Orbital Fracture

“Well, that was pretty weird…” Quinn’s dad said, as they strolled out of the hospital emergency room toward the car.  Quinn nodded in solemn agreement.  His brain rattled a little, still full of purple marbles and tapioca.  He winced as his now full blown concussion sent steam whistling from his ears and left a trail of silly string on the asphalt.

Just a few hours earlier, Quinn, the goalkeeper for his club soccer team, came out of his box low and fast, to intercept a couple of players desperately sparring for the ball.  He dove in, punching it away as one of the players aimed a kick…but instead of connecting with the ball, his foot caught Quinn in the face like a grizzly car crash (an all-too-common goalie accident).

Quinn’s jaw spun away with a funny “vip-vip-vip!” and hit a light post, exploding in a shower  of sparks.  His teeth peppered everyone within fifty yards…but his head flew straight up in the air at such velocity that we lost sight of it shortly before his “AAAAAAAAAAAH!” diminished into the night.  What a mess!

Willy the Astronaut was a clumsy buffoon who, for the second time this month, slipped and splashed into the molding tank at the polar ice mine on the surface of Mars…as it’s contents began to freeze.  His heavily insulated vac-suit protected him from harm, but he wasn’t discovered until the 60 ton cylinder of ice had already been rocket-lifted up to the orbital processing plant, where it would be transformed into liquid oxygen rocket fuel.

Willy’s coworkers labored fruitlessly for eight frustrating hours with a laser drill to free him, without luck…..until Willy noticed Quinn’s gnarly, high velocity head glance off the ice and careen away, still hollering, “Aaaaaaaaaah!”  Quinn’s head must have hit a sweet spot in the ice, just so, because it fractured the cylinder neatly, allowing Willy to escape unharmed and without a costly, shattered mess for the mining company.  Willy never mentioned Quinn’s head to his employers, he was a known buffoon and his credibility was already compromised.

As to Quinn; his dad managed to gather up all his bits and parts and take him to the hospital, where the clever use of duct tape and super glue had him back on his feet in a few short hours.  We figure his wild story about ice mining on Mars was probably just a symptom of his concussion.

“Well, that was pretty weird…..”

***This is a totally true story from our new book, “A Short Burst” which you can buy at our ETSY shop – just search EEWbooks or follow the etsy links on our website.  -Marsha     

Zebulon the Wizard

Quite puzzled now, he scoured the pages of the old wizard’s tiny journal, searching for something that might explain why his cauldron had just opened, on it’s own, without the spoken enchantment…..he didn’t even notice the pistol pointing up into his face until the voice behind it said, “Give it back, boy!… Give it back NAOW!!!…Ya yella-bellied VARMINT!!”

He called himself Zebulon the Wizard, but his real name was Ralph…and he was a thief.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, he was a really good thief who came from a long line of renowned thieves.  There was no shame in it.  Thievery was a respectable occupation in the old country, which had carried over when his family emigrated here.  But like so many young people nowadays, Ralph found himself falling short of his forefathers’ success.

Old family connections no longer guaranteed respect and a spot on a crack team of cat burglars – or elicit seed money from the mob for a grand heist.  Even the intelligence community ( the biggest employer of thieves in the world) had marginalized new hires into dull college-educated analysts.  So, Ralph was relegated to common pick-pocketing on the street, just to pay the bills.

As it so often happens (in old TV shows), Ralph found the solution to all his problems…in church.  He could always find an easy mark among the rich overdressed hypocrites on a Sunday morning, but it wasn’t until the post-service meet and greet that he was able to lift a nice fat purse from the breast pocket of – none other than – the Holy Roman Cardinal: the biggest, richest muckety-muck of them all.  What a lucky break!!!

How disappointing to find, later, that it was nothing more than a dusty old, hand-written journal…in Latin (of all things).  Ugh!!  Ralph hated Latin!  The kids in school used to tease him for sounding like a drunk Ukrainian whenever he read it out loud.

But, on closer inspection, he discovered that the book was one of those rare mystical Vatican treasures, meant to be locked away and never, ever studied (lest it disprove the church’s fairy tales…or destroy the world).  Upon reading it – and understanding it – Ralph realized he’d hit the jackpot!

The book, written by the fictional wizard, Merlin, was an instruction manual for creating a stable quantum portal, i.e., a gateway allowing him to traverse enormous distances…even time itself.  Cooool!  And if Ralph’s understanding of Latin was better than he thought, his alchemy was even better.

It only took a few weeks to beg, barter, and steal all the exotic elements and artifacts he would need.  Some were quite rare and most still had archaic names like “saltpeter.”  Who knew potassium nitrate used to be called saltpeter?…or that the chemical makeup of modern gunpowder is totally different than the black powder developed around ninth century China?

As well, Ralph found that the key to the entire project was in the spoken enchantments.  Merlin’s overall recipe was pretty straight forward chemistry…but say the right Latin gibberish, in the right tone of voice (standing on one foot with a feather up your bum), and the common reaction you’d get combining bleach and ammonia might produce an adorable plaid bunny, instead of just…a cloud of poison chlorine gas.  There was, needless to say, a good deal of trial and error (and even more tedious research) involved.

In the end, Ralph built what he called a “time cauldron” and had only to decide what he wanted to steal, from whom…and when.  He hit the books again, compiling an elaborate list of fabulous lost treasures, along with their exact locations, on specific historic dates.  But when he activated the cauldron, he was not thinking (as he should have) of the Palace of Versailles, June 15th, 1811… he was thinking of his personal hero, the greatest thief in history.

The portal opened in Missouri, April 3rd, 1882, and he was staring at a rather stunned…Jesse James.  As quick as a thief (which he was), Ralph reached in and grabbed an elaborately decorated six-gun tucked into the front of James’ belt, then closed the time portal before his outraged hero could react.

“Jesse James!” he grinned.  “How cool was that!!!?”  He laughed, very pleased with himself.

Within a year, Ralph had a warehouse full of treasures from throughout history and changed his name to Zebulon.  He was surely (and literally) the greatest thief of all time, and having encountered his older self numerous times over the next fifty years, was sure he had a bright, healthy future…

…So it puzzled him even more to find his hero, Jesse James, waving an anxious six-gun in his face…through HIS own cauldron.  How the heck did this happen?  It was still April 3rd, 1882; shouldn’t he be dead by now?

Jesse poked Ralph in the nose with the barrel.  “I want ma gun back.  I want it naow…” he stopped to pull back the hammer (very menacing), “or I’ll blow yer dang head off, boy!”  He seemed pretty pissed off.

Ralph could have crapped a brick in his fancy wizard pantaloons trying to remember where he put that pistol.  But his sweeping gaze landed on a brilliant (desperate) solution.  “I might have something better…” he said as he handed Jesse James a brand new solar-powered fully automatic plasma laser assault rifle (with pump-action grenade launcher), which he will have lifted, five years from now, off an elite storm trooper of the fifth battalion of Grand Emperor Trump’s intrepid Space Force.

Well…Jesse was giddy as a June bug in sassafras underbritches – or some such Missouri thing…and with his solemn vow (as an honest thief) to destroy the weapon after today’s gunfight, Jesse James closed the portal, none the worse for wear.

Naturally, Ralph was pretty impressed with himself for his quick wit and elegant solution to the mess he’d made…and what could possibly go wrong with handing an advanced weapon of mass destruction from the year 2024, to a gunslinger from 1882 on his death day…?

***Well, this is one of the few really long stories in our new book, “A Short Burst,” it’s a whopping two pages.  It’s one of John’s favorites because it straddles the weird, squiggly border between sci-fi and fantasy.  The original image, published in the April, 2007 issue of Analog Magazine was used as the title page of ‘Burst’ (the one above is the revised version).  You can find all our books and stuff at our Etsy shop.  Etsy.com (search EEWbooks) or just follow the link on our website (which will also bring you to Etsy).  -Marsha    

A Car With Personality

“My seat smells like farts!”  she said, the minute I sat down in the cockpit.

“Oh please!” I said.  “Let’s not start that again, you’re almost seven years old…believe me, there are worse things your seat could smell of.”  I started the engine.

“My struts are almost shot!”  she chimed in…

“I know…” I said (patronizingly), “but your mechanic said they’ll be okay for a while longer.  Your struts are perfectly lovely for now,” as I adjusted the mirrors and flaps.

“Ooooh, I like my mechanic.  He has such goooood hands…” she cooed.

“Stop!!  That’s not something I need to hear.” I said.  “Ugh!  Why can’t I just have a NORMAL car like everybody else…one that LISTENS!?”

“Oh, you LOVE me,” she said.  “Besides, if you hadn’t listened to ME, you’d be broke AND divorced!”

“Yeah, instead of just BROKE!!!” I snapped.  She pouted for a bit…I felt bad…kinda.  “Let’s just go,” I said, quietly.  “We need a good time on this last qualifying run to get pole position.”

“I don’t like the way you take turn fourteen, and your angle on the following straight-away is too bumpy… hurts my struts.”

“Yeah, but it throws everybody off.  It’s our best passing opportunity before we get mired in all that switchback traffic before turn eighteen…..Don’t worry, I’ll take it easier this time.”

She was quiet for a few miles…then, “My seat still smells like farts…”

***Another image and story from our new book, “A Short Burst.”  I can’t express how pleased and proud we are with how well this project turned out.  It is a collection of illustrated flash science fiction scenes and stories, exactly as you find them here. You can buy the book on Etsy.com (search EEWbooks or use the link on our site).  This image was also made into one of the four 4x4in. stickers that come with each online book order.  -Marsha


Freaky Uncle

We never spoke about Uncle Dixon.  Our whole family tip-toed around the subject…but I could tell there were powerful feelings just under everybody’s skin.  He was a horrible pariah.  The black sheep of the family.

We kept him in a straitjacket in one of the padded cells in the catacombs below our cabin.  He was never allowed out in the light of day (lest one of the neighbors spot him), only after midnight on stormy nights and always chained, gagged, and bound in one of those psycho metal hockey mask get-ups.  He got wheeled around in a steel cage on a hand truck under constant, heavily armed guard.

Worst of all…he was never allowed to go wilding with the rest of the family, never allowed to invade homes, to rape and burn and shoot folks in the face with shotguns or dismember them with his best machete before skinning and roasting them on the barbeque for the family feast…how sad and dull.

I felt bad for him.  What possible meaning could his life have?  I always wondered what awful thing he could have done to deserve such punishment, until I overheard Pappa Ripper telling old cousin Head-Stomper that Dixon was a pacifist, an atheist and a…vegetarian (whatever that was) and worst of all, he had NEVER murdered a baby in his whole life… actually refused to do it!!  Eeeeew!  What a Freak!

***This image and short story can be found on p.68 of our new book, “A Short Burst” a collection of flash science fiction.  It is 100 pages, 9×9 inches in size and packed with 64 illustrations and 73 short, intense stories.  You can find it (and buy it) on Amazon, but it is cheaper and easier if you go to etsy.com (search EEWbooks or just use the link in my website, above) you’ll find all my other merch: stickers, postcards and greeting cards as well as our other 3 illustrated books.  -Marsha

A Short Burst

“A short burst, gentlemen.”  Hollered the sergeant in his sharpest parade ground voice.  “Earth-Force Command wants a clean kill…center body mass and head-shots only!”  ‘Yeah,’ I thought, ‘same as last time…same as always.’  “Stay SHARP!” the sergeant yelled, as if he knew I was daydreaming.  I marched forward in the firing line as we approached the village.

“Lock and load!” sergeant yelled.  We all knew THAT was coming next.  Sgt. Matador was a big fan of historic Viet-Nam war films and this planet’s name, Ping-Dang-Fee, inspired him.  In reality, our plasma rifles fired pure energy beams, no clumsy clips or shells, but he figured his bravado might inspire us to fight… he was wrong.  Conscripts of a corporatocracy have no patriotism.

This whole invasion had me deeply conflicted.  Our enemy, the Plast, were an intelligent people, far more civilized than us.  They had renounced technology and war and embraced peace after a long history of violence and greed – not unlike ours.  Earth Force Command told us they were horrible, violent terrorists like the American Indians, determined to stop our God-given right to progress.  We knew better…we knew the Company just wanted the minerals in the soil of Ping-Dang-Fee and had decided it would be cheaper to exterminate these intelligent ‘pests’ than negotiate and actually ‘pay’ for their resources.

“Hold your fire ’till we reach the outer piquet!” shouted the sergeant. We could see the enemy now.  They stood together, unarmed, shoulder to shoulder… men, women and children.  They were tall and elegant and looked like a cross between a tarantula and those adorable orangutans the aristocrats kept for pets…..and they were unarmed.

Sergeant ordered us to the ready.  “Steady…!” he bellowed.  We stood silent and still.  I felt sick.  I could see the shame on the faces of my fellows’ as they realized what we were about to do…again.


Without thinking, I stepped forward – out of the ranks – and in full view of the regiment, I threw down my weapon…which rattled noisily when it hit the dirt.

The sergeant was up in my face in seconds, bellowing, screeching, ordering me back into line with veins popping and spittle flying…I wasn’t listening.

He went on furiously about duty and service, cowardice and treason….until another weapon rattled as it hit the dirt…and another, and another and he pulled his sidearm and put it to my head and threatened the entire regiment…..but it was too late.  There were thousands of plasma rifles in the dirt and more dropping by the minute…and there would be no massacre today.  And I wondered, while the sergeant yammered on, with his gun to my head, if he still believed all that bullshit he was selling… until he put his weapon to his own head and pulled the trigger…..answering my question.

There were some heavy clashes in the capital city at the outset of the mutiny; nasty house-to-house fighting…but it was mostly among the officer corps.  The common soldiers held back.  The Plast had our sixes; for a peaceful people they were pretty formidable when it counted.  Eventually, our little mutiny spread to every Earth-Force unit.  The second wave never fired a shot.  We heard later that the third wave refused to deploy entirely.

The Corporation was desperate to suppress this mutiny, they were losing battalion after battalion without a fight.  It was getting too expensive.  We expected them to pull back and nuke us from space…..but the bombs never fell.

***Our new book, “A Short Burst” is finally out…and this is the cover story.  The book is 100 pages with 73 short, flash-fiction sci-fi stories and 64 illustrations, most of the art originally published in Analog and Asimov’s Sci-Fi Magazines.  It is our 4th book and the best one yet.  It is available for sale at www.sallemander.com, Amazon, and etsy .com (search; EEWbooks).      -Marsha