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Just This Once

JUST THIS ONCE
By Walter Lutsch

INSPECTOR
This is Inspector Lee McCauliff, investigating the incident that took place in the present time of October 8th, past time of June 23rd 2014. This is subject interview... 3, could you please state your full name and position for the record?

KAYLIN
My name is Kaylin Pierce, I am the Risk Assessment Manager for the Seattle branch of Time Treks International.

INSPECTOR
And could you repeat for the record your history with Time Treks and your position’s responsibilities.

KAYLIN
Well, I’ve been with Time Treks for the last six years, I began as a Trek Host when I was 17 and then was promoted to Shift Leader, Manager and finally to Risk
Assessment Manager. My position oversees the development of new group
Treks, as well as custom experiences and assesses their potential liability before any approval is made to begin work on a project.

INSPECTOR
And in your estimation, the custom experience labeled "Project 6121" was free of risk to participants and the company?

KAYLIN
No, we didn’t say it was free of risk, in fact—

INSPECTOR
Let me rephrase. You and your project team approved the construction of Project 6121 after the customary review period, is that correct?

KAYLIN
Yes.

INSPECTOR
Thank you. Now, for context, please explain how this custom experience was intended to run.

KAYLIN
Well, the customer approached us with a desire to see her best friend. That friend had died of cancer four years ago, and our client wanted to see her again. She suggested a date, June 23rd, 2014, and we explained the process by which we would review her request and approve or reject the concept. So, we started our research--
INSPECTOR
We’ll get to the review process later, for now could you please just take us through the way the experience was supposed to run.

KAYLIN
Of course. Our client would, using a simulation chair, control a drone who would enter a park in which the target spent about an hour on that particular day. Our client would sit on a bench opposite and observe her friend for the duration of the experience, until the
target left the park. At which time we would transfer control of the drone and maneuver it out of sight for transport.

INSPECTOR
Could you detail the safety precautions that Time Treks uses for these kinds of experiences?

KAYLIN
Well... to begin with, no one ever actually goes back in time, with the rare exception of one of our technicians. This is mandated by law. Our drones are transported instead and controlled remotely by the client.

INSPECTOR
And the drones have specific directives that prevent a client from doing certain things?

KAYLIN
Exactly. The drones are programmed with their target prior to the experience, and cannot approach within ten feet of that person. They have no speech capabilities, so a client cannot interact with the target. And even if they tried, our technicians can take control of the drone at any time.

INSPECTOR
And yet, in this instance, the client did indeed manage
to interact with the target.

KAYLIN
Yes. In a way.

INSPECTOR
So let’s get into it. You were in the control room during this experience. Is it common for the Risk Assessment Manager to be present?

KAYLIN
Sometimes. A member of the Risk Assessment team is always present for the execution of a project they approved. It can be anyone on the team, and in this case I was interested in overseeing the experience.

INSPECTOR
Could you please describe what happened in detail?

KAYLIN
Where would you like me to start?

INSPECTOR
Begin when the client took control of the drone.

KAYLIN
Alright. Well, this client had been on previous Treks, group ones, before now, so she had no trouble with the drone calibration; which we always do away from people.
So, she took control of the drone on an empty side street, performed all the calibration tests and walked toward the park, just as planned.

INSPECTOR
And I’m told that this particular drone was costumed as an older, blind gentleman.

KAYLIN
Yes. We picked that costume to allow the client to stare at the target without arousing suspicion or paranoia. Many of our costumes that involve close proximity to a target are depicted as blind or in some other way have the movement of their eyes obscured.

INSPECTOR
Please continue with what happened.

KAYLIN
Well, the client followed the plan for a full half hour. She took the drone into the park, made a circuit of the walkway and then sat at the bench across from the target.

INSPECTOR
And the technicians began to relax.

KAYLIN
Well, yes. In the very few times anyone has tried to do something contrary to the Project Plan with a drone, it’s usually been early on. Not to mention that, with
the safeguards in place, we didn’t think there was anything our client could do that would affect the target. At least, not without us catching on to it and preventing it before she could go through with it. If you want to write a message in the sand, we’re going to know you’re doing it and take control of the drone before you’ve finished your first letter.

INSPECTOR
Please describe what happened next.

KAYLIN
Well, the location the client had picked is a park in Kirkland, on the waterfront. Even today, in addition to the lawn spaces, it has a pier for boating. The client had asked to walk along the pier as the drone left the area, explaining that it was a special place for her. We didn’t think anything of it, and it was part of the plan.

INSPECTOR
At 4:25 local time, the client directed the drone to kick the tie-off post at full strength, rupturing the artificial skin and damaging the metal casing. A split second before your technicians assumed control, she directed it to walk off the pier.

KAYLIN
Yes. The leg was damaged both by the impact and by the water, as the casing had been fractured. We were able to get the drone heading back to shore, but progress was slow and it looked ungainly due to the damaged limb. This attracted the attention of the target, who immediately made the decision to leap in after the drone.

INSPECTOR
According to the file, you knew that the target had been a lifeguard for four years prior to approving the project.

KAYLIN
That’s true, but it wasn’t like we knew what the client was going to do! Even with the pier thrown in, we had no idea that she’d put everything together the way she did!

INSPECTOR
I’m just setting down the facts. The target jumped in the water and helped the drone swim back to shore.

KAYLIN
Yes. We had to override the speech lockout and make up something on the fly to explain the drone’s behavior.

INSPECTOR
So the drones do have speech capabilities.

KAYLIN
Well yes, but not as part of the user’s experience. There’s no microphone in the simulation chair, no button on the UI that says talk. We use it in emergencies when someone in the past time addresses a drone.

INSPECTOR
Understood. The target and the drone make it to shore. How did this end up altering the timeline in the way that it did?

KAYLIN
Well... that’s the, frankly, brilliant thing about her plan. She knew that we wouldn’t have allowed her anywhere near the client’s diagnosis of her cancer or her death. She also knew that she couldn’t communicate with the target. But when the drone and the target made it to shore, paramedics were waiting to check everyone out. And it turns out that that date, June 23rd, 2014, was the perfect time for a routine checkup to catch the
target’s cancer. In the original time line, the target didn’t go in for a check up for another year, by which time it was too late. But thanks to the incident at the park, the medics advise her to see her doctor the next day. The cancer is caught in time, and after chemotherapy, the cancer was eliminated.

INSPECTOR
And that brings us to the crux of the situation. This building, as well as most government buildings and specifically the agency I work for, are all shielded from changes in the timeline in the event that something like this should happen.

KAYLIN
Well yes, although there’s been research to suggest
that the shielding doesn’t last for more than a few
days.

INSPECTOR
Indeed. Everyone in this building, everyone in every governmental building, can access their secure records and see that Sara Cooke of Everett Washington died on September 15th 2019. But right now, today, Sara Cooke is alive and the general public doesn’t know that she shouldn’t be. Moreover, she is at this very moment waiting in the lobby of this building to collect her friend, your client who is being held on charges of interference with the timeline.
...
Do you understand what this means?

KAYLIN
I know that someone has to decide what to tell the public. By rights my client should be arrested and thrown in jail. But a temporal crime has never actually gone this far before. And what do we tell her friend? "Sorry, you’re supposed to be dead, and your best friend will serve out a life sentence for having changed that?"

INSPECTOR
Are you suggesting that your client be set free? She’s broken nearly a dozen laws and changed the timeline for everyone not in a shielded building.

KAYLIN
True, but our records indicate that nothing large has changed in the timeline. Sara Cooke is alive, and that’s mostly the only difference. And since it’s recent, there aren’t children or other ancestors to affect. Not to mention that once my client leaves this building, she’ll have no idea of what she’s done or that her friend was ever dead. In a certain sense, it will be like the crime never happened.

INSPECTOR
But a crime has been committed.

KAYLIN
I know. And maybe this will result in more stringent oversight of Time Treks and governmental regulations regarding time travel. But if the research about our shielding is correct, we won’t even remember the crime in another day or two. All that will be left to mark the change is what we choose to put in our secure files.

INSPECTOR
You’re suggesting we don’t put anything in the files. That we allow this event to be erased from everyone’s memory?

KAYLIN
... Yes. Or maybe just that an event occurred that forces Time Treks to tighten up our policies, preventing something like this happening again. I’m not arguing that we ignore this, or that it become commonplace but... I’ve watched dozens of grieving family members take a trip back in time just to see their parent or grandparent or sibling one more time. And every single one of them has to wonder if they could use that opportunity to extend their loved one’s life for even a single day longer.
Just this once... in this supremely rare circumstance, when nothing except this woman’s life is at stake, I’d like the answer to be yes.

The End

Leave Your Message

VOICEMAIL: To listen to your messages, please press 1.

SFX: Touchtone

SFX: Voicemail beep

HANK: Hey Em, it’s Hank. I know it’s still a ways off, but we were talking about doing a surprise party for SARA’s
birthday and I think I’ve got the perfect plan! Listen
to this: we ask her boss to call her on a day she’s not
working and get her to drive out to a field to meet, I
dunno, a supplier or something. Maybe a clay vendor or
whatever. Anyway, and she’s like, waiting out there, and we come skydiving down with like a big "Happy Birthday" sign! Although, I dunno if they’ll let you carry a sign while you’re falling through the air. Maybe we could drop confetti or something! She’s just waiting, and out of nowhere confetti is raining down, and she looks up and see’s us yelling Happy Birthday! Then we could go out to Applebee’s or something. Let me know what you think! Bye!

SFX: Voicemail beep

WILLIAM CRANE: Hello Miss Satillia. This is William Crane from MaClay Trading. We’re very pleased to say that you impressed us very much in your interview, and we’d like to offer you the position of IT Supervisor. I’ve gone ahead and sent our offer letter along with details on the pre-employment physical, confidentiality agreement and background check we’d need should you accept the position. Congratulations and I hope to hear back from you soon; it would be a pleasure to work with you!
Thank you, bye.

SFX: Voicemail beep

GRANT: Hey you! Just wanted to call and say how proud I am of you! We didn’t have time to talk much, but I’m so happy you got this job offer. Working at the coffee shop just
drains you every day, and I know you want to be doing more than filling drink orders every day. Also, I accidentally let slip to SARA about it when I came in today, she’ll probably call you. I didn’t think you were going to make it a surprise or anything, but if
you were I’m sorry. I’ll be up at my mom’s tonight, but I’ll send you a text when I’m heading back into the city. Love you, bye.

SFX: Voicemail beep

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SFX: Voicemail beep

SARA: Emily! I heard from GRANT that you were offered the position at MaClay! I hope I didn’t ruin you telling me about it, but he just about shouted it to the store
when he came into work today! Congratulations! We have got to get a drink to celebrate, tonight! Call me back as soon as you’re off today! ... And hey, you and HANK aren’t planning something for my birthday are you? Cuz you know I’ll find out, whatever it is! Anyway, call me, bye.

SFX: Voicemail beep

GIRL: (far away)...really not my interest at all.
MIKE: (far away) And that’s okay, in fact...

SFX: Rustling of microphone, as phone is in
pocket.

MIKE: (far away) Oh, I pocket dialed somebody, Emily Satillia, wow. Uh (brings phone closer to speak into it) Hey Emily! It’s Mike, I accidentally pocket dialed you! Sorry about that! But, since I did, we should catch up sometime. I haven’t seen you since we graduated and it’d be nice to know what’s up with you! Give me a call and we’ll grab coffee or something! Bye!

SFX: Voicemail beep

KAYLA: Hey Emily, it’s Kayla. ... It’s been awhile. I saw on Facebook you got a new job. I’m happy for you. ... Things aren’t going so great back at home. Dad’s unemployment finally ran out, so I moved back in with him to help share the rent. I know you’re out there, living your life and all, but... we could really use some help, Em. And even if you can’t, Dad’d love to see you. Give him a call, maybe meet him for lunch or
something. ... It was better when Mom kept the family together. Anyway, congratulations, hope it all works out great, talk to you later.

SFX: Voicemail beep

LIBRARY AUTOMATED SYSTEM: Hello. This is a message from your Tooley County
Library System for ... Emily... Sattillia... You have ... two... holds available at the ... Downtown... branch. Please pick them up at your convenience. Thank you.

SFX: Voicemail beep

DR. LEAMAN: Hello Miss Satillia, this is Dr. Leaman calling from Thompkins General. The results have come back from your pre-employment physical examination. Please give me a call back as soon as you can. My extension at the hospital is 6462. (small pause) If you need, you can call my cell at area code 485, 427 3699.
SFX: Voicemail beep

HANK: Hey Em, it’s Hank. You were right, the skydiving thing wouldn’t work. I mean, I’m afraid of heights! It’s a terrible idea. But I’ve got a better one. SARA’s favorite animal is giraffes, right? So we rent one, and we walk it past her office window! Wouldn’t that be awesome! She’s sitting at work and BAM! There’s a giraffe walking past her window! She’s only on the second floor right? So the giraffe is tall enough. Let me know what you think. Bye bye!

SFX: Voicemail beep

WILLIAM CRANE: Hello Miss Satillia. This is William Crane from MaClay Trading. I got your message about investing. I’m glad to see that you’re so interested in our business, and it’s wonderful that you’re thinking ahead about your finances. I can certainly open some investments in your family’s name if you would like; although our employee interest rates are a bit better than the general customer’s. You might want to just wait the few days until you’re a full employee... although, I suppose we can always transfer your investments once you officially start. Yes, that’ll work just as well. I’ll get started on a spec portfolio for you, and you can call me back or set up a meeting at the office at your convenience. Bye now.

SFX: Voicemail beep

NURSE: Hello Miss Sattillia, this is Nurse Vaughn at Thompkins General, I know this is a difficult time for you, but you missed your follow up appointment today. I can’t stress how important it is to get you started on treatments as soon as possible. Please call me back any time, the extension here is 7444.

SFX: Voicemail beep

SARA: Hey ya goof! It’s Sara, what’s with the birthday present? It’s a whole ’nother month away! I swear, if this is you and HANK putting some kind of like... time
delay confetti bomb or something on my doorstep... I’m gonna put this box in a closet until it’s my actual birthday. But call me Em, you gotta let me know if we’re on for that movie tomorrow night!

SFX: Voicemail beep

OFFICER BROOKS: Hello, this is a message for Emily Satillia. This is Officer Brooks calling from the 16th Street Precinct. Your vehicle, license plate number 037 dash WGE was found parked along the Rozhenko River bridge. That area is a strict no parking zone, and your vehicle has been towed to the police impound lot at 22023 Meridian. You
can collect your vehicle there, after paying the illegal parking ticket and tow charge. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at the station at 959 076 4391. Thank you.

SFX: Voicemail beep

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SFX: Voicemail beep

ARTHUR: Hey honey, it’s your dad. I’m here at Cafe Spark, it’s about... 4:45. I was really excited that you wanted to have lunch, so I’m just checking in to see where you
are. If... listen if you don’t want to come that’s ok. I understand, but you just give me a call to let me know you’re ok, alright honey? I love you. Bye.

SFX: Voicemail beep

GRANT: Emily! I haven’t from you in a few days and ... well with that unidentified body in the river, I... I need to hear from you. Please call me, tell you’re ok. I... I love you... Bye.

SFX: Voicemail beep

HANK: Em! I’ve got it! You’re gonna love this...

The End

Tags:

Apprentice

“Being a sketch artist is one of that jobs that everyone thinks is super easy, but isn’t. Then, I’d bet you already knew that.”
“Yes sir.”
“Just call me Anthony. Now listen up and don’t talk too much. I’m here to show you the ropes, but I’m not gonna waste my time repeating everything to you if you’re taking notes or whatever. Now… see that man over there getting his statement taken? We’re going to sketch him.”
To his credit the rookie fixes his eyes on the witness. He knows there aren’t many opportunities to see the face of somebody from afar, unless you’re able to move around and position yourself. So he’s watching like a hawk right from the get-go.
“So we’ve got tall. What does that mean for the face?”
“I’m… not sure.”
“Taller generally means a longer, thinner face. Higher cheekbones. So you see, you have to take the whole body into account. Without taking things like height and weight into account, the most accurate sketch in the world is gonna look a little off and you’ll think you’ve made mistakes.”
“Okay.”
“Now. Tall, Hispanic. Under precinct lights, expect him to look darker than he is. I would say… half Mexican, half European. Lucky son of a bitch has that natural tan, so I’d put money on his… mother being Southern European.”
“How did you know it was his mother?”
I laugh. I like this kid. He’s curious, which is good for a sketch artist. You want more detail than people are just gonna give you up front.
“Don’t worry, that’s all hunch. Nothing scientific about it. Quick, he’s turned to face us, get those details down.”
He scribbles, quick terse notes. Good job too, the man at the counter turns around after just a few seconds.
“Brown, wavy hair.” The rookie says.
“Good, but you can do better. See the sheen on top? It’s greased. But there’s no visible sheen on the sides. With the angle we’re looking at, it doesn’t shine because it’s too short. So things like the lighting and even his hair gel can help reveal that…”
“Right, it’s a buzz cut. I couldn’t tell from this distance.”
“You can if you take in all the details. Now let’s get into specifics. High, prominent cheekbones cuz he’s tall. What color eyes did you put down when he turned?”
“Brown.” He’s confident in his answer.
“Lucky you. Statistically of course, you’ve got the best odds on brown. But what made you avoid say, gray?”
“When he leaned over the desk earlier, the lamp brightened his face for a second. That close to the light, they looked black for a second, which probably means brown under natural lighting.”
“You’re learning. Start your sketch.”
I lean back in my chair, regret it just as fast. Stupid department chairs have thick wooden backs that only come up to my shoulder blades. But hey, I’m getting to like this kid. He’s a natural. And did you notice, he got more confident and more accurate as he settled in. Now I just have to hope he doesn’t get transferred, shot, or fail to get with the program. That’s the worst. Somebody with promise, and they get all idealistic on me.
“That’s a thin nose. What’s that hook say to you?”
“Could be natural, but I think he had his nose broken early.”
I nod and crack a smile.
“The Chief said you’d just gotten out of the academy, but you have to have had some experience somewhere. There’s no way you’re this good with just old Hawkins as a teacher.”
“I spent most of college wanting to be a portrait painter.”
“That figures. You’re good with light. What made you switch? This ain’t exactly a painter’s salary, plus you’ve got duty shifts.”
He looks up at me, first time since he started the sketch.
“Personal reasons.” Back down.
 

Snake Strike

Paul and I had been good friends for a long time.
That should have tipped me off that it wouldn't stay that way. I never had friends for long. Never really will.
We were shooting pool Friday, like usual.
"Nice shot."
"Thanks."
Paul has that way of standing there, trying to look normal, but every muscle in his body is screaming at you "I'm nervous! I need to say something!"
"Spit it out Paul." He hates it when I do that, just out his nervousness like that.
"Frank... " I scratch, and it's his turn, gives him a chance to collect his thoughts as he angles for his shot. "I want to ease off on Saul."
I smile a bit to myself when he misses the shot. Should have seen this coming.
"Paul. We've done this literally a thousand times. What's different all of a sudden?"
He looks at me. He see's it coming. He knows nothing's gonna change. But we're like cats. Gotta turn around six times and scratch the floor a bit before laying down.
"You know what's different. We've never hurt anybody before."
"That's cuz nobody's ever hurt us before, Paul. This was always what was going to happen if somebody decided to get violent." I make two more easy. I've had this kind of conversation in my head so many times, I can just focus on the game.
"Well that was never the plan for me. And I didn't think it was yours either."
Now we've got the crux of it. It's not really about the violence. That's just the catalyst. He thinks I've lied to him, betrayed a trust that was never there. I reach across the table, my arm stretched all the way out to make that eight ball. A quick, sudden strike. Triple rebound into the corner.
"Paul." I set down my stick. "You never asked. And I never made any promises to you that this wasn't where it would go if somebody decided to fight. If this was gonna bug you so much, you should have made sure you knew where the line was, before we got into it."
"I thought I knew!" He shouts, throwing his stick down.
And that's it. For me, it's simple math. For him it's betrayal.
"What do you want from me Paul?"
"Understanding for one thing, dammit! You're acting like there's nothing wrong, Frank! Like we should just keep on like nothing's changed!"
"I'd like to. We work well together. I understand where you're coming from. I know exactly what you're thinking. I just don't happen to agree with it. And just because we don't agree doesn't mean things have to change."
Paul rolls his eyes and slaps the table.
"Right. God you're like a robot. Or a snake. Cool and composed, but you've got no idea what you're doing to everybody else when you strike. There are things I'm not willing to do Frank. And you've started doin' em. For most people that means the end of the arrangement. But oh no, not for you, cuz as long as it's profitable and not too dangerous, it's all good for you. Despite what you'd made me think in the past."
I shake my head. He just doesn't see it.
"Paul. I've been in this situation a lot of times. It comes with being me. People like you come and we get to be friends and you think you know me. I didn't make you think anything. You started to fill in any gaps about my nature and my ethics with what you wanted to see. And I'm sorry that I'm not the person you want me to be. But there's two ways to go from here. Either you accept me for who I really am, and we keep doing what we're doing; or you get all upset about it and walk away. Either way's fine with me, you just let me know."
He walks, like I knew he would. And maybe I should feel one way or another about that. But it's all so predictable.
And I just can't get myself to care about anything that's predictable.

Sketch Artist

Being a sketch artist is one of those jobs everyone thinks is super easy, but isn't.
'You've just gotta be a good artist, draw really well.'
Right.
Like there's nothin' else going on. Like I don't have to lead people to what they saw. Like I don't have to politely push against your every unconscious prejudice. Do you know the statistic on how often a witness describes a shadowed figure as black?
... Well neither do I, but it's gotta be pretty goddamn high.
Everybody wearing a hoodie-- black.
Anybody with their jeans low-- black.
I'm offended, and I'm the whitest guy in glasses you'll ever see.
Take this one I did yesterday.
Pretty standard mugging gone bad. Witness was going by the alley and booked it when there was a shot.
My procedure's pretty straightforward; I go from big to small.
What time of day was it, what kind of lighting was there? That'll inform the shadows, the way colors would have looked to you. I've gotta take into account that if the person you're describing is under institutional fluorescent lighting, brown hair will look black to you. A fair skinned person is going to look pale.
So when I ask you what kind of lighting was around, don't shrug your shoulders and say 'Electric'!
Anyway, this case we've got night time, street lighting.
Skin tone?
"Black."
Are you sure? (See what I tell you?)
"I think so."
Okay, how about clothes.
"Jeans and a button down shirt, glasses."
You sure about the glasses? (Really, you're going the thug route even when he's wearing a button down and glasses?)
"Yes."
 Glasses or sunglasses?
"Definitely glasses."
Ok. Describe them.
"Round, black rims."
How about the nose?
"Thick, a little crooked."
Like this?
"No, a bit thicker."
The street lighting would have cast a bigger shadow, so probably a bit thinner than you saw.
"I... guess."
What about his mouth, did you get a look at his mouth?
"Not really. It was dark. In shadow."
Now in this particular case, there was a shot. Did you see the figure when the gun fired? The flash may have illuminated more of his features.
"No, I closed my eyes when the shot went off."
I just nod. (Of course you did.)

So I'm pretty sure we've got a Caucasian, blond or brown hair, circular glasses with dark rims, medium crooked nose. I bring the sketch closer to what I'm pretty sure they actually saw. Finish it up, hold it in front of the witness. They nod slowly. I thank them, they get up, eager to be done, go home.
I put the sketch in my outbox, just like usual. Later I'll turn in my official piece to the Captain.
Black, short dark hair, beefy nose, sunglasses.
Was that witness unreliable you ask? That's a pretty different picture than what we agreed on at the end, you'd think, nobody can remember a face that badly.
Well, you'd be right. They were pretty accurate as far as most people go, at least, once I showed them the final sketch.
But that's the thing that bugs me the most, but makes me laugh at the same time.
Nine out of ten witnesses can't recognize the person they saw if they're sitting right in front of 'em, sketching away.

A Return-- Of Sorts

Oh to look upon the familiar color scheme of this page once more.
Much has happened since then. I've been at Western for almost two years now, engrossed in producing Viking Radio Theatre, working for the AS Activities Office and of course keeping up with my schoolwork.
Recently however, I've had the wonderful opportunity to take some higher level writing courses and am delving once again into that first and longest lasting love.
As such, I plan to post what I do on a semi-regular basis, meaning that whenever I have something, I'll put it up here.

Perhaps I can convince Dave to come back for a bit, especially now that he's graduating. ;)

Temporary Semi-Hiatus

So here's the deal. Dave and I have started up Falcon Radio Theatre, a radio program dedicated to theatre over the airwaves at SPU. Every Thursday night at 7:00PM we'll be broadcasting over the Internet.

www.kspu.org

As such, all of my creative energies are being poured into our program.
This is not the end of Walter's Knightly Broodings, nor is it even a hiatus which I may or may not return from. It's simply a shift in priority. I do plan on continuing to post. However they will be sporadic and perhaps not even sticking to the Tuesday deadline. That said, at some point, probably when I get up to Western, the standard operating procedure will resume.

For now, farewell.

Walter

Missed Post

And this one I would have done... but, I was busy all New Years Eve.

Christmas

Taking it off for the Holidays.

Valiant


            “Hard to port!” yelled the Captain.

            The crew rushed to the left side of the ship as the helmsman cranked the wheel as quickly as he could. The merchant ship Antrozous glided neatly alongside the iceberg, obscuring it momentarily from its pursuers.

            “Straighten her out Mark!”

            The helmsman did as he was told, and within seconds, the ship was heading straight away from the pirate ships trying desperately to catch them.

            “That’s the last obstacle we have on the map Captain! With nothing but open sea ahead of us, they’re going to catch up mighty quick.” Shouted Jim Sievers from the bow, as he pored over his map of the Heron Sea.

            “We might want to consider making for land and running for it.” Mark said quietly from the tiller.

            “We’d never make it in time. And besides, I’m not leaving this ship to pirates. They’ll only use it to attack other merchants.” Captain Margaret Donner said. “If anything…” She glanced around at her crew, “we’ll scuttle her, keep her from being used by those bastards.” She was glad to see most of the men and women around her nod resignedly. Stepping quickly to the side of the quarterdeck she checked on the progress of their opponents. She slammed her palm into the side rail at what she saw.

            “They’ve put out oars!” She shouted out to the rest of the ship.

            In a heavy wind, Antrozous would have had no trouble outrunning the pirate vessel, a small sloop with only two main sails. But in light wind, the marauder’s were choosing to abandon wind power and row to close the gap between the two ships. With far more crew than her own, the Captain had no doubt that they hard more than enough manpower to surpass her ships speed, even with her larger, better sails.

            “We don’t have enough time to scuttle her on some rocks.” She realized. “Listen up! Break out the arms! We’re going to hold them off while Mark, James and I put holes in the hold below the waterline.”

            The crew didn’t hesitate, and she thanked them silently for it. The sails were abandoned, and everywhere men and women ran to collect their weaponry and ready the ship for boarding.

            Grabbing a thick iron spike usually used for staking, she headed to the bowsprit one last time to say a proper goodbye to her ship.

            “I’m sorry.” Was all she murmured as she stroked the forward rail. It was all she could say. She looked up, and sighed heavily.

            “There’s another ship coming in! No markings!” She shouted over her shoulder to her comrades. No markings meant it was most likely another pirate. She turned and headed for the hatch to the innards of the ship. She would have even less time to damage the ship before she and her crew were killed…

            “Captain! Look!” Shouted Mark.

            The other ship came gliding alongside, an elegant dark green flag now flying from her foremast.

            “They must have a mage on board to stop that quickly!” She gasped, as the ship smoothly came to all stop just to starboard. Several of the crew aboard the other ship waved to her crew and began unsheathing their weapons. But as the pirate ship closed on her port side, the crew of this new ship hoisted gangplanks and rushed across her deck, past her bewildered crew, to face the oncoming pirates.

            A teal-scaled goblin wearing a uniform of some kind approached her as the pirates threw grappling hooks and began to close the distance between their ship and hers.

            “Afternoon. I’m Ghast, Captain of the Artinathan patrol ship Valiant. We’ll be dealing with ruffians. Hope we didn’t give you a scare, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t scare them off. I’d much rather take them here, rather than chase them across the ocean.

            Captain Donner nodded quietly as the goblin, barely up to her shoulders, tipped his hat and sprinted across the deck to join his crew.

             

            The pirates, now committed to the fight, came across not on gangplanks, but by rope, swinging out to land amongst the Artinathan crew. Initially, they broke up the ranks of the defenders, and for a few minutes, the fighting was fierce and close. But with a few shouts in a language the Captain didn’t understand, she saw the uniformed creatures; goblins, humans, elves, and countless others, draw back and form a battle line on the deck. The pirates charged, the weight of their superior numbers surely enough to break the line, she thought. But not only did it hold, the onrushing thugs were swallowed up by the soldiers, cut down smoothly as they clashed. In mere seconds, the pirates had started to break away in twos and threes, and the Artinathan soldiers kept behind them, grabbing the ropes used by the pirates and swinging across to take their ship.

            It was over in a few minutes. The small group of uniformed troops was far better trained than the pirates, and had little trouble securing the marauder ship. Donner and her crew watched from the side rail, astonished.

            Ghast returned, swinging out on a line and landing in front of the Captain.

            “We’ll be departing now, Captain. I hope you have a safe journey.” He tipped his hat again and started to head off.

            “Wait! How…” She shook her head, still reeling. “I’d heard about the Artinathan Empire, but I didn’t realize you had a navy. How many ships do you have?”

            “We’re the first ma’am.” Ghast said with a smile. “But we’ll be regularly patrolling the coast from now on. Should you have any trouble, just head for land, and we’ll find you.”

            “How will you find us? The coast is hundreds of miles and you’re just one ship!” Mark asked, stepping forward.

            Ghast chuckled.

            “Our ship’s mage is on constant watch for ships in distress. He can sense other vessels, even from miles away. He’ll know.” He turned to leave again.

            “Captain. If your Empire needs transport from a merchant ship, this one will be at your disposal. Our home port is Sallowton. Just ask.” Captain Donner said, nodding gratefully to the goblin.

            The Artinathan Captain nodded appreciatively.

            “We’ll keep that in mind, Captain. Good day.”

            “Now what did you go and do that for? We’ll be giving them free rides forever now.” Mark sighed as soon as the other two ships had begun to move away.

            “It’s because of them that we have a ship at all. And they’re the first government ship I’ve ever seen to protect a merchant and not take anything for it.” Donner watched the first of Artinath’s navy sail away, and she smiled hopefully. “I think we’re going to see a lot of good come out of those people.”

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