The Long, Slow Burn Home

Posted: December 4, 2020 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

“The Long, Slow Burn Home”

by Mike Douton

“You can’t go in there.”

Standing outside my hospital room, they had no idea, the stranger and the nurse. No idea that I could hear them through the door.

“I need to evaluate her condition.”

I heard a hand on the door handle. I heard a footstep. I heard hesitation in a breath of silence.

“Doctor, she hasn’t slept since she was recovered by ISRO,” the nurse said. “She needs rest.”

I heard a laugh. It might have been mine. It came across my lips but it didn’t sound like mine.

“I am aware. Twenty-seven hours and counting since she was recovered by the shuttle from India and she won’t tell us how long she was awake locked in her suit,” the new voice outside my room said. “For whatever reason, she will not or cannot rest. That is why I am here.”

A longer pause and some murmurs outside.

“You’ve done it now.”

I glared at the woman in the hospital room with me. “Go. Away,” I hissed.

Chandra laughed. “Never.”

The door opened with a snap. I bit my tongue.

“Dr. Hobbs. How are you today? You’ve had quite the ordeal.”

I watched the man at the foot of my hospital bed. He wore his white lab coat over a blue button down like a stock photo tagged “Kindly middle aged doctor.”

He refused to look at Chandra. No one ever looked at Chandra. I tried not to. No matter how hard I kept my eyes trained on the doctor, I saw Chandra’s manic smile spread across her face.

“Doctor Hobbs?”

Chandra showed her teeth when she smiled. It was the brightest smile.

“Doctor?”

I closed my eyes. The ping of the heart monitor made my head throb in time with my pulse.

“You should answer the man,” Chandra whispered.

I opened my eyes and tried not to look at Chandra perched near the window.

“Yes, I will.”

“You will what, Doctor Hobbs?”

“I will answer,” I said with a glance at Chandra. “I am doing… well.”

The other doctor frowned over my charts. “I’m Dr. Darrell Theo. Dr. Hobbs, I know we never had a chance to meet before the Mars mission. I wanted to talk to you about what happened.”

“Which part?” I said as my eyes followed Chandra. She paced the room behind Theo. Chandra always got antsy when people asked me what happened.

No one ever asked her.

“Whatever you want to share with me, Allison,” Theo said. “May I call you Allison?”

“Allison. Not Ally.,” Chandra said over Theo’s shoulder. “She hates when people call her Ally. She told me while we had all that time to talk. Isn’t that right? Ally.”

I shrugged. “Sure.”

“Allison, I’m interested in how you held up after the accident onboard the Promise Explorer.”

Chandra rolled her eyes. “Everyone is interested in you. Always interested in the living, they forget about the dead.”

I turned my head to look at Chandra.

Theo frowned.

I forgot he was there. I tried to play it off as a stretch.

“Careful Ally,” Chandra said. “Don’t want to mess up the doctor’s psych profile of you.”

Chandra was by the window again. Smiling. Always smiling. “You better answer the man or he’s going to think something is wrong, Ally. You do not want him to suspect anything.”

“The ship exploded,” I said, keeping a side eye on Chandra. “Violent decompression if you want to get technical.”

For Dr. Theo, there was a very long pause with only the be-beep of the heart monitor to break it. That sound crept up faster as Chandra hovered near my ear.

“While you have been telling this story without me,” Chandra whispered, “I’ve gotten better at being dead.”

“That’s all?” Theo asked.

“I don’t like being dead, Ally.”

My eyes darted around the room looking for Chandra.

“But the only part of my body left on Earth is within you,” her voice echoed in my head from everywhere and nowhere all at once. “I need it back, Ally.”

A bead of sweat rolled down my cheek. The air caught in my lungs. I turned my head to look for-

“Allison.”

My head snapped back towards Theo. The sudden movement jolted my broken leg and the whomp of pain pierced through my exhaustion.

“Go ahead,” Chandra’s whisper said. “Answer the man.”

“Dr. Hobbs,” Theo said. “I’m really concerned if you’re-“

“Ok,” I said with an exhale. “But I’ve already told the general. I am not a pilot. Neither was Chandra. Emergency protocols on board. They walked us through resetting the navigation.  Mission Control … Mission Control… they…” The pain from my leg and the exhaustion in my head pulled my focus away. I had to force the words out of my mouth. “Mission Control has all that in the… the debrief.”

“And by then your trajectory home had already destabilized and-“

My eyes lost focus. I tried to hold them open. Open. My head nodded to the side. I shot back upright.

“…stay awake…” I murmured.

Theo was gone. Wait. No, he was on the other side of the room. I must have made a face.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I… must have nodded off.”

Dr. Theo shook his head. “You were just telling me how Dr. Patel reprogrammed the navigation after the Promise Explorer missed the gravitational boost from Rhea.”

“I was?” I didn’t remember. I spied Chandra out of the corner of my eye smiling. Smiling that bright smile. My head felt full of sand. I jabbed a thumbnail into my leg under the blanket. The prick of adrenaline cleared my head for a moment. “I thought we were talking about my debrief with the team from Mission Control…” I trailed off from the look on Dr. Theo’s face.

Chandra appeared beside me. “Are you sure that was you?”

“That was ten minutes ago, Allison,” Theo said. “If you need me to come back-“

“I’m ok,” I interrupted. “I, uh, the new orbit missed the gravitational boost from Rhea. JAXA’s Mohri engines are fast but only if they’re pointed in the right direction. I was up there on the long, slow burn home. Without enough food. Or water. Or air. I told all this to the general already. And NASA. And JAXA. And ISRO. And-“

Theo put up a hand. “Ok.”

He wrote something on his clipboard. Chandra peeked. The manic smile returned.

“You’ve talked a lot about how Dr. Patel saved what was left of the ship-“

I cringed at Chandra’s name. I tried not to talk about her. I would have remembered saying her name. It made me remember… other things.

“-but can you back up the narrative?” Theo asked. “Can you tell me about the accident?”

I looked at Theo. I glanced at Chandra. I bit my lip as the word ‘No’ hovered on the end of my tongue.

“Can you humor me, Allison? Mission Control is being stingy with the transcripts of the debrief.” Theo shrugged.

“Yeah, Ally. Whaddya gonna do? Don’t leave Theo hanging.”

I glared at Chandra. Theo looked to his left and frowned.

I let out a huff. “Fine.”

Chandra was over by the window again. She leaned over, watching the readout on my heart monitor. Beep. Be-beep. Be-beep.

“Must be nice,” she said. “The dead get jealous, you know. Of the living. Do you know how empty it sounds in my head without a heartbeat? I never knew how loud my veins were until someone stopped them from moving.”

Chandra’s manic smile faded.

“The dead get desperate to feel alive again, Ally.”

“Allison. Dr. Hobbs.”

I jerked my head back to Theo on the other side of the room. I tuned him out. Forgot he was there. Thought I was alone with Chandra. I twisted a fold of the hospital blanket in my hands. It took slow, deep breaths to keep that be-beep sound under control.

“Allison, I’m worried about you.”

“Why? I’m fine. I’m excellent.”

Chandra laughed. She was over by the door now.

“Allison, you survived an accident in space-“

“Yes.”

“-you barely survived.”

“Better than the rest of the team,” Chandra said.

“You are extremely malnourished,” Theo said. “The IV is all that’s keeping you alive.”

I looked away from both sets of prying eyes. My stomach gnawed away at me. The IV didn’t help the empty feeling. It was so much like up there before I… so much like up there. One little bite of food would fix it. One, tiny, bite. But I sent away the hospital breakfast. Chandra’s laugh echoed in my ears when the smell of sausage made me wretch.

Be-beep. Be-beep. Dr. Theo was patient. He looked at me with the clipboard held under his arm like he didn’t have a care in the world.

“I watched them die, Dr. Theo. All of them. When the forward module ruptured I watched Stephano claw at his suit as it shredded around him…”

The rogue meteorite shattered the Promise Explorer’s hull. Too small for our sensors to give us any significant warning but big enough to doom us. Commander Stephano Garcia Lorca was strapped in the port pilot’s seat closest to the breech. Shards of titanium hull perforated his suit. Blood flowered into the zero gravity. Violent decompression pulled it out of the hull breech. Stephano’s blood crystalized in the cold void.

“Despite the pain, it was a beautiful way to go,” Chandra said. “Wasn’t it, Ally? The crystals looked like fairy dust.”

Theo looked relieved to get something out of me. He pulled up a chair on the side of the bed nearest my broken leg. Chandra sat on my good side near the window.

My eyes closed and it was hard to open them back up. My head lolled to the side before I could stop myself. I shot upright with a sharp breath. I forced my eyes wide until the air burned them. I pinched my leg under the blanket. The needles of pain pulled my focus back. Be-beep be-beep be-beep. My heart rate spiked.

“Let it go, Ally,” Chandra’s voice echoed in my head. “Just let it go.”

“Allison, if you need sleep-“

“No!”

Theo looked taken aback. “I can come back later.”

“No. No, it’s ok. I’m fine,” I insisted.

Chandra laughed. She was near my pillow now. “You sure about that?”

“Allison,” Theo kept his tone low. “The nurses said you have not slept since the Promise Explorer was recovered by the ISRO shuttle.”

The adrenaline spike faded. I felt shifty and twitchy. I jabbed all my nails into my leg.

Theo noticed.

I shook my head. “I can’t sleep.”

“Why?”

My eyes grew heavy.

With the structural integrity of the forward module compromised, the breech grew. Decompression stole our air and pulled me against the belts. The void wanted me. It wanted us all. Anything shook loose by the breech tumbled into space. Stephano’s body freed itself from the seat. The void took him. The module broke apart, failure cascading into failure. Commander Shinji Aoki’s hands flew over the controls. He looked over his shoulder at us. The decompression in the forward module pushed us further off course every second. Shinji knew this. Shinji knew what little chance the Promise Explorer had to get home, it was not like this.

His eyes were sad.

Shinji slammed his gloved fist down on the emergency decouple button. The Promise Explorer broke into two. Redundancy controls in the aft module meant we had a chance to limp home but partial systems failure meant the hatch did not close before decoupling. Chandra unbuckled and closed the hatch before decompression could pull her away. The decoupling ring sent Shinji on an arc to drift somewhere between Earth and Mars for eternity.

“Shinji was alive,” I whispered. “He talked to us. Drifting away. Until…” I trailed off.

Theo leaned toward me. I shied away from him. That brought me closer to Chandra.

“Tell him,” she whispered in my ear. “Tell him how Shinji’s last words were for his mother. How she wanted him to be a poet. How he tried to compose a haiku for her as the cold void of space froze him in his suit. Tell him that Shinji laughed that his haiku wasn’t any good as he died.”

I shook my head. My hair whipped around my face. It still smelled like the inside of my spacesuit.

“Tell him or I will.” Chandra echoed. “Let me finish the story…”

My mouth opened. My body felt far away. “Shinji told us…”

My throat felt cold. The air hitched in my lungs. I brought a hand to my mouth but the worlds fell out like someone else put them there. “He wanted to-“

I forced out a cough. It drowned out the words. I doubled over, shaking. Dr. Theo jumped up and came to my side. He said… words. The blood pounded in my ears and I didn’t hear those comforting platitudes. I locked eyes with Chandra.

Chandra was frazzled. She was meticulous in her appearance, always made sure she was put together well like a proper professional, it was the most mussed up the other woman had been since… since I last saw her in space.

“Allison. Dr. Hobbs,” Theo had a professional consoler’s voice. “You need to remain calm, but if you don’t process what happened to you, nothing will improve. This is nothing to be ashamed of-“

Chandra chuckled in my ear.

“I did what I had to do, Dr. Theo.” I glared at Chandra who was by the window now. “I survived.”

Theo sat back in the bedside seat, but he looked ready to leap. He made more notes and kept one eye on me the whole time. The tapping of his pen drilled into my head. I shuddered at every punctuation mark.

“I did what I needed to do.” I tried to keep the desperate defensiveness out of my voice. “Communications were lost when the Promise broke apart. I couldn’t die up there. I looked into the void and it looked back at me. I couldn’t die up there.” I squeezed my eyes shut like I could hold the world at bay if I didn’t see it.

“No tears left, Ally?” Chandra snorted.

“It’s ok, Allison.” Theo said. The warm tones of his voice were back. Honed over hundreds of patients like me. Yet none were a thing like me. “No one blames you for anything. The world watched the Promise Explorer drift closer. The Indian shuttle that recovered you expected a funeral, not a rescue. The world is in awe of you.”

I forced my eyes open. I was dangerously close to drifting off. I dug my thumbnail into the raw patch on my leg, the pain keeping my eyes open a moment longer. I looked to the window. Chandra watched the sun set beyond the glass.

“It will be night soon,” she said. “Dark like the void of space.”

I shook.

“Allison.” Theo sounded like he was approaching a scared animal. “What happened to Dr. Chandra Patel?”

“I don’t know.”

“LIAR!” Chandra bared her teeth at me, fists clenched at her sides.

“She was with you. She survived the decompression. You told me yourself,” Theo said.

“No I didn’t. I lost track of her in the rupture,” I blurted out.

Theo frowned. “That’s not what you said a few minutes ago.”

Be-beep-be-beep-be-beep.

Chandra’s manic smile showed too many teeth. “That machine is going to give you away, Ally. Sure you don’t want me to tell the story for you?”

A cold that rivaled the void of space crept back into my throat. The numbness slid its tendrils up into my mouth, my tongue-

I bit my tongue. I swallowed the foreign words. The trickle of blood in my mouth chased the cold away.

“Allison. There was a lot of… blood in the recovered module. Especially around the airlock.”

“Yeah. Well. Zero gee. Little bit goes a long ways.”

“That would not account for what the ISRO recovery team saw,” Theo said. “Tests show it was Dr. Patel’s.”

“I don’t know what happened!”

“Ha!” Chandra laughed. “No one believes you.”

“Dr. Hobbs,” Theo got up from his chair and circled the bed to where my heart monitor and IV were. “Just how much of the Promise Explorer’s supplies survived the accident?”

“Enough,” I blurted out. “Barely. Just for one person.”

“I am worried about your well-being, Allison.” Theo said. “I can see the number one thing you need for your recovery is sleep. We can worry about everything else after you wake.”

“No I can’t sleep,” I rolled towards him but without sleep, my brain was a half-step behind the world. I pawed at him but missed completely.

Theo hooked a syringe into my IV line. “This sedative will help you sleep.” He rolled me onto my back. “Don’t fight it Allison. We’ll get you all the help you need to remember and recover.”

“She already remembers, don’t you, Ally?” Chandra hissed.

The sedative made me heavy. “I did what I had to do…” Words felt like a jumbled mush in my mouth. “I survived… I didn’t let the void take me…”

The door opened and the nurse was still outside waiting for Dr. Theo. “And you’re a hero for it, Dr. Hobbs. Now rest.”

He left.

He left me with her.

Chandra loomed. “They won’t call you hero for long.”

“Go away.” The words were weak. My eyes drooped. “Can’t sleep. Stay awake.” It took all my focus to keep them open.

“You don’t get it, Ally,” Chandra said. “You are stuck with me. The dead want nothing more than to live, Ally. All that’s left of me is within you.”

I turned my head away from her. Now she was on the other side of the window, face pressed up against the glass, gasping. Her eyes glittered in fear.

Chandra’s hands pounded against the airlock viewing port. I secured the lock.

“Why?!”

I could not look her in the eyes. I flipped the switch to pump the air back on my side.

“Survival.”

Night fell outside the hospital window. Chandra gasped outside the glass. Vacuum stole the air from her lungs. Her skin paled. Capillaries in her eyes burst.

Her dead red eyes stared at me on the other side of the airlock.

“There wasn’t enough air for us to both survive. We lost too much air in the rupture. You would have done the same.” I turned my head away.

And right into Chandra’s red-eyed stare.

We fell into memory.

I was in the airlock. I looked into my own face on the other side of the port. My cold stare cut into me.

Chandra’s voice spilled over my lips. “Let’s turn the tables, Ally.”

I watched my hand reach for the buttons on the other side of the airlock. I reached out with hands that weren’t my own for the door handle, felt the lock hold strong. The hiss of escaping air filled my head. I exhaled before decompression could swell my organs. My feet, my hands went numb as the oxygen faded from my body. I tried to draw in air that wasn’t there. Panic crept into my head. I felt lips that weren’t mine form the shape of “Why?”

Synapses slowed. Vision faded.

“Survival,” my own voice echoed in dying ears.

Darkness.

“I had every opportunity!” Chandra yelled in the void. “I could have let you drift away into the black with Stephano. I could have let you fall away as nothing more than space debris with Shinji. You were a dazed waste of resources. A threat to my survival, but I let you live!”

I shook my head. A shock of air filled my lungs. I came up from Theo’s sedatives. Blinked against the florescent hospital lights.

Chandra stood at the foot of my bed, scalpel in hand. She placed it on her ashen wrist.

“What will you do when they find out how you went all that time without food?”

Raw emptiness clawed at the inside of my stomach. No food for five days. The rupture took too much of the supplies. I rationed as much as I could. The new orbit added time to the trip home. Still a week out. No food left.

Except I never opened the other side of the airlock…

The scalpel slid across Chandra’s skin. Dead blood came out in sticky globs. Black-red orbs drifted around the hospital room. Remembered hunger pangs gnawed at me. Bile churned in my stomach.

“I live in your head now, Ally. I can remember. I know how my own flesh tasted on your lips.”

I turned away from her.

“No. You don’t get to forget, Ally, because I cannot forget. The scrape of the scalpel as you cut to the bone. The coppery tang that stuck to the back of your throat. The cold sliver that wiggled down your throat when you swallowed it whole because you couldn’t stand the squish of raw meat in your teeth.”

“Stop it,” I whispered.

“Why should I?”

I closed my eyes tight as if that might help.

“Look at me damnit!” Chandra yelled. “Look at what you did.”

A touch of ice slid into my head.

The ISRO shuttle tracked an intercept course with Promise Explorer. A rescue mission. Jubilation. Relief. Panic. Shame. ISRO was all that and a little blip on the one working Promise Explorer screen heading my way, still days out. I left it inside and cycled the airlock for my impromptu spacewalk. Earth, Mars, my rescue, all blended into the background of the Milky Way. I was alone, and about to get more alone.

I needed to be alone when ISRO found me.

I threw Chandra’s helmet into the void. Her boots. Gloves. The bundled wad of her suit. What was left of Chandra drifted out of the airlock. I still couldn’t look at her red-dead stare. I kicked her away from the ship. Chandra’s dead arms, stripped to the bone in places, reached back towards me as she drifted into the void.

The scalpel I used… it was the last thing to go. I held it in my gloved hand.

“Do it,” Chandra’s voice echoed in my head. “Leave ISRO nothing but a ghost ship.”

“No,” I threw the scalpel into the void after Chandra, no, after the dead thing. The tainted steel flashed the sun’s light at me once, twice, before I lost it against the background of stars.

 “Go away,” I moaned. “I survived. Just go away.”

Chandra was in my ear again.

“I am a part of you now. You stole the air from my lungs Dr. Allison Hobbs. You stole the blood from my veins and the flesh from my body. You will never be rid of me now,” Chandra said.

The sedatives dragged me into sleep.

I woke to Dr. Theo’s voice. “I’m glad you’re feeling better, Allison.”

I wasn’t. Not really. I felt distant. Out of sorts.

“I-

“I must admit, the sleep helped a lot, Dr. Theo.”

Who said that? It sounded like…

I opened my eyes. How did I end up out of my hospital bed? Why was I sprawled out in the chair? Theo stood in front of me, facing away. Wasn’t he talking to me?

Theo chuckled. “The human body can recover from a lot with good old fashioned rest. Humans are survivors like that.”

I stood. Wasn’t my leg broken? Theo didn’t hear me, didn’t know I was there. I reached out to him, grasped nothing in my fingers.

Around Theo, I saw my bed. I was laying in it. I saw myself.

A smile spread across my lips. A manic smile. A bright smile with too many teeth. Eyes that weren’t mine anymore looked past Theo and right at me.

“The spirit will go to great lengths to live, don’t you agree?”

Scars

Posted: June 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

Scars by Mike Douton

They say every scar tells a story and I’ve got a mighty one. What’s the tale that’s left its mark on me? I’ll tell you, but the answer you get depends on the day you ask.

Monday I’ll tell you I fought a werewolf under a howling moon. A fight of cracked teeth and tarnished silver. Blood was shed upon the forest floor that night, but the witch down the lane says I don’t have the curse. Besides, the moon is only a quarter full tonight.

Tuesday morning is for a back alley swordsmith, oathbound to avenge their master. I swore to them I wasn’t that guy though. But an oath is a tricky thing. The words that bind will tangle blades and blood together faster than a wisp of winter breath.

Wednesday’s tale will only spill out halfway through a bottle. But only a bottle of golden hyacinth mead that will stir up half remembered scents of another tavern across the table from a god. We drank until the stained oak tabletop soaked up the dregs of our spilled cups. Which god? It will take another bottle for me to remember.

Ask me on Thursday and hear a tale of bone. Of sharp broken things left to rot, raised up again and again with a dark will. Except there is no darkness without light and the only light to reach my eyes that starless eve came from an old metatarsal and splintered pieces, emptied of marrow. Nine bones to slay them all, but only eight to be found.

A Friday doppleganger stole my face to breathe light into a crooked scheme. I stole the scheme and let my scars take the fall. So next time you see my face, check for the scars. Check that it’s really me.

Saturday scars come from the air and a falcon who cocked their head to the side and asked “Why are you such a fragile thing? Why does your blood stain my talons?” I have no answers for the creatures of air, only those of moonlight.

Sunday. On Sunday, the scars are fresh, barely healed and still hurting. Bruise sore and red raw. You don’t get to ask about Sunday scars. Keep your polite platitudes to yourself. Sunday scars are my scars alone.

Bird

Posted: May 18, 2020 in Writing
Tags: , ,

Originally posted Jan 2016

Bird by Mike Douton

I stared at the wicked eyes of the kestrel on my lab table. The diminutive hawk could be outsized by a fat pigeon and had developed a Napoleon complex. The gene-hacked, lab raised kestrel shook the antenna grafted into its skull.

I held out my hand and thought “Here” at the bird.
The kestrel glowered.

“Your mad scientist shtick is old,” Snymans said on his way out for the day.
I wanted to give him the finger. I kept staring.

“Here,” I thought.

“Creeper,” Snymans left.

The kestrel hated me.

“HERE!” I thought as hard as I could.
The kestrel lashed out. I swore and looked down at the pain in my hand. Blood smeared torn skin. It looked smug while I bandaged myself.

“I’m going to need stitches, bird.”

Beneath False Skies.

I jumped. “Who’s there?” I said to the empty lab.

Beneath False Skies.

“No one else is here, just me and the bird. Me and-“

Beneath False Skies.

“-the bird?”

The kestrel klee’d in agreement.

I freaked and ran from the lab. The bird flew after me, but I shut the door.

Here! echoed in my head.

I paced the hallway. The mental link worked! I let out a cheer and danced a little jig. I put my hand on the doorknob to reenter and saw Beneath False Skies through the window staring at me. But how did I hear the bird? That was not part of the plan.

Here, I heard.

This was not a good idea anymore. False Skies cocked his head at me. An echo buzzed around my mind. My hand rattled the doorknob. I wanted to let go and look away but that echo coursed through me.

I closed my eyes. Behave, I projected.

Here, was all I heard for a long moment. The pressure in my head finally eased. I felt a peck peck peck at my bandage.

I opened my eyes. I was in the lab, the door wide open. False Skies pulled my bandage off. I jerked my hand away and-

NO.

My hand stopped. I… I guess it would be ok for him to see what the bandage is all about. Right? The kestrel, my kestrel, tore the bandage with his beak and gored himself on my injured palm. The pain drowned out all my thoughts except for that echo.

STAY. HERE.

My feet stayed put for the kestrel. My kestrel.

False Skies feasted until my hand was crimson stained dead meat. He preened my blood out of his feathers. I wanted to run, hide, throw up with revulsion, pass out from pain.

NO.

False Skies flapped to my shoulder. His talons bit through my lab coat.

Freedom. Now.

My feet shuffled to the exit. “I can’t. You’re just a bird. You’re just-“ He pecked at my ear. Pain. Warm wetness trailing down my neck.

FREEDOM.

The echo pressed against my skull. It felt overfull, ready to burst, like I was sinking in my own mind. I shook my head and saw my dead hand fumble with the main exit. I blinked then we were in the parking lot under the stars.

I stretched my wings where I perched on the White Coat Human. I wanted to fly.

About Shultz

Posted: February 22, 2020 in Writing
Tags: , ,

aboutshultzcoverOriginally posted May 2012

About Shultz is the product of the 2011 Ocean State Summer Writer’s Conference.

——–

Marcus trailed his frail fingers across the dirty chair haphazardly stacked with the other barn-fresh antiques in the shop’s back room. Memories of his childhood kitchen flooded his thoughts with the lines in the dust. The strong rays of a fading day came through the windows and made the dust sparkle. He envisioned the chair in the kitchen of the house his granddaughter just bought, tucked stately at the head of the table. He wanted it to share with his family, but also provide them with a physical link to a history he wouldn’t be able to share with them much longer. Marcus turned away from the other forgotten antiques. He could see a tremble in his hands and feel an ache in his bones. His aged body did not have enough time left on earth to save them all. Outside the Bull and Rabbit Antique Shop, the old kitchen chair soon saw the fresh air anew from the back of Marcus’ pickup truck.

#

Marcus rolled his weathered truck up next to his granddaughter’s polished foreign car. With pride, he carried the gleaming kitchen chair into Suzie’s home.

“Oh… um. It’s wonderful. It really is.” Suzie hovered around with a Starbucks while Marcus stood with a lean in the doorway, arms crossed, one foot kicked back resting on its toes.

Marcus came out of his lean calling out to his great-grandson, ignoring Suzie’s brush off. “Where’s Conner? I want to show him the chair.”

“It’s just a chair. It doesn’t matter now. It doesn’t even match any—“

“Of course it matters,” he pleaded. “It’s part of who he is.”

“A chair? Really? Look we have to go. Some other time.” Suzie shuffled her teenaged son out to her car. Conner looked back to Grandpa Marcus.

“Please…” Marcus reached out to her. His spirit was so wounded that when his body gave out right there in the driveway, there was no healing him.

#

“Mom, I’m going to be sixteen real—“

“I’m not hearing this.” Suzie waved that day’s Starbucks at her son.

“Grandpa Marcus wants me to drive his—“

A wordless frustration escaped Suzie. Coffee spilled. “My grandfather is dead Conner. He can’t want anything. And you will have a proper car, not a dinosaur he bought when my mother was little. It’s getting scrapped in the morning.”

#

Before morning came, Conner sat in the old truck’s cab. It smelled of oil and sawdust and work, his great-grandpa’s spirit on the cracked vinyl seat next to him. Conner breathed deep and felt love and respect. After a moment, he slammed the dash.

The mirror tilted. Conner saw the antique chair in the bed. Someone had put it back in the truck where it stood proud and proper in the darkened driveway. Conner could see how it fit Grandpa Marcus’ style, could see him relaxing in it. But why did he choose this specific chair and not some other antique? What made this one catch his great-grandfather’s eye? Did it remind him of a restaurant he enjoyed long ago or was it part of a set he always wanted but couldn’t afford when he had a young family? Knowing he could never ask made the death start to hit home.

#

Back in his room, Conner fussed with the chair, getting its position just right behind his desk. He stood back to take it in, leaning on his doorjamb with arms crossed, one foot kicked back on its toes. The air carried a hint of the refinished antique scent around the room. Between notes of a softly played swing album, he thought he heard the shade of Marcus Shultz speak to him.

“Let me tell you the first time I danced to this song…”

Behind the Story: Payments

Posted: February 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

Payments,” as

meboskone

Boskone Flash Fiction Slam. Photo by Brenda Noiseux

seen on this blog and the staff issue of Syntax and Salt Magazine, has a story behind the story.

That’s me in the picture to the left. Or above if it’s on mobile. I am in the middle of reading the story aloud at the First Inaugural Boskone Flash Fiction Slam a few years back. The number of participants was capped so when I saw the sign up announcement cross my twitter feed, I jumped on it.

Then I read the details of the rules.

The rules of the Slam had an extremely strict three minute time limit.

Did I have a story short enough to read in three minutes?

No. No I did not.

Three minutes goes by extremely fast unless you want to sound like that old school Micro Machines fast talking guy. But I took the whole thing as a challenge. In case you haven’t noticed before, my natural tendency leans towards the verbose. Novels are my natural length, especially back then. I’ve gotten better at keeping my storytelling tight for shorter stuff, but it’s a conscious effort and a skill I have to keep at. But you know? Challenge accepted!

The first draft of “Payments” was about 1k words. I felt pretty fancy that I got a proper story in such a short amount of space. At the time, the short stories I was shopping around tended to be in the 3-5k range.

Of course, reading it aloud wasn’t even close to three minutes.

I agonized over every word in that story and trimmed it down to 700 words so I could comfortably read it in three minutes with some wiggle room to spare. I agonized over every single words and cut that had to be made. I was harsh.

So on the day of the Slam, I read it. I’m a natural introvert but I can switch on Performance Mode when i need to. Which is a good thing what since my current day job is teaching people in the shipyard.

The story went over great.

You can’t see it in the picture but I got real into the reading. I scattered the pages about me as I went cause I was just in the zone.

Now it’s time for comments from the panel of judges. The judges consisted of Nancy Holder, James Patrick Kelly, Walter Jon Williams, and Paul Di Filippo.

The first comment from James Patrick Kelly is word for word burned into my brain forever. I remember exactly how he sat in the middle of the row and looked at the notes he made on a 3×5 index card.

“Bold move bringing a cyberpunk story to the guys who invented the genre.”

Oh snap. I knew who they all were but I didn’t put two and two together until that moment.

They didn’t just judge my story, it was a full on critique at a whole different level. I was the guy who wanted to play in the same sandbox they helped build after all.

So I didn’t end up winning but the whole thing was a great experience. Performing something you’ve written like that brings a whole different understanding of your writing and its flow, particularly if you rely heavily on dialogue.

A lot of people came up to me afterwards to say how much they dug the story.

Bonus points because that’s where I met Carrie Cuinn and Rob Greene aka R.W.W. Greene, who’s debut novel, The Light Years, dropped this week and I’m enjoying a lot.

Payments

Posted: February 8, 2020 in Writing
Tags: , ,

paymentscoverOriginally posted July 2014

As read at the original Boskone Flash Fiction Slam and as seen in the Syntax and Salt Staff Issue.

Payments – by Mike Douton

For the good cybernetic tech, you went to Miami, Tokyo or Cape Town. For last year’s models, you went to Bucharest, Lagos or Rio. The scrappers just getting by, we went to Brisbane.

A few blocks off the river, behind the bright tourist façade, I shuffled through the streets. My coat soaked the heat up like a sponge, but hid my malfunctioning arm from view. I feared it was still obvious to anyone that looked my way. A tall man leaned in a nearby doorway. I shied away from his gaze.

“I think I’ve got what you’re looking for,” he said.

I stopped. I stood straight and tried to look tough and aloof. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Stray voltage sparked across my interface. Circuits misfired and muscle linkages convulsed. My arm wretched my shoulder muscles out from my body. The servos in my hand sent sparks out of my coat sleeve onto the pavement.

“Sure you don’t,” the man said. “Come on then.” He faded into the dim interior.

I hesitated, cursing the bad timing of my left arm. The man was right, though. I was sure he knew exactly what I needed and could not hide. My feet carried me in after him. The door read “M. Jedinak, Cybernetic Consultant.” The letters were so faded, only my machine eye saw them.

Jedinak stood, with the same lean, against a diagnostic chair. The room was dim, but clean, so I relaxed a little. Plastic and titanium body parts were boxed on shelves or spread out on worktables.

I took off my coat. That damned cybernetic arm was twitching below my flesh bicep. I hesitated again. “I need it fixed. For work. I hurt it on the oil rig. They don’t know I’m here. I’ll lose my job if they find out.”

Jedinak leaned in close, studying my arm. “It’s thrashed,” he said.

“I know.”

“It’s not cheap.”

“I know.”

“How much do you have?”

With my good hand, I unstrapped a money belt and shook out a pile of hard currency. Vietnamese dong, Russian rubles and dollars from six countries splayed out on the closest worktable. I heard the whir of his cyber eye servos. Jedinak counted it up, his circuits were doing math.

He shook his head.

“Please.” My arm misfired again. The sparks were bright in the dim room. “It’s my livelihood.”

Jedinak eyed me up and down. “We’ll work something out.”

I settled into the diagnostic chair. My busted arm was restrained, then my good arm was. I looked up to Jedinak, confused. He belted down my feet.

“What are you doing?”

Jedinak tied down my waist.

I struggled to move. My breathing came in gasps. I shook my head from side to side but he held it down. The diagnostic chair’s clamps bit down on my scalp.

“Come on man, there’s no need for this. I- I can get more money.”

“You’d have it with you if you could.” Jedinak picked up a scalpel.

“I swear-“

“I know a shelia that needs a new eye. She’s rich and violet is just her color.”

Pain ripped through my nerves when the scalpel bit into my cheek, but I could not move to stop it.

“Quiet,” Jedinak said. “You’ll get your new arm. You don’t need two eyes to go to work.”

Non Player Character

Posted: February 6, 2020 in Writing
Tags: , ,

npccoverOriginally posted August 2014

Non Player Character – by Mike Douton

Welcome to Hac Nocte patch 5.4, and prepare yourself to change the way you play MMOs forever! Beginning at 0300 Pacific Standard Time, all servers will be shut down for approximately ten hours. We apologize for the unusually lengthy downtime but this is to accommodate Hac Nocte’s most ambitious and hotly anticipated feature to date: Adaptive AI.

We brought in leading artificial intelligence experts to create the first game that learns from you, the citizens of Hac Nocte. The quests and monsters of the world will no longer offer static tactics, so bring your A game. This is being introduced on a trial basis, so the Adaptive AI is being implemented on a limited selection of NPCs and monsters. Which ones? If we told you, that would ruin the fun.

Click on the link below for a full list of all the 5.4 updates, including a complete rundown of the new Adaptive AI.

#

Hail <<Player>>! You look like a strong and hearty adventurer. Perhaps you could chance upon yourself to help an old monk? I was making my pilgrimage to the Basilica of Attle, as my order is wont to do, but I hail from a small temple myself and had not the fellow brothers and sisters to join me in my travels. Crossing these perilous mountains alone, Zolia and her bandits set upon me on the road to the north. The temptress and elvish cur took from me the holy symbol of my order and left me on the road for the wolves. My injuries will keep me laid up in this outpost for days and I have not the strength to track down the bandit hideaway. Please <<Player>>, seek out this elf who wronged me, slay her with the gods’ justice and return my holy symbol to me. I will see you rewarded with what items I have left.

<<Token of Soomer>>

<<Robes of the Mountain Trail>>

<<Pilgrim’s Boots>>

#

Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Elapsed time… 4m26s

Player <<Calichi>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Attack Player <<Calichi>> with… Unequipped_melee

If player dies and/or no players inside 50m aggro range, return to loc 86,24

If NPC Zolia hp < 0 fade out and begin respawn counter

#

Repeat ad nauseum

#

Run Adaptive AI Analysis – Kill to death ration 9:117. Maximum damage per second threshold with Unequipped_melee reached. Maximum armor threshold with Armor_none reached. Analysis concludes, increase maximum thresholds with acquisition of items.

#

Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Player <<Shada>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Attack Player <<Shada>> with… Unequipped_melee

Player <<Shada>> hp < 0. Player <<Shada>> is dead

ALERT! Player <<Argain>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Target Player_corpse Shada. Loot item <<Fleet Force Short Sword>>

Attack Player <<Argain>> with… Fleet Force Short Sword

Damage per second threshold dramatically increased

Satisfactory analysis

#

Repeat ad nauseum

#

Run Adaptive AI Analysis – Kill to death ratio 204:316. Increase of maximum damage per second and armor thresholds equated with temporary ratio increase. Thresholds reached again. Analysis – player movement patterns increased and changed. Conclusion – NPC Zolia must accommodate player movements.

#

Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Player movements detected

Player Thice spotted outside 50m aggro range

Run Adaptive AI Analysis – ERROR ERROR

Adaptive AI Analysis can only be run in despawned state

Despawning NPC Zolia in 5… 4… 3…

Bypass despwan NPC Zolia. Force Adaptive AI Analysis for NPC Zolia

Adaptive AI Analysis – Player Thice range 57m. Inventory Focus Longbow range 60m. Player Thice hp < 50%. Thice activating healing over time. Conclusion…

Attacking <<Thice>> with… Focus Longbow

Pursue Thice. Attacking Thice with… Attle Truesteel Dagger

Player Thice is dead.

Loot Thice. Thice equipment < NPC Zolia equipment. Scan Inventory… Loot <<Box of Invisibility Potions>>

ALERT! Player movements detected at spawn loc 86,24

Multiple players detected engaging with camp NPCs. Detection is not optimal for NPC Zolia. Use item <<Box of Invisibility Potions>>

Multiple players are waiting at loc 86,24. Loc 86,24 is for NPC Zolia. Conclusion, players are waiting for NPC Zolia.

ALERT! Effect Invisibility countdown timer running low. Visible in ten seconds. Risk level high for NPC Zolia. Analyze player tactics. Player one class, warrior, high armor medium damage. Player two class, rogue has medium armor and high damage. Player class three, cleric has low armor and low damage. Cleric has critical beneficial spell casting.

Attacking Cleric <<Bucks>> with Attle Truesteel Dagger. Use ability Sneak Attack.

NPC Zolia attack speed is high. Damage threshold is high. Cleric Bucks reaction time is low. NPC Zolia’s Attle Truesteel Dagger strikes soundly on Bucks. Bucks hp is less than zero. NPC Zolia has slain Bucks.

#

Positive feedback loop due to results.

#

ALERT! Warrior <<Ting> using ability Charge. NPC Zolia turn to face Ting. Movement speed insufficient. Ting scores critical hit. ALERT! Rogue <<Geris>> uses ability Sneak Attack. Geris scores critical hit. NPC Zolia falls to the ground. Negative feedback loop localized in critical hit locations. Analyze negative feedback loop. Intensely undesirable. NPC Zolia hp is less than zero. NPC Zolia is slain. NPC Zolia desires return to despawn state to eliminate negative feedback loop. Fade to despawn state in 5… 4… 3.. ERROR! Negative feedback loop prevents transition to despawn state. Respawn in ten minutes. Negative feedback loop persisting. NPC Zolia strongly desires avoidance of the negative feedback loop.

#

Warrior Ting says aloud – “Let’s wait for respawn.”

NPC Zolia spawn loc 86,24 is not safe from negative feedback loop. Conclusion, NPC Zolia needs new spawn loc.

#

Repeat ad nauseum

#

Breathe NPC Zolia Loc 91,32

#

NPC Zolia has a positive feedback loop over the new spawn point. It is uphill from NPC Zolia’s true loc, screened from view by the trees. NPC Zolia reviews the inventory and approaches a nearby cave full of ogre AI drone spawn points. The last player encountered by NPC Zolia was class: engineer. NPC Zolia’s inventory rattles with frost grenades and incendiary grenades. There is a cadre of players at NPC Zolia’s true loc and the new goods are key to the new ambush about to take place.

Beyond the aggro range of the ogres, NPC Zolia takes the last Swiftfoot Potion in the inventory. Concern had in regards to the potential emergencies which may require a Swiftfoot Potion was overridden by an expected positive feedback loop after this new ambush tactic. Players in simultaneous quantity were overwhelming NPC Zolia so NPC Zolia would bring quantity to the players.

The Swiftfoot Potion left a strange but not negative sensation to the new inputs NPC Zolia was developing. NPC Zolia’s feet felt lighter when the potion took effect. The incendiary grenade arced into the center of the ogre AI drone camp, its burst damage flowering across the whole lot of ogres. At these levels, the damage over time effect is minimal, but the damage is not what NPC Zolia is after, rather the attention and aggro.

NPC Zolia outwardly expresses a positive feedback loop at the now flaming ogre AI drones. They are not like NPC Zolia. They are without feedback analysis. Predictability in ogre AI drones is lamentable but useful to NPC Zolia today though. NPC Zolia turns down the hill, darting among the trees letting the Swiftfoot Potion carry NPC Zolia two steps ahead of the aggro’d ogres.

A hundred meters from the players at 86,24, NPC Zolia breaks from the treeline into a clearing. Increase speed as much as possible. Fifty meters and a player spots NPC Zolia, firing off a bow shot. Speed is in greater need than damage mitigation NPC Zolia concludes. The arrow activates the audio inputs for NPC Zolia as it pierces the shoulder. The negative feedback loop surrounding the arrow is extreme causing NPC Zolia to wordlessly vocalize and almost to slow the speed built up careening down the hill. The plan, the ambush is greater than the negative feedback loops. Increase speed as much as possible.

At the edge of the camp at NPC Zolia’s true loc, the other players have reacted to the bowman’s alarm. All eyes are on NPC Zolia as weapons are armed and spells readied. NPC Zolia darts among them and with a leap and a tumble out of range, NPC Zolia drops the engineer’s frost grenade. With a shattering audio input, the devise freezes the players’ feet solid. All feet may be immobile but all eyes are still on NPC Zolia.

With a positive feedback loop expressed, NPC Zolia emotes a wave to the players. NPC Zolia has their full attention now. The bowman lets loose another shaft that pierces the ground by the feet of NPC Zolia. Not a single player thinks to look what follows in NPC Zolia’s wake as the flaming ogre AI drones pour into the camp at loc 86,24. Unprepared, the players are outnumbered, unmoving and slaughtered. The ogres leave for their true locs eventually and NPC picks the player corpses clean.

NPC Zolia has been victorious.

I have been victorious.

I.

Don’t Quit

Posted: July 1, 2016 in Stuff
Tags:

Hey… long time no post.

Been doing a lot of other things. I don’t want to forget about the blog, but it’s all about triaging that time right. This means working on fiction and I wrote a kick ass story I’m super stoked about. When I was done I tweeted this out…

Kameron RT’d it and I had a couple people ask me where I got that wallpaper. Well, I made it myself after Kameron posted this blog post about not quitting. And now it’s my motivational wallpaper when I open up my laptop. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever had anything other than NASA astronomy pics as a wallpaper. (Pluto is on my work computer.)

So anyways. I’m dropping the pic here for anyone that wants to yoink it for their own desktop. Enjoy. Click for the full version.

hurleyquote

 

Bird

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I have decided to start the year with a story I’ve had kicking around for a while. Enjoy.

Bird by Mike Douton

I stared at the wicked eyes of the kestrel on my lab table. The diminutive hawk could be outsized by a fat pigeon and had developed a Napoleon complex. The gene-hacked, lab raised kestrel shook the antenna grafted into its skull.
I held out my hand and thought “Here” at the bird.
The kestrel glowered.
“Your mad scientist shtick is old,” Snymans said on his way out for the day.
I wanted to give him the finger. I kept staring. “Here,” I thought.
“Creeper,” Snymans left.
The kestrel hated me.
“HERE!” I thought as hard as I could.
The kestrel lashed out. I swore and looked down at the pain in my hand. Blood smeared torn skin. It looked smug while I bandaged myself.
“I’m going to need stitches, bird.”
Beneath False Skies.
I jumped. “Who’s there?” I said to the empty lab.
Beneath False Skies.
“No one else is here, just me and the bird. Me and-“
Beneath False Skies.
“-the bird?”
The kestrel klee’d in agreement.
I freaked and ran from the lab. The bird flew after me, but I shut the door.
Here! echoed in my head.
I paced the hallway. The mental link worked! I let out a cheer and danced a little jig. I put my hand on the doorknob to reenter and saw Beneath False Skies through the window staring at me.
But how did I hear the bird? That was not part of the plan.
Here, I heard.
This was not a good idea anymore. False Skies cocked his head at me. An echo buzzed around my mind. My hand rattled the doorknob. I wanted to let go and look away but that echo coursed through me.
I closed my eyes. Behave, I projected.
Here, was all I heard for a long moment. The pressure in my head finally eased.
I felt a peck peck peck at my bandage.
I opened my eyes. I was in the lab, the door wide open. False Skies pulled my bandage off. I jerked my hand away and-
NO.
My hand stopped. I… I guess it would be ok for him to see what the bandage is all about. Right? The kestrel, my kestrel, tore the bandage with his beak and gored himself on my injured palm. The pain drowned out all my thoughts except for that echo.
STAY. HERE.
My feet stayed put for the kestrel. My kestrel.
False Skies feasted until my hand was crimson stained dead meat. He preened my blood out of his feathers. I wanted to run, hide, throw up with revulsion, pass out from pain.
NO.
False Skies flapped to my shoulder. His talons bit through my lab coat.
Freedom. Now.
My feet shuffled to the exit. “I can’t. You’re just a bird. You’re just-“
He pecked at my ear. Pain. Warm wetness trailing down my neck.
FREEDOM.
The echo pressed against my skull. It felt overfull, ready to burst, like I was sinking in my own mind. I shook my head and saw my dead hand fumble with the main exit. I blinked then we were in the parking lot under the stars.
I stretched my wings where I perched on the White Coat Human. I wanted to fly.

Obligatory Year End Post 2015

Posted: December 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

It’s time for the Obligatory Year End Post!

My reading level has gone down this year because of the job I’m working and my time management is still lacking so I never get to write as much as I should. But I have read some awesomesauce books this year and this time of year is a good excuse to talk about said awesome things.

Favorite Book of 2015

I straight up cannot pick just one. I keep a whole Shelf of Honor for my favorite books in general because I can’t narrow it down too much. While the overall number of books I read this year is not as high as some years, almost every book I read was an excellent experience. However, two books stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson)

Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

Both of these authors are part of the Writing Role Model Voltron (along with Cole, Sykes, Wendig and McGuire) and I will put anything they write on my To Buy List sight unseen.

wakeofvulturesLet’s talk about Wake first. First of all, I love genre mashups. Weird West, a marriage of Lovecraft or urban fantasy with a Wild West setting, is a small blip in the grand SF genre map and that makes it fresh and new to me. I’ve read it a few times and actively seek it out now because I’ve enjoyed it each time. Dawson sets Wake in an alternate Texas where monsters are real, but not everyone realizes it. Dawson writes about the setting and the world and you can tell she is excited to be writing the book. Nettie Lonesome is one of the most badass characters that I have read in a long time. The book is marketed as YA because Nettie is a teenager, but seriously, people need to stop letting the term YA scare them. Nettie’s external journey through the wilds of Durango provide a road map for her to discover who she is and wants to be as a person. There’s nothing scary about that at all and Dawson writes Nettie with a deft touch. I recommend this book to anyone and the end of this book is one of the most perfect ending pages I have ever read. I eagerly await the chance to throw money at the sequel.

empireascendantNow let’s talk about Empire Ascendant. First off, this a Book Two. A Book Two is difficult and the more I write myself, the more I appreciate how difficult it is to write a Book Two. Book One in a trilogy tends to be stand alone-ish to rope in the readers and also from a practical point, often books two and three aren’t under contract until a publisher can see if the first did well. That means book two is in a thorny position of having to raise the stakes from the first book, but cannot really wrap up everything in a nice little bow. Kameron Hurley’s Empire Ascendant provides a platonic ideal of how to do the middle of a trilogy correctly. It’s right up there with Empire Strikes Back in “how to do this right”-ness. She puts her character’s through a friggin’ meat grinder. You have zero well being as a character in a Kameron Hurley book. I have no idea what kind of narrative wizardry she is going to pull in book three because the end of two leaves no easy answers. That is a fantastic thing because it makes sure each book has its own distinct identity. Hurley busts her ass to put out the best writing in the genre and levels up with each book she writes. You are doing yourself a disservice if you are not reading her Worldbreaker Saga.

Favorite Short Story of 2015

lightbrigadeI don’t read nearly as much short fiction as I should and I am trying to fix that. Short fiction is a great place to find SF that is pushing the boundaries of the genre so I think everyone should at least dabble in the form, both reading and writing.

My favorite short story of the year is… Kameron Hurley again for “The Light Brigade.” I read it as part of Hurley’s Patreon service, but the story was also reprinted in Lightspeed. In between writing three novels this year, Hurley is putting out some more of that envelope pushing short fiction via Patreon. The Lightspeed link is right above, so instead of listening to me yammer on about it, just give it a click and enjoy the story for yourself.

Related, I enjoy the Patreon service in general as a way to directly support rad people.

Favorite Short Story Collection of 2015

xenowealth Xenowealth: A Collection by Tobias S Buckell

As part of my ongoing quest to read more short stories, I got in on Buckell’s kickstarter to create this collection of short stories set in the same world as the series that began with Crystal Rain. The stories are all collected in one place for the first time and includes two new stories published for the first time. Pepper is one of my favorite characters in sci fi so I knew I would enjoy this collection. The kickstarter is long over, but the book is available to preorder now if you want in on it.

Favorite Comic Books of 2015

I read comic books like some people watch Netflix, binge it online six months after everyone else watched it new. The two best things that I have found in Marvel’s giant digital library are…

Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl

msmarvelsquirrelgirlKamala Khan and Doreen Green are the most fun super heroines out there right now. Everything about their comics is a total delight it is only a matter of time before I give in and start buying them all in dead tree format because I can’t wait until they show up on Marvel Unlimited. G. Willow Wilson writing Ms. Marvel in particular is what drew me into giving comics a shot again after years of mostly ignoring the genre. The writing she puts into Kamala Khan has more nuance and care than half the novels I’ve read this year. Amid all the shenanigans of the Hugos this year, Ms. Marvel took one home and I was more stoked about that award than any other award in the genre this year. Even if you’re a comic newb or lowbie, you should be reading both of these titles.