You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Child's Play

Child’s Play

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Cindy walked down the sidewalk of Seventh Avenue, her hair tied back and her rifle slung on her shoulder. It had been a half-day in school, and she wanted to make good use of the afternoon.

Mr. Johnston stepped out of his shop just as Cindy passed.

“What have you got there, young lady?” He said, eyeing the rifle.

“Remington .308, Mr. Johnston. Mom gave it to me for Christmas. It used to belong to my father.” She answered cheerfully.

“Nice. That looks like a really good scope. Rather small magazine, though, isn’t it?” Asked Mr. Johnston.

“Well, it isn’t for laying down cover fire.” She responded. “Slow and steady. Better scores. I am still just a juve, Mr. Johnston.”

“Of course. I know you will do well.” Said Mr. Johnston. “Here. Let’s up the stakes.”

He removed a black bandana from his pocket, and tied it on her left upper arm. It matched the one tied around her head. He looked at her, and smiled warmly.

“Are you sure?” She asked. Her face felt warm. He displayed considerable confidence in her, doing this. To risk loosing his colors!

“Your father always had my back. It is the least I can do.” He answered. He waved to her, and went back into his shop.

She walked very proudly, the rest of the way. The pride in her walk became caution, as she approached the block that formed the perimeter. She quickly found the abandoned building she wanted, and stepped through the door.

Bennie and Tom worked their way slowly through the rubble between the two perimeters. Neither could remember the time when the city was a contiguous mass of buildings. The blasted rubble of buildings that formed the no-man’s-land between barrios had always been there.

Bennie wore his colors on his head. Tom wore his on his arm. Each had been folded to best present the red circle that was centered in the green field. The circle was relatively small, but they presented the color proudly. Most gang colors had become a bit more subdued, to reduce easy targeting. Still, they were proud of the red on green.

They were very close to the perimeter wall on the far side of the no-man’s-land. They were feeling very small, and quite alone. Still, tagging the enemies’ perimeter was a proud tradition, and as juvenile members of their gang, they had to prove themselves. Each carried two spray cans. Enough to make their marks clearly.

They pressed them selves against the wall they had selected. Between them they had but two revolvers. One was a relatively new .22 caliber six-shooter. The other was a .38 snubbie that seemed ancient. Both were fully loaded, and each young man had a pocket full of the appropriate ammo.

The guns didn’t matter much, today. This was a tagging mission. They had been careful to avoid enemy patrols.

Tom examined the wall. He had to step back a bit. It looked good enough. Not too marked up and visible from the home side of the rubble-strewn zone. He began shaking the green can he held in his right hand. H didn’t even hear the report of the round that passed through his head.

Bennie was stunned. He dropped his paint and ran forward to his friend. Tom just stood there, staring at nothing. Then he dropped in a heap in the rubble and the dust. Bennie tried to catch him, but was pulled down by his falling friend. He heard the round that grooved his back as he fell on top of his friend. The pain flared through him, and he screamed.

He lay for a time, on top of Tom’s body. He was terrified. Where had the gunfire come from? He refused to move, even with the screaming pain in his back.

Finally, the pain and fear overcame him. He jumped up, drew his gun, and looked around frantically. Nothing. Nobody in sight. He quickly scanned the windows above him, but could see nothing but shadows. In a panic, he randomly fired six shots into the shadows, and then turned to run.

It was then that he caught a flash of light from a distant second story shadow. He turned toward the darkness that held his enemy. A cold calm came over him. He leveled his weapon and fired. There was a dry click. He saw another flash, and felt a heavy weight thump him in the chest. The sound of thunder followed.

Bennie was looking at the sky. It was bright and blue. He did not recall falling.

He was very tired. Exhausted. As his eyes closed, he realized he was not just going to sleep. He was too tired to be afraid.

Mr. Johnston heard someone call his name from the street entrance to his small shop. He turned, and saw Cindy standing there, as if in a frame. She had the rifle slung on her shoulder. He could also see two pistols in her belt. In her hand she held two bandanas.

She looked…. Proud. And sad. He understood.

“Cindy! Two!” He said. “And two weapons. Tell me about it!”

She told the tale of the taggers she had tracked across the no-man’s-land. She had, of course, tracked them with the rifle’s scope. She had watched them come; counting the times she could have taken them. She let them get all of the way across.

“I took them just before they made a mark. Of course, they were just taggers. Juves.”

“Nonsense. Just taggers! They had their colors. Now you have them! You have defeated the enemy!”

Her smile was weak. She offered to return his bandana. He refused. “Keep it for luck.” He had more.

She pulled out the .22, and showed it to him. He was polite, but he could tell that she knew that it was not much of a trophy. Then she pulled the .38.

He drew in his breath. She handed him her trophy. He held it, reverently. He hoped she did not see his hands tremble.

Mr. Johnston made polite remarks about the ancient weapon. How such a treasure was quite special. Would she carry it?

He returned it to her, knowing that children such as her had dreams of Glocks, and SIG’s, not ancient iron like this. Still, she was polite, and received her treasure back with obvious pride.

A few more words, then she was on her way. When she could not see, he let his tears fall.

“My father’s gun! Come back after all of these years! How proud my brother had been to carry it on his first mission. How we have missed him.” He said, as he looked in the direction in which Cindy had departed.

“Carry it proudly, Cindy.” He said, softly. “I hope you carry it for many years. Life is too often short, these days. May you see a better world.”

He turned, and walked quietly back into his shop.

Steampunk and other trends-

I am still editing The Inn at the Edge of the World. Even so, my thoughts are often turning to the sequel, Marcus and Ara. Just as with the writing of the first book, this one is forming with little story bits that come to mind.

Often I write those bits in my mind. I play with them, shaping them and testing ideas. One element that has come to mind is a bit Steampunk. Now, I really like some of the things I have seen with the Steampunk movement. The best description is romance meets technology. I like the way the touch of Steampunk makes mechanical things interesting. It also has a fascinating fashion element.

Though a bit old for participation, I appreciated elements of the Goth movement. However, I found it a bit dark, too involved in aspects of life that reflected depression and defeat. The Lolita movement was an interesting twist, and though I found it fascinating, again it was nothing in which I felt compelled to participate.

Steampunk, however, is something I feel I can participate in. Not all out. I don't think I would be comfortable in Victorian garb most of the time, and I haven't the time or inclination to enter deeply into the mechanical elements of the movement. I do feel that I can bring elements of Steampunk into my life. I certainly can explore the movement in writing.

Steampunk seems to be a celebration of technology and creativity. The technology we live with is made warmer and compelling when dressed in Steampunk garb. The movement reflects the optimism that a new technological culture offered. Steam was king, and technology would bring prosperity to all.

Things didn't turn out that way, but the movement captures a creative nostalgia for a might-have-been culture. Steampunk lends itself to alternative history quite well. It is a looking back to a time that never was.

So, some day I may don a frock coat and some other garments that reflect the Steampunk theme. I do know that I will be writing a bit in the genre. I will continue to explore the culture, and enjoy my findings. Like the era Steampunk strives to reflect, we live on the cusp of a new age. I don't know that we are quite as optimistic. I don't know that we have reason to be.

Perhaps that is why we look to a past that never was.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My idea bag-

I only have a few more completed stories in my file. I have a few more in the idea bag, but they are not yet written. My idea for this blog was a good one, but writing a novel has consumed much of my writing energy.

Still, I think that this blog was a good idea. I have learned a bit about blogging, and about the Internet. Though I haven't developed much of a readership, it is a venue for people seeking my work to find some samples. It is also a challenge and an exercise.

So, I think I shall set myself the task of writing something at least twice a month just for this blog. I may take a couple of these stories to another level at some point, as well. I will chronicle that development in this blog.

My future project shall be a web site to begin developing and marketing my writing. I am more and more inclined toward self-publishing my book, The Inn at the Edge of the World, through a print-on-demand site. I will promote the book myself, developing the needed skills as I learn how to do this. In part that will be the purpose of my web site.

I will also seek to promote a custom short story business. These would be very short stories crafted as gifts and tributes to friends and family, produced for a small fee.

Along with that will be copywriting. This is not my first choice, but a few assignments (or taking someone's overflow work) won't be bad.

So, if you are one of the few readers I have, keep checking back. I will try and have something new for you on a regular basis.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Solar mobility-

I just got to thinking on how wonderful a mobile lifestyle might be if the power source could be the sun. Solar power. I don't even know if such could be done. Enough power for each day, gathered from the sun that always shines. If today does not provide the power to move, perhaps tomorrow enough could be gathered.

The technology might already exist, but it would be costly to get it all together. So, I created a character to try the experiment. Wealthy enough, connected enough, and audacious enough to try and create a lifestyle that was practically free in every sense of the word.

Perhaps I will study the aquisition, storage and distribution of energy and see if this experiment is even viable. It sure was easy to do on virtual paper.

The Electric Gypsy

The Electric Gypsy

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Oliver Wendell James hit the save button, and then directed the laptop to shut itself down. He gazed out beyond his little machine and drank in the view. He had found a great place to stop, that was for sure. Hills, trees, a stream and a quiet lake. Blue sky, just enough clouds to make thing interesting.

When his laptop was finished with its closing procedures and had powered down, the middle-aged author closed the lid and picked the valuable instrument up from the table. He set it on his chair, and folded the table into its surprisingly compact travel form. This he stowed in the compartment behind him.

Standing by the compartment door, he gazed at the machine that was his home. Top end construction, and a massive experiment. It amazed him, and also made him chuckle. The damned thing had more advertisements painted on the exterior surfaces than a Nascar racing vehicle. Contributors, fabricators, and sponsors of his mobile lifestyle.

Ollie moved the laptop to the entry steps, folded the chair, and stowed that with the table. He closed the compartment door and secured it against the days travel. The vehicle should reach full charge any moment, so Ollie began his walk around. Before moving each day he would check the vehicle with care. Doors secured, no damage, tires fully inflated. No obvious flaws.

He heard the chime just as he reached the main door. He had been traveling this way only two months, yet he could sense when the charge was complete. He pushed a button on his key fob, and the awning began stowing itself for travel. Not only did it provide shade, but the surface of the awning was also part of the solar charging array.

Ollie stepped back and watched as the awning put itself away, and the tilted panels on the roof moved into travel position. The satellite dish on the roof also folded into travel mode. He could hear the hum as the electric levelers stowed themselves under the vehicle. Everything was being managed by the central onboard computer.

Many items on the vehicle were experimental, donated or provided at a discount in exchange for mention in the travel blog and advertisement space on the outer surface of the experimental recreational vehicle. Ollie chuckled once again at the rather obnoxious outside of his home, scooped up the laptop, and stepped up into his mobile castle.

The interior was very well laid out. Designers had agonized for many hours over form and function, constantly trying to save weight while creating an environment in which a man could comfortably live. Sometimes it seemed that the interior was larger than the exterior, the design was so well thought out.

Ollie stowed the laptop in a compartment, plugging in the charging unit. He then brewed a cup of tea, and took it with him to the driver’s station. He set the cup in the holder, and settled into his driver’s seat. It was almost too comfortable to make for safe driving, but he could never figure out how to complain to the designers about that. He really didn’t want to.

He switched on the several monitors. Rear-view, navigation, system information. He first picked a spot on the navigation map that would be their destination. The computer advised him that it was within range. He double-checked the information on the other screen. The batteries were at capacity, and the lock-outs had cut off any unneeded systems to prevent trickle leaks of power. He hit the button to accept the route to the target.

Since the target this time was a commercial RV park, the computer automatically began making a reservation and deposit. The confirmation chirp came almost immediately. Years of high cost had diminished the RV market, and it was often easy to find a space in the surviving parks.

Though the vehicle had an accelerator pedal, it was seldom used. The computer was more efficient. The driver would steer and when necessary control the vehicle with the brake. Ollie pressed down on the brake, released the parking brake, and then let up on the brake pedal. He pushed the engage button on the computer monitor, and the vehicle began to accelerate.

The acceleration was slow and steady, much like a train ramping up to travel speed. The computer, using the mapping data and inputs from a multitude of sensors, would do most of the work. It was Ollie’s job to avoid other vehicles and try to keep the vehicle on the selected course.

Once he got back to the main road Ollie had to wait for a suitable opening in the traffic. It would have been much more difficult in years past, but the higher cost of fuel finally compelled even the most ambitious drivers to slow down. Hybrid drivers were the most conscious of cost-saving driving skills, but practically everyone had made adjustments by the time Ollie launched this great experiment.

Grabbing an opening large enough to allow for the metered acceleration of his experimental vehicle, Ollie took his foot off of the brake and allowed the machine to move out onto the highway. After this, it was just steering and enjoying the view. The smooth progress was pleasant.

Ollie had named his new home The Electric Gypsy. An electric powered motor home. It was capable of forty five miles per hour on flat terrain. Ollie rarely achieved that speed The course was always plotted to keep to roads where a top speed of thirty five miles an hour was acceptable. The computer had to account for elevations as well as distances. Climbing required energy and that was always in limited supply.

Even as they traveled the solar collectors gathered sunlight and converted it into electrical power. When not in motion the array was rotated to an optimal collecting angle. The outdoor awning also made a contribution. Even some of the suitable side surfaces had collection panels. All of them were gathering energy and storing it in the huge battery.

However, on any given day only so much energy could be gathered. Here the travel philosophy of the famous Tioga George came into play. Travel a little every day, and conserve the resources. Of course, George had been saving gas. Ollie was conserving his precious electricity.

The road ahead began to rise. The vehicle had gathered speed on the long stretch of relatively level land, and made good use of a recent down hill run. Now the inertia was consumed by gravity, and the computer smoothly introduced power to the drive motors. The vehicle slowed to about 27 miles per hour, and maintained that speed all of the way to the top of the pass. Ollie just had to keep it on track.

“Check point. Turn off onto route 17.” said the computer. Ollie glanced at the map on the navigation monitor. They were almost half-way to their destination. Ollie watched for the exit, and smoothly turned the vehicle off of the main highway.

The Electric Gypsy had slowed almost to a stop when Ollie stepped on the brake at the stop sign. He took his foot off of the brake right away. There was no traffic. He turned right, as directed by the navigation computer. The computer began accelerating the vehicle to the optimum speed for the road.

So it went for almost three hours. Finally their destination was in sight. “Bide-A-Wee Recreational Vehicle Park.” Ollie read out loud. He turned in at the entrance and stopped at the office.

“Welcome, Mister James.” Said the proprietor, as she checked The Electric Gypsy in. “Right on time. I am so glad you could stay with us.” Ollie smiled, signed the papers, accepted his space assignment, and was soon on his way to his lake side space. He also signed one of his novels the proprietor pressed into his hands. Ollie never minded this. His readers made this life of his possible.

Once he had The Electric Gypsy parked, Ollie advised the computer of their arrival. The machine knew where they were, of course. However, it needed permission to begin setting itself up for camping. The system deployed the awning and levelers, and put up the solar panels and satellite dish. Though the system had maintained an Internet connection through cell phone connections, it now switched to the more reliable satellite Internet.

Ollie did not have to attend to any of this. He just made another cup of tea, grabbed his laptop, and headed outside. Soon he had his “office” set up, and was back at work on his next novel. At least he was, for a few minutes.

“You’re that traveling writer guy, aren’t you?”

Ollie looked up to see a gentleman in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt standing nearby. He obviously belonged to one of the several RV’s in the park.

“Yes. Yes, I am.” Ollie answered. “Would you like to sit down?”

The man looked around, but did not see another chair. Ollie indicated the open storage area. “No, thanks. Just wanted to say ‘Hi.’”

Ollie nodded, and waited.

“So, this is the future, is it?” the man said. “I don’t know if I like it.”

“Which rig is yours?” Ollie asked his visitor. The man waved vaguely at one of the machines across the way. Ollie looked, and saw more grime from sitting than road grime. “When did you last move it?”

“Been here almost a month.” the man answered. “I expect I can move on in a few more days. Maybe.”

Ollie said nothing.

“Pretty expensive, moving on.” the man said, sheepishly.

“I traveled about seventy miles today.” Ollie said. “It cost about three dollars. That includes the prorated cost of my share of the vehicle.”

The man simply blinked, and looked at the machine.

“Rich writer like you should be able to travel in style.” the man finally said. “Hang the cost.”

Ollie nodded. “I guess you are right. However, I am also rich enough to choose not to throw away my money. I used my wealth to create this experimental vehicle. I used my wealth to create this experimental life style.”

The man blinked again.

“I don’t know if it is THE future.” said Ollie. “I do know it is MY future.”

“Maybe I’ll read one of your books one day.” said the man, as he turned to walk away.

“That would please me.” said Ollie. “In the mean time, I will write you a new one.”

With that he returned to his keyboard, in the shade of the solar awning of The Electric Gypsy. Ollie could almost feel the power for the next day of travel being packed away in his amazing machine. It felt good.