss Suzanne, finish the shower, and you both come speak with me when you’re done.”


“Kiss her, and hurry up. I want to get my shower before dinner, and the other shower is already occupied, too.”

Suzanne smiled up at him. “You heard her; she said to kiss me, and you know you can’t argue with Eva.”

“I don’t understand; she’s not mad at us?”

“We’re eighteen now; we can be more than just friends if we want to.”

He searched her eyes, comprehension dawning on him. “You’re sure about this?”

“There have been many things in our lives that I haven’t been sure of, but you have never been one of them. My first memories were playing together with you, and I’ve never felt closer to anyone than I feel to you. Eva never let us be too close before, but we’re old enough now. I can’t imagine wanting anyone but you, and if Josh and Marta can make a relationship work in this crazy place, we can too.”

He smiled. “Do we need to call Diego to make it official?”

“Diego is a wonderful man, and the wedding he performed for Josh and Marta was beautiful, but who is the only one whose approval really matters?”

“Eva,” he said, glancing out towards the raised pool. “And if Eva approves?”

She took the washcloth from him. “If Eva approves, then I want to skip the movie tonight.”


Eva rested in her raised pool, overlooking the Family Room and watching the various activities of the Pod below. Suzanne and Daniel were taking longer in the shower than normal, but she expected they were using the relative quiet of the room to discuss some things. They wouldn’t do anything improper in the bathroom, if for no other reason than it was just too uncomfortable for their bodies to try such things on land.

She gave them a few minutes more, and then slid down the slick spillway that returned the filtered water to the main pool. Swimming submerged until she drew close to the bathroom, she launched herself from the water up onto the floor, sliding just a bit before stopping. “You two are certainly taking your time in here,” she said, crawling through the door.

“We’re sorry, Eva,” Suzanne said.

“It’s all right; I know it can be difficult to have a serious conversation with the entire Pod around. Have you decided anything?”

“We want to be a couple, and we want to ask your approval,” Daniel said.

“Mm hmm; you’re both eighteen now. You don’t need my approval.”

“We’d like you to give it to us anyway. We want to commit to being a couple for life.”

“That sounds like something you should speak with Diego about instead of me.”

“Eva, Diego isn’t in charge out here; you are,” Suzanne said. “We don’t care whether anyone in his world recognizes our commitment. Diego’s type of wedding is part of a world we can’t belong to, and if anyone is going to declare us a real couple, it should be the person who has always been here for us.”

She nodded. “When and where would you like to make this official?”

“Right here and right now is fine with us, if it’s okay with you.”

“You want to make that kind of statement in the bathroom?”

“Why not? At least in here it’s just us three, and you have to admit, this is probably the most honest room on the island.”

“If that’s what you want to do, then, it’s fine by me. Suzanne, you’re certain Daniel is the one you want to spend the rest of your life with?”

“Yes, Eva; I’m certain.”

“Daniel, you’re sure about Suzanne?”

“I’ve always been certain about her, Eva. You should know that.”

“I know, but I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to specifically state it for a moment like this. You have my approval. You take care of each other, and don’t you dare disappoint me.”

They started heading for the door.

“Daniel? Before you go, would you mind scrubbing my back?”


The Pod watched the movie, interjecting jokes and comments throughout the feature. If any of them wondered why Daniel and Suzanne were absent, they had not expressed their questions aloud. That’s as it should be, Eva thought, not paying attention to the movie at all. Suzanne and Daniel had always been each other’s first love, and they were entitled to a little private time together to dance as a couple.

Just off to one side, Josh drifted in his pool chair with Marta floating in front of him, her torso up onto his lap and causing the chair to sit much lower in the water than it was designed to. When she thought no one was watching, Marta looked up at her first love and made a teasing gesture at him. His response indicated there would likely be some late night dancing in the Family Room pool after everyone else was thought to be asleep.

Eva sighed, resigning herself to the idea that she would never have a first love. Even as she did, she realized she was looking at it gathered below her. She doubted the chance would ever present itself for her to have what Josh and Marta or Suzanne and Daniel had, but if it ever did she knew what it would mean.

No matter how wonderful someone might be, the Pod could never be her second love.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Friday Fiction for June 11, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week over at Fiction Fusion, by the ever-imaginative Sara. Look for her epic “Dark Phoenix” story, and the links to more fiction, over on her blog. Good stuff, Maynard.

“Maelstrom’s Eye” draws to a close this week, tickling the word-count widget at 10K exactly. It’s not often I end on such a nice round number. I hope you find the ending as satisfying as I do. If you’ve waited until the story was finished to get started, you can begin with Part 1, and read through to the end.

Maelstrom’s Eye

Part 9

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, oh God, Thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness. Oh Lord, open Thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth Thy praise. For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else I would give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, oh God, Thou wilt not despise. ~ Psalm 51:14 – 17

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin, and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray, I woke the dungeon flamed with light! My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed Thee. ~ from “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley


Celia watched out the window as her father guided the car into their neighborhood. It had been a good service – the worship time, the teaching, and the fellowship afterwards, and it had given her much to think about for the coming week. Still, she was a little disappointed that Carl hadn’t changed his mind and shown up for church.

They turned down their street, and Papa slowed the car for a group of kids playing ball in the middle of the road. The boys barely moved out of the way to allow the vehicle to pass, turning annoyed looks towards them in response to their play being interrupted. One even acted as though he was going to hit the car, until he caught the glare that Papa gave him.

When they drew close enough, she watched Carl’s house for any sign that he was outside working, hopefully in a brighter mood than he’d been the evening before. Instead, she noticed the rivulet of water running under the gate from the backyard, down the driveway, and into the gutter along the street. “Papa, let me out here, please,” she said.

“Here? We’re almost home, mi’ja. Why do you want out here?”

“Something’s wrong, Papa. Mr. Anders never lets the water run long enough to run out of the garden and into the street.”

He pulled the car to the curb and let her out. “Do you want me to come in with you?”

“Go ahead and take Jimmy home, Papa. I’ll call if I need any help.” She turned and hurried as fast as she could in her dress shoes, fishing the keys from her purse on the way to the door. She knocked once and called, “Mr. Anders?” Waiting only a moment for a response, she then unlocked the door and let herself in. “Mr. Anders?” she called again, into the entryway.

There was still no response, and she didn’t take the time to close the door before heading deeper into the house. The lights were off in the living room, and she glanced down the hall towards the bedroom and bathroom. Both doors were open, and she walked down far enough to peek in both, announcing her presence before she did.

Returning to the living room, she noticed the flicker of light in the dining room, and crossed over to that door. “Mr. Anders?” she called as she reached the door. “Carl?”

He was sitting at the network terminal with a pair of headphones on, and still had not noticed her arrival.

“MR. ANDERS?” she said, hoping she was loud enough to be heard over the headphones.

He cocked his head slightly for a moment, and then turned to look at her. Removing the headphones, he spun around in the chair. “Oh, Celia. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Are you all right? I saw the water running down your driveway, and was worried that you might have hurt yourself or something.”

He looked towards the backyard. “I completely forgot I’d left the water running. I guess I should turn it off, or at least move it.”

“You stay put – I’ll turn the water off.” She went out the back door, and twisted the handle on the water faucet fully clockwise. Now that she knew he was all right, her concern was turning to anger. She returned to the house, and regarded him with a crossed-arm stare. “Now, what were you looking at that was so important that you forgot the water, and didn’t pay any attention when I knocked and called to you?”

“Your church service,” he said quietly. “I watched your church service this morning, and then started listening to last week’s service.”

“Our church service?” she repeated back to him, and let her arms drop limp to her sides.

Mi’ja? Is everything okay?” Papa came through the living room and stepped up behind her.

Carl didn’t even seem to notice the arrival of her father. She lifted one hand to stave off any further interruption. “You were watching our church services on the network?” she asked.

“Can a heart really be made clean again, Celia? Is it truly possible that my spirit could ever feel right?” There was a hopeful pleading in Carl’s voice.

She started to answer, but found her own voice choked back by emotion.

“It is possible, if that is the desire of your heart,” Papa answered for her, sounding so much different than his usual manner of speaking. He took a step forward. He wasn’t wearing the face of the disciplinarian father. Instead, he was the compassionate Papa she remembered from those times when she had needed such understanding the most as a child. Tears ran down the worn cheeks – something she rarely witnessed before. “Is that what you want, Carl?” he asked.

“Why would you care? You made your feelings pretty clear the other night.”

“God showed me this morning that I needed a right spirit renewed in myself as well. How I treated you was wrong, and I must ask your forgiveness.” He extended his hand towards Carl. “I care, and even if I didn’t, God cares. Do you want a clean heart and a right spirit?”

“More than anything,” he said, and tentatively took the extended hand.

Papa pulled him to his feet and into an embrace. “Then take His hand just like you took mine.”

Celia wrapped her arms around both men, offering silent prayers for the moment. Carl felt tense and resistant, while Papa kept the embrace gentle but firm. The struggle was obvious, and so also the moment when the younger man yielded. The tension faded from his muscles, and he buried his face in her father’s shirt, weeping.

“Welcome home, mi’jo,” Papa whispered.


Maelstrom’s eye looked down, scanning the surface below for any threat to the safety and security of the Western Coalition. Despite numerous attempts to neutralize her abilities, she remained a powerful weapon against anything below. Her defenses protected her offensive capabilities from any weapon on Earth. In her twelfth year of operations, though, a marble-sized meteorite punched through her hull, destroying vital power control circuits. The damage created a cascade effect of system failures, leaving the platform severely crippled. Maelstrom’s eye never looked up, though analysts debated whether she would have detected or reacted to such a small object in space.

Far below the wrecked platform, a five year old child walked with her grandfather. The old man smiled and took her hand, teaching her words in Spanish as he showed her how to select ripe tomatoes from her Daddy’s garden. She had her mother’s eyes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Friday Fiction for June 4, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Vonnie, at My Back Door. Find your way there to add your link for this week, and to read the other submissions.

This week marks 100 posts on Pod Tales and Ponderings. While for those who update several times a week, or even daily, 100 posts might not seem like such a big deal, but for me, this represents almost two years of participating in Friday Fiction, with more than a few original stories written specifically for this blog.

Some of the stories I write are not overtly Christian, but even in the original, long-lost iteration of this story, it was very clear in the spiritual message. I hope if such is not your normal cup of tea, you’ll still enjoy Maelstrom’s Eye.

Incidentally, the concept of flinging inert mass at Earth from space as a weapon was used by Robert Heinlein in his story, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” written in 1966. It was also used in the movie, “The Last Starfighter,” in 1984. The concept recurs in Science Fiction because it is a valid idea, and one that would be very difficult to defend against. I would love to claim that it was my original idea, but this is another case where I get to follow in the footsteps of many terrific Sci-Fi writers that have forged the way for this generation or writers.

Maelstrom’s Eye

Part 8

Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. ~ Psalm 139:7, 8

That we were slaves I had known all my life, and nothing could be done about it. True, we weren’t bought and sold, but as long as Authority held monopoly over what we had to have and what we could sell to buy it, we were slaves. ~ from “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert A. Heinlein.


Carl rolled onto his back and looked at the ceiling. For having gone to bed so early, he hadn’t slept all that much, and for what had to be the hundredth time, he prompted the computer. “Time?”

“Six-nineteen A.M.,” the computer replied.

When he had slept, the nightmares had plagued him, and while he was awake, Celia’s words had haunted him. I sure could have used some of those drugs they gave me when I was in the hospital. Maelstrom could have destroyed the entire neighborhood, and I’d have slept right through it.

He got up and made his way to the kitchen, regretting the previous evening’s decision to retire without dinner. The cereal and bowls resided in the same cupboard, and he replaced the box after dispensing one serving into the plain white ceramic bowl. He carried his breakfast over to the refrigerator for some milk, and paused to read the note Celia had left for him.

I left a container of the stew in the fridge. It should be enough for both lunch and dinner if you want it, and took the rest of it home so it wouldn’t go to waste. If you change your mind about coming to church, service starts at 10, and the Lamb’s Fellowship is located at the corner of First Street and Via de La Paz. Even though it’s my day off, please don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything. ~ Celia

The stew sat at the front of the top shelf in the refrigerator, and looking at the container, he figured she had left enough for at least two lunches and dinners. He removed the milk bottle, poured a generous amount over the cereal, and replaced it in the door before closing the fridge again.

His breakfast routine included checking the network for the day’s news, and when nothing grabbed his attention, he played an on-line solitaire game while he ate. The multi-player games had quickly lost luster for him, after too many opponents either grandstanded when they won, or threw childish fits when they lost. Rather than hope for an opponent that knew how to behave, it was just easier to play by himself.

After a bit over an hour of the game, he logged off and put the empty bowl into the dishwasher, before heading into the backyard to put the water on one part of the garden. He didn’t worry about getting dressed first – unless one of his neighbors were peeking over the wall, they would not see him in the faded t-shirt and sleep-shorts we was wearing. Even if they did, he was still more covered than many of the people he saw walking the street in front of his house on hot days.

The morning warmed up quickly, and he returned to the house to cool down. Sitting at the network terminal again, he logged in and noticed that it was just a bit after ten. On a lark, he searched for Lamb’s Fellowship, and found the church’s site. A news bar informed him that the morning service was broadcasting live over the network. If I watch it from here, I can tell Celia I checked out her church, and maybe she’ll stop bugging me about it.

The screen showed a group of musicians on a raised platform, and he turned up the audio to hear what they were playing. The lively song involved a lot of percussion and clapping, and when the view changed to that of the audience, it showed most of them on their feet, joining in with the rhythmic clapping. He tuned out the words, instead searching the faces on the screen for Celia and her family.

As the song ended, the view returned to the musicians, and the clapping changed to regular applause, which died down when the next song began. The lead guitarist leaned towards his microphone and raised one hand, with the open palm facing up.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,” the guitarist said. “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” His hand dropped to the guitar strings, picking up on the tune with the other musicians, and everyone started to sing.

“Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.” The hands in the audience were no longer clapping, but were raised up in similar fashion to how the guitarist had lifted his one hand. “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Some of the faces that had been joyful during the previous song were now streaked with tears.

Is that even possible anymore?

Celia appeared for just a moment on the screen, her eyes closed, with one hand lifted up and the other clenched over her heart.

“Cast me not away from Thy presence, oh Lord. Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

What would Celia ever need to worry about in that regard?

“Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and renew a right spirit within me.”

What I would give for a right spirit!

“Create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

I want that. More than anything else in the world, I want a clean heart.

“And renew a right spirit within me.”

If it’s at all possible, then please – please.

“Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.” His mouth moved to form the words, though his voice broke before he could make the sounds. Cast me not away from Thy presence, oh Lord.

To be continued…