Tag Archives: short stories

#FlashFictionFriday: Valentine Run (part 3 of 3)

Valentine Run Cover copySleep came slowly and was filled with vague and disturbing dreams. Waking half an hour before the alarm, Reina showered quickly, preparing for the run to Valentine system. In the mess, she stopped to chat with the crew who were all laughing at Cookie’s silly puns. Still chuckling, she entered the pilot’s ready room.

Ladeaux and Ryo had not yet arrived, but then she was always first. Ryo’s involvement with Ramona Flores meant he was always the last to arrive. The door opened, and she looked up, smiling as Brandon Ladeaux crossed to his locker.

“Here we go again.” His weathered, but still handsome features smiled back. “I hope we don’t have to do anything too spectacular to get this pile of rocks to Valentine Station.” He saw her look.  “Silly me. They’ll require spectacular measures, no matter what I wish. I’ve prepared accordingly.”

“Good,” she replied, fighting the feeling of finality, the fear it was the last time she’d see him. “Once we’re done rumbling with the Alzhaa, we should be well out of their space. Hopefully, they won’t follow us all the way to Valentine.” She finished closing her shipsuit and stamped her feet into her boots.

“If the Alzhaa strike the way they have up to now, they’ll expect the captain to stop running, to stand and fight. I wonder how adaptable they are. They’ve never shown any adaptability so far, but maybe they’re hiding it.” Brandon’s smile elevated him to handsome. He stood up, leaning against the wall, closing his shipsuit. “Are you in love with Cora?”

“Nope,” Reina’s laugh was unforced. “No chemistry in that way, right? Just a friendship between equals that was never meant to be anything more than it was. But now, I’m Captain Laine’s subordinate. I like her and respect her ability. She is a great leader and, believe me, I’ve worked with many who weren’t. She lacks experience in battle, but who’d have thought battle tactics would be required for captains of cargo ships? Besides, I wouldn’t jeopardize her career by taking advantage of our friendship if I did love her that way.”

“I’m proud of you.” Brandon pulled his boots on, stamping his feet down into them. “I like to think I would be able to be that noble.” He grinned at Reina, obviously liking what he saw. “I tend to take advantage of every situation that I can. Life is too short to let the good things pass you by. I’m not that decent a human being.”

“Yes, you are,” Reina grinned again, frankly admiring his charms. “You’re the most decent man I know. Not a real smart man since you’re still driving a sled, but quite decent!” They were still laughing when Ryo entered the ready room.

“Are you hoping for this to be over? I sure am.” Ryo bent over, burying his cheerful face in his locker, rooting around for something. Having apparently found what he was looking for, he dropped to the bench to begin suiting up. “So how are only three of us going to do a running firefight? When we practice in the simulator, we always start out as one of six.”

He had asked the question Reina had been asking herself all morning.

Ladeaux replied, “The formations are the same as when your sim squad gets whittled down to three. You’ll have your flight plans, well in advance, so you’ll know what formation.”

“I’ve always had a support role during our battle since the Captain conscripted me. La Fontaine, Morgan, and the others did all the dirty work. I’ve been training in the simulator for the last two weeks, but I have no idea what we’re getting into, how it differs from the sim. I was never in the service, right? I’m just a mech with a pilot’s ticket. I’ve seen the stuff you do, Jacobs, so you’ve got to be good enough. Same with you, Ladeaux. I’ve heard stories about you and seen the way you work too.”

“I’m still here.” Reina’s chuckle was wry. “I haven’t done an actual running firefight in years, though. Because of that, I too have spent time in the simulator these last few weeks. I’m going to do exactly what Ladeaux tells me to do. At this point, you just want to survive, and teamwork is the key to survival in this sort of a melee.”

Ladeaux said, “Don’t worry, Ryo. You have a finely tuned sense of survival. It won’t be much different than the simulator, which you’ve been acing. I set it up with every possible hindrance I could think of, so… but have you played Split Infinitum?”

Ryo turned red. “Um… yeah. I was quite the sim gamer, before Ramona. I guess I had too much free time.”

“The principal is the same, except when you lose… it’s more than merely game over. From what I could see, the game control panels are similar to these old gunsleds.”

“I did notice that. It’s probably why it’s been easier for me, both as a support sled in combat and in the simulator.”

Grinning at Ryo’s worried expression, Ladeaux walked over to his desk and sat. “With only three of us, we have to work together to make up in cleverness what we lack in strength, so I’ve come up with something new to spring on the enemy. We’re going to make them think they’ve taken the Saracen out.”

Ryo smiled nervously and glanced at Reina, who was curious to see what that plan would be.

Ladeaux inserted his notebook in the com-dock and flipped it on, paging back and forth until he stopped at a screen with diagrams. “So, this is my plan for dealing with the first wave.” He tapped the desk, and the holoscreen sprang up, fully lit, displaying the diagram from his notebook. “You’ll get phase two uploaded to your sled if this works. We shouldn’t need a phase three.” Ladeaux’s briefing lasted for fifteen minutes, then they went on out to the deck and the waiting gunsleds.

>>><<<

Promptly, one hour after the Saracen began the run, the first four Alzhaa cruisers showed up. They followed the usual pattern of assaulting the Saracen en masse. Ryo and Ladeaux converged on them from the ten and two o’clock positions, and Reina came up from under the Saracen at the six.

The first three cruisers were sitting ducks. The fourth was a little more work, but they too finally went down. “Looks like they’re running out of pilots too,” Ryo quipped. In a short time, the Alzhaa cruisers were debris, and the Saracen was still traveling as fast as she could.

“Four down, God knows how many to go,” Ladeaux’s voice crackled over the comsender. “Judging by how long it normally takes their ships to arrive, we should see the next action as we near the edge of Alzhaa space. That’s when the fun begins. Rest up while you can.”

“I don’t think they knew what to do, with us not stopping to fight like we usually do,” Reina commented. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe they aren’t as adaptable as they should be. So what about the plan for the next wave?”

“I’m loading it now,” Ladeaux’s voice was calm.

“Got it,” Reina looked at the diagram. “I can do this. You been reading old adventure novels again?”

Ladeaux laughed, as she hoped he would.

There would be absolutely no margin for error. If Reina was off by even a hair, the special delivery wouldn’t detonate the Alzhaa shipdrive. If she did manage to drop it on the sweet-spot, even running like hell might not save her. There was no time to calculate what would happen when they briefly turned the enemy ship into a mini-nova. The resulting wave could manifest as a disc or sphere. Either way, no matter how fast she ran, she would be caught in the backlash.

“Are you okay with it?” Ladeaux asked, concern coloring his voice.

“Well, someone’s gotta do it, and I’m the one with the experience and the death wish, so yeah,” Reina replied. Her tone was wry as she said, “I did promise to go easy on the fuelcels as much as possible though.”

“You’ve enough juice to do this and make your getaway. Either way, the fuelcel situation won’t matter after we’re done here,” replied Ladeaux. “If this works, you’ll be retired again. If not—still no worries, right? Even if you manage to deliver the goods, who knows what’s going to happen? There’s a first time for everything, and this is definitely a first.”

“Well, they won’t be expecting this.” Ryo’s muttered comment sounded worried. “Won’t they know the difference?”

“Don’t worry,” Reina replied. “Physics are physics. Some things are bound by certain laws whether you’re breathing methane or oxygen. If they choose to investigate, this battle will be long over, and little will remain for them to examine.”

Ladeaux’s voice sounded as sure and confident as ever. “Jacobs is right. The burst will happen in every spectrum, and should hide our movements for several days. If they don’t send a third group after us immediately, we’ll know we’ve been successful at concealing our escape. We’ll be long gone, and all they’ll have are unanswered questions. I think they will choose not to investigate.”

Two more hours had passed when four Alzhaa cruisers appeared. The three Mirandan gunsleds detached from trailing the Saracen, turned, and engaged the battle, leaving the Saracen to continue making a run for it.

Dropping into a wedge, the three sleds strafed the enemy bloc of cruisers with their lighter weight torpedoes, and then peeling apart from each other, they swung back. Ladeaux took out the rear cruiser using heavy armaments. Letting their shields pulse the debris away, Ryo took out the next one in line.

Immediately Ryo and Ladeaux made themselves into the visible targets, encouraging the two remaining cruisers to converge on them as they pretended to turn back toward Alzhaa space. The Mirandan defenders continued following the usual pattern they always had except for one thing: the Saracen continued fleeing toward Valentine at its top speed. Only the gunsleds were heading back to Alzhaa space.

Reina pulled back, arcing over the top of Ladeaux and Ryo. The three gunsleds formed a triangle, with Reina trailing. Suddenly, one of the Alzhaa began peeling away, apparently realizing the Saracen was getting away. Reina was on it, firing and dodging as her volley caught the enemy’s bridge, herding them back toward their companion. Just as Ladeaux had hoped, the other cruiser had caught on that the Saracen was still running and slowed down to turn back.

Reina rotated under and came up nearly on top of the stern of the fore cruiser and delivered her bundle dead center. The instant she launched the package, landing it squarely in the vent. Reina pulled up and fled in the opposite direction, heading at full throttle for Valentine.

Several seconds passed, and then the cruiser flared, shining too brilliantly for human eyes.

Bracing herself for the worst, Reina gritted her teeth. Her gunsled bucked and shuddered as the leading edge of the shockwave overtook her, but somehow her shields held together as, briefly, she rode the wave, gaining a little speed as it passed her. Relief nearly overwhelmed her. “Ladeaux! It worked. Good plan.” Tears of relief stung her eyes, and her headset crackled with hoots of joy as Ladeaux and Ryo celebrated her survival.

Her joy abruptly turned to disbelief. “No….” Reina groaned as the display showed the shockwave catching Ryo’s shields. She watched as, almost in slow motion, his shields buckled and failed under the onslaught. The pieces of Ryo’s gunsled joined the cloud of debris that rode the silent tsunami traveling back toward Alzhaa.

Ladeaux’s gunsled pulled into formation alongside her. With the destruction of the Alzhaa ship, the implants for head-to-head communication were working again, and she removed the headset with a small sense of relief. “I guess it’s just you and me, now.” Ladeaux’s mental voice didn’t betray his emotions, but Reina knew he felt the same sense of incredulity and depression she did. Her heart ached for Ryo and the loss of his future with Ramona Flores.

The rest of the day was uneventful. Reina and Ladeaux landed their gunsleds on the flight deck of the Saracen. In the captain’s ready room, there wasn’t much to say. “Thank you, both, for everything. You two need to get some rest. If anything comes up, I will let you know, but it looks like we’re home free now. We’ll be watching to be sure. In the meantime, Acting Science Officer Jacobs, you’re no longer flying. I’ll see you both tomorrow at the regular staff meeting, but you two are off until then.” It was a dismissal if ever Reina had heard one, but given Cora’s wounded pride, she’d expected it.

As they walked back to the pilots’ ready-room, Ladeaux flashed Reina the cheeky smile that captivated her. “How’s about we get together sometime and have a drink to Ryo and all the others who should be here but aren’t?”

Reina looked at him, standing there looking as sweaty and exhausted as she felt.  “Let me get a shower, and I’ll see what Cookie’s got that’s fit to drink. Half an hour, in my quarters?”

Ladeaux’s eyes lit up. “I’ll be there.”

Reina smiled, feeling the weight she hadn’t realized she carried leaving her shoulders.


To Read Valentine Run  Part 1 click here

To Read Valentine Run Part 2 click here

Valentine Run, Part Three, © Connie J. Jasperson 2011-2017 All Rights Reserved

Valentine Run is dedicated to my parents who loved nothing more than a good space opera, in memory of those hours we spent gathered around the flickering light of the TV, watching the original Star Trek.

Cover Art © Innovari | Dreamstime.com – Space Cruiser Spaceship Photo

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#amwriting: consider the short story

via buzzfeed

For the author struggling to get their name out there, one of the best ways is writing and submitting short stories to magazines, contests, and anthologies. You might earn a little cash, and you have the added thrill that someone liked your work enough to publish it.

But how does one go about writing a short story? First, you need a theme, an idea or message that flows through a story from beginning to end. The theme is what readers think the work is about, but it is also what the work itself says about the central subject.

In a given work the theme might never be mentioned outright, but the characters’ actions are motivated by it, and the plot revolves around it. (In case you need it, here is a list of 101 common themes in books.)

The structure of the short story is the same as for a novel: it consists of the Story Arc, which is the term that describes plot structure, or the sequence of events that occur within a story.

Plot Structure is the way the story is arranged:

*the setup

*the obstacle

*the turning point

*the resolution/outcome

THE SETUP: You must have a good hook. In some cases, the first line is the clincher, but especially in a short story, by the end of the first page you must have your reader hooked and ready to be enthralled.

One of the best first lines ever: George Eliott’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes you want to know Miss Brooke. And the reader wonders who the observer is who chronicles this. It is a novel, but if it had been a short story, it would still have hooked the reader.

Good first lines make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  We have to think about that first line, those first paragraphs, and how to land our reader.

After the hook, you must immediately get down to business, as you have no words to waste. Consider these things when writing the opening paragraphs:

  1. The opening lines set the tone for the story.
  2. The opening lines introduce the dramatic question that is the core of the story.
  3. The opening lines introduce the sense of place, the setting of the story.

Sometimes you have a short story you can’t seem to get off the ground. Something stalls it. It could be that you are trying to place too much background in at the beginning. Ask yourself where the story truly begins and start there.

Consider the length of the story you intend to write. Most literary magazines want stories of 1000 to 4000 words in length, but many will say no more than 2000 words. That places a real constraint on you as the storyteller because, to sell your work to that magazine, you must fit your story into a very small box. Every word in a 2000-word story is critical and has a specific task — that of advancing the plot. To that end, in a story of only 2,000 words:

  • No subplots are introduced
  • Minimal background is introduced
  • The number of characters must be limited to 2 or 3 at most

How do you fit a story into 2000 words? Make the Story Arc your friend.

Divide your story into four acts and assign a word limit to each of those acts: in a 2000 word story, each act would be 500 words long.

short story arc

Writing short fiction forces the author to become more economical and yet poetic in how they lay down their prose.

  • Each word must set the scene and convey the atmosphere, and every conversation must impart both information and give the reader a sense of who these characters are.
  • Every sentence must propel the story to the conclusion.
  • By the end of the first ¼ of the manuscript, the reader should have an idea of who the character is, what their moral compass is, what the character wants, and what they are willing to do to acquire it.

Be economical with your words: If you are writing a less formal story, make liberal use of contractions in the narrative as well as in the dialogue: hasn’t, he’d, wasn’t, didn’t, couldn’t, etc. A contraction is a “Two-fer” word – you get two words for the price of one.

Ditch the “crutch” words. You will lower your word-count when you look at each instance and see if you can get rid of these words. Removing them tightens your prose and makes room for important words that will convey the story more effectively.

“Crutch” words are overused words that fall out of our heads along with the good stuff as we are sailing along:

  • so
  • very
  • that
  • just
  • literally
  • there was
  • to be

We all use them too liberally in the rough draft. When we are doing revisions, we look at each instance of those words and decide if the sentence is stronger without it. Nine out of ten times, it is.

As I have said before, writing short stories gets you writing more:

  • more often,
  • more widely on a broad range of topics, and
  • more creatively using a variety of styles.

Using and building on the skills gained in writing short stories can only grow you as an author. Your prose will become stronger and tighter, and you will have a better grip on story construction.

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#flashFictionFriday: Science Officer’s Log

Today’s flash fiction was inspired by the recent announcement of the  European Southern Observatory‘s discovery of a roughly Earth-sized planet orbiting our nearest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri.  Planet Proxima b is larger than Earth, but could have liquid water on its surface. Proxima Centauri is around four light years from us. It’s a small red dwarf with a radius of around 60,000 miles (97,000 km), which is around 14% the size of our sun. It  is estimated to have a mass of around 12% of that of the sun, and is 1.4 times the diameter of Jupiter.


Science Officer’s Log

  • Week: 15
  • Month: 4
  • Day: 15
  • Year: 47 (Post Earth Era)
  • Logged by: Jamal Baines, Acting Science Officer

Last week our ship arrived at a three-star system, and stopped at the edge.  I’m not sure why we’ve stopped because, before they disappeared, no one thought to warn me it was going to happen. It’s been two weeks since the adults who used to run things disappeared. Not sure what happened, but I don’t think they planned to leave.

I’m fourteen now, so I should be an adult about things, but I miss my mom.

The internal system is functioning as it should. Maybe we were supposed to stop here. The telescopes are observing the dwarf star of the trio, and I’m logging the information as it comes in. I just don’t know how to interpret it yet.

From outside, our ship seems like an immense moon or a small planet, but it’s an asteroid ship. We’re self-supporting so things are pretty complicated. When I first joined the science pod, Dr. Abrams told me that because we live underground, we’re safe from radiation and most stray comets.

I don’t know if anyone will ever go outside again, because I don’t know if anyone apprenticed in the maintenance pod was trained to pilot the O.A. Shuttles.

We finally got all the kids together for a meeting, and we have an idea of how to go forward.  I’m not sure what I’m supposed to write here because we didn’t do anything other than deciding who was going to do what. The younger kids are afraid, and everyone agreed we needed the older kids to take charge.

Shelena’s oldest, seventeen, and she is captain. Darius is fifteen, and he’s first officer. They were apprenticed in the bridge pod, so she is most familiar with how Captain Gonzales ran things, and Darius is good at keeping things organized. Shelena knows where all the information is, so at least we’ll have that, and we can continue our education. I got to be science because that’s where I was apprenticing. Sanjay is 17, and is in charge of sickbay, for the same reason. The androids are functioning perfectly, handling the work humans don’t usually have to do, like running the mess hall and the sewage treatment plants.

There are only fifty-six of us old enough to have been apprenticed into the ship’s management systems for any length of time. The others are working in the areas where they were, still trying to learn from those of us more advanced. The pre-teen kids not old enough to have been apprenticed are minding the babies and little ones.

Darius thinks the adults got sucked into a dimensional rift. I guess that’s possible, but I can’t see how. But regardless, we have to support the farms, because they’re what keeps this ship’s environmental systems running. So, just like before the adults disappeared, we’re all taking our turns working in the agrarian pod. Things are pretty easy to work, if you know the controls. So far, we’re all getting along, no quarrels to speak of.

That’s all I can think of for right now. I’ll write more tomorrow because Doctor Abrams always kept a daily log, so I should too.

J.B.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. Artist’s rendering by This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser


Science Officer’s Log © Connie J. Jasperson 2016

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#FlashFictionFriday: The Cat, the Jeweler, and the Thief

Barliman gazed at the statue of the cat, and then out the polished window, not seeing the passersby. His eyes turned back to the stylishly dressed thief who stood before him. “It’s a nice enough  statue, well-made. What makes it worth the amount you are asking?”

Scuttle smiled. “It’s more than merely well-made. It’s brilliant. Look at it—have you ever seen such detail rendered in marble?” Thin, with a face slightly resembling that of a pleasant, well-favored weasel, he kept his desperation tightly tamped beneath a business-like demeanor.

Scuttle’s lady, Mari, was so ill that an ordinary herb doctor wouldn’t do. Their landlady believed she had contracted river fever and insisted only a healer from the Church could resolve it. But the Church never healed the poor; only the wealthy could afford a Church Healer. For that reason, Scuttle had to have those coins. He put on his most persuasive voice. “This is a miracle of art, created in marble. The hand of a master freed this cat from the stone.”

“I agree it’s beautiful, but I doubt you came by it honestly. I will be limited in who I can resell it to. Who made it? If I can at least tell a prospective purchaser whose hand created it, I will understand its value, and be better able to get a fair price for it.”

Scuttle snorted. “A fair price…usury has no concept of ‘fair.’ But all right, I’ll tell you who I believe to have made it. Benevolio.” Raising his hand, he forestalled Barliman’s comment. “I have no proof, and there is no maker’s mark on it anywhere.” Picking up the statue he held it to the light, turning it to reveal the remarkable craftsmanship. “Look at the face. Each hair, each whisker, every feature is there in the most minute detail, as if a cat had turned to stone as it sat there. Even soles of the paws which can’t be seen unless one picks the statue up–only Benevolio himself could have created such a masterpiece.”

Silence reigned in the shop as Barliman digested that comment. He pulled his magnifier from his pocket and examined the life-sized statue inch by inch. Scuttle had expected he would, and occupied himself with calculating the value of the objects displayed in the shop. Silver tea services, gold-handled cutlery, delicate jewelry set with precious stones—all rested on dark velvet in glass cases, gleaming in the light cast by wide diamond-paned windows. The fact they were on display meant those items had been purchased from more reputable sources.

The thief had come to Barliman because the jeweler sometimes supplied the wealthier class with things they could acquire nowhere else. Scuttle was a discreet thief, a man who ordinarily only stole on commission. However, the cat had been liberated from the house of a prosperous merchant newly in town, something he had only done because of Mari’s illness. The fact he was there in person to sell the statue indicated to the jeweler that this had been a private matter, making Scuttle’s bargaining position perilous. The jeweler was his only resort–no one else would have given him a copper for the statue, much less what he needed.

What Mari needed.

Barliman set the cat back down on the counter. He replaced the magnifier in the pocket of his vest. “With no maker’s mark, I can’t guarantee authenticity. That will substantially lower the price I can get for it. Therefore, I can’t give six golds coins. Three is my offer–consider, it please. It comes to three months wages for an ordinary man.”

“Five would be less than fair for a statue of this quality, and you would still make an absurd profit. If you can’t offer five, I must withdraw it.” Scuttle had no idea what he would do if Barliman refused. He didn’t dare take the time to go all the way to Westerberg. Three days there and back—Mari would be dead before he returned.

Barliman pursed his lips, deliberating. “Five golds, then.”

Though he felt like dancing, Scuttle comported himself with dignity as the coins were handed over. Barliman placed the cat statue beneath the counter and bowing, the thief departed the shop.

>>><<<

As the door closed behind the thief, the curtain behind the jeweler whisked open. Cardinal Valente stood framed in the doorway. “Good.” The Cardinal’s acidic tones fell like lead in the shop. “Here is your five golds, plus fifteen more for your trouble.”

Barliman handed Valente the heavy, marble statue. “Whose hand created this cat?” he asked. “Even Benevolio could never have done such fine work.”

Instead of answering, the Cardinal set the statue on the counter. “Observe.” He muttered some incomprehensible words, passing his hands over the cat.

Fantasy Desk With Books And Scrolls © Unholyvault | Dreamstime.com

Fantasy Desk With Books And Scrolls © Unholyvault | Dreamstime.com

To Barliman’s surprise, the statue stretched and yawned, then stood up and jumped down. Twining about the Cardinal’s ankles, the cat purred.

“God’s hand created this cat. A spell turned it to stone, and I placed it in the home of my concubine. Then I allowed rumors of its existence to come to Scuttle’s ears.”

Barliman could not conceal his dismay. “Why? Was it to trap him? He has…skills. He’s useful, and not only to me. Imprisoning him would be bad for my business.”

“He is indeed useful. However, a personal matter  interfered with my thief’s ability to gain an artifact I must have. He needs coins to resolve the issue but he is not a man to ask for charity, and I am not known for my generosity. Hence, I devised a way for him to help himself.” The Cardinal laughed, a grating sound. “By the day after tomorrow at the latest, my thief will resume the important task I have set before him, and soon I will have my artifact.” A sly smirk lit his bony features. “And now I know what matters most in the world to my thief, and where to lay my hands on it if I should ever need a bargaining chip. That knowledge alone was worth twenty golds. Never forget this: knowledge is power, Barliman. It’s good to be the one with the knowledge.”


The Cat, the Jeweler, and the Thief © Connie J. Jasperson 2016 All Rights Reserved

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