The Smuggler (Sci-Fi)

The sudden jolt of the shuttle leaving hyperspeed rocked Iness forward from the reclined position she had assumed just before the shuttle jumped. The angle of the craft in the gravity-less vacuum of space didn’t feel right, nor did the sudden deceleration brought on by the artificial gravity equipment trying to compensate.  She wandered up to chat with the shuttle pilots, something she had done many times, to find out what was going on. The first she saw upon entering the cab of the small shuttle was that they were coming in to dock at the floater, the small space station that was in asynchronous orbit above the city they were supposed to be delivering the forty-odd troops onboard who were returning after some well earned rest. She was delivering a diplomatic pouch she had been talked into carrying by a friend on Senton-6, the simple task only agreed upon for the free ride to and from the planet as a distraction while her own ship was undergoing some minor repair work she didn’t have the equipment to do herself and a service-worthiness inspection. The work was being done by her ex-husband, one of the best starship mechanics across the galaxy. Why she had ever married him was beyond her. In her life the thrill of adventure was enhanced by the uncertainty of the arrival, something the quiet routine of that marriage brought a lifeless end to. It hadn’t taken her long to end that contract.

“What’s happening, Serentine overbook its arrivals again?” She nodded at the small space station they were approaching, rather than the large planet based spaceport. The space station was used only for overflow, rarely anything else.

“Worse than that,” the captain responded, “They’ve an all-out military assault going on and the few words I got from the controller was to stay away at all costs and find someplace else to land. It is he who suggested the station.”

Iness looked at the looming floater and saw something she didn’t like, several landing bays looked dark and one looked like it had the ominous orange glow all who embraced space life feared. The station’s surface above the port was marked with some recent looking black starbursts. “Is the drive ready,” she asked the captain, nodding at the controls for the hyperdrive.

The startled captain glanced over to make sure, “Yes, why?”

Iness’ answer was to lean across, key in some coordinates by memory, and press the large button.
As they broke from the jump the captain was furious, “You’d better have a damn good reason to have done that. It will be at least 20 minutes before we can go back.”

“Perhaps you should have your second call that station and see if they want us back first.”

The last was heard by the sergeant of the military unit who were the only other passengers on the shuttle. A few minutes ago they were laughing and joking in the manner of men fresh from a well-earned shore leave returning to their duty station to dead silence. The more experienced men started checking their gear as if they were getting ready to fight.

“What is wrong Captain?” the sergeant asked.

“I was just asking her that,” he nodded towards the smuggler.

The second, who was the shuttle’s navigator, reported from his station. “I’m not reaching the station. I’m not even getting the ping from the ready beacon. I tried the surface and their beacon responds but there is no answer.”

Iness nodded, she was not surprised although she didn’t expect the station to be so close to blowing. She turned to the sergeant, “Do you have any way of finding out what the status of that station is, Sarge?”

The wizened sergeant shook his head. He’d been in the service coming on 40 years, he’d heard a lot of things and he didn’t like the sounds of what he was hearing now. “No,” he said quietly.

Iness remembered and patted the diplomatic packet tucked securely in the cargo pocket of her jump pants. That fool owed her and he’d better be able to get the answers for her questions. She nodded at the captain then spoke directly to the shuttle’s second, “Sir, could you make contact with the embassy on Ridel-2 and ask to speak to Assistant to the Secretary, Jaxon Kind, tell them to tell him it is an emergency and it is me who is asking. Make it is a secure contact and put it on speaker when you get him. A few minutes later Jaxon’s voice came on.

“Iness, why the secure connection? Has something happened with the packet?”

“The packet is the only thing that isn’t wrong. It is hard to deliver it if everyone on the whole world is trying to kill each other.”

This was the first time Jaxon or the sergeant had heard of this and their simultaneous exclamations, “What???” that were light years apart would have been comic except for the gravity of the situation. Jaxon started to speak, “What do you mean…”

“Jax, just shut up and listen and I pray you can help me. I need to have some type of scan where that floater used to be,” again both men’s exclamations were in unison, this time joined by the captain’s. “You heard me, give me a vid on the station. I know you government types have long-range satellites somewhere that can see there. I also know you have people who wouldn’t even charge – especially if you bet them where it wasn’t. And give me an real sit report of what is happening on the surface. No, not one of those diplomatic official ones, but one that comes from that cute little lieutenant you know who works in the ops section.” Now there was silence. All knew what she wanted and all hoped she would get. “Leave the com open, it’s not like they don’t have hundreds. I’ll wait.”

A few minutes a puffing Jax came back on, “I do not suggest that you go back to that station. Unless that shuttle captain is able to dock against pieces no larger than a scooter. The surface is total anarchy. The rebels have overrun Chatanoogee and are holding all important guests, probably for ransom. No clue what has happened to the rest. My assumption, the ambassador’s assumption, is that they somehow found a way to subdue the hundreds of military personnel at the base there.”

The sergeant and captain both nodded.

“Do you want to come here?” It was Jax again, “We can house the shuttle’s passengers while this thing gets sorted out.”

“Jax, you know darn good and well who is on the passenger manifest, and I’m sure they don’t want to be sitting around at an embassy, even if it is one the size of a small city. I might want to impose upon your hospitality for some other things though. Iness out.” She made a cut-throat sign to the second, who obliged. Iness whirled to face the sergeant, “Sarge. Does everyone carry food? Do they have charges for their weapons? Do they have their camping gear?”

Sarge was ready with the answers before she asked, “Food for two weeks, a pair of cartridges each – some have more. And they all have everything they need to go everywhere. That’s the requirements and they all know them or they would never have gotten leave.”

“And support? Med packs? Armorer supplies? Chargers?”

This time the sergeant frowned. “They were on the other shuttle.”

Iness looked him in the eye, “I hope next time you split the supplies when you split the troops.”

The sergeant nodded, “If we have a next time.”

The Captain interrupted, “Where to captain?”

“To the space garage above Ridel-2. I’m getting my baby then Sarge and 40 of his best buddies and I are going for a ride.” She winked at the sergeant and his mouth opened in a wide grin when he realized that they were not going to be sitting still and waiting for this thing to pass. He winked back. “Sir,” she said looking at the second, “Do you mind telling the maintenance station that we’re coming and that I want ‘Sunshine’ read to go, and go fast, when we arrive.” She figured her ex wouldn’t argue with someone he didn’t know and he might work faster that way. Turning, she went back to share their situation with the troops.

“So,” Iness was wrapping up her sit report to the troops who sat and listened without a sound, “Who wants to go find out what happened to your buddies?” The bay echo’d with the ‘who-rahs’ and cheers of the troops. Those who had not been before preparing their gear where doing it now. Iness smiled. She then spent an hour learning how this heavy platoon was organized, speaking with the squad leaders, and finding out who was gone (all the senior officers – which she wouldn’t mind) The intercom announced that they were coming in to land at the orbiting space garage and gave the bay number. Iness smiled when she recognized the number and lined up first at the door.

The ramp dropped and Iness stepped out onto the deck. There was a sight that had always made her smile, and she figured it would until the end of her life. High upon the engines were the words, ‘Supernova MMXIV’, aka ‘Sunshine’. The troops filed out, packs on their backs and guns in hand and stopped. There in front of them stood a giant ship. Big enough to hold their entire company, had they been there. But she wasn’t a cargo ship, she was one of the biggest smuggling vessels most had seen. Smuggler ships were known to be fast, sometimes suped up to be many times faster than their original engines should be able to move, and armed. The smaller ones where crewed by two, the larger ones could be 20. This was one of the largest but surprisingly no crew met them, only one figure. The captain advanced to and gave a kiss that hinted of past passions.

“What is this? You got tired of bossing me around so you found some more men?”

“It would take a while to explain, but I shall if you want.”

“No need. It’s been all over the news.” He motioned to the soldiers and switched the channel on a large vidscreen. There is was, covert shots from the inside of the city, leaked footage of the debris that was the space station. Men and women both steeled their faces, they were ready.

Iness glanced over at the sergeant. “We got a lot to do before we go back. I gotta call in some chips to get us a charger. Let’s get everyone fed.” She found it interesting that her ex didn’t say a word at the sudden, and probably depleting, assault on his food stores.

Two hours later the men wandered from the improvised mess hall. Some were still munching the remnants of their dinner, a few seemed to be filling their pockets with the nuts and hard candies that someone had also found in the stores. She looked the other way and saw that the shuttle had been shoved over to the side, well clear of the bay doors. She frowned and grumped at loud, “The didn’t need to move the shuttle. I can take this beast easily over the likes of that.” A voice behind her man her jump. She turned to see all three members of the shuttle crew standing behind her with their packs across their shoulders.

“It doesn’t need to be left in the middle of the bay if nobody is going to be piloting it,” the captain said with a grin. “We discussed among us and decided that you can’t crew this behemoth by yourself where we are going. We have enough experience between us,” the captain gestured at the first and second mates, “That we could help keep you from getting lost no matter what. Lerone, my first, was raised just outside the city we are going to and just to walk into the base to play with the children of an officer there.”

“He is still there, as are many of the troops I used to know. They are active or some working as consultants or mercs.”

The petite Mandonian was about to say more when a huge pack slid past them on the floor, followed by some stomping on the landing behind them. The all turned to see a fit, handsome man, the owner of the mechanics shop they would soon be vacating, filling the doorway into the bridge.

“If you are planning to take my baby into a war zone, you’d better have a mechanic on board or she might not come back out.”

“What about your business?” the captain of the shuttle asked with concern.

“What about it? there are over 50 men who work for me, don’t you think there might be one – more than one – who could run it in my stead? The men have already been assigned before you arrived, I’ve been planning for months to apply for a position on a ship I know which is woefully lacking of crew. Now the captain is in a position that she can’t say ‘no’ to me, at least not at this time.”

Iness dropped her head and shook it slowly, more to disguise a smile at the sudden crew. All would be welcome, especially one in particular. The captain covered a smile, he had known the smuggler for years and remembered when she was the happiest. That was the year she spent on this very space station as she recovered from an adventure that nearly got her killed. That was when ‘Sunshine’ was willed to her from the estate of another to replace the one that her father had left her who was destroyed in the same adventure. After refitting and careful care, most by the man standing in the doorway, she was fit for duty and waiting when Iness was declared fit as well.

Looking directly at the man, she smiled and asked, “Is my baby ready to leave?”

“Yes. My field repair station was loaded ten minutes ago, as were all my tools. It looks like we are all ready. Start your walk.”

As per tradition, superstition, and simply a way to clear her mind and plan her flight, Iness descended the crew steps and started to circle. Her ex blocked any else who tried to follow with an arm and a head shake. Fully 45 minutes later she returned, she had even climbed up onto the catwalk that circled and stretched overhead in the bay and got a good look at the top. Few except her ex knew that as she walked and inspected every inch of metal and composite that would keep the lives of herself and others safe in the depths of space. She prayed for every man, woman, breath of air, nut and bolt that would go on the journey.

“One more thing,” she said as she entered the bay from her inspection. She walked past the crew and onto the bridge, pressing a number into the halophone as she got there. Soon a seedy looking hunter appeared.
“What was that about? You ring me and then lift your scramble?”

“Sorry. There has been a lot on my mind lately.”

“Sorry. What are all these people? You know I speak only to you.”

“This is my crew. They know what I know, at all times.”

“It must be something important for you to have a crew. Either that or you are getting too old to fly that thing and perhaps you should step away?”

Iness clenched her fist, the hunter knew that had she been in the same room he would be fighting for his life. And very likely would loose it. “Shut up and listen. Afterwards I hope you will arrange what I need and not charge a year’s dealings.”

The hunter was seen leaning against a counter nearby. “I am listening.”

“You been watching the vid? Have you seen Mandanian Prime? They have quite the uprising.”
The figure in the halo nodded.

“Well, had I gotten planet side a bit earlier I would have been in the middle of that mess without a ship. Sunny was in port getting her face washed and teeth brushed. So I had been on a shuttle with 40 Mandarian troops returning from R & R when we were diverted from the surface. We were about to dock at the floater when I saw something I didn’t think was right. Anyhow, we are now at Chet’s place with 40 troops as mad as hell and wanting to kick some rebel booty.”

“And that has what to do with me?”

“I need a charger and at least 100 cartridges, no questions asked.”

The man laughed, “When there is a war anywhere near?”

“How many people have you told about the time on Tersan that you wrecked that bucket of bolts you own and it took Chet and I a week and many, many shots fired to get enough garbage to make it space worthy so you could go get it repaired. You did get it repaired didn’t you?”

He spoke quietly, “No one knows that a smuggler aligned with the other side helped me. Nobody is going to find out either.”

“Good, glad to hear it. So, about that charger.”

“I might know one, I might even be able to arrange a good price. But not that many cartridges. I’ll know better when you pick it up. It’s new, working, and all that other stuff. The broker is so going to miss the profit he might have made.”

She suspected well who the ‘broker’ was and received encrypted coordinates that only she would put into the nav con. A nod and she broke transmission. She hadn’t asked the price. She knew it would probably be 10 times the original cost of the machine.

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Bits and Pieces that don’t go anyplace else

‘Slán agus beannacht leat.’ It means ‘goodbye and blessings be with you’. It is a common phrase when parting. Since it’s connected to this question: ‘Go n-éirí an bóthar leat’ is the popular may the road rise to meet you, or may the road proceed you.


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Beannacht (“Blessing”*)

John O’Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colors,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O’Donohue


* From Old Irish bennacht (“benediction, blessing”), from Latin benedictiō


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The Biker

He rode up to a gas station along the road in the middle of no where, dead center in fact. As far as he could see there wasn’t anything at all. He knew that it was about 150 miles one way, and 200 the next. There were no side roads except for one that wandered off towards a casino run by one tribe or another, and a few dirt roads that he supposed wandered off towards ranches or mines. He last bought fuel at the station at the casino turnoff and the old man who was watching from the office wandered out to see him. Probably thought he was an outlaw with his unkempt hair and stubble. They chatted pleasantly about the usual things, the weather and the road ahead. Neither gave him any assurance that this long bypass had been a good choice. Finally, after storing the long dry nozzle back on the pump, he paid the man and prepared to leave. The old man spoke up, “You know, there was another motorcycle through here a few hours ago.”

The man perked up. He was always interested in knowing about others who might be journeying the way that he was going.

“Yes, he was going to try to make town by nightfall but wasn’t concerned if he didn’t get there until later tomorrow. You might look for him.”

The biker nodded, “Maybe I will see him.”

He climbed astride and kicked it, the smooth running motor leapt to life. With a final nod he headed out and turned onto the black top. The heat was over 100 and his speed and open jacket did little to cool him. The hundred miles to the next station was finally over and he coasted up to the pumps. Again the attendant wandered from the office, this one not saying much except to politely answer his questions then nod towards the restaurant that was set off the road in the shade of some poplar trees. They seemed to cool the wind, ever slightly, as it traveled through them. Their shiny leaves fluttered in the wind, he thought he could even hear them as they rubbed against each other. He cruised through the parking lot looking for just the right protected spot to park when he came across a place under a tree that seemed perfect. When he drove up he found another bike there, but it seemed to be parked deliberately so there was ample room for another bike to park. Carefully he parked beside and half behind the creamish-yellow bike, the color seemed to glow so he leaned over a moment to admire the paint then looked up at the worn leather, leading edges splattered with bugs. The wind screen was the only thing that had been cleaned, and this some time ago. He noticed then that the whole bike looked like it had been on the road a while. Looking back at his ride he saw that it looked clean by comparison. Shrugging his shoulders he wandered up to the restaurant, thinking of a cold one.

The inside of the small establishment was bursting to the seams, it seems there were less chairs than there were cars in the parking lot. He snagged a beer and was shooed away from the packed counter to find his own seat while he waited for service. He figured it would be a long wait and as long as he drank slowly to make it last he would only buy one, he would be on the road in an hour or so. Perhaps the wind would cool by then. Finally he spotted a screen porch and wandered out there, to find all of the tables full there as well. He saw also the owner of the other bike who nodded and gestured to the chair across from him.  “It is often like this when the air is hot. There are people sitting together who just met, they would rather do that then drive another two hours in the heat and sun.”

“Thank you,” he said, reaching across the table.

“Jesse” came the response. The hand shake was firm, it gave a feeling of strength and confidence.

It was a surprisingly short time and the waitress came to take his order, the man across the table seemed to have already ordered his. The waitress looked across the table and he gave a nearly imperceptible nod. She turned and went off to the kitchen.

They spoke some, where they were riding to, where they had been before. Jesse spoke of sunrises from the tops of mountains, and sunsets from the edge of the sea with his bare toes being swept by the waves. The man shared of his travels, large cities, desolate reaches, traffic, failures. He tried to skirt who he had ridden most of it with, but he could tell that somehow Jesse already knew. He mentioned how sometimes his travels where so trying and horrible that he saw no peace in them any more and considered selling his bike (he didn’t say what his choices were afterwards) With that Jesse sat back in his chair and began to tell a story. The story caught his attention so much that the sounds from the surrounding people seemed to dim.

When I was a young rider…

Jesse spoke about his first ride, how proud he was of it. Just something made overseas, not very powerful or very fast. Eventually he found himself a better job then the odd summer jobs with which he bought the first and he found an old bike in the neighbor’s barn. It had all its parts, they just were not all on the bike. He spent evenings and weekends working on it, finally about six months later it was ridable. The rust and grime had been removed as he worked on it but now he needed to do something with the bald spots. So he got a pretty good spray painter and some black paint with just a little shine (he figured then he wouldn’t worry about finger prints) and he carefully painted it, learning as he went along. finally it was painted and running and time to go for a ride. He packed his bag and picked up his map and put his thumb on his town. He figured is thumb would be just the right amount of distance to make a weekend trip. Then he looked around all sides of this thumb and picked a destination, and that was where he went that weekend. Soon the rides got longer, and he was meeting more and more People. Some friendly, some not so friendly. As he went he found that even those who were not friendly respected him.

One day he faithful mount made it obvious that long rides were no longer possible and Jesse sadly went looking for a new ride. Almost as if God was helping him look there was an advertisement in the paper for a nice American made bike many years newer than his faithful companion. A friend dropped him off at the address and the owner rolled the bike from the garage. He stood transfixed. The ad had not said that the bike was colored, and he had rode a black bike for so long that he hadn’t even thought of any other color.  The bike was the color of sunshine, not bright sunshine but the color just before the fog lifts in the morning and everything has a golden glow. He just stared, then he walked around and stared some more. No matter the angle the bike was the same color, it never was in the shade. It always was glowing. And something else, if he stood exactly in the right place… “Well,” he paused, “just stand in the right place and you will see what I mean.” A deal was struck, a handshake given, and the man had kinda contented look to see the bike ride off. Jesse wondered about that.

Rides were not the same on the new bike, but somehow he knew that in some ways it was better. It was almost like he had someone riding with him, but that isn’t possible, is it? Jesse shrugged. The people who had been afraid took the yellow bike as something wonderful, not scary. Those who tried to stand up to him before just nodded. For some reason they didn’t ignore him as they often did. The man wondered how changing from a black bike to a yellow one would make a difference. Their dinner finally arrived and he turned down what would have been his third brew.

They were just finishing when a noisy crowd came into the restaurant. They both looked up to see black leather jackets and the patches of an outlaw club. The only open table was next to theirs and the group came over. Finding that it just wasn’t big enough one outlaw looked over at the two, jackets on the back of their chairs and Jesse’s helmet on the floor. He strongly encouraged the two to leave so they could scoot the table over. A strange thing happened then. The man rose to leave, he didn’t want to be the target of a gang, but Jesse hadn’t moved. “I tell you what,” Jesse said, his eyes shining and his face peaceful and almost like it glowed, “I’ll let you share this table, or you can have it if you listen to a story. I’m not leaving.”

“I’m not listening to a story,” the one said. He was interrupted by the one who might have been their leader. “Is that your yellow bike out there?” Jesse nodded, his expression never changed. “You can talk.” They slid the table over and Jesse sat down again. After nodding good bye to him, Jesse turned and began to talk.

Shaking his head he went to the cash register to pay and found that the meal had been taken care of. Still wondering he went out to the yellow bike and stared at the amazing paint one more time. While he looked, he thought he saw a wave of paint on the tank that almost looked like someone was careless. As he looked some more, he saw some straight places in the paint before the mis-painted swoosh traveled downwards. Now he nearly had his nose against the paint and he saw nothing, so he stepped back again thinking he didn’t see it after all. Standing back a bit more he clearly saw it. The swoosh represented a hillside, the three vertical marks at the top all had smaller horizontal marks. Way down where the tank curved under was a bit of darker yellow that almost looked like a cave.  Startled, he went around to the other side and stepped away this time. There was nothing in the paint on this side except the reflection of his own face (he hadn’t noticed it before) and then suddenly his reflection looked as if he was wearing a hat of some type, or maybe some vines wrapped around. Then his face had a beard made by an ever so subtle place where the paint changed direction. As he stared in wonder, a voice was heard in his head, it almost sounded like Jesse’s voice.

If you ride with me, you will never be lonely. You might not always be dry, you might not always have money. Give up your life and follow me and wear my patch on your heart, and I will guide your path forever.


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The Neighbor

The elderly couple watched from the window at the neighbor’s yard. Something had upset the man of the house, again, and he was throwing lawn furniture and kids toys all over the yard. Most of them were landing where his wife stood, the kids had already made a retreat into the house. The woman stood quietly, but unmoving, to set herself between the yard and the back door. The man did not pass the invisible fence. All were afraid, the fleeing children, the wife, and especially the man himself. Although the old man couldn’t tell, he knew that he was. Finally the old man turned to his own wife of 60 years. I suppose it is time that I should do something. She nodded.

The next evening the old man left on his usual walk but made a special stop. When the door opened the father from next door was startled, but politely turned down the old man’s invitation to walk with him. The old man and woman watched sadly as the young man stomped around his yard again that nigh, the old lady observed that perhaps he didn’t raise his voice nearly as much. Again the following evening the old man went to the small house next door first before continuing on his way. Again his offer was refused, but this time there was a slight hesitation before the answer. This went on and on for at least a week. The old man traveled to the house next door first, and the younger man said ‘no’, but sometimes he seemed reluctant. Finally the old man knocked on the door, and the young man met him with a light jacket in his hand. The old man didn’t need to ask, ever again. Each night they walked, he could tell that the young man expected him to talk, perhaps ask about the backyard anger. But the old man just walked. Once in a while he pointed out a plant, or a car, or the geese heading off to the warmer lands. Mostly they didn’t say a word. On day the old man said, ‘My name is Chris’ and he held out hand. The young man said his name and returned the handshake. Then they just walked.

Weeks turned to months, Chris tried to always be there about an hour before the children’s bedtime and to return in time that the children would be washed and dressed and ready for a short story. While he and the young father walked, his wife Mary would sometimes go next door with the most of a batch of cookies or 3/4 of a pie, her excuse that that she and he didn’t eat enough pie or cookies to keep them from going stale and that it was such a joy to share them. A few times the young wife even returned the hospitality by bringing over a serving from a meal that she had cooked, or he would bring a few pieces of chicken or hamburger from the barbecue. On one holiday Saturday, probably a year later, they even got together amongst the toys and swing set in the younger couple’s back yard for a barbecue together. Not long after Mary invited the wife and children to their small church and was pleasantly surprised when the father came with them as well as they walked the short distance. As they walked Mary realized that it had been a long time since she had heard the young man raise his voice, and a long time since she had seen anything except a smile on the children’s faces.

One evening a few weeks later Chris stopped to wait for the young man and the later held up his finger, “A new family moved in across the street. The husband looked fit to be tied and sped off in his truck just a while later. I see he is there now, let me run over and see if he would like to walk with us.” He came back shaking his head, “Maybe tomorrow.” He smiled at Chris and gave him a hug.


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The Ride

Perhaps this sounds like a ride you might have taken…

The sun was shining as he rolled up the garage door. It was the first true day of spring. Already the pavement was beginning to reflect the warmth that the air would soon take on. His ride was black and sleek, the finest the local dealer had to offer. He’d had it many years, well past when “newer” riders had traded theirs in an gotten another. Not him, his fit like a well-worn pair of boots. Comfortable, just enough slop to relax in but still fit tight enough to be safe. Today they (he and his bike) were going to the mountains where what was left of the snow would give cool air to contrast the heated pavement. Level side roads covered with fine cinder gravel offered safe places to pull off to take a break and stretch his legs. Sometimes he even explored one a little ways, but usually not as the rough dust could leave minute abrasions on the shiny black paint.  Today the evidence of plentiful snow during the winter was seen in the cinder gravel along the road. He frowned, he didn’t like having something that limited him from pulling over off of the road. That sand could be deadly, the small bits providing a slippery surface for the large gravel to roll even easier. A fast moving motorcycle would find itself on roller skates if it ventured there. Even a slow moving bike teetered and tried to slip.

Ignoring the gravel, he flew down the road. He passed tractor-trailer rigs who blew their horns, the sound resounding off of the pavement. He could feel it in his chest, musical punctuation to the sound of the road beneath his tires and the chorus of the engine that echoed the beating of his heart. He reached his turn around place a bit ahead of time and decided to wander through town a bit before having lunch and filling up for the return trip. He chuckled to himself and shook his head, he really should plan this ride to go over in the afternoon and back the next morning. This way he didn’t have the sun in his eyes both ways. Still smiling, he found a place to leave the bike near an alcove of tourist shops. The town was one that had gone out of its way to establish a Western motif and cater to tourists in the summer and skiers and snow mobilers in the winter. It had a pleasant number of shops with low-price wares punctuated with artisan shops that had things many times out of his budget. He had seen a shop that would have just the thing for his young daughter, and while he was here he thought he should get a small peace trinket for his ex.  He and his old-lady had broken up a short time ago. She said she was tired of him coming home, opening a cool one, and then spend time in the garage staring at, and sometimes tinkering on, his bike. He argued that he deserved the dreams after working all day. She argued that his family deserved him, after he had some influence in that they were a family at all.  Deep inside he knew she was right, but his stubborn will born of freedom and the road kept him from saying so.

Lunch done and a full tank of gas and he was on the road. As he expected, the fading sun shone directly in his eyes and made seeing the road nearly impossible. He was somewhere near the top of the pass when his patience finally snapped. He decided to pull of onto a side road that traveled out into the snow pines and take a break while the sun dropped down.  Diving across the oncoming lane, through the left-over gravel and onto the small side road, he pulled it up and put down the stand. He looked at the bike a moment and wondered if it would be all that hard to install a center stand, then he shrugged and reached into his pocket. This would have been a place where in the past he would have taking out his pipe and gave it a few pulls while he waited, but his old-lady had talked him into quiting a month before she left. Now that he had, he wasn’t going to give in and start again. It was another thing she was right about, he didn’t need it and neither did their daughter. Again he shrugged and wandered about a bit, picking up pine cones and examining interesting rocks. With each one he thought about his daughter. She was the age where all things like this were beyond interesting. They were fascinating and beautiful and she was always looking for the next thing to admire. He stopped at a spot that looked across the valley and towards one of the snow-covered mountains. This would have been something his ex would have loved. He watched a moment as the setting sun painted its slopes with color then, remembering his ride, turned at went back to the road.

He was standing there looking at the bike as it stood in the cinder, the front tire completely flat.  All the air had gone from it as he wandered thinking about life. Taking out his cell he checked for a signal. None. Who’d thought how on the top of a mountain there would be no signal. On the mountain the traffic had slowed to a trickle, and even if there was rigs going by none would have stopped for a leather-clad road gypsy. Again he patted his pocket. Quitting smoke didn’t mean he had to stop carrying a lighter, but it seemed to lessen the temptation at the time. He rubbed his hands together as if they were cold already and looked around for a smooth rock to lean against. He would flag someone down in the morning.

The sun had dropped and the temperature was following it when he thought he heard singing. Standing quickly he turned and saw a small campfire a little ways further down the road. Curiously approaching, he saw an old, white bearded biker with an equally old ride. The man nodded and invited him to sit. Looking back at his bike, he wondered if he should leave it so far away. The old mad caught his concern, “Bring it down and park it there,” he nodded at a spot that seemed perfectly level, “that way you won’t be worrying about anybody messing with it. Not that there are many up here.” Soon the bike was parked and he was up against a rock that was perfect to lean on by the fire. The old man stared awhile then tossed a granola bar over. Tearing the wrap of ravenously he tossed the wrapper into the fire. “Easy it is to feed the body. Harder to feed a man’s soul,” the old man mumbled. “Where are you from young fellow?” was a logical question to ask. He answered where he lived. “Naw, I mean, where are you from?” he asked again. Now the man started to tell about the small town on the coast where he grew up. About his family, about participating in sports in school. He even told about his sisters and their families, even though he doubted the old man cared. All the while the old man nodded, even smiled once or twice.  When he was done silence filled the camp. He was thinking of trying to get some sleep against the oddly comfortable rock when the old man asked another question. “Where have you ridden?” He started to tell about the day’s ride that ended up where he was and the man interrupted, “No, where have you ridden?” Understanding, he spoke about how he got his bike so long ago, and how he proposed to his ex as she rode along behind. He spoke about how they traveled around the state, even going to a big bike meet across the nation. The thousands of motorcycles were not why he rode and he was happy for the solitude again.  The old man was genuinely interested, “And your wife? Does she still ride with you?” A sigh was followed by a long silence. After a while the man begain to tell about his wife, (all of a sudden he found it hard to call her “old lady” or “ex”) Where they met, how they fell in love, their first ride together – her arms wrapped around his waist. Then the birth of their daughter. How he loved her more than anything except his wife. How he still loved her so much. They had quit riding together after the birth of their daughter, three couldn’t ride on one bike. Then he thought some more. His mom and sisters would have loved to spend time with her, and his wife could get her own bike for when their daughter could ride behind him. He sat contemplating the fire. “And what if she doesn’t like that idea?” the old man asked. He thought for a moment, “I think I might even sell the bike, or store it anyway.” The old man smiled and settled back to rest, “Love is like that,” he mumbled. The man leaned against his own rock and was fast asleep.

The sounds of birds and rays of sun against his face brought his eyes quickly open. He sat up and glanced towards his camp mate and the spot was empty. He turned to his bike as he thought about the conversation over the campfire. Then he stopped and stared at the front tire. In front of him stood a full tire, no sound of air escaping or marks of a leaks to be found. He looked around again when he saw a folded piece of paper. “Sometimes you find God when you least expect to find Him.” The man stared at the paper a while, then looked again – turning his eyes up this time. There were tears on his cheeks.

Turning onto the pavement once again, he rode towards home. There were some very important things he needed to do. The rising sun cast a warm glow upon him as if it was surrounding him in a cocoon of blessing and safety.


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There comes a kingdom…

All great buildings have names, it is usually no different with the seat of a kingdom. Palace Athandraul has been the residence of the Kings of Utonica for at least a hundred years. Prior to that there had been a great stone castle, tumbled down by war and weather and used now as the foundation for the present one.

Aleyne learns that sometimes a person’s duty is to step in where others can no longer go, and sometimes her duty is to go where no one has ever been.

In the third book of the Ethaia series Aleyne finds herself following the path set by her parents on the day they died. With her new responsibilities she takes on some old ones to remove the threat of bandits on the pass that connects the east from the west, and to remove the strangle hold it has upon the the people, her people, the people of Utonica.

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The world expands…

What would happen if you went for a ride and never returned? Aleyne Agrurova did just that. Aleyne was a pleasant teenager, nearly an adult, when she saddled her horse to take a long ride one day.

Aleyne only knew that her parents had loved her and that when they died unexpectedly she came to live with her uncle Raul. She didn’t know who they really were. At 13 her uncle gave her a present that her parents had left for to have when she was ready. The elven made blade carried runes and etchings that hinted at a part of her past that she had never learned.

The day she left on a horse ride on a sunny day four years later it would start the events rolling that would bring present and past crashing together. Aleyne’s life would never be the same.

Aleyne planned to journey just a few days and then return, but each day brought another adventure that lead her further and further away from her simple life – and into a life she never knew she was part of, into a person she never knew she was.

Aleyne’s adventure opens for her a world outside of her frontier life. A world whose borders were beyond her imagination. A world of bandits, dragons, elves, and thieves. A world where an unknown girl would lead an army and two kingdoms would welcome an heir.

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The adventure begins…

Aleyne Agrurova only knew that her parents had loved her and that when they died unexpectedly she came to live with her uncle Raul. She didn’t know who they really were. When she was twelve her uncle gave her a present that her parents had left for to have when she was ready. The elven made blade carried runes and etchings that hinted at a part of her past that she had never learned. The day she left on a horse ride on a sunny day four years later it would start the events rolling that would bring present and past crashing together. Aleyne’s life would never be the same.
Aleyne’s adventure opens for her a world outside of her frontier life. A world whose borders were beyond her imagination. A world of bandits, dragons, elves, and thieves. A world where an unknown girl would lead an army and two kingdoms would welcome an heir.

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The Driver

I’m not sure it is very good, but it is from the heart.

A fellow with a particular liking for old cars found one several hundred miles from his home. It was an ugly, rusted sort of thing, but anyone could tell that with a lot (and I mean lot) of hard work the car could be restored to show-room state. With a full tank of gas he headed for home. He got to his first intended stop and filled up, pleased with his progress. About half-way to his next stop he realized that he hadn’t enough fuel to make it the whole distance. Looking at the map he saw that there was only one town between him and his destination and he prayed he would make it that far. Finally he made it to the small town and drove through. He realized to his dismay that there was only one gas station and it was closed for the night. It opened pretty early so he was pleased he would only loose a little time from his schedule. A slower drive through town and he realized there was no motel. Sighing, as he had no blankets in the car and was not prepared to stay out, he decided to sleep in the gas station parking lot and then he could get going first thing.

As he slept a townsman drove by. “Look at that old rotten car. I should call the sheriff and have him tell that bum to leave town.” The next fellow looked at the wreck parked at the gas station and thought, “That was one nice car in its time. With a little work it would be pretty nice again, maybe even worth some money. That guy is lucky to have it.” A third man drove by. He was driving a truck that had seen better years but sung like a bird. The bed had all the gear of a farm truck – tools, some cribbing, a big 55 gallon of diesel and a littler can of gas. He made his living doing service to the tractors and boats around the area. He saw the worn looking car in the lot and guessed the story. Walking up to the car containing the sleeping man, he tapped on the glass. The man snapped awake, eyes wide. “Hi. I’m Joe. It looks like you ran out. I can fill you up from my can if you’d like?” The half asleep man nodded yes and got out to see if he could help. Within a minute Joe had the tank topped off. When payment was offered he shook his head. “Say, have you eaten this evening?” he asked the still amazed driver. Again the head moved, “no” this time. Follow me to my house. My wife was supposed to make some pot-roast and I know there will be enough for all of us. The driver followed the old truck to an equally old cottage with a half-fixed tractor out front and a very small, shed-type garage around the side. He parked where he was told and came in, noticing that the man unlaced his boots and left them at the door. The wife smiled and welcomed him, pointing at a chair around the small table as the smells from the kitchen reached his nose. There could be no finer meal anywhere to smell like that. Looking around as he waited he saw that the walls were covered with pictures of kin and home-made spreads covered the tattered couches. There in one corner was a long-hung print of Jesus in a frame. Nothing special, just a picture of Him sitting along a lake with some people and eating. He turned to his already dressed plate and started in on it. There was the pot-roast, potatoes, carrots, and onions along with some fresh baked corn bread on the side. The man and his wife paused before eating to speak to the Son of God and thank him for the events of the day – including the company of the driver. Nodding politely afterwards, the driver started again into his meal. He was famished and ate hungrily. He was about half-way through his plate when he realized that his hosts had split the same amount he had between themselves. They just smiled and nodded like it was normal. He didn’t know if he should offer some back, thank them, or just enjoy what they had given.

When the driver and the man went back out after eating, the smell of gas filled the yard. Worried, both men quickly approached the car, the man sliding under on the soaked ground. “There is a hole in the tubing where it bends around the frame. It probably took it years to wear through. You are lucky that you didn’t get stuck along that long stretch of road where people only travel a couple times a day.” He shown some more with the flashlight and finally pronounced, “It’s going to take a while to loosen that and drop it below the frame so I can splice it. When you rebuild it you should better think of another way to run it. This will do for now. Go grab a comforter and curl up on the couch, that way you’ll be rested to travel in the morning.” The driver argued but the man was firm, “I don’t want you having a wreck along that stretch of road because I didn’t let you sleep.”

The morning broke bright and warm and the wife greeted the driver with eggs, toast, and fresh jam. She apologized the absence of bacon explaining that he got paid for most of his jobs on Friday and one fellow paid in ham and bacon, so they would have some then. The driver assumed the man had slept in or maybe gone to work and got his coat. Leaving the small, simple house. Paint missing but roof and sides sound. He saw the man coming from the garage wiping his hands on a towel. “That was good timing, I just finished.” The driver though that if it took that long for the man to finish a splice, he must be really slow. The man continued, “While I was under there I realized that the car hasn’t had any work from some years. So I popped out the spark plugs and cleaned and re-gapped them, I checked the distributor and set its gap. I timed it, and when I was doing that I realized that fan belt was about to break. I happened to have the right size in the shed so I replaced it. The cooling system looks good so I topped it off, but the heater will need repaired. The oil has been changed recently. Careful with those tires, but they will do.” The driver was amazed, the man spend all night checking over the old car. Now it was good enough to make it all the way home with no problems. He offered some money and was refused. Argued some more and was still refused. Finally with a shrug he shook the man’s hand and got into the car. With the man and wife waving he found his way down the driveway and onto the highway.

As he drove, the driver thought of the man’s helpfulness and care that he would be safe. He thought of how they gave him half of what they had for dinner and shared the rest between each other. He thought about the words of the man’s prayer, how honest and truthful they were – as if he was talking to his brother. Last he thought about the picture on the wall. While it was one of the classical depictions of Jesus, it showed Him doing something that he hadn’t given much thought to. It showed Him sitting in the dirty sand with his followers who probably smelled like fish, roasting some of the same over the fire. Nothing special, nothing Godly, just sharing some fish and conversation the way the man and his wife did. Driving the last hill into the big city that was his home, he made a decision that would change his life forever. He wanted to know Jesus as a brother and to reach out like a friend to anyone he met. It wasn’t the first person who thought he should be driven from town. It wasn’t the second person who saw that he was surrounded by something that might have value. It was the third person who accessed his needs and offered to meet them. This went farther than any sermon on Sunday.

A small helicopter landed in the field next to a tiny, tattered shack. A familiar man was seen stepping down. He knew the man and woman would be there as it was afternoon on Sunday. With surprise they came through the doorway, the wife wiping her hands on a towel covered with flour. Then they did what they always did, invited the man and his pilot in for lunch. They accepted and the door shut behind as they entered. Today a good man would be rewarded, if he allowed it.

God bless those who don’t walk away and reach out to others. God bless those to give themselves not their money. A coin, no matter how many, will not show Jesus love. Only the touch of the caring hand of another and the extra effort to meet their needs.

Lord Jesus, I know that in these trying times it it easy to cover our head with our misery than to reach out to others who are the same. Tell me and show me what I need to do, and I will step to follow. Amen.


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