I Love Dialogue! The Great Mandrake

Dellani Oakes with glasses smallerDrake Mandrake is working his way through college as a comedic magician. A youthful mistake made him a father early on and now, at 21, he’s coping with being a single dad as well as taking care of his 7 year old nephew, Davy. Davy is a special needs child who’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s. Drake is studying special ed so that he can work with children like Davy. As a treat, Davy has been fishing with Drake’s cousins and Shelby, his daughter, has spent the day with Aunt Connie. They are now at Uncle Billy’s for dinner.

Davy ran at Drake, greeting him so enthusiastically, he nearly knocked him over. Connie took Shelby so that Drake could swing Davy onto his shoulder.

“I caught all kinds of fish, Uncle Drake! And I caught a stingray! It almost stung Uncle Billy when he unhooked it!”

“Really? Wow!”

“It was nearly six feet long! It was pissed to get caught.”

“Okay, who taught my boy a new word?” Drake asked the room at large.

His cousin, Burwell held up his hand, grinning sheepishly. “He wasn’t supposed to tell you.”

“Did you tell him not to use it in a sentence?”

“No.” He looked puzzled. “I didn’t think of that.”

“Now ya know. Davy, you don’t say pissed. It’s not a very nice word.”

“Okay, Uncle Drake.” He squirmed to get down.

Burwell caught him as he lunged off his uncle’s shoulder. He set Davy on the floor, ruffling his hair.

“He’s something else. He kept all of us hopping.”

Billy’s sons were all built on the same line as their father. In other words, upwards of seven feet tall and roughly the size of Montana. There were six of them altogether. Drake couldn’t imagine Davy running them all ragged. He supervised him fine all on his own.

“It took all y’all to keep tabs on one kid? That’s pretty damn funny. I keep track of him and Shelby, no problem.”

“Braggart.”

“Pussy.”

“Pzy, pzy,” Shelby yelled loudly and with gusto. “Sit, sit! Pzy!”

Drake shook his head, trying hard not to laugh. “Oh, God. My daughter’s gonna have the vocabulary of a redneck trucker by the time she starts school.”

Burwell laughed at him. “For once it ain’t my fault.”

“I’ll remember this when you have kids. I’m gonna teach them naughty words and laugh at your pain.”

“You got a mean streak, Drake.”

“I’ve got to, considering how much bigger you guys are. Teague’s the only one shorter and he can still whoop me easy.”

“He could whoop all of us. Even if we jumped him all at once. You should have seen him! It scared the ever loving sh. . . . poop outta me.”

“Sh, sh!” Shelby said.

“That’s right, honey,” Drake coached. “Sh, sh—Shelby.”

“Bi! Bi!”

“I guess we should have named her something easier,” Drake said with a shrug. “She can’t seem to get Shelby, no matter what I do.”

“Grow up with a name like Burwell. Took me forever to get it right. And spell it? Shoot. I was still getting help when I was in second grade.”

“You were dropped as a child, Burwell. That confirms it.”

“If you weren’t holding that baby, I’d show you just who’s getting’ dropped on the head.” He punched Drake’s arm.

“Boys, behave!” Burwell’s mother, Betty Jean, fussed.

“Yes, ma’am!” They chorused.

Dinner with Drake’s family was always crazy. He’d forgotten just how much fun they were to be

around. Once they finished dinner, Billy’s children, who had a bluegrass band, got up on the stage and played for awhile.

Afterwards Drake was persuaded to perform a few simple magic tricks. Without his cases, he was limited, but they liked the card tricks and slights of hand that he performed.

“Now I know why I can’t win at poker when you play,” Junior grumbled. “Damn. You’re probably dealing doubles and stacking the deck.”

“No, Junior, you just suck,” Drake replied.

“SUCK!” Shelby yelled amidst much laughter.

“It’s official,” Burwell said, hopping up on stage with Drake. He raised his cousin’s arm in the air. “Daddy’s mouth has officially been rated ‘G’.”

“Can’t say her own name, but can curse.” Drake stepped off the stage. “What am I gonna do with you, Miss Shelby?”

“She-be!” She yelled, kissing him resoundingly.

“You hear that? That’s the first time she’s ever said her name! Yeah, Shelby!”

“She-be! Sit! Pzy!”

“I think I’d better get my baby home before she picks up anymore bad language from y’all. You’re a bad influence,” Drake told Burwell.

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I Love Dialogue! from Full Measure #3

books by dellani oakes 1Ralan and Daphne finally meet and are immediately attracted. So much so, they give in to their passions without thinking. Ralan realizes, too late, that being with her could compromise his case, but he finds it hard to care. He also realizes he must tell his Captain, Jeff Givens, what’s happened.

Givens and Ralan went to the Captain’s office. One of the office assistants brought in coffee and a platter of bagels, donuts and pastries. Ralan thanked her, Givens more or less ignored her, though he nodded slightly in her direction as she served him.

“So, who do you think these schmucks are?”

“No idea. I’m not even sure who all the players are, Jeff.”

“Then we need to find out asap. I can’t have my best agent looking over his shoulder.”

“I always look over my shoulder.” He sipped his coffee and took a cherry danish.

“I meant more than usual. Being paranoid’s kept you alive a long time. You sure no one followed you to Ian’s?”

“No. I watched for a tail, but that means nothing. I didn’t hide my plans, Jeff. What puzzles me is how they knew I was back.”

“Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they were breaking in for some other reason.”

“Armed for bear? Not a casual break in. They were after me. Maybe Daphne too.”

“Why would they think she was there?”

Ralan sipped his coffee, refusing to answer.

“Tell me.” Jeff Givens wasn’t a man to back away from confrontation. He dogged a bone better than anyone, including Ralan.

Not feeling like arguing, Ralan leaned forward, arms on his thighs. “I messed up.”

“Meaning you compromised our case by misconduct with the woman?”

Closing his eyes, Ralan nodded. Givens didn’t speak for a long time. Ralan could hear him breathing. He could almost hear the older man thinking.

“Ralan, did I ever tell you about the time I had a beautiful personal assistant I was protecting? Her boss was up to his ass in some crazy scheme and she made the mistake of doing her job and told him about some irregularities she’d found.”

The younger agent sat quietly. Jeff didn’t want a reply. Ralan waited.

“I was about your age, and they gave me this. My first witness protection as lead. We were stuck in a cabin deep in the woods. Just us two. Had some guys running patrols, but it was just us for over a week. We were bored and scared as hell we were gonna die. . . . I took that girl to bed. Damn near ruined my career.”

“What saved you?”

“I had a boss who’d been in the same situation and made the same mistake.” He paused, eyes on his desk. Glancing up at Ralan, he folded his hands in front of him. “Can you promise me this is the only time this will happen?”

Ralan looked away, unable to lie to his boss. “I’d love to tell you that, Jeff. I’m not sure I believe it.”

“Good, cause I wouldn’t either. If you’d given me a guarantee, I’d of pulled you off so damn fast your nuts would spin.”

“You could still do that.”

“I’m reserving that right,” Givens replied. “This goes no further.”

“Romy knows.”

“Who’s he gonna tell? Me? If I pull you off, I have to give a reason. Do you think I want to answer questions like that? Do you?”

“No, sir.”

“Damn Skippy, no. Keep it in your pants, Agent Hendrix. Get a hobby. Needlepoint is relaxing.”

“Yes, sir.” He stood, knowing he’d been dismissed. “Thank you, sir.”

“Kid, we all make mistakes. If I canned every agent who had an inconvenient itch, I wouldn’t have a team.”

© 2014 Dellani Oakes

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I Love Dialogue! from Full Measure #2

Dellani Oakes with glasses smallerDaphne Winstead is new in town. She meets a woman named Karen at the doctor’s office whose records she’s going over. The practice head thinks that someone is embezzling. It’s up to Daphne to find out who and how. For now, however, the city’s had the first major snow of the season, so the women get an unexpected day off. They decide to spend a long weekend at the home of Ian and Cynthia Yarrow—a multi-billionaire and his wife.

“Booya! Beat you at your own game, Mister Yarrow!” Frtiz’ British accent was strong, but sounded genuine.

“Someone give the man a cookie,” another male voice said. “Or he’s gonna explode from puffed up self-importance.”

Loud laughter ensued. It faded slightly when Karen and Daphne entered the room. They looked up expectantly. Some of the faces were familiar, others weren’t. The women rushed to her, hugging her and dragging her into the room. They tried to introduce her to everyone at once until Karen took control.

“Give the girl a chance to breathe! Let’s start with the host and his lovely wife. Daphne, my cousin Ian Yarrow and his wife Cynthia.”

A strikingly handsome man sat on a chaise lounge, his legs in some sort of odd braces. He smiled. “I’d get up, but I’m still getting used to this contraption. Welcome, Daphne. We’ve heard about little else from the girls. Glad to finally meet you.”

“Thanks for inviting me, Mr. Yarrow.”

Ian’s booming laugh warmed her. “Just Ian is fine. Or Yarrow. I even answer to hey you.” He took her hand. “Welcome. I’m glad to have another person to call friend. Honey?”

He deferred to the attractive redhead seated next to him. She was very pregnant, due pretty much any day, so far as Daphne could tell.

“I’m so glad to meet you. I hated that I missed the last girl’s night, but we were getting Ian’s brace adjusted.” She stood awkwardly, hugging Daphne. The baby kicked and both women laughed.

“When are you due?”

“Soon. About a month. Gillian’s due Monday.”

“Which is why they invited me,” a handsome dark haired man next to Reva said. “I’m Hal.”

“The token doctor,” Ian interjected.

“What they don’t know is I haven’t delivered a baby since my residency.”

“A hundred years ago,” the ginger haired Brit said, coughing.

“Don’t get cocky, squirt!” Hal said, laughing. “He thinks since he just won that round, he’s da bomb!”

“The British contingent is represented by Gillian and Fritz Heathrow-Cooper,” a pretty dark haired British woman said politely. “I’m Gillie and that ginger haired turnip is my husband. . . .”

“And hyphen,” he added. “Fritz Cooper. She hyphenated, I didn’t. What we’ll do when the baby is born, I don’t know. I can’t see saddling a little tyke with that sort of handle, can you?”

Daphne wasn’t sure what to say. She didn’t want to get into the middle of an argument, if such it was. “I don’t know. I never had any occasion to hyphenate.”

“Sounds positively dirty when you say it like that,” Fritz said with an enthusiastic rubbing of his hands. “Oi, love! Let’s hyphenate!” He winked at his wife, nudging her ribs.

She smacked him playfully. “Cocky bugger. As to the babe, she won’t hyphenate. Her middle name is Heathrow, her last Cooper.”

“Really? When did you decide that?”

“Just now.” She looked self-satisfied.

“They’re a crazy bunch,” Karen explained. “But fun. Last, but not least, my spouse, Luc Vaughan. Honey, this is Daphne.”

“The one you’re trying to hook up with Ralan? Aw, hon, she’s too good for him.” He kissed his wife soundly. “Kidding. He’s a great guy. Nice to meet you, Daphne. What would you like to drink?”

“What are my choices?”

Gillian replied, pointing to a variety of insulated carafes. “We’ve got tea, Earl Grey. Hot chocolate, coffee and hot cider.”

“Wow, so many choices! Cider sounds fantastic.”

“Excellent choice. My idea,” Ian answered. “See, someone besides me likes it, Fritz.”

“Insane, she is. Has to be. So, you’re dating Ralan?”

“No! What? I haven’t even met him.”

“Good,” Derrick said as he walked in. “That means there’s a chance for me to sweet talk you first.”

The room exploded in laughter. They weren’t laughing at Derrick, more at what he’d said. Daphne looked carefully at the pilot for the first time. He was tall, broad shouldered, blond and handsome. Every man in the room was gorgeous. How could there be so many good looking men in the world and she couldn’t seem to find even one? Her two boyfriends in college were nowhere near this handsome. She said as much to the room full of people.

“That’s a good question, that is,” Fritz said. “Let’s ponder it, shall we?”

“Ponder this,” Derrick said, grabbing his groin.

“I had hoped,” Cynthia said amidst loud, male laughter. “That we could go the weekend without that kind of humor.”

“With this lot?” Gillian said. “It’s amazing that none of them have dropped their pants and flashed us.”

“Give us time,” Ian countered. “The day is young and I’m sober.”

“I’ve seen your tukas,” Gillian replied in a bored tone. “Magnificent,” she whispered loudly to Daphne. “Really posh. Nothing quite so remarkable as a billionaire’s arse.”

Her husband pinched her ribs, laughing. “I’ll remember that, my girl, when you want to grab mine.”

“Yours is very nice too, sweetheart,” she said in a singsong voice.

“Are you always like this?” Daphne asked, somewhat taken aback.

“Sometimes we’re naughty,” Derrick replied, grinning as he poured himself some cider.

“I love it! You’re just like my family.”

© 2014 Dellani Oakes

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The Chosen One or the Reluctant Hero

Dellani Oakes with glasses smallerI recently read an article about clichés authors shouldn’t use. It was a well written, well thought out article. For the most part, I agreed. There was one point I’d like to refute. The author of the article stated that fantasy & science fiction authors need to dispense with “The Chosen One” hero—someone destined to lead, kill the bad guy and save the world.

Here’s the thing: Nobody wants to read about the Nobody. We want the heroism, the special skills, the destiny factor. That’s part of what makes a hero heroic. No one wants to read about an insignificant peasant, unless the peasant steps up to greatness.

Where would Lord of the Rings be without Frodo? Where would the Hobbitt be without Bilbo? Where would the Narnia series be without the Pevensie children? I’ll tell you—at the bottom of a drawer, gathering dust, ignored for all time. The Hunger Games and Harry Potter books would meet the same end. Nobody wants to read about the Nobody.

That’s not to say that the hero must be perfect or of epic proportions. Even the famous heroes of yore, Hercules, Jason and Achilles, were flawed. Deeply, dare I say, Epically, flawed. Yes, they did great things, but their mistakes were equally as outstanding as their successes.

Books without a Chosen One hero aren’t likely to do well. Readers want and need someone to believe in, someone destined to lead, someone born to succeed. The problem here is not the cliché itself, but the way it is often handled. If the hero is too damaged, or reluctant, too afraid to step up, the story drags. Readers get angry with him. Some will stop reading.

I’m put in mind of the Thomas Covenant series. Here was a man who was horrendously flawed, his body ruined by disease, his life in tatters. But guess what? He’s the Chosen One! Who, less than five minutes after he arrives in the new land, rapes a girl simply because she’s there and he has to prove to himself he’s strong once more. I stayed angry with him through the entire book for that. I read several of the books in the series, because they were somewhat engaging, but his personality constantly grated. I finally gave up on them. I don’t mind a flawed character, but I don’t like a hero who’s only marginally better than the villain.

Readers don’t want fairytale princes either. Too perfect is as bad as too flawed. No one is perfect. We all have character flaws. Mr. Wonderful has to be Mr. Horrible at some point or again, readers lose interest. Make him interesting and realistic, not some two dimensional man of film.

The Chosen One, the person who, through no fault of his own, has been handed a job so daunting, no one would want it. He doesn’t want to believe he is the Chosen One, because no one in his right mind wants to do that job! He balks, he fights it, but eventually, he does what needs doing. Perhaps the belief in a higher being who has ordered this, grates with some readers. Perhaps it is because this seems to take away the concept of free will? That, I’m not sure of.

Quite often, the Chosen One reaches a decision making stage. They can fight and fulfill their destiny, or they can give up. Usually, they step up and do what needs to be done because they are Frodo, or Bilbo or Peter the High King or Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter. They choose to move forward and fight evil, not because it’s foretold, but because the alternative isn’t even an option for them.

As John McClain says in Live Free or Die Hard: “That’s what makes you that guy.”

Hooray for the reluctant hero!

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I Love Dialogue! From Full Measure

books by dellani oakes 1I’ve been having fun sharing these excerpts on my Writer’s Sanctuary blog, but I have so many, I decided to branch out. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Daphne Winstead is a young, struggling accountant who specializes in forensic accounting. When she’s hired to track and catch an embezzler at a local mental health facility, she jumps at the chance, little knowing that’s she’s stumbled into something far bigger than she anticipated. Not only has she made several people in the office hate her, she’s apparently being followed.

Daphne didn’t see it follow her to the Super WalMart a few blocks from her home. She’d decided as soon as she walked outside, she needed some warmer clothing. What she had was good for cold in Mississippi. For this far north, not far from the Canadian border, it wasn’t sufficient. She didn’t have a lot to spend, but could afford a few things. Most important was a heavy coat and a pair of boots. Snow was forecast for the coming week.

After selecting her clothing, she did her grocery shopping. She was low on milk and coffee, among other things. She picked up a deli fried chicken meal for her dinner. Walking out of the store, she searched for her car, having gotten turned around in the store. She spotted it across the lot from where she stood. She’d come out a different door from the one she came in. Taking a deep breath, she struck out for her vehicle, shivering in the gathering chill. Moisture touched her face and she glanced up at the sky as she passed a dark SUV. It sat in a parking space with the motor running.

“Snow? Really?” Daphne sighed.

The windows of the SUV were tinted, but she suspected someone was inside. Paying it no mind, she loaded her groceries and put the cart in the nearby rack. Carefully, she headed home. Not used to driving in this type of weather, she was unsure of herself. Karen had grown up here, maybe she could give her some tips.

At her apartment building, Daphne carried her groceries to her apartment and unloaded them quickly. Her chicken went in the oven to crisp, the rest in the microwave. She poured herself a glass of wine and settled in the living room with her food.

Outside, the SUV sat idling in her parking lot. A large black man sat in the driver’s seat. Beside him sat the man in black leather. Dark, brooding eyes gazed up at Daphne’s window. He couldn’t see in, but that didn’t stop him from seeing her. Right now, she was probably curled up on her couch watching TV. He wasn’t sure how he knew that, but somehow it made sense.

“We gonna sit here all night?” The black man asked him.

The other man didn’t answer right away. Instead, he twirled his finger. The driver put the car in gear and pulled out of the parking lot into the gloomy storm.

“What’s this girl done? She looks totally harmless, man.”

“Nothing.”

“Then why we spending our time watching her?”

The dark haired man shrugged, shaking his head. Pinching his lower lip, he gazed out the window at the thickening snow flurries.

“Well, I need a drink, dammit,” the black man said. “I’m freezing ass.”

“You’re wearing a heavy coat, the seat’s heated and the heat’s on high,” a man in the back seat said, his British accent strong.

“Shut up, man. I’m from Florida. This is fucking cold!”

The Brit and the dark haired man chuckled. “Pussy,” they said in chorus.

The rest of the trip took place in silence. The SUV turned in at Kelley’s parking lot.

“You two go in without me. I have to make a call. Get me a coffee,” he said as they got out.

“American or Irish?” The Brit asked.

“You seriously have to ask that question, what kind of spy are you?”

Laughing, the men walked off. The dark haired man made his call and joined them a short time later.

“Feeling better?” The Brit asked.

The dark haired man shrugged as his coffee was served. Thanking the waitress with a smile, he sipped it. Hot, creamy and enough whisky to stop a horse. Closing his eyes, he let the hot, stinging beverage trickle down his throat.

“You gonna tell us what this is about?” The Brit asked calmly, sipping his scotch.

“I told you. Nothing. Don’t worry your pretty head about it, baby,” he said as if he were talking to a particularly obtuse woman.

The British man punched him in the shoulder.

“Hey! You nearly spilled my coffee!”

“Oh, precious, you’ll manage,” the British man said, batting his eyelashes.

“Y’all are a couple fruits,” the black man said sourly. “Act like girls. You two gay for each other?”

“Because you’re new to the team and don’t know us,” the British man replied quietly. “I’ll let that slide—this time. Say it again, and pieces of you will go missing.”

“You ain’t right,” the driver said. “Neither of you.”

“You don’t like it, go back to Miami,” the dark haired man said.

“St. Pete,” the black man corrected. “I can’t go back. Too damn hot.”

“Temperature?” The man in leather asked.

“Cops. One too many bodies disappeared in Alligator Ally. Got suspicious.” He shrugged.

The two white men exchanged a meaningful look. Nodding, they took a sip of their drinks in unison. The black man watched, shaking his head.

“Nope, y’all ain’t right.”

© 2014 Dellani Oakes

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Kitchen Disasters

This is something I wrote for Fun in Writing Group May 28, 2014

Dellani Oakes with glasses smallerAnyone who has ever set foot in a kitchen knows what potential disasters lie therein. Whether it’s from mis-measured ingredients, substitutions that didn’t quite make the grade, or an obstinate, uncooperative oven, disasters happen. I’ve had a lot over the years, but a few stand out in my mind.

One of my early disasters included my sister. It was our parents’ anniversary and we wanted to fix them breakfast and take it to them in bed. I’m not sure whose idea this was. I was only 7 and my sister was 9. Our kitchen skills were minimal. We had no idea how to fix coffee or pancakes or even scramble and egg. We decided upon toast and fresh squeezed juice.

Unfortunately – no fruit to squeeze, so we fixed ice water. That decided upon, we embarked on toast.

Our toaster was an old fashioned kind. It didn’t have a press down button or a timer. It was triangular with slotted doors on each side. It had one temperature setting—ON. To operate, you opened the door with the little knob on top, slid a piece of bread into the slot, shut the door and waited until it browned. How long you left it depended on how brown you wanted it. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop automatically.

You can imagine the disaster potential this presented for two industrious, and somewhat oblivious, children. We forgot about the toast until it was flaming. I’m not talking smoking a little, this was full on flames! They shot up, igniting a picture of a rooster I’d made with colored macaroni. It burned beautifully, blackening the wall and the calendar.

Our screams woke our parents. Our father ran to the kitchen, yanked the flaming picture from the wall and threw it in the sink. Our mother unplugged the toaster and carried it outside, depositing the bread cinders in the backyard.

I know they wanted to yell, but once they found out we’d been trying to fix them breakfast, the stopped. We were forbidden to use any kitchen implements without adult supervision—especially the toaster!

Many years later, as an adult, I wanted to bake my mother a special birthday cake. It was her seventieth birthday and wanted something more than a box cake. I had a wonderful recipe I wanted to try, so I set about gathering ingredients and mixing it up. I popped it in the oven. It smelled fabulous. I made the frosting and put it in the refrigerator, waiting for the beautiful cake to bake.

It was perfection! I poked a cake tester in a few inches. It came out clean, so I let the cake cool a little and inverted it on a plate. To my amazement, it slid out just right, not sticking to the pan. The bottom touched the plate and I heard a SLUUUURP PLOP! The inside was RAW! It got all over the table and floor before I realized what was happening. Although the outer crust was baked, the core was still liquid.

Upset, but determined, I cleaned it up and started over. I’m sure you can guess what happened. By the time the second cake came out, I was hysterical, but stubborn. I was ready to make a third attempt, but my husband put his foot down. He went to the cupboard and pulled out a box mix and handed it to me.

No more! You’re making yourself crazy! Your mother will appreciate the effort. It doesn’t have to be a from-scratch cake.”

I wanted to argue, but I knew he was right. He helped me clean up the second disaster, which was nearly as bad as the first, and I made the boxed cake. Damn thing came out perfectly!

To this day, I don’t know where I went wrong with the other cake. Maybe it was a bad recipe. Maybe it was a fluke of my less than stellar oven. All I know is that, wonderful or not, I’ve never made it again. Nearly all my cakes are from boxes and I haven’t had any trouble with them.

My husband, wonderful man that he is, reminds me from time to time that I haven’t had a major kitchen disaster in years. I tell him that’s because I’ve got mad kitchen skills now.

Nope,” he tells me with annoying confidence. “That’s because you’re good enough to skirt the every day ones. That means when you have one, you’ll probably burn the house down.”

© Dellani Oakes

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Shakazhan Outtakes Part 3 by Dellani Oakes

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00022]We all like outtakes. Admit it, sometimes that’s your favorite part of a movie. Authors also have outtakes. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing outtakes from my novel, Shakazhan. This is a continuation of the same section I’ve been sharing. You can imagine, if I’ve got 3 posts from it, it must be long. That’s one reason I cut it. Though it was fun from my point of view, exploring my characters, it didn’t move the plot along. I could imagine people flipping the pages saying, “Is it ever going to stop?”

Before reading, in case you haven’t read Shakazhan yet, there are several sentient ships. I don’t mean just cognizant, I mean fully aware beings who cater to their crews by creating whatever they need. Want a bigger bed? The ship will provide it. Thirsty? What’s your favorite beverage? Need privacy? The ship will create a private room that only you can find. They are characters just as much as the humans and aliens are. Their names are Anvil, Hammer – her mate and Styx, their daughter.

The Kindred are another alien species who are highly advanced technologically and telepathically. This scene takes place on board one of the alien ships. Ariella and Caprilla are Fellician warriors commonly called The Cats.

Matilda found Wil a little later, he was talking to Caprilla about the match between them earlier.

“You move like a water buffalo with a limp.” Cap shook his head. “You must learn grace, the muscles must flow like water over pebbles. Yours is water, yes, but over rocks, big fat ones.” Shaking his head, he clucked his tongue.

“Yeah, Cap. I should move like you. You’re so big, your idea of quiet isn’t to set off an avalanche when you walk. I’ll bet you anything I can move faster and quieter than you any day of the week.”

“Put your money up, Old Man. I’ll accept that wager. In fact, although it is being overly generous of me, I’ll give myself a handicap. I’ll allow you to remove those big, hulking boots you wear.”

Wil laughed loudly. Cap was quite drunk and he knew it. However, even drunk, the big cat could move more silently than most humans.

“It wouldn’t be a fair contest, Cap, you’re drunk.”

“I’ll remedy that immediately, Lone Wolf. One moment.” He ordered an Everafter, an all purpose detoxifying treatment, which Hammer supplied directly to his hand. One nice thing about a sentient ship, there was no need for food synthesizers. Cap drank it down, making a face, shuddered and stood erect.

“I’m ready now, puny human. Where shall this contest take place?”

“How about here, Cap? In front of all our friends?”

“Hmph, how shall we be judged? They will make too much noise.”

“Let Hammer monitor us, I feel sure he can.” He was given an affirmative in the form of blinking lights. “See? Hammer will keep track of us. Is that fair?”

“It is the best I can expect, I suppose. I accept. Very well, what do you propose we do for our contest?”

“How about a full series of the drills with the weapons? Each of us does the sword, staff and Banderatta?”

Caprilla bowed deeply. “That is acceptable, Friend Wil. I’ll allow you to go first.”

“I insist, Cap, you go first.” Bowing deeply, he backed from the stage. The crew members grew as quiet as they could.

Caprilla took the center of the stage, standing in his ready position. Hammer indicated he was monitoring and Caprilla began. His movements were indeed like water over pebbles. Not even his breathing made noise above the sound of a moth’s flight. He began slowly with his kata, gradually gaining speed. He was so fast, he was a blur of blue black fur and dark red clothing. His weapons spun and glittered in the light like propellers.

He struck his final pose, bowed deeply to Wil once again and descended from the stage to tumultuous applause. Wil tried not to look cocky as he stepped to the center of the stage. He had stripped to the waist and removed his boots. He moved slowly into position, standing still for a heartbeat before beginning.

He too, started slowly, but his speed increased by the second. If Caprilla had been a blur of two colors, Wil’s colors blended into one. He was nearly impossible to see. The only sound he made was the whir of his weapons in the air. Not Marc and Caprilla, nor even Matilda, could mark his speed and progress, he moved so fast and silent.

His drill was over in seconds, and he stopped in the ready position before bowing deeply to Caprilla and the rest of the crew. There was an awed silence. No one said anything, no one could even move. It wasn’t until Wil stepped off the stage that the applause and cheering began. The noise was deafening!

Hammer flashed his lights, indicating he wished to make an announcement.

“After careful deliberation, it is my decision that the human, Wilhelm VanLipsig, performed his drill 10.23890572 seconds faster than the Fellician Caprilla Mayeese. Further, it is my finding, Human VanLipsig also was 9.856% quieter than aforementioned Fellician Mayeese.”

Caprilla looked stunned, but took the loss in stride. He could tell by looking at Wil perform that he had been faster and quieter than he. Cap wasn’t displeased, in fact he was proud of his old friend for besting him a second time in the evening. When the competition was friendly and no one’s life was held in the balance, Cap was completely willing to accept defeat.

He came forward, greeting Wil as he stepped off the stage. Bowing deeply, he stood quietly for a moment before speaking. “What shall I give you for your win, Friend Wil?”

Wil clapped Caprilla smartly on the shoulder, reaching up a couple of feet to accomplish it.

“Cap, I already have the most important thing you can give me. You’re my friend and ally. No man could ask for more.”

Caprilla roared loudly. “That is well said, Wilhelm, very well said! you’re quite astute for a mere puny human.”

Shortly after, the party broke up and the two crews headed to their quarters on either ship.

As they made ready for bed, Matilda looked at Wil, as if seeing him for the first time. “I had no idea you could move like that, Wil. That was incredible.”

“You know the crazy thing about that, baby? I don’t even think that was as fast as I can move. I felt like I was holding something in reserve.” He shrugged casually.

She laughed lightly. “Well promise me something, you won’t ever move that fast with me. I think maybe you’d light a fire.”

He chuckled, taking her in his arms. “Matilda, you always light a fire in me.” His kiss was heartfelt and warm, loving and compelling. “I promise I’ll always take my time with you.”

© Dellani Oakes 2014

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