Originally published in Fantasia Divinity Magazine, Issue 5, December 2016
Camping with my sister Phyllis feels like a cargo cult. If she hikes into Uncle Mark’s forest, stakes out a tent in the dirt, cooks instant stuffing on a propane stove, and toasts hot dogs on sticks, then she believes the happiness of childhood will come flooding back. But all I see is a sadly empty camp site. There are no cousins climbing trees, rock-hopping across the river, or searching for frogs — they’re all grown up and scattered across the country. Hell, Erika lives in Australia. Instead of aunts and uncles laughing over a lively game of Brain-Dead Bridge around the campfire, it’s just me, Phyllis, and her travel backgammon set. Continue reading “Memory Sprites”
Originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, June 2018
GY-30 extended his wheels from his mechanical feet and rocked back and forth, passing the time. He was waiting for Chirri, the felinoid who employed him, to finish her business in the wholesale outlet. She was a baker and would probably need him to carry a couple hundred pounds of Aldebaran sugar and Procyon flour back to her bakery in the merchant quarter. GY-30 was a small robot — only knee-high to Chirri, without his extendo-legs deployed — but very strong. Continue reading “Welcome to the Arboretum, Little Robot”
Originally published in Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, Issue #9, May 2014
A shadow of antlers stretched ominously over the snow. Darkfoot crouched behind a fallen log. White flakes tickled his muzzle, but he dared not shake them off. With its long legs, the moose could easily outrun a young wolf like him. Or kick him in the skull.
If Darkfoot downed a moose alone, though, then his pack would never mock him again.
Giant hooves clomped into view. Legs like four-year-old elm trees bent and passed before him. Darkfoot sprang at the moose from behind, aiming for its massive neck. The moose turned, and its brown-furred head, nearly the size of Darkfoot’s whole body, swung at him. Knocked him from the air. Destroyed his plans to prove himself.
Whimpering on the snow-covered ground, Darkfoot expected the moose’s giant hooves to trample him. Instead, he felt the dull, stabbing pain of a leaf-eater’s teeth on his flank. Panicked, pained, and confused, Darkfoot lost consciousness.
* * *
He awoke covered in snow, under the dull glow of the winter moon. His pack mates nosed him gently, rousing him to get up. He could see the laughter in their eyes. He’d taken on a full grown moose and lost. He’d taken on a moose alone. He was a fool like they’d always thought he was.
Darkfoot tried his paws and found they held his weight, though his side throbbed in pain. A crescent of tooth marks marred his flank, angry with blood. He licked his fur clean. Then, dejected and limping, Darkfoot followed his pack mates home.
* * *
Night after night, Darkfoot stayed home to heal while his friends, his brothers and sisters, went on the hunt. The pain in his flank ebbed, but the crescent scar remained. It marked him as separate from the others, a badge of his lunacy.
As the winter moon waned, Darkfoot grew increasingly solitary and strange. His pack mates brought back food for him from their kills, but he barely ate.
On the night of the new moon, his pack downed a moose. The flesh tasted wrong on his tongue. The flavor lingered like guilt over a broken taboo. From that day on, Darkfoot wouldn’t eat meat at all. Instead, he munched on the winter berries down by the river and, stranger still, gnawed on the twiggy branches of young oak trees and the fallen needles of pine. His pack thought he would surely starve.
Darkfoot, however, felt a new strength growing inside him and found new comfort in his solitude. His legs felt long and powerful; his shoulders broad and heavy; and a sense of majesty filled him at the slightest turning of his head. His pack saw a mangy, sickly wolf. Darkfoot knew better. Darkfoot saw the shadow of what he was becoming stretched across the snow before him.
Originally published in Fantasia Divinity Magazine, May 2017
The asteroid amphitheater rocked with applause as the suspended final note of Star Shaker’s encore vibrated the atmo-bubble over everyone’s heads. The reptilian pop-star bowed and spotlights shone off of her rainbow-colored scales, making her glitter like the stars all around.
Chirri had loved Star Shaker’s music since she was a little kitten. Once, she’d even shaved off her fur and drawn little Vs all over her naked skin, hoping they’d make her look like she had scales. It had looked awful, but she’d been too young to care. All she knew was that it had made her feel closer to her hero.
Everything felt right when Chirri listened to Star Shaker’s golden throated singing.
The applause died down, and the other fans — all sorts of aliens, from the fuzzy to the feathered, antlered, or scaly like Star Shaker herself — began leaving their seats, heading to the airlocks at the back of the atmo-dome. But Chirri didn’t want it to be over. She stayed in her seat, clutching her bag of supplies — snacks, water, vid-com — hoping to catch one more glimpse of Star Shaker.
Of course, it was the fleet of Roboweiler guards who cleared the stage. It was silly to think Star Shaker would come back out, but Chirri couldn’t let go of the feeling she’d had while watching her hero, dancing so close, singing in the same air — real sound waves from Star Shaker’s silver forked tongue directly to Chirri’s eager pointed ears.
Reluctantly, Chirri stood and started edging her way back through the rows of seats, each pawstep taking her farther away from those perfect moments during the concert. She sighed, accepting that the magic had melted away, and it was time to return to her normal life.
Then Chirri saw her: Star Shaker’s scales were simply silver-gray without the stage lights, and she was small — a full head shorter than Chirri. But it was her. Alive and real and strutting toward Chirri with a Roboweiler on either side of her. The Roboweilers’ mechanical red eyes glowed, menacingly.
Chirri stumbled backward, nearly falling over a seat and tangling her hindpaws in her long tail. When she recovered herself, she could feel that her fur had fluffed out. There were only a few seconds until Star Shaker would pass her on the way to the airlocks, and there would only be a moment then — but there would be a moment. What could Chirri say to her hero in a moment?
Chirri remembered the snacks in her bag — she was a baker and had brought some of her signature Aldebaran sugar cookies. It was stupid… but maybe she could give Starshaker a cookie. Something she’d made for someone who’d made so much for her… Because Star Shaker’s music always felt like it was made only for her. She knew it sounded that way to everyone… That was Star Shaker’s appeal; she was a reptilian alien, but her heart could have been anything — fuzzy, feathered, photosynthetic — she spoke to them all.
But it didn’t matter. Chirri wanted to give her hero something, as a kind of thank you. She dug one of the cookies out of her bag; it was star-shaped and glittered with grains of Aldebaran sugar. Chirri had made the batch especially for this concert. She’d been so excited. And it had been everything she dreamed.
Chirri held out the cookie. Her eyes locked with her hero’s, and the small reptilian alien said, “What is this felinoid doing here? I thought you guys cleared this place out.”
The Roboweiler to the right snarled and advanced, probably just to warn Chirri to keep her distance from the pop-star, but its mechanical teeth startled Chirri so much that she tripped all the way over the seat this time. She landed splayed on the asteroid amphitheater’s floor, ears askew, tail crimped beneath her, and star cookie smashed.
By the time Chirri dusted herself off, Star Shaker and the Roboweilers were well past her. The moment was gone. The moment had been horrible. Chirri relived it — seeing herself over and over again, tripping awkwardly, all dignity lost in front of the one being she most admired.
Chirri’s ears flattened and her whiskers shivered. She looked down at the crumbles of sugar cookie in her paw. Maybe she wouldn’t bake that recipe again for a while.
In fact, she didn’t think she would listen to Star Shaker’s music for a while either. At least, until the memory of this night faded. Because she needed that moment to go away, and she couldn’t imagine hearing Star Shaker’s voice without thinking about it.
The stars still stretched out all around the asteroid amphitheater, but for Chirri, the world had become much smaller, and nothing sounded right. At all.
Originally published in Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, March 2012
The curved neck and stretched wings of the black Dragon dwarf the figure of the doe-like white Unicorn. They make an unlikely picture behind the glass panel and aluminum frame of my sliding glass kitchen door. As always, quite the sight to see. I ask them in. Continue reading “Hot Chocolate for the Unicorn”
This is an excerpt from Otters In Space III: Octopus Ascending, a novel published by FurPlanet, June 2017
The pale glow of Jupiter lit the moon’s watery surface. Europa’s recently melted ocean reflected the gas giant’s ruddy face back at itself, broken by ripples where Brighton’s Destiny disturbed the water on takeoff.
The dark metal V-shape of the two-man spaceship skimmed over the ocean before veering upward in a sharp climb out of Europa’s gravity well. Spacesuit clad paws eased off on the throttle, and Brighton’s Destiny leveled off into a smooth arc toward Jupiter.
Jenny’s otter heart ached to twirl the little ship in spins and loop de loops, but her octopus co-pilot insisted that she needed more practice with the basics of piloting a Whirligig Class vessel first. It hardly seemed fair. The ship, shaped like a two-winged maple seed, was clearly built for spinning. The very name Whirligig begged Jenny to lean on the left thruster and pirouette the ship until Ordol, perched on her shoulders, flailed his tentacles in dizziness. But Jenny restrained herself.
Tentacles sheathed by the clingy, clear fabric of a cephalopoidal spacesuit waved and writhed in Jenny’s peripheral vision, working the controls that she couldn’t reach. The ship had been designed for a biped and an octopod, working together symbiotically. In this case, the biped was an otter. Jenny was still getting used to the design.
Ordol lowered two of his tentacles into the center of her field of vision. He twisted the tendril tips of them, forming the Standard Swimmer’s Signs to say, “Let’s swing around Io. You need practice maneuvering at high speeds.”
Jenny’s whiskers lifted in a smile, brushing against her space helmet’s faceplate. It wasn’t loop de loops, but flying fast would do. She signed with her paws, “No argument here!” Then she pressed down on the throttle and felt the vibration of the thrusters roar in response. The whole ship moved around her, pressing against her back as it shoved her faster and faster toward Io, a small round shadow visible against Jupiter’s ruddy face.
The two celestial bodies — gas giant and volcanic moon — were paintings from the same palette in different styles. Io’s jagged surface roiled with molten lakes and sulfurous plumes as it grew in the viewscreen. Behind Io, Jupiter’s creamsicle clouds slid and swirled past each other, smooth and serene. A timeless god, circled by a restless servant.
As they flew toward Io, Ordol’s tentacles continued to work in Jenny’s peripheral vision, running scans and taking readings. The ship’s computer displayed the results in a language Jenny couldn’t yet read. Sharp angular letters clustered erratically into words — or so Jenny assumed — and scrolled senselessly across the computer screens arranged beneath the central viewscreen.
The sight of the alien language made it impossible for Jenny to forget: this ship was stolen. They had disabled the homing signal to hide it from the original owners, but it was stolen nonetheless.
Ordol could read the writing, at least, a little of it. He’d been a slave to the aliens who’d built the ship, before it was renamed Brighton’s Destiny; the aliens who wrote the inscrutable language that filled its screens and who still enslaved the rest of his people.
Jenny signed, “I’m going to practice veering to the left and right.”
Ordol acknowledged her plan with a sign made by a single tentacle: “Okay.”
Jenny fired the thrusters on the right, pushing Brighton’s Destiny leftward and Io off-center on the viewscreen. The ship continued on its new arc until she cancelled the leftward momentum with a blast from the left thrusters. She overshot and repeated the process several times, causing the ship to swerve on a wiggling course — Io wobbling on the viewscreen — until she managed to straighten the ship’s momentum out. Once again, Brighton’s Destiny flew true, straight toward Io.
Jenny whooped at her success. She knew Ordol couldn’t hear, so she repeated the sentiment with her fisted paw raised in a victorious gesture.
Ordol signed, “Now see if you can do it faster.”
They were nearly halfway to Io. Jenny practiced three times before she could no longer resist: she leaned on the left thruster until Brighton’s Destiny corkscrewed its entire way through a barrel roll.
Ordol’s tentacles fluttered rapidly, too fast for Jenny to understand his signs, but she could read the anger in his movement.
The blood rushed to Jenny’s rounded ears; she felt ashamed for upsetting her co-pilot. “I’m sorry,” she signed, and then she did her best to straighten out their course as fast as possible. However, Ordol’s continued signing flustered Jenny, and she felt herself losing control of the ship. Brighton’s Destiny veered wildly away from Io, and then nosed back toward it, wibble-wobbling in an erratic course.
More and more frustrated, Jenny slammed her paws against the ship’s control board. She raised them and signed, “Stop! Stop it! I can’t understand you when you sign that fast, and I’m trying to fix it.” As she signed, Brighton’s Destiny barreled away from Io onto a course more directly toward Jupiter.
Creamsicle clouds filled the viewscreen. The soft shades of orange were marred by flecks of black. A fleet of enemy vessels had assembled between Jupiter and Io, and Brighton’s Destiny was barreling right toward them.
Jenny realized that her octopus co-pilot wasn’t angry with her; he was scared out of his mind by the sight of the ships of his former slavers. “I’m getting us out of here,” Jenny signed. Then she leaned hard on the throttle, pushing Brighton’s Destiny into the sharpest corner it could make. Jenny didn’t worry about straightening their course out perfectly this time; she just aimed their little ship away from Io.
When Europa was securely in the center of the viewscreen and the fleet of enemy vessels was safely behind them, Jenny signed, “I don’t think they saw us, and they can’t possibly catch up to us before we get back to the base.” The energy shield around Europa would protect them. “You’re safe.”
Ordol’s tentacles calmed down, wrapped around Jenny’s shoulders, and squeezed the otter in a hug.
But Jenny was still worried. There were plenty of other targets in the solar system less protected than the Europa base. After months of quiet, it was time to warn everyone: the raptors were on the move.
(To read more, purchase Otters In Space III: Octopus Ascending, available from FurPlanet, Smashwords, Kindle, and other retailers around the web.)
Originally published in Theme of Absence, April 2016
Exhausted, Junie watched her five-year-old daughter and two toddler sons play with Gorvall. They stacked up colored blocks and knocked them down. Gorvall’s long gray fingers helped pry apart the building blocks that stuck together. The colorful towers reflected in his large, teardrop-shaped black eyes.
Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, February 2015
Chloe lay on the table in the doctor’s office, wearing a paper sheet over her legs and one of those weird gowns that opened in the back. She didn’t want to be pregnant, but she didn’t want to need an abortion. She couldn’t help thinking about David — it had to be David — and what amazing genes he must have. He’d talked like a character out of a fast-paced TV show, everything clever, insightful, and… much too articulate. Continue reading “FemCloud Inc.”
Originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March/April 2017
“Can you breathe fire if you eat rocket fuel?” asked Alison, the captain’s five-year-old daughter.
S’lisha drew a deep, calming breath through her scaly nostrils. She didn’t understand why humans brought their children on spaceships. Her species kept their larval offspring in caves on their home world until they matured and their adult scales grew in. Continue reading “Hidden Intentions”
Originally published by Penn Cove Literary Arts Award, June 2013
The little boy pressed his nose up against the minivan window, twisting himself up under his seatbelt. He strained his one eye, trying to peer all the way across the golden field littered with shiny white unicorns, gamboling and playing, their manes rippling in the wind. Danny was sure that if his parents would just let him roll down the window so he could stick his head out, he’d be able to make out a moose in the forest edge beyond. Instead, all he could see was stupid unicorns. Continue reading “Cyclops on Safari”