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Trope-Tastic Thursday #001 – “Vocal Dissonance” – #WOEGTTT

(OOPS! This was supposed to be a scheduled post, but I hit the wrong button. *blush!*  Since several have already seen it, I’ll leave it up – but next weeks will actually post on Thursday!)

Howdy, my writerly friends, and welcome to the first edition of Trope-Tastic Thursday! As explained in yesterday’s lead up, Trope-Tastic Thursday is my weekly writing challenge, where we explore the world of fiction through tropes.

What is a trope? I’m glad you asked! Here’s what our pals at TVTropes.org have to say about it:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.

In a way, tropes are like cliches (but not boring), in that they define what a reader has come to expect of certain elements of fiction. That could be the normal expectations of what to expect of an Evil Overlord, or the standard elements found in a type of fiction, like, say, Steam Punk! The point is, a reader will naturally expect certain things, and those things are defined as tropes.

And my challenge to you, each week, is to take this week’s trope and use it in a piece of fiction that is 1,000 words or less in length. You can use that trope however you wish, either playing it straight (using the trope as it is described, more or less) or turning the trope (going against the expectations defined by that particular trope). Either way, the goal is to explore the trope and see what kind of awesome fiction we can come up with. Don’t feel restricted by genre, either – just because a trope is common in, say, Fantasy, doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to use it in a drama!

And this week’s trope is….

VOCAL DISSONANCE!
(follow the link for examples)

From TVTropes.org:

While it may be wrong to judge a book by its cover, it’s something that happens. You see a person, you expect certain things. This extends even to their voice. If you see a muscular man, you expect a deep macho voice. The Vamp will have a sexy, sultry voice. A child’s voice is high pitched. And so on.

This trope is about when those expectations don’t match up e.g. when the muscular man has the sultry voice, The Vamp has the childish voice, and the child has the deep voice. This trope is generally played for comedy, since the idea of a squeaky voice off a big person or vice-versa is generally seen as absurd.

For better or for worse, this can sometimes come about by chance, depending on how casting in a voiced work goes. It also can occur because people tend to expect all the inhabitants of a given country to look basically the same, so hearing, say, a British accent and then realizing it’s issuing from the mouth of an ethnically Chinese person can be quite a shock.

Cute, but Cacophonic is a subtrope of this, specifically referring to when “an extremely cute and/or tiny animal turns out to have a surprisingly loud cry.” Instant Soprano, another subtrope, occurs when the Vocal Dissonance arises in response to a Groin Attack. Not to be confused with Larynx Dissonance, which involves an actor attempting to impersonate their opposite gender, or Lyrical Dissonance, which involves song lyrics.

So there we have it! Your challenge is to write a story that involves Vocal Dissonance, in 1,000 words or less. Your deadline is next Thursday, August 21st, by noon Eastern time. Play with the trope, have fun with it, and when you are done, post it to your writing site, and come back here with a link to your post. If you can, include the hashtag #woegttt in your tags, to make it easier for other writers to find and read your challenge. Next Thursday, I’ll include a link back to your blog so that everyone can get a chance to read your story!

If you have any questions or need clarification, let me know here! I’ll help however I can!

On your marks….

Get set…

Trope!

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Coming tomorrow to a writing blog near you: Trope-Tastic Thursday! #WOEGTTT

Howdy all, and welcome to the lead-up to the first edition of Trope-Tastic Thursday! Yes, this is a blatant attempt to keep the #woegttt hashtag I started with the now defunct Turn-a-Trope Tuesdays, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me that, won’t you?

After much thought and feedback from you, my friends and fellow writers, I’ve decided to make some changes to my weekly challenge. For one thing, a lot of folks expressed confusion over what a trope is, exactly, and what it meant to turn it. That’s my fault entirely – I think I explained it once, but should have included a reminder in each prompt. We’ll change that, this go-around. Second, after getting through some easier tropes to turn, I actually found my original concept to be almost too restrictive – some tropes, it appears, are damned near impossible to turn. Third, I wanted to change the day to Thursday, as I was consistently missing Tuesday deadlines due to a need to catch up on work after my weekends.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. We are going to start a new challenge. Every Thursday, I will pick a trope (more on that in a moment), and the challenge will be simple – write a story that uses that trope, either playing it straight (doing exactly what the trope describes) or turning the trope (delivering a story that acknowledges the expectations of the trope but takes it in an unexpected direction).  Each week’s challenge will be 1,000 words or less – don’t feel you have to use up all that space if you don’t need it, and if you go a little over? I’m sure we’ll forgive you.

Now, to the meat of the issue…what exactly is a trope? I’ll let the fine folks at TVTropes.org explain it, as they do it best:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite.” In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.

So, in essence, a trope is a tool in a writer’s tool box. It is a commonly understood expectation for different aspects of fiction. For example, a writer who is working on a High Fantasy story knows that his or her readers are going to expect certain common elements to be present; perhaps a Dark Lord with his evil hordes seeks his Artifacts of Doom, and is opposed by The Chosen One and his (or their) mysterious wandering wizard friend. These common elements (all linked above) are called tropes, and define what a reader is naturally inclined to expect in that kind of element of fiction or from that kind of character.

Now, tropes can be played with in a number of ways; they can be played straight – that is, delivering exactly what the reader expects (with your own unique voice, of course). The wizard character, for instance, may be a wise and valuable mentor. Or, you might decide to turn the trope, and deliver the opposite of what the reader expects – that same wizard may actually be a bumbling idiot who threatens the entire story with his poor guidance! As the writer, you choose which direction you want to take each week’s trope – the challenge is, can you play the trope straight, and still entertain your reader with a stunning plot? Or will you turn the trope and deliver something they never saw coming?

I can’t wait to see what kind of stories we can generate here, and to introduce those of you new to the idea of tropes to an extensive new tool box for your works of fiction. Understanding tropes makes us better writers, and better writers write better stories.

I hope you’ll join me tomorrow, and take up the Trope-Tastic Thursday Challenge!

Punctuational Perversity Pervades

I just,
can’t seem,
to keep,
from adding commas to,
my work;
Pausing,
every other word,
like freakin’,
Captain,
Kirk.
Punctuational perversity,
pervades,
within my mind;
I have,
to see,
a comma
at the end of,
every line.
If not,
a pause,
Then a full,
stop, a,
period-ication,
A semi-colon,
dot dot dot,
perhaps a hy-
phenation.
And so,
dear reader,
please,
forgive,
when such,
said things,
invade;
it’s just,
that,
punctuational,
perversity,
pervades.

Turn-A-Trope Tuesday #6: “Make a Wish” – #WOEGTTT

Fear not, my friends! I didn’t forget that today was Turn-a-trope Tuesday, where we take a standard trope and attempt to tell a story that turns it on its head!  Yes, I’ve been slack and missed my deadline for last week’s story, but one incredibly awesome blogger didn’t: Helen, you are the goddess of Turn-a-Trope Tuesday! Please, go check out her submission, ‘What She Couldn’t Offer Him.”  I plan on having a story up for last week’s too, but it may not be till tomorrow.

So, what’s the trope this week? It’s “Make A Wish.” You know, how characters in stories make elaborate wishes that come true? There’s a tons of way to invert this one. Let’s see what you come up with!

From TVTropes.org:

Characters in stories always want something; it’s one of the rules of fiction. Some heroes work very hard in pursuit of their dreams, some use wit and charm, but a few look up to the nearest star and make a

longing, desperate wish. It always comes true. Wishing has power in fiction; it’s one of the main sources of Applied Phlebotinum. No matter what you want, from a new car to a sudden age-up, you can get it by wishing. Of course, you have to Be Careful What You Wish For and make sure that if you want to be special, normal, or want someone out of your life, that you actually mean exactly what you say. Good or evil, the wish-granter is almost always a Literal Genie who will gladly warp reality for the heck of it. The best known wish-granter is probably the Genie in a Bottle (or other similar magical creatures) who generally grants Three Wishes. If he’s lucky, the hero will get a Benevolent Genie; unlucky ones will have a Literal Genie or even a Jackass Genie. Other wishing methods, generally only resulting in one wish, include:

  • Wishing on a star
  • Seeing a shooting star
  • Wishing wells
  • Birthday candles and/or wishbones, which generally come with a proviso that telling anyone the wish means it won’t come true
  • Some sort of magic wish tool (like a monkey’s paw)
  • A lunar/solar eclipse
  • Any number of other things, like blowing on an eyelash, blowing the seeds off a dandelion, or blowing on wishing/pixie dust
  • The power of words

After the wish has been granted, the wisher may discover they don’t like the way things are going and will use another wish to hit a Reset Button. If after all the wishes have been used up, the wisher ends up no better off, they’ve been Wasteful Wishing. Big wishes may end in a Wishplosion. The final shot may reveal that the wish story was All Just a Dream (Or Was It a Dream?), but some stories are much more subtle and leave it up to the audience whether the “wishes” really came true or were just a string of marvelous coincidences.

1,000 words or less! Deadline by Monday the 21st!

Turn-a-trope Tuesday #5: “Opposites Attract Revenge” – #woegttt

Welcome back to another episode of Turn-a-trope Tuesday, where we take a standard trope and attempt to tell a story that turns it on its head! What does that mean exactly? I think I’ve explained this enough by now, people! C’mon! ;)

So, last week was a skip week, but that gave us a little extra time for a tough trope to crack – “A Man is Not A Virgin.” We had two entries, though, so let’s check them out and see how they handled such a challenging trope!

A Boy or a Man, at Helen’s Ramblings on This Thing Called Life

The Measure of a Man, at Woegman’s World of Witty Wonder

For this week’s trope, we’re hitting up a classic: Opposites Attract Revenge

From TVTropes.org:

A type of Love Triangle — heavy on the triangle, light on the love. When a girlfriend leaves her boyfriend, and ends up in a relationship with the boyfriend’s ideological rival, resulting in a vendetta between the two men.

 It works with the genders switched around, too.

As usual, you have 1000 words to turn this trope on its head. Have fun! :)

A Leaf on the Wind

A leaf struggles against the blowing wind
That whispers, “Change is coming round the bend.”
Where once was thick and leafy, now is thinned
All flown save one, that fights the bitter end.
The others, fallen to the summer drought
When once they flourished in a spring’s delight,
Were plucked away, neglected and without
A proper watering, they gave up the fight.
Yet one remains, though yearns for the caress
Of that sweet wind, that blows and whispers dear
Sweet melodies, while seeking to undress
The bit of tree that, trembling in fear
Still holds out hope that yes, this drought will lift
And though the siren’s song is soft and sweet,
Refuses to release, to float and drift
And other destinies to chance and meet.
But lacking water, how can it endure?
Not even morning dew to quench its thirst
As broken promises of rain ensure
This drought may very well then be the worse.
So why cling to the fragile, waving limb
When sweeter things are whispered all around
And chance of quenching rain seem ever slim
And all his fellow leaves lay on the ground?
Yes, why indeed – the tree no longer cares
And so the leaf give up a final gasp
While blithely at the sun, the tree, it stares
The leaf undoes its tiny little grasp
And on the wind, it sails away at last,
And leaves oblivious, the tree, to past.

“The Measure of a Man” – Turn-a-trope #4, #WOEGTTT

This one was incredibly tough! Were it not that I refused to be beaten by my own challenge, I would have tossed in the towel. That said, I think the following tale does a decent job of skewering the trope, “A Man is Not a Virgin.”

Enjoy.

Tomas rode with the fury of a man possessed. The gates of the ancient temple of Kalziban lay behind him, and in his wake, the bodies of a legion of slain hellions. Ahead, he could see the door that lead to the inner temple, and the Pool of Tears. He knew that he would find her there. Lillian. His sworn ward.

As the Knight of the cloak, it has been his responsibility to protect her. And he had, through countless dangers, countless attempts on her life. She was the last of the purest bloodline, and her death would profit many an evil man. He had fought dozens to defend her, and bested them all. Sir Tomas of the Cloak was, perhaps, the greatest knight who’d ever served.

She had vanished in the night, despite all precautions. Tomas knew this time would come, had since the moment of her birth. Tonight, the moons above aligned with the Dread star, the Blood Eye of Kalziban. He knew that whoever took her, would take her here. His horse stumbled, fell. Tomas leapt from its back as it went, tumbling to the ground in clash of steel and leather. He cried out as he struck a stony pillar. His horse, ridden far beyond exhaustion, cried out, and expired. He rose to his feet, and ran up the stairs and through the temple’s doors.

“You’re too late,” Alcyon cackled. The dread summoner held up his hands, dripping with blood. “Too late, hero, too late to save her, too late to stop the summoning!”

Tomas fell to his knees with a sob. Before him, splayed across the pentacle carved into the ground, was Lillian. Sweet, innocent Lillian. The last of legal heir to the kingdom of Tancreath. The Virgin Princess. The Keeper of the Barrier. His sworn ward.

Tears fell from Tomas’ cheek. He cast away his shield as he took her hand in his own, felt the cold lifelessness therein. Her body, a ruin of blood and savagery, her thighs, a spectacle of disaster and debauchery.  Tomas’ sword slipped from his free hand, and reached, tenderly, for her cold staring eyes, unfocused and staring into the void. He closed them, softly, and brushed away a lock of coal black hair.

“It would have been enough,” the knight croaked hoarsely, “to have just killed her. ”

“Oh,” the summoner spoke, his voice filled with sarcastic mock pity, “yes, it would have. But then I would not have gotten to see this, would I have? The undefeatable Sir Tomas of the Cloak, brought to his knees? Not by a sword, not by a lance, not by an army of men…but by a man. A single man, with nothing in his hands…but blood.”

Alcyon continued to laugh madly. Tomas felt his head swim. A strange, numbing wave crashed against his nerves, his face, his limbs tingling. He rose, slowly, a final sob given to his fallen ward as he raised her up in his arms. He turned, looked to the Pool of Tears. Slowly, he walked towards it, heedless of the summoner and his madness. Around him, lights began to grow, strange, glowing, otherworldly emanations that rose from the ancient runes and sigils carved and cast throughout the hall.

“Too late!” Alcyon cried, sobbing in mirth, “She is dead!”

Tomas didn’t listen. He continued to the pool, till he stood overlooking its pale, milky waters. A drop of blood fell from Lillian’s outstretched arm, and slipped into the pool, an angry red swirl on a sea of pearl.

“She is dead,” Alcyon repeated, but his laughter cracked, slowing, “It is over, fool! And besides…”

The summoner nodded at the pool.

“It takes the life of a virgin of royal birth to halt the summoning of the Dread Lord Kalziban. She was the last. It is over!”

Tomas, silent still, lowered the girl’s body to the pool, then watched her slip beneath the surface. He stood then, turned to the mad summoner.

“Do you know the measure of a man, summoner? Do you know why I took up the Cloak?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. Alcyon’s grin faltered.

“The Cloak is not an easy burden to bear. Its wearer must be good and strong. Generous and just. Compassionate and merciful. Swift of blade, swift of defense. Trustworthy and…pure.”

The knight turned and looked at the summoner, his eyes rimmed with red, stained with tears, but cold, so cold.

“Pure. Untouched by the hands, the lips, the body of a lover.”

Tomas ran a hand through hair as black as pitch, the same color as Lillian’s.

“I took the Cloak because I was born a bastard. And now…”

Tomas stepped to the edge of the pool. Alcyon stumbled forward, slipped in blood. He crashed to the ground, then looked up, his eyes wide with something they had never known.

Fear.

“…now I will see my sister safely to the Underworld.”

Tomas dived into the pool. Alcyon shrieked, raged, as the knight’s heavy armour pulled him quickly downward. The summoner scrambled to the pool, plunging his arms in, staining the water pink with blood. But the knight was gone, the pool empty.

Around him the walls began to shake. The sigils began to glow a violent red.  A sharp smell of ozone filled the air, and the crack of the barrier, the gateway between worlds, slammed through the air. Alcyon howled as the dissipating energies tore about the room. The ceiling quaked, and pieces began to collapse.

Then bitterly, he laughed, as the temple collapsed around him.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 26 – “A Subtle Streak of Red”

Image

Howdy all! Time for week 26 of the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! This week, I return to a world I touched on briefly in “A Little Bit of Magic…” with this week’s theme, ”Do you notice anything different about me?”.  I thought it apt! Here we are, right at 500 words, with “A Subtle Streak of Red.”

Magic is a squirrely thing. The universe doesn’t like it, but it’s willing to accept it, so long as it stays quiet and unobtrusive. Kind of like that weird kid who sits in the corner and hums all the time; you can pretend he isn’t there, until he does something shocking.

But there’s nothing wrong with him. His reality is just different from yours, the two don’t agree with each other. He does little things; rearranging the pieces on a chessboard repetitively. No one cares. He stacks books on each other. No one cares. It’s not till he’s jumping on tables, flinging objects and howling at the top of his lungs that we react. Depending on the intensity of his outburst, we don’t do anything at first. We sit there, shocked, watching as he screams obscenities and beats his chest.

It may take a moment but eventually, someone snaps, tries to settle him down. They straighten up the mess, shush him, and guide him back to the corner, humming. Then, everyone pretends it didn’t happen, and goes back to doing their thing. But things have changed. The books he threw are damaged, torn. The plates, shattered. The nick-knacks all unbalanced and rearranged. Everyone pretends like it’s back to normal, but it’s not.

That’s magic. Either you work your casting carefully, making tiny changes that the universe will ignore, or you do something drastic, and accept that parts will fade as entropy forces itself upon reality. If you know what you’re doing, things won’t be the way they were before the reset. You’ll make big changes, even if they weren’t what everyone thought they were. Like a stage magician, it’s distraction, making a big show with one hand while carefully doing the real work with the other. It’s harder than it sounds. Or, wait…maybe it’s exactly as hard as it sounds. Because it doesn’t sound easy, does it?

So I’m practicing. A subtle change, a streak of color in my hair. The kind of thing that someone will look at and double-take, but then make excuses for having missed. Small magic, to get the hang of the basics. I close my eyes, concentrate. I recite softly the incantations that let me exert my will over reality…and there. A streak of red sprouts from my bangs.

I turn to the guy next to me on the bus. He doesn’t know me, but I made sure to chat him up when I got on, made sure he got a good look at me. That’s important. I get his attention.

”Do you notice anything different about me?”

He looks at me, friendly at first, then his brow furrows. His eyes glaze slightly. I can smell the faint hint of ozone, that indicates that the universe is about to rebel. Damn it!

And then…

“No, sorry. Should I?”

I breathe out, just becoming aware I’d been holding my breath.

“No, thanks man.”

He nods, turns back to his book.

The color stays. Just like magic.

“Paying off the Debt” – A new Pinky Black story, inspired by a post by Kate Loveton!

This one isn’t part of any challenge. This week, Kate Loveton posted and awesome story about an eviction – make sure you read it here!  I found the story so good that I wanted to punch the antagonist right in the kidneys…and realized that, being a fictional character, that’d be kind of hard. So it inspired me to wreck a little fictional justice at the hands of my favorite thug, Pinky Black.

“Johnny, I need your help. Ma needs your help.”

I looked across at the man that was talking to my boss, Johnny the Gent, and saw the look of worry on his face. His eyes flitted nervously from the Gent, who sat in a nice, big, comfy leather chair, to me. Big, burly. Angry looking. I’m sure it made me look more intimidating. It was meant to. Johnny steepled his fingers, and breathed in deeply through his nose.

“What I don’t understand, Henry, is how things got this far in the first place,” Johnny said after a moment’s consideration. “You dad, Mr. Pauley, he passed, what, three, four months ago?”

Henry nodded, his hands worrying themselves together.

“So how is it that your mother, dear old Mrs. Pauley, hasn’t paid her rent in three months?”

Henry swallowed, hard.

“I…I guess it’s just not something she ever thought about, Johnny. Pa always took care of those things…”

Johnny’s hand slammed down on the rich, mahogany wood desk in front of him. Henry jumped. I didn’t flinch, didn’t even blink.

“You knew your father took care of these things, and not you, nor one of your five brothers bothered to step in and check on it?”

Johnny was pissed. Family…family was about the most important thing in the world to the Gent. Disrespecting one’s family was one of the quickest ways to get on his bad side. And his bad side was enforced by thugs, like me. I guess it was because Johnny never had a family, really. He was an orphan, and came up through the system a hard, bitter man. But family…family was his soft spot. And his sore spot.

“I…I…I…” Henry stammered, but Johnny waved him to silence. The Gent reached up, rubbed the bridge of his nose, then sighed.

“Who’d you say the slumlord is that runs her tenement?”

“J-Jamison. Jacob Jamison.”

Johnny nodded. Jamison was a sleazebag, sure. He was also competition. He’d edged Johnny out of some prime turf, and Johnny didn’t forget things like that. He’d never had a legitimate reason to lay down the rough on the guy. Till now.

“Something like this, Henry…it’s a big thing. I mean, it’s your ma’s home, right? She don’t know anything but, right?”

Henry nodded.

“Ok. I’m going to make this right. Not for you, Henry, you miserable shit. But for your Ma. And then, you’re going to owe me. You and your brothers. You understand that? This is an open ended favor, Henry. You ask of me a great thing. I may ask great things of you in return.”

Henry’s eyes shot down to the floor. This was no small thing Johnny was asking. If Henry agreed, he’d be owned. Obligated. He wouldn’t have a choice, unless he wanted hell to come up and visit him personally.

“I understand,” he said softly. Johnny nodded, dismissed him. The room was quiet.

“You know I’m not happy with you, Pinky,” he said softly. I almost winced. It’s when Johnny talks soft that bad things get done. “I asked you to do one thing, one fucking thing, Pinky. One little trial. You fucked it up, bad. Cost me a lot of money.”

I said nothing. I’m not saying I wasn’t scared. Only a fucking idiot isn’t scared when the Gent gets quiet. But I’d be damned if I was going to go down like a blubbering Henry.

“This Jamison guy, you know him?”

I shrugged.

“Heard of him.”

Johnny turned, looking at me. Cold. An auditor looking at an asset.

“I want you to take care of this for me, Pinky. I want you to make sure Jamison understands that Mrs. Pauley is to be relieved of her outstanding debt, and restored to her residence. Punctuate the point, with your fists. You aren’t getting paid for this. You owe me. I don’t like being second guessed, no matter what the cause. If we didn’t have history, I’d have had you shot. You need to make amends. This is a start.”

I gulped. Couldn’t help it.

“Sure thing, Johnny.”

I headed for the door.

“And Pinky?”

I paused.

“Make sure he feels the message for a long time.”

I nodded, went out the door.

Poor Jamison. He was about to learn just how protective an old neighborhood could be.

“What the Heart Seeks” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Doing The Subgenre Twist, Once Again

Another week, another interesting challenge form the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig!  This week, we had to choose two story genres at random, and mix them together into a single story of subgenre-melty-goodness in 2000 words or less. As usual, I used the random number generator/recorder at Invisible Castle to keep myself honest, and came up with an 18 and a 2 – a Noir Dystopia. Shiny!

I came two words shy of the goal with the following piece, “What the Heart Seeks.”  It was harder than I thought, inserting dystopian elements into a noir world. I ended up adding a touch of sci-fi to the mix, and shook it real hard. I hope the results tickle your tastebuds.

I knew she was trouble the moment she walked in the door. Her hair was long, loose, dark, falling over her shoulders like an avalanche of black curls. Her eyes, green as a piece of fine jade. Her lips, shockingly red and shockingly full. Her skin, lightly tanned, as if the sun had kissed her ever so gently. Her clothes so tight, I’d have sworn she was shaken up and poured into them. Every bit of her, head to toe, was a violation of the Morality Code. And frankly, I didn’t give a damn. I tossed out the garnish of taboo and drank her in like a drunk at an open bar.

“Mr. Monroe?”

I must have been staring too long, because her eyebrow raised, and she cocked a hand on one of those impossibly curvy hips. I went to speak, found my jaw was hanging slack, closed it. Rolled my head and shrugged.

“What’s it to you?” I said, trying to play disinterested, though I was sure I’d blown that hand already.

“I hear you’re a Seeker, Mr. Monroe. A good one.”

I put a toothpick into my mouth, gnawed on it. I wanted a cigarette, bad, but I was out of cards for them and though they were plentiful on the black market, getting caught sucking down on one without a ration stamp was more trouble than I wanted to get in. And no matter how tempting she looked, I didn’t know this dame. Best to play it safe.

“I have been known to find things, sure. For a price.”

“What kind of things?” she asked, sauntering closer.

“Things,” I shot back. I don’t like being interrogated.

“You ever find…people?”

I paused. My chewing stopped. I reached up and pulled the toothpick from my mouth, and spun it in my fingers. I knew what she was asking, and it could get me in a lot of trouble. Unlicensed use of meta-human abilities was punishable by…well, anything they damned well wanted to do. Still, there was something about her. I gave in.

“People are tough. Not like objects. They change too much, nothing solid to focus on. Besides, most the time, someone goes missing, it’s because they crossed the Greycoats.”

Outside, a shrill whistle sounded, followed by the sound of running, cries. Punctuated my point perfectly.

“Tough,” she said, almost a whisper as she leaned in real close, “but not impossible.”

I couldn’t help but get a whiff of her, of that sweet, unidentifiable but completely irresistible perfume. I can’t deny, it had an effect. Down below, I felt myself stir in ways both immoral and illegal. Damn…this dame was trouble. Why, oh why do I like trouble so much? Still, long as it had been, much as I may be driven by those illegal, animal desires…I don’t work for free.

“No. Not impossible, Miss…”

I paused. I hadn’t even thought to get her name. It’s like she pushed every single one of my buttons, just right. I felt a flush rise to my cheeks.

“Neris. Neris Molpe, Mr. Monroe,” she said, with a smile that could melt even the black heart of a stalwart Greycoat.

“Uh, you can call me Sam.”

“Alright…Sam. So…will you take the job?”

I almost said yes. Hell, if she had asked right then, I might of walked right up to a Grey Inquisitor and pissed on his boots. But there’s one thing that drives me more than even the most primal lust.

“First, there’s a matter of cost. Seeking’s risky business, and battin’ those eyes won’t pay the rent. Or the taxman. Or bribe the Inquisitors. I need to know what you’ve got to offer before I can say one way or the other.”

Her demeanor cooled slightly.

“Of course,” she said, and the chill from her lips could have frosted over glass. Oh well. So much for that fantasy. She reached into her bag, a nice, colorful thing that would have gotten her arrested in a less questionable part of town. Color incites passion, passion incited immorality. That’s what the loudspeakers said, anyway, wasn’t it? Her hand slid in, slid out, now carrying…

My jaw dropped. My heart pounded wildly beneath my wrinkled shirt and battered overcoat. I literally had to rub my eyes, to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. I even thought about pinching myself.

“Are those…”

“Reproduction licenses, Mr. Monroe. Two of them.”

She may well have said she held the contents of the Imperial treasury in her hands. Reproduction was highly, strictly regulated. It could take a couple a dozen years or more to get a license for a single child. Many who got them found that years of chemical libido inhibition also killed their ability to have children, but by some strange lack of oversight, the licenses were open. They weren’t bound to a particular name or couple. They were transferable. And very, very pricey.

I licked my lips. Didn’t want to seem to eager but I really couldn’t deny that I was. I rubbed my jaw, felt the stubble that had grown there.
“Alright, Ms. Molpe…”

“Neris, please.”

“Yeah. Alright Neris. You have yourself a Seeker.”

***

It’d been a long night. Miss Molpe…Neris…was hesitant on the details. Couldn’t blame her for that, though. These days, anyone could be a Greycoat. Even me.

We’d evaded three patrols so far, running through dark alleys and abandoned service tunnels, following the distinctive pull my mind felt towards the object of her desire. Every once in a while, the trail would start to dim, and I’d have to ask her for another detail to freshen the imprint. Like I’d said, humans are tough. Changing. Moods shift, and something that defined a person one moment might change the next.

It’s easier, of course, if the person in question has some sort of unchanging feature; a significant scar, a great hairy blemish, a tattoo…well, a tattoo would work if they hadn’t been outlawed by Imperial edict. Even then, though, the way a person views their own attributes can sway how well they can be Sought. Where I might see an angry red scar, the bearer might see a proud badge of heroism. The devil is in the details, they say.

And the devil was poking me, hard. I fingered the stiletto hidden in the sleeve of my trench coat, then sighed.

“I need something more,” I said, sucking on my teeth as I tried to pinpoint the fleeting tug of my Seeking. Neris leaned against the alley wall, trying to catch her breath. I guess we’d been moving a bit faster than she was prepared to go; hard to say. When I start Seeking, I tend to loose myself in the pursuit. She held up a hand. I nodded.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. It was clear that she was trying to find just the right detail out, that wouldn’t expose too much information but give me enough to give her a lead. A tingle of paranoia crept up my spine like a spider up a drainpipe, but with a shiver, I dismissed it. Paranoia was the norm these days, ever since the emperor dissolved the senate and handed power directly to the Inquisitors. As much as I might distrust her, she surely distrusted me.

“Can we rest a moment more?” she asked, opening her astonishingly jade eyes and batting her lashes. Those things had to be a mile long. I grunted, gave a nod. But something was nagging me, and I had to ask.

“Who are we tracking, Neris? Boyfriend? Relative?”

Her cheeks flushed the color of a cheap wine.

“No…nothing like that. He’s just…someone who…has something of mine.”

“A thief?”

She shrugged, looking away from my eyes. My jaw tightened, eyes narrowed.

And then she looked up at me again. Those eyes, those impossible eyes, gazed at me like she was drilling a hole in my soul and looking to strike gold. And damn if she didn’t.

“Please, Mr. Monroe…I can’t. I can’t talk about it more than that. Is it enough that he has something of mine? Can we work with that for now?”

I concentrated, felt the return of that familiar tug. Yes…that would work. I nodded, and we were off again, chasing the ghost of her little thief. Whoever he was.

***

We hunted most the night, when we finally came upon the end of the line. The tugging within me, the feeling I’d followed all night, released. Tension fled from me like water from a sieve. I felt my muscles loosen, relax.

“He’s here,” I told her, nodding towards the abandoned storage buildings across from us. “He’s inside one of them – sorry I can’t be more accurate, but this is as close as I can get with people.”

Neris nodded, and started to walk briskly towards the buildings, when that wave of paranoia hit me again. I reached out, stopped her.

“Wait. Something’s wrong.”

My eyes narrowed, searching, not Seeking. It was quiet. Too quiet. No sounds of whistles, no barking dogs. No signs that an Imperial patrol had been through here, no sign that they were coming. And where there are no signs of Imperials, there are almost always signs of crime. This place was clean. I pulled Neris back behind me, reached into my jacket, pulled my unlicensed revolver.

“It’s a trap,” I growled.

“I know,” she said, and I felt the cold, round touch of a barrel against the back of my neck. Every bit of me cringed. I’d been had. Hard.

“Your gun. Drop it.”

I considered, briefly, resisting. I’m no slouch when it comes to using a gat, and my impression thus far was that this dame wasn’t used to getting her hands dirty. Not this way at least. And then, the Greycoats came. A whole squad, swarming out from the storage buildings. I may have been able to take her, but my gun was at least a dozen rounds shy of taking the rest.

“Excellent work, Mrs. Molpe,” the lead Greycoat said. “We’ve been after this Seeker for some time now, but he has always proven too slippery a fish.”

Mrs. Molpe? Fuck me.

“Stop, Donovan,” she said, her voice cracking in what almost sounded like sorrow.

He slapped her, hard.

“That’s Captain Donovan, you dirty little Enticer.”

An Enticer? They sent an Enticer? It all began to make sense. The loose details, the feelings of paranoia, the way I set aside my usual distrust so easily. I looked at Donovan. Shit. He was the one I was Seeking the entire time.

I looked over my shoulder at the apparently married Neris Molpe, and sneered.

“Don’t,” she pleaded, “Don’t hate me, Sam. They have my husband. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Everyone has a choice, Neris.”

“Not true,” Donovan said pointing his gun at me menacingly, “You are out of them, Mr. Monroe.”

I smirked. Couldn’t help it. I  had a choice.

I lunged, and as I did, pulled the stiletto from my coat sleeve. Donovan’s eyes widened; guess he’d never had anyone resist before. He tried to bring his gun to bear, but I was on him to quick. I buried my blade in his throat. He gurgled, gasped, fell backwards.

I felt the first shot that hit me, but I didn’t feel the rest. My body became suddenly heavy, and I slipped to the ground. I heard Neris scream, and a moment later, felt her arms wrap around me, cradling my head.

“Sam! Oh, Sam…I’m sorry Sam!” she said, sobs wracking her body. I tried to move, couldn’t. Hurt.

“S’ok, dame. I made my choice.”

Coldness swept over me. My sight began to fail. I looked at her, at those impossibly green eyes, and smiled. Imagine that. Me, in the arms of a beautiful dame, her eyes heavy with tears for a cagey old Seeker. I tried to laugh, coughed blood instead.

There were worse ways to go.