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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Prisoner's Last Meal - 11/25

Reaching into the bowels of the splintered crate, Nora pulled out the last turnip. The sides of the pale round bulb had a few scratches. One side squished under her thumb as she tested for damage.

"We don't have more?" she asked Helen.

The other woman snorted and shook her wide head. Coils of gray hair wavered at her wobbly jowls. Her raw hands and thick fingers slammed down the pestle into the mortar, grinding a handful of dried herbs.

"That's the last crate until the next shipment."

Nora sighed and set the turnip on the cracked wooden board beside a bruised onion, more black than brown, and a trio of stunted carrots. Hefting her dull cleaver in her nimble hands, she hacked off the inedible pieces from the vegetables and dropped them into the slop bucket. With careful precision, she began dicing the remains.

"You take too much care with his meals," scolded Helen, plucking an errant maggot from the bowl.

Nora shrugged, shifting her linen dress on her thin shoulders.

"He shouldn't be here."

"Don't let the Boss hear you say that." Helen waved her pestle caked with ground rosemary at Nora’s nose.

Nora rolled her eyes.

"I've heard some of the Guards saying the same thing."

Shaking her head, Nora set down her knife. She lifted the lid off the steaming cauldron hanging on a hook above a sputtering fire.

The strings of meat and ligaments on the carcass had fallen off, leaving bones poking out of the surface. Savory coils wafted out of the round pot, mixing thyme and bay with poultry and fat.

Nora skimmed off a thin film of scum foaming around the edges and flung the bubbles into the bucket.

"You'll be making him a feast soon enough," muttered Helen. She wiped her hands on her smudged apron and dumped her crushed herbs onto leg of mutton sitting in bloody juices.

"It's the least I can do," said Nora, collecting another ladle of foul scented foam. "Look at what you're making."

Helen massaged the herbs into the tough meet and scowled.

"Dinner for the Boss is different than dinner for his prisoner."

Nora dumped her chopped vegetables into the pot and gave the simmering soup a stir.

"Do you really think he did it?"

"Must you ask this every night?"

"He just doesn't seem the type for assassinating anyone."

"A gallant smile and good looks can cover up an evil heart." Helen beat the mutton with the heel of her hand. "His charms have gotten him better food than he would have had otherwise."

Nora frowned down at the swirl of broth and softening vegetables. Toying with the edge of her apron drooping on her narrow hips, she continued stirring.

"I suppose you're right."

"Of course I am," said Helen, smacking the defeated leg. Threading the meat onto a spit she carried the hanging mutton to another set of rods above the fire. Fat crackled into the flames as the roast began to heat. "I've seen more men pleading their innocence pass through these walls than you have years."

Helen wiped the oil and herbs off her hands and onto a dingy rag.

"That's stewed for long enough, Nora."

Nora forced her hand to stop circling and set the ladle aside. She collected a square tray and wooden bowl from the cabinets on the other side of the small kitchen and set them by the cauldron. She ladled one scoop into the bowl, then went back to pluck some vegetables and the fattest pieces of meat from where they had sunk to the bottom. Unfolding the cleanest cloth available, Nora tossed the fabric over the bowl and shooed away the interested flies.

Helen snorted again and then focused on spinning the mutton.

Ignoring the older woman's shaking head, Nora gathered the fresh loaf she had managed to bake while completing her other chores. The crisp crust steamed and she blew on her fingers as she tucked the dark loaf into the pocket of her apron, hiding the bulge in the folds of her skirt. She tossed a denser, day old loaf onto the tray, the stale round thudding on the wood as if made of stone. Adding a pitcher of boiled water and a pair of cups to the corner, she balanced the weight.

"Could you get the door?" she asked as she lifted the tray and held the meal close to her chest to keep from spilling.

"You wouldn't want to drop anything," said Helen as she hobbled to the door. The hinges groaned and the base of the wood scraped the stone floor.

Nora slipped through once the gap had widened enough and then set off down the dank corridors. Smoke billowed from the torches hung at intervals along the walls, the dark coils countering the fiery glow.

Nora kept her eyes on the tray, careful not to slosh the soup as her leather soled slippers snapped against the rocks. Scurrying, her heart beat rose to a swift pound against her chest. A labyrinth of turns through the prison's maze of corridors finally brought her to the guarded base of the tower. Nora slowed as she reached Harold's post at the locked door leading up to the cell.

"Nora," said Harold. The guard's leering gaze swept over her like an oily cloth. Leaning in his spear he set one gloved hand on the edge of her tray. "What do you have for him today?"

Nora felt his eyes smear over the soup and then linger on the square collar of her dress.

"Same as yesterday," she said, yanking the tray from his touch, "and the day before that."

"But it's always a pleasure to see."

Nora narrowed her eyes as Harold gave her a sneering grin, exposing the holes of his missing teeth between the yellow and blackened ones clinging to his gums.

"You know what I'm waiting for," he whispered with a sour breath.

Nora adjusted her hold on the tray and poured out a cup of clear water. Harold claimed the drink and snagged the hardened loaf off the tray. He tore into the stony crust and softened the morsel with a glug.

Nora waited as he gnawed and endured his famished gaze until he neared the end of his snack.

"Helen will be expecting me back," Nora pressed as Harold guzzled the last drop and managed to swallow down the last crumb.

"I'm sure she will.”

"No doubt she'd take this up herself if she thought I was dawdling."

Harold's leer fell at the idea.

"No doubt," he grumbled, and then pulled out the ring of keys at his belt. He inserted one iron shaft into the lock on the door, turned and pulled.

Nora scampered through. Her trek up the spiral stairs increased her pulse to fierce gallop. The slice of sea breeze through the arrow slits in the tower's wall reached through her leggings and chilled her ankles. She kept her hands tight on the tray's edge even as her fingers began to numb. She slowed as she reached the peak of the spiral in order to catch her breath.

"Evening," she said to Thomas.

The guard by the door to the cell nodded from his lean against the stone. Nora gulped as she felt his hard eyes pass over her, then the tray, his thoughts obscured by the shadow of his cowl and his typical silence. The keys jangled from his belt as he opened the thick padlock while the rest of the leather and cloth in his uniform gave a soft moan.

Nora tucked away freed wisps of her raven hair behind her ears as Thomas opened the door.

He peered inside for a moment then pulled back and motioned her through.

Nora jumped as the door closed behind her. Steadying her knees, she began a sedate walk across the cell. Her gaze drifted to the body sized lump lying on the posted bed in the corner.

Walking on her toes, Nora headed over to the wooden table and chair he had pulled beside the single window. A bare slit of light fell upon the paper and quill he had been granted.

Nora set the tray on a bare section of table and then collected the warm loaf from her pocket. She set the bread beside the napkin covered soup. Gnawing on her lower lip, she turned and peered at the lump.

He hadn't stirred with her entrance, the slam of the door nor the smell of the meal. The straw mattress in fact had failed to crinkle with any kind of movement or even breath.

Maybe he's sick, she thought, her heart leaping into her throat.

Clutching her apron in tight fists, Nora glanced at the door. Thomas's shadow hovered before the barred window but she felt his gaze lingering elsewhere.

Padding across the thin rug covering the stones, she halted at the side of the bed. Arching up on her toes, she peered over the lump.

Straw stuck out from the single blanket bundled into the shape of a man.

Nora froze as she stared at the faux body and noted the rest of the missing bedding.

A gust of wind coiled through a set of stones above her head. Only moving of her eyes, she glanced up. Fading light trickled through a crease in the rocks near the pointed ceiling where mortar had been scraped free and the stones reset.

The door creaked as Thomas opened the cell.

Nora blushed, the heat flushing her whole body. She kept her eyes downcast as she dashed away from the bed and through the door. She felt Thomas watching her as she began down the spiral stairs.

Behind her, the cell door closed with a thud and a jangle of the key and lock sealed the prison.

Nora felt her heart soar. The steps flew under her feet as she descended. She made sure to keep her head down and bit down on her lips as she passed Harold in order to hide the sparkle she felt dancing in her eyes and the smile wanting to spread across her mouth. Her chest felt like bursting as she reentered the kitchen.

"Took you long enough," grumbled Helen.

"Sorry," Nora said breathlessly.

Helen scowled. "You alright girl?"

"Yes," she answered quickly.

Helen added a few hunks of mutton on to the plate prepared for the Boss. Holding out the tray, she kept her grip on the edges as Nora reached out to take the next meal to be delivered.

"Are you certain?"

Nora felt the blush returning and dropped her eyes to the tray. Swallowing down her words, she only nodded in order to keep Helen from guessing the truth.

"That man will only bring you trouble," Helen warned as she released the tray. "Be sure to keep your head about you."

Looking up, Nora gave Helen a confident smile. "Oh I am, Helen, I am."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Susan's Dish - 11/23

The wobbling casserole dish threatened to tumble from Susan's grasp as she extended one trembling finger toward the door bell. She adjusted the weighty rectangle covered with aluminum foil, tucking the warm tray into the crook of her elbow. Crimping the edges she ensured the steam remained trapped and bought herself a few extra seconds. A chill gust smacked against her back, coiling down the pillared front porch and rebounding to numb her cheeks.

Blowing out a breath, Susan closed her eyes and pressed the bell.

On the other side of the oak door, split by lilies cut into stained glass, delicate chimes ran up an octave.

Thudding paws padded toward the door and a wet nose pressed against the glass. A few encouraging woofs brought the arrival of another figure.

Susan turned to adjusting the aluminum again as the door knob turned and heavy door opened.

"You must be Susan."

Susan looked up to find a broad shouldered older man, decked in a mustard hued button down shirt. A steely and well trimmed beard nearly hid his pleasant yet tempered smile. One hand held the door open while the other gripped the collar of a rust hued retriever with a slow waving tail.

"Yes. Mr. Benedict?"

"Please call me Jerry." The retriever woofed again. "And this is Harry," said Jerry with a broader grin. "Come in, come in, it's freezing out there."

"Thank you," said Susan. She felt her lips mirroring his and she stepped out of the chill. "I hope I'm not too late."

"Oh no, no. Maggie was just going to holler at me to carve the bird."

Jerry closed the door against the elements, and the warmth of roasted turkey and butter swam around the foyer. Susan heard voices chatting deeper within the cavernous halls. Thick walls draped with heavy frames surrounding lumpy oil paintings depicting landscapes from every part of the country, muted the conversations to a low hum.

"Let me take your coat..." Jerry's smile stretched like a child having spotted candy. "You didn't need to bring anything."

"Oh, it's nothing," said Susan, pulling the casserole a little closer. "Just something my family always makes for the holidays."

"Here then." Jerry reached out for the dish. "I'll get it on the buffet table if you don't mind hanging up your coat and hat in that closet there and then joining us."

"Of course," said Susan, releasing the casserole into Jerry's waiting grasp. "But please keep the foil on. It'll stay warmer that way."

"Aye aye." Jerry headed toward the muted gathering with Harry at the heels of his spotless loafers. The dog's wet nose sniffed the dish with interest. "I'll let Samuel know you're here too," Jerry added with a wink as he disappeared around the corner.

Susan dropped her gaze to the marble floor as she felt her cheeks flush and began unbuttoning her knee length coat. Her gloved fingers slipped on the loose toggles, but she sloughed off her wooly outer layer and pulled off her cranberry knit cap. She matted down her snug sweat, smoothing the wrinkles over her narrow hips.

Tussling out her short curls, she opened the closet. An array of plush velvet, faux fur trims, thick men’s trench coats and ski jackets decked with tags hung next to one another in a wintery rainbow of warmth. Digging into the closets depths, Susan found a spare wooden hanger and squeezed her coat onto the bowed rod. She closed the door again and laid a steadying hand on the fine paneling.


She wheeled around and froze, bracing herself against the closet.

"Hi Samuel."

Taller than his father, Samuel wore a plum shirt on a similar square shouldered frame and his mouth curved in the same welcoming grin on his close shave. He stepped forward, holding his wine glass to the side in order to cup her elbow and plant a quick peck on her cheek.

His warm lips against her skin reached down to help thaw Susan's toes.

"Glad you could make it," said Samuel, straightening and holding his glass with both hands.

"Thanks again for the invitation."

"Of course. Everyone needs company for Thanksgiving."

"It worked out well. My parents and sister are swamped under two feet of snow already. I'd probably be stuck in an airport with a horde of others."

"Good thing the case ran late then huh?"


"Samuel!" A strident soprano called out, her voice ringing through the halls as if the wall paper provided a specialized acoustic enhancement.

"That would be Mother," said Samuel with a slight wince. He guided them through the same doorway Jerry had taken. "She's orchestrating the afternoon and I believe seating will occur in moments."

Susan glanced up and found his eyes shimmering with humor.

"I'll be sure to follow all directions and instructions," she said with a smile.

"Then you'll make her day."

They passed through a cozy sitting room with a matching set of arm chairs and three seat couch. A ebony baby grand glowed under the lit sconces in the corner. Samuel led them on into a library, warmed by a roaring fire and whiskey hued carpet and paneling.

"Almost there," said Samuel as he walked them through the fortress of books.

Samuel pushed through a sliding door and the conversations on the other side tittered to a hush.

"Wonderful," said the older woman at the hub of the gathering.

She swayed toward them in a wide pair of evergreen slacks and elegant sage blouse laced at the collar by a casual droop of pearls. The hue complemented her hazel eyes, pale skin and twist of auburn hair streaked with classy strands of white. Susan noticed a slight loss of focus in the woman's eyes as she wobbled on her pumps. "You must be Susan."

"Mrs. Benedict," said Susan with a smile and brief nod. She stroked her fingers on her sweater’s sleeves as she hugged herself beneath the crowd’s inspection.

Mrs. Benedict waved a dismissive hand ringed with sparkling emeralds.

"Maggie, please." She squeezed her hand through Susan's arm and guided her toward the cluster in the center of the living room. "Everyone, this is Susan Jones. She works at the firm with Samuel. Paralegal?"

"No, I'm a law librarian," Susan corrected with a steady thread of pride.

Jerry gave her a small toast with his tumbler as the dozens of other well dressed individuals and couples smiled and nodded in greeting.

"We can all be better acquainted around the dinner table," reasoned Maggie.

Maggie spun them around and Susan scampered to keep pace as her elbow remained in the other woman's possession. Susan caught a supportive grin from Samuel as she managed to match Maggie's wine wobbled stride.

A procession, dominated by eager conversation about anticipated dishes followed their entrance into a sparkling dining room.

Beneath a gleaming chandelier, the table stretched out along the length of the room. China and glassware were aligned in crisp rows while an array of cutlery was carefully placed as etiquette demanded. Ivory napkins with soft folds matched the floor length table cloth and the tapered candles in trios of branching candelabras. The flames alternated with delicate bouquets of mums and roses, full enough to occupy the empty space but low to enable conversation over the petals.

A buffet ladened with dishes in the same china pattern flowed along the right wall. A honey golden turkey sat beside a tray of carefully sliced pieces oozing with juice and steam. Piles of mashed and sweet potatoes, half a dozen types of vegetables and both jelly and relish cranberry sauces had been mounded in silver bowls.

Susan winced as she caught her own aluminum rectangle tucked onto the last bit of space by the table's edge.

"You have a beautiful house, Mrs-," Mrs. Benedict arched a finely trimmed brow. "Maggie," Susan amended, grasping at her suede camel skirt.

"You're sweet to say so," said Maggie, seeming to take in the spread of food and porcelain anew. “Miranda did an excellent job this year," she added absently "although I'm not sure what that one is."

Susan gulped as she saw Maggie frowning at the misplaced looking casserole.

"I brought that," Susan explained in a rush. "My mother always makes it and I wanted to bring something."

Susan tried to keep her smile steady as Maggie patted her arm.

"Absolutely charming of you."

Taking another sip, Maggie waved at the room like a conductor beginning a concert.

"Find you seat everyone and then you plates." Maggie released her hold on Susan's arm in order to gesture at a setting in the center of the table. "You're there dear," she said, then continued her sway to the foot of the table.

"Thank you," said Susan, making her way to the indicated seat.

Noting the fine calligraphy on the name cards held in the tails of small silver turkeys, Susan nibbled at her lip as she saw hers between someone named Beatrice and Ferdinand.

Beatrice turned out to be a platinum blonde with a Botoxed set of features while Ferdinand a short bald man in a well tailored suit.

Susan let out a small breath as Samuel came to stand at the chair across the table from her. He gave her another grin and a toast with his empty glass before adding his bit of crystal to the table.

"Excellent, excellent," bubbled Maggie. "Now to the buffet! And everyone, be sure to try some of Susan's. She's made..." Susan gripped the back of her chair as Maggie's gaze drooped onto her, bringing along the rest of the room. "What was it you brought?"

"Stuffing. A cornbread and sausage stuffing. My mom calls it Wilbur's Casserole." Susan felt her cheeks coloring like the cranberry sauce as her mouth ran away with her. "From the book - Charlotte's Web. It's Some Pig..."

The flicker of candle flames filled the silence.

"Isn't that what the spider wrote in her web?" asked a needle thin woman in a chestnut skirt and cream blouse. She leaned onto the back of her chair on one lean twig of an arm, her bony hand swirling her cabernet.

Susan felt her grin wobbling like Maggie's pumps. "Yes."

"Leave it to Amanda to remember something like that," said Maggie with a warm hearted grin.

"It's a clever turn of phrase," countered Amanda with a frosty stare.

"I'm sure it'll be T double e double r-ific," Jerry interjected, coaxing a round of chuckles from Amanda and a few others at table who caught the reference.

"Come on then.” Maggie focused on walking over to the buffet and removing the foil on the casserole. With one hand she pressed the aluminum into a small wad and nestled the lump behind the lip of the ceramic dish. "Let's eat."

The guests began to assemble into amicable lines at either end of the mountain of food.

"Looks delicious," said Samuel, from his post across the table where he waited for an opening.

Susan gave him a small smile then occupied herself by setting aside the folded napkin and collecting the plate monogrammed with the Benedict's initials. Hugging the dish to her chest, Susan watched Jerry take a huge scoop of Wilbur's, praying she had remembered all the ingredients and the casserole was still warm.

Awkward Delivery - 11/22

Captain Conrad Tyler's stomach somersaulted as the tendrils of sweetened smoke stroked his nose. He stared at the ebony liquid in the tall crimson mug wrapped by his calloused fingers. The coffee's hue matched the hairs on the back of his hands, sprouting between goose bumps.

I guess this does change something’s, he mused.

Tyler set the cup down an arm’s length away and across the square table. He kept faintly smelling the now nauseating aroma even as the passing medical attendants walked by, the gusts of their movements wavering the strident coils. They swept past, focused on their treatment routines, leaving him alone in the small suite reserved for recovering patients, free of the confinement of their reclining beds, at least for a time.

Tyler reached down below the end of the glistening ivory table and laid a hand on the bulge right beneath his belly button. The quiver under his medical jersey and skin settled with the touch and, he assumed, the distance to the drink. Shaking his head he raked his hand through his shoulder length waves, trying to shove aside the morning's lingering weariness and other symptoms.

His gaze turned to the wide oval windows lining the perimeter of the room.

A shower of stars hung outside, stretched slightly by the near silent movement of the ship as she passed through space. Tyler felt the soft hum of the engines, decks below, through the fuzzy slippers now wrapped around his feet. His pulse began to match the rhythm in a soporific tempo.

The slide of the automatic door at the medical bay’s far end, and the deep throated laugh shot pure adrenaline into his veins. The jolt pushed aside any thought of sleep and the comforting presence of his ship.

This, Tyler thought with a grimace, is going to be awkward.

Ensign Verat stopped at the entrance to the suite, her dark blue uniform trim and crisp, her oval face expressionless beneath her coil of rave hair.

"Good morning, Captain," she said with the same sharp angles in her tone.

Behind her, Lieutenant Ryner laughed again and patted Eray, a willowy attendant, on the shoulder. The medic winced under the husky man’s blow but smiled jovially before hurrying back to deal with the tray of bottled, multicolored fluids he held in his nimble hands.

"Have a seat, Ensign," said Tyler, motioning toward the cushioned chair to his right.

Verat gave a swift nod and extracted the chair the precise amount needed to perch herself on the edge. She placed her hands in her lap and looked up from the table only as Ryner occupied the suite's open door.

"Capt'," said Ryner. His square face broke into a slightly wider grin as his gaze swept over Verat. Ryner leaned one shoulder against the door frame and hooked his thumbs into his belt loops as if to highlight the phasers holstered at his hips.

Tyler watched Verat's cheeks pink a few degrees and pale again as she locked her gaze back onto the pristine table.

"Ryner," said Tyler, gesturing to the other chair. "Hit the seal while you're at it."

The order caused Ryner to frown, his languid mass tensing slightly. He gave the appropriate button on the flat panel set into the interior of the doorway a tap with his fist as he stepped inside.

The sliding door to the suite slid closed, although the transparent film left the medical bay clearly visible. The movement of the attendants and the buzz of their equipment as they dealt with the rest of the casualties however had been muted.

The hum of the ship, the rub of Ryner's slacks as he walked and the grind of Verat's teeth dominated the quiet.

Taking his seat, Ryner gave the cup a sniff.

"Have it," said Tyler.

He swallowed down a nauseous gulp as Ryner took the mug and raised the cup in a brief toast.

"Thanks." Ryner swallowed half of the luke-warm brew before putting the cup back down and wiping his mouth clear with the back of his hand. "Need that in the morning."

You and me both, thought Tyler.

He blew out a breath in the hanging silence dropping over the room like dead weight. Both his subordinates stared at him with open expectation.

So very awkward, Tyler though again. It's not going to get any less so if you keep drawing it out, he scolded himself.

The bulge beneath his stomach gave a concurring twitch.

"There's been a complication, a rather unique complication."

"Sir?" asked Verat. Ryner simply frowned.

Tyler held up his hand and the young Ensign snapped her plush mouth closed.

"When we were pulled off the Arwell, the teleporter had a...mishap." He forced his hand not to rub at the back of his neck or his tongue to try wiping away the words against his dry lips. "When the three of us came back on board, a few key pieces were of out of sequence."

Verat's shoulders tensed and her eyes, with their thick lashes widened and blinked feverously.

Ryner glanced down at his wide chest, then leaned back to peer beneath the table. He tapped his feet as if to make sure they were attached. His ever present smile creased his face as he looked up.

"Haven't noticed anything missing, Capt'."

"Nor I," added Verat.

"No, the Doc says you're both fine." He blew out a breath as the concern in both pairs of eyes rose. "Duplication occurred of certain parts of both of me."

Tyler closed his mouth and looked each in the eye. A thin crinkle slit Verat's forehead above her nose.

"Duplication? Sir, I don't understand. The teleporters reassemble, not replicate."

"I know. I have Marty working on a more precise explanation but she theorizes the energy field surrounding the Arwell helped to give the teleporter a bit of a nudge."

Tyler held up his hand as the Ensign's mouth opened. Verat stifled her question although the effort seemed to make her already tense form even more brittle.

"The clearest way I can put it is this," Tyler continued. "The teleporter breaks us down into pieces, then reassembles us on the platforms right?" Verat nodded. Ryner frowned slightly, processing the question with his usual careful manner when something other than blasting accuracy was involved, and then shook his head in agreement. "When we left the Arwell, the explosion added enough energy to take my pieces and some of your pieces and when I reconstituted, it shoved all those pieces together."

Quiet hung.

"I'm not following you Capt'. You said Doc said we're fine."

Tyler sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.

"I got put back together...wrong." He set his hands down on the table, pressing down with his finger tips in a frozen claw at the surface. The quiver beneath his stomach shook as if in sudden fright. Tyler laid one hand on the bulge and forced himself to calm down.

"Have you ever done one of those jig saw puzzles?"

"Yeah, 'course.” Ryner grinned. “Though I was never very good at them. Always had missing pieces."

Tyler pressed on as Verat’s stare intensified.

"Think of it this way. I was a whole mess of jig saw pieces but a few extra ones were added in, replicated by the teleporter. The teleporter then took all of them and smashed them together to form a"

Verat twitched in her seat, her teeth grinding again with forced closure. Tyler nodded and her words bubbled out like a shooting comet.

"That's not possible Captain. The filters would have backfired and returned you to the-."

"To the empty space the Arwell had occupied?" Tyler shook his head. "They pulled us all back within an inch of our lives. With all the chaos the changes weren't even readily apparent until I started having physical symptoms."

Ryner paused with the mug halfway to his mouth. "Symptoms?" he asked, his tone now flat and serious.

Tyler gulped down a rise in bile again as the movement of the cup stirred up steam.

"There's no easy way to say this," he began again, lacing his fingers together. "For what it’s worth, I'm…pregnant."

Tyler focused on the hum of the ship as the Ensign and Lieutenant both stared in stunned silence.

"Sir?" Their simultaneous question sent their gazes to one another for a fraction of a second and then they both returned. Tyler felt their weighted stares boring into his face.

"The Doc can give you the biological details. He's got diagrams and has taken any kind of image you can think of, but the fact of the matter is I've got a blend of our genetic materials gestating inside of me."

"But you're a guy...a man..." muttered Ryner, his scowl deepening to trench proportions.

Verat's gaze turned to the table to which she began conversing.

"If the right components were added, male and female, and the proper incubation organs supplied, then such a feat might be possible. Your body would then be a crucible for the development of the...child?"

"Child, right." Tyler blew out another long breath. "That's about right." He glanced at Ryner whose blue eyes still wavered between them as if trying to catch up. "I'm like a test tube, growing a kid."

"That's remarkable," murmured Verat in a breathless whisper.

"That's fu-- weird," countered Ryner. "No offense, Capt."

"None taken." He felt his shoulders relax slightly with the delivery of the news.

Ryner tapped on the cup after draining the last of the coffee.

"So, what are you going to do about this?"

"That's why I wanted to speak with you two, before this got any further than Doc and Marty. I've given this decision long hours of thought and I'm going to carry the child to term. Doc says at the end, a caesarean can enable the birth, since those…ah pieces weren't changed."

"Fortunate for that," said Ryner.

"Right." Tyler shook his head but couldn't avoid the smirk at the Lieutenant’s remark. "But in an unbelievably odd way, the two of you will have an offspring, biologically speaking of course."

Verat paled again and Ryner rubbed at the stubble already sprouting on his chin.

“I’d be a parent,” whispered Verat.

"I feel like I ought to be paying child support or something," muttered Ryner.

Tyler raised both hands in a swift barricade.

"I'm not asking for anything like that. I thought it only fair to make sure you were aware of everything from the beginning. I’m not ordering or demanding either of you to be involved in anyway."

Tyler exhaled and focused on the hum of the ship to steady himself again.

"I realize this is quite a shock and rather...weird. Please, take your time dealing with it. Do whatever you need to do. Come talk with me anytime. I plan on making whatever the next few months have in store work. I’ll keep you as informed and involved as you wish.”

“Of course,” said Verat. Ryner seemed to chew over his answer with more thought.

Tyler straightened his shoulders. The medical jersey rustled and strained against his tawny muscles. He focused again on the rumble of the distant engines and tried to reclaim the old authority in his tone.

Whatever changes had happened, I’m still Captain, he reasoned.

“So, unless either of you wish to discuss this further, you’re both dismissed.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Waiting Flowers - 11/11

Alicia froze as she realized she had touched Barry’s arm. She imagined her cheeks as rosy as the petals of the orchid print covering the page facing him.

Running his fingers along the edge the thick tome, Barry shrugged.

"It is pretty," he agreed.


Sitting back into the wooden chair, Alicia retrieved her errant fingers from his fleece sleeve.

"Phalaenopsis schilleriana?"

"Um," said Barry, peering down at the fine italics beneath the image. "That's right."

Alicia felt the blush returning as he glanced up with a dopey but genuine smile.

"You really know your orchids."

Twirling her highlighter to keep her hand from playing with her hair, Alicia shrugged. "Everyone has their little secrets."

"That's impressive though. All I could do is quote you baseball stats." He offered over the book with a gentle shove. "Enjoy."

"Don't be a tease. I've got to get through this." She jabbed her neon marker at the stack of printed articles strewn before her like spilt milk.

"And I'm supposed to be evaluating the different pollen counts of medicinal flowers." He hefted the tome and placed the book in front of her. "Take five minutes."

She glared at him, unsure whether she wanted to slap or kiss his playful grin.

"Come on," he prodded, "Life is too short."

She sighed and gazed down while her hand decided to set aside her highlighter. She traced her finger along the raised frame of the print, careful not to touch the water colored image. Turning the thick page with a rustle of protective rice paper, Alicia drew in a soft inhale.

The artist had decided to gain a close up image of the next orchid. Two heart shaped petals fanned out to either side, alternating with the three sepals, each slim with rounded tips. Violet faded to dark maroon while stripes and a delicate edge of white laced every rim. The rostem and anthea cap, tinged blood red, peeked out from the center.

"Which one's that?"

Jolting as if on a spring, Alicia struggled to collect her thoughts as she found Barry sitting right at her elbow. She felt his gaze however lingering on her face instead of the picture. Searching for a breath, she tumbled into his earthy eyes.

"Orchidaceae phalaenopsis," she replied without needing to reference the caption.


A speaker above their heads crackled. "The Library will close in 5 minutes."

Alicia dropped out of the stare as the announcement continued, encouraging those wishing to check out items to do so now.

"I guess we should be going," she said, her throat suddenly dry and voice husky.

She gave the tropical flower a last glance, and then closed the book. A bit of dust puffed off the leather cover and embossed letters. Sliding the book back over to him, she kept her eyes on the table.

He laid his hand on the book, his fingers brushing against hers. Again, Alicia froze.

"Keep it," he said. "I don't think it's going to help me with my paper."

Alicia chewed on her lip.

"No," she said, pushing the book out from beneath his hand as she stowed away the title. "Not tonight."

"I guess it'll still be here," reasoned Barry. He began shutting down his laptop and stashing his binder.


Alicia stood and gathered her articles. Wincing at the thick bundle of work yet to be read, she shoved the stack into her bag.

"Same time tomorrow?"

Closing the zipper to her pack, Alicia glanced up. "You're not done with your research?"

"Not at all."

"Alright then. I’ll be here at eight."

She slipped her bag on to her shoulder as he did the same. Walking out of the library along with the other dawdling students, Alicia deposited the floral print tome onto the to-be-shelved cart.

Outside, a speckled campus met them, bright lamps warding off the deep night. Parting ways, Alicia set off to try reading through one more article before morning.

By the time she headed toward the library again at the appointed hour, Alicia had whittled down the stack by another third. Marching through the lobby and up to the study tables in the corner of the fifth floor, she already felt weary.

She set her bag down slowly as she arrived at their regular spot.

"What in the world," she whispered, the tiredness draining from her in the wake of fluttering butterflies.

Plucking the small white orchid laying on top of a thick, dusty book, she found the same tome from the night before waiting for her.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hot Dog - 11/2

Hinges squeaked. Lifting his head from his paws, Red swung his muzzle toward the noise.

"Come on, boy," said Larry.

Red heaved up onto his feet. The collar and tags around his neck jangled, rattling louder as he shook his body from nose to tail. His legs trembled, and he leaned into wall as he hobbled forward after a few encouraging thumps from Larry. His ragged claws clacked against the linoleum with each step.

"Good boy."

Larry's hand, no longer tapping on his leg, rubbed behind one of Red's sagging ears. Red flung his tail from side to side, smacking into the screen door. His mouth drooped open, wet tongue drying as it dangled.

The massaging fingers stopped after an ardent finale. Larry strode away with the slap of his sneakers against concrete. His stride softened in the absorbing grass of the backyard.

Red lifted his paws high and stepped over the threshold. Sun soaked concrete warmed his toes and pushed away some of the ache in his legs. A gust of warm air played with his fur.

Chattering of birds, squealing children and the rumbling conversations of Larry's friends melded with the scents of the afternoon. Fresh cut grass and smoking charcoal wound into Red's nose. Music played nearby and brakes groaned as another guest parked out front.

A sizzle seized his attention. His nostrils flared. Beef and spice a few yards away prompted his paws back into motion.

One step, then two and cool blades of grass met his feet. The sharp edges bent with soft snaps as he waddled. His back half swayed as his tail swished tentatively from side to side. Red maneuvered carefully around the legs and absent steps of Larry's guests, his nose pointing the way.

"Look a doggie!" shouted a little boy.

Giggles preceded an array of sticky hands tapping lightly on Red's head then down his back, like rain drops. Red sat his rump onto the ground and extended a paw. Tiny fingers grabbed his offering, shaking all the way to his shoulder.

"What's his name?" asked a man with a voice like tires grinding over gravel.

"Red," said Larry.

Red's tail wagged as the hands found his ears.

"What's wrong with his eyes?" asked a soft spoken girl who smelled like bubblegum.

"He doesn't see too well anymore."

"Oh." Her petting hands under Red's chin ebbed for a moment and then returned with added vigor.

Red's mouth gaped open and he panted away with the faint tinge of morning kibble clinging on his breath.

Another round of sizzling though turned his head under the attentive hands. He lifted his haunches from the grass and started after the tendrils of cooked meat once more.

"Whoa boy." Small fingers tugged on his collar and Red stumbled with a gasp.

"It's ok," said Larry. "Let him go. He can’t get into too much trouble."

The stranglers released their grasp and Red continued his march. After a few sniffs, Red found a spot by Larry's side. Flopping down his rump again, he pointed his nose up where a warm glow and charring beef hung overhead.

The grill rattled as Larry flipped over the sizzling burgers and rotated the blackening hot dogs.

"Who's hungry?" asked Larry.

Shouting requests dominated the air. Red let out his own gruff woof, his tail swishing gently in the grass.

The ground shook as Larry's guests started hovering around the grill. Towering bodies casting cool shadows. Plastic utensils scraped against paper plates. Baggies rustled and fresh buns dispersed in accordance with orders.

Red locked his nose on Larry's spatula as he traversed from the fire and grate to the waiting platform of bread.

"Two hot dogs please," said the bubblegum girl.

"You sure?"


Tongs clanked together as Larry made his selection.

"Careful," said Larry. "Hold on with both hands."

The suggestion ended with a thump on the ground. The steam stroked Red's nose as he shoved his muzzle at the dropped dog. Clomping, his rounded canines sunk into the tube. Pepper and spice along with the tang of mustard drowned the kibble flavor on his tongue.


Lifting his jaws from the morsel, Red's tail wavered and his ears drooped.

"It's alright," said the girl, her voice brimming with a smile nearing laughter. "I was going to give that one to him away."

Perfect timing - 11/1

Jane paused in the office's kitchen doorway as Tyler drew out the coffee pot. His stance immediately reminded her of Hans Stewart from the big screen the night before. The unassuming crisp shirt and slacks, even his drooping head, mimicked the introductory scene with eerie precision.

A sudden weight seemed to fall on her slim shoulders as she gazed from the movie's supporting actress’s perspective and endured a surge of Hollywood déjà vu.

Meanwhile, the glass spout clanked against Tyler’s supersized mug as he poured out a gurgle of dark brew.

Drawing a deep breath, Jane shook away the film’s tendrils, checked her watch and walked into the kitchen.

"Leave some for the rest of us."

Grunting, Tyler set the canister back on the hot plate. He snagged the bottle of sugar. Shaking in a grainy stream, he stirred.

Jane set her own mug on the counter and shook out two pink packets.

"Late night?

Tyler shrugged. "Saw a movie."

"Really? Me too." She grabbed the pot’s handle and drowned the white powder mound at the bottom of her cup in a muddy pool. "What did you see?"


She frowned and leaned against the counter, cupping her steaming mug at the waist of her A-line skirt. "Which one?"

"The new dinosaur flick." Tyler sipped and hissed against the hot liquid. "The trailer has them all on the submarine, sinking into the Marianas Trench. They pop out in the center of the earth, where of course, the raptors then attack."

Jane snorted. A crimson flash full of shrieks and dashing bits of scales skittered across her thoughts. "Sounds riveting."

"It had its moments." Tyler rubbed at one eye. "There's a scene near the end-." He clamped his mouth shut with a set of puffed cheeks.

"It's OK." Jane grinned. "You're not going to give anything away I can't handle."

"Well..." He inhaled, seeming to savor the coils of caffeine tinted steam while organizing hazy thoughts. "The survivors are in this canyon, right, surrounded by tropical jungle and mist. The raptors are in the shadows, beady eyes, snorts, jaws and sharp cries from all directions. The humans start running.
They end up at this dead end where there's this massive waterfall.” Motioning with his cup, he approximated the size. “The survivors cluster together on this rocky slab in the center of the pool. Then, just as the raptors launch the final assault, this huge beast surges out of the water like Godzilla and clomps down on all the raptors."

Jane leveled her eyes at him. "And that was a good moment?"

"Special effects wise, yeah. 'Water dino'," he said, adding the air quotes, "was a nice twist and looked pretty authentic."

Jane shrugged and blew on her coffee.

"What did you see?"

Her cheeks colored and her eyes dropped down to the black and white tiles on the floor.

"LA Weekend."

"That chick flick?"

"Hey," she snapped.

He held up his hand and mug in apology. "I just can't see you going to something like that."

"Why not? Just because a girl works with a bunch of guys, and codes all day, doesn't mean they don't like something girlie every once in a while."

"Right.” Tyler ran a hand through his hair. He leaned against the counter at her side, staring into the face of the office fridge. "Did you like it?"

"I did actually." She swallowed down a gulp. "You might too."

Tyler nearly choked. "Seriously?"

"Sure." She felt her smile wavering as the films dialogue trickled off her lips. "It might give you some good tips."

He snorted. "Like what?"

"They did a good job getting into a woman's head, into her thoughts."

"Sounds scary."

She shook her head and laughed. "Not as scary as you might think."

"If you say so."

Jane drew a deep breath and lowered her voice. "Wouldn't you like to know what Sara's thinking about when you're waiting for the meeting to start? Or when you're riding up in the elevator?"

Tyler's face froze as if suddenly made of stone. "What do you mean?"

"Oh come on. I can see how you look at her."

As Paul wandered into the kitchen, Jane’s fingers tightened around her mug, her palms warming to a near burn. Tyler sipped stoically on his coffee.

"Morning," said Paul after a lengthy yawn.

"Hey," said Tyler. Jane gave him a little waggle of her fingers.

Paul poured his own cup then left them to the silence.

Jane shook her head at the man’s obliviousness to the tension hanging in the air like the disinfectant from the night time cleaning.

"One scene at the beginning," she began quietly once Paul's sleepy steps had dwindled, "is set in an office." She felt Tyler glance at her, then back to the magnets and bulletins. "The guy, Hans, obviously likes the heroine, but she's clueless. She thinks of him as a friend because he doesn't, you know, make his interest clear. He waits on the sidelines, hoping for her to notice him." Jane blew out a breath and checked her watch. "Near the end though, they end up talking. He brings up all the little things he notices about her that she didn't think anyone noticed and her eyes open up."

Tyler began nodding slowly. "Like how she drinks chamomile on Friday instead of coffee, or her thing for daffodils. The way she puts up her hair when we're here late."

He mumbled a few more of Sara's idiosyncrasies as Jane refreshed her cup.

"Bringing those up is harder than it seems," he said.

"I didn't say the movie made things easy." She shook out another faux sugar packet. "If you want I could slip her a note like we were all back in high school."

"No," he said quickly. "I'll figure out how to talk with Sara."

She didn't think Tyler heard the little gasp at the door. His head continued bobbing as if to some inner debate.

"Maybe you don't have to."

When Tyler looked up frowning, Jane pointed toward the door. He gulped. Jane worried his eyes might tumble from his head.

Sara meanwhile had braced her hand on the door frame and stared at him as if Tyler was the only man in the room, perhaps even in the whole building.

Jane smiled. "If you two will excuse me."