Transportation, Anyone?

Here is a story I wrote a few years ago. I had to bike home for a small emergency in the middle of the afternoon one day, and while it was a wonderful autumn afternoon,  perfect for biking, and driving a car wouldn’t have saved me any time due to parking issues, I was still wishing for a faster means of transportation. I started thinking about it and realized that just about anything has its own set of  problems and drawbacks. I decided to write a story about a form of transportation that most of us dream about – teleportation – and while I was debating whether it would be fantasy – magic – or science fiction, I realized that it didn’t matter. I was still using something currently impossible and inexplicable. Then I thought about a quote from Arthur C. Clarke : “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  I took it from there.

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“Emma! Don’t you dare let go of my hand again! You’ll end up in Tibet or something!”

“My bags! Where are they?!”

“Move it along, folks, nothing to see here…. Hey Harry, hurry up with that mop and bucket! And yes, I said to bring the hazardous wastes kit!”

And above it all was the electronic sound of the announcement system broadcasting on an endless loop: “Please keep all extremities within the transportation circle at all times. Please make sure you are touching all baggage and small children traveling with you when transportation begins. Please make sure that you key the correct destination code for the operators. We are not responsible for lost bags, children, or mis-keyed destination codes. We are not responsible for the results of left-behind items or extremities…”

Jessie sighed, brushed her hair out of her eyes and shifted from one foot to the other as she waited in line for the next available transport circle. She was only going across town to her apartment, and the hop itself would take seconds, but she was starting to think she could walk there by the time she could get to the front of the line. At least she wasn’t loaded down with baggage like the long-distance travelers.

She watched as a man and a woman squeezed themselves, ten bags and three small children onto the platform holding the transport circle. Despite their best efforts, some of the bags were still hanging over the edge.

“Sorry folks, either do this in two loads or yer gonna end up slicing them nice suitcases in half and then where will ya be? Or one a them kids! Better to pay the extra than that happenin’!” the platform operator said jovially.

The parents muttered and grumbled and then arranged themselves into two separate groups. Jessie sighed again. Just another delay…these transport circles were never on time. The city really needed to build more of them.

The line shuffled forward. Jessie reminded herself of the old stories about busses, subways, trains and airplanes. This really was better than that. It had to be.

“Coming through…Emergency team, coming through!” Several Emergency Medical Technicians came barreling through with their gear. Jessica winced and hoped it was just a finger that had been caught outside the circle during transport, not something larger.  She wished that this transport center had the plastic shields that descended  around the rings during transport like the newer, nicer centers did. There were far fewer accidents that way.

Two more people came by, following a transport official. They looked very distressed and were chattering away at the man in a language that Jessie had never heard before. They must have keyed in the wrong code…or the system was screwed up again. The powers-that-be claimed that all the mis-keys were the error of the person keying the codes in, but Jessie wasn’t so sure about that.

Jessie was near the front of the line now. She watched as a woman with a small child stepped onto the nearest circle. The woman was holding the little girl’s hand gently in hers, and with her other hand she gripped a bag. She nodded, then shimmered slightly and disappeared. The little girl was left holding onto air and had time for one loud shriek before she too shimmered and disappeared.

The platform operator shouted to someone, “Hey, check an’ see if the kid ended up with mom, would ya? If she didn’t, then start a Lost Kid Search! When will these parents learn ya gotta hold onta them kids tight or they’ll slip away at the last second! Next!” He shoved the key pad at the next person in line.

Jessie thought that if she ever had a child with her for transport, she’d tie the kid to her before she even got near the platform. Lost children were way too common. So were lost bags, but the bags didn’t get scared and cry. In fact, she could hear a kid crying right now – probably got transported somewhere different from the parents. Jessie still didn’t understand how that happened; something to do with the transport centering on one person, they said, and anyone else not touching them in the same transport sometimes got a corrupted version of the code. Something like that, anyway. Jessie thought they could fix it if they really tried.

An official led a howling little girl, the same one who had been on the platform earlier, up to the operator. “Here’s the kid. Ended up right over there. See if you can call up the mom’s code and I’ll deliver her.”

The platform operator grumbled, but a few minutes later the official, with the tear-streaked child in his arms for safe-keeping, shimmered away.

Finally it was Jessie’s turn. She was really, really tired and so ready to get home. She swiped her commuter card, dragged herself to the keypad and typed in her code. Then she stepped on the platform and nodded to the operator. As she felt the transport begin, she got a mental flash of the keypad in front of her and her fingers keying in the digits…She had a sinking feeling she was about to go home the long way – via Outer Mongolia.

-Jane Wolfinbarger © 2008

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A Bit About the Skink

The Skink is a character in my story, “Maple Days.” It’s clear, from the references to Underhill, that he is some creature of Faery, but what sort?

He probably doesn’t fit into any category that most people could think of. And since he captivated me from the first time he stepped onto my page, I have thought quite a bit about him, leading to a background and the promise of future appearances in my stories.

Once, when I was trying to get back into writing after a brief hiatus, I used him as an imaginary guide on a writing tour, and somewhere along the line, he became my muse. (Many writers can visualize their inner critic – and I do that, too – but I have decided I like having a form for my muse as well!) Not only is the Skink my muse, and the muse of Olivia in the story, I discovered as I created his background that the Skink has been muse to many – it’s his calling.

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The Skink started off as a nature spirit and spirit of mischief, much like the Puck. However, he was never quite as strong as the Puck, or quite as mischievous, or, really, quite as anything as the Puck. He felt like an inadequate younger sibling at the best of times, and a complete failure at the worst of them.

But as he lurked about, looking for mischief to make, the Skink began to notice the bards, storytellers, and minstrels. He stayed out of sight at first, and simply hung on to every word they produced. Eventually, though, he started appearing to them when they were alone, and encouraging them. After they were convinced that he wasn’t simply the product of an overindulgence in wine or some strange effect of bad ale, they would listen to him and discuss new ideas with him. The storytellers and songmakers he befriended thrived, and the Skink glowed, sure he had found his place in the world.

However, he began to spend all of his time with these artistic humans, and neglected his already badly-done job. It did not occur to him that anyone would notice, but notice they did. And one day, the Lords of Faery summoned him for a reckoning.

The Skink knew better than to try to hide; the Fae had creatures in every imaginable place, and he would be found quickly. So he gathered his courage, bid farewell to the storyteller he was currently accompanying, and appeared before the Faery Court with his small head held high.

The interview began much as he had thought it would. He was taken to task for each and every bit of neglect, and scolded roundly for his lack of caring. But then, before his punishment could be meted out, he spoke up.

The Skink told the Lords of Faery everything – how he knew he was bad at his job, and realized he was never going to be the sort of creature they had in mind – another Puck. But, he insisted, he could be a muse. And the High Lords of Faery enjoyed human stories and music, didn’t they? he wheedled. Why else would they kidnap bards periodically, if not to enjoy the fruits of human imagination and inventiveness?

The Lords paused. The acknowledged that the Skink had a point. They might even be willing to concede that he was far better at this job than the one they had assigned him. But he was still clearly in defiance of their rule by abandoning his role and taking up another without their consent.

They withdrew and considered his punishment.

Three days they considered, and three days the Skink sat in an opulent antechamber, waiting on tenterhooks, wondering what his fate would be.

On the third day, just at sunset, they came out and called the Skink to them.

“You have proved yourself quite valuable as a muse, of sorts, for humans. You are far better at that than you ever were as a nature spirit, we have no argument. But for abandoning your post, you must be punished. If we allow you to flout our authority, others will follow, and chaos will reign. Therefore, Skink, let it be known to one and to all that you are now the Faery muse, free to move about the human world and pick those upon whom you would bestow your friendship. But to remind you that you began as a nature spirit, and left that job without our permission, you will bear the mark of nature upon you.”

As they spoke, the Skink’s form began to change. He had been small to begin with, but grew smaller still, until he was about as tall as a small crow. His skin grew dark grey and bark-like, and his limbs became gnarled like tree branches, his fingers and toes like twigs.

The Skink looked down at himself. He had never been a vain creature, so the transformation bothered him little. He shrugged. “Fair enough,” he said. Then, bowing once to the High Lords of Faery, he bounced out of Underhill and back into the human world, where, ever since, he has been having adventures and inspiring human storytellers and musicians. And he has a special soft spot for those who find themselves in uncomfortable places in the world, as he himself started out in a job for which he was most ill-suited.

Meeting Christie Golden

I went to Starfest in Denver in April, along with my friend and fellow writer S.M.R. Cooper. We had a table on Author’s Alley, where we promoted our books. Starfest itself was fascinating. I hadn’t been before, but my friends had, and had been nagging me for the last several years to come along. Well, for the sake of the table and promoting our books, I did it. And I was glad I did.

The costumes going by were fantastic – both in theme and complexity. Klingons, Stormtroopers, zombies of all descriptions, anime characters, steampunk ladies and gentlemen, and things that I could not place in any specific setting all passed by our table in Author’s Alley. Those in costume were always willing to stop and pose, and I have some wonderful photos that will find their way here before too long. (I take large photos, so anything I want to post has to go through PhotoShop first, to make it small enough for the web!)

One of the highlights for me was meeting Christie Golden, author of more than thirty fantasy novels, including many World of Warcraft, Star Wars and Star Trek novelizations, as well as several high fantasy adventures. She has been attending Starfest for years; one of my friends brought me some of her books, autographed, several years ago. This year, I got my own. (And I left her a copy of my book, too.)

I wandered down to her table, a little bit shy at the idea of meeting someone as successful as Christie. She sat at her table, which was covered with copies of her books, both new and out-of-print, and talked  freely with her fans as she autographed their purchases. She took the time to not only chat with me, but offered to have a picture made taken with me, which I quickly took her up on.  She is the lovely lady on the right. That’s me on the left, in my favorite geeky Gandalf shirt.

Jane W. Wolfinbarger and Christie Golden (right)

Christie was delightful to talk to. She said that she enjoys coming to Starfest – it gives her a chance to meet her fans. “My readers let me do this,” she said, gesturing to the table full of books. “Without them, I wouldn’t be doing what I enjoy, writing.” After this, she kindly helped me pick out one of her books that I didn’t already have, and autographed it for me. What a lovely person she is! If my brain had not been overloaded with Starfest and meeting an author I like, I might have actually managed to ask a few pertinent questions about writing, but at least I got to meet and talk to her!