Category Archives: NOVEL WRITING

The Ultimate Goal

My only mountain left to climb in this life (taking into account that my health problems prevent me from climbing literal mountains) is to write that one final masterpiece that defines me as a writer.

The book on the left is definitely not going to be the one. It takes something more than a mere comic science fiction novel. It has to be a serious masterpiece. Like how A Tale of Two Cities defines the writing career of Charles Dickens. Or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn defines Mark Twain. Or Ernest Hemingway is best displayed in the pages of The Sun Also Rises. Or William Faulkner is at the pinnacle of his writing power in The Sound and the Fury. Or Michael Crichton entered the Pantheon of the Writing Gods with Jurassic Park. Or Saul Bellow mastered it with Henderson the Rain King.

By the way, if you add Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native and Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) to the list of masterpiece novels, you now possess Mickey’s List of novels you absolutely have to read to have any hope of becoming a really great novelist yourself… or a list of the books you have to read to know “what in the ever-loving heck” Mickey is talking about when he talks about novel-writing.

I believe, and several nudists agree, that Recipes for Gingerbread Children is one of the best things that I have written. It is not something that attracts readers like moths to a candle-flame, though. It does have naked twin teenage girls in it who unapologetically practice nudism at home and with their willing friends whenever and wherever possible. That turns some readers off. But it is a novel about a story-teller telling fairy tales until she finally has to face the story of her own survival in the Nazi death camps in World War II. The story has power and a theme of how love conquers fear and terrible loss. But I don’t believe that book is the best that I can do.

My novel The Baby Werewolf is among the best writing I have done. I think it definitely shows what skills I have at organizing a fiction story told entirely in first person, creating believable characters in a B-Movie world, satirizing the horror genre, and at the same time dealing with my own personal demons surrounding being the survivor of a sexual assault by a sexual predator.

It shares plot and characters and even events with Recipes, and the two books should be read in tandem. That and other small drawbacks prevent it from really being my masterpiece.

Magical Miss Morgan contains all the fictionalized versions of my teacher stories based on my thirty-one years as a teacher, working with some teachers who were far better than I ever was, and some really incredible kids.

I think, as semi-autobiographical fiction goes, it is one of my best novels, but won’t end up being the best that I have written when all things are said and done.

I also think Sing Sad Songs and A Field Guide to Fauns are among my very best endeavors. But neither one of those is the best work I have done either.

I would have to say that at this moment, Snow Babies is the best novel I have already written. More actual human beings have read and fallen in love with this story than anything else I have written. Is it my masterpiece? I hope not. I hope that I still have one more in me that will be even better. Right now my work in progress is The Boy Who Rose on a Golden Wing. At 4,000 words, it feels like a good one. Will it be my very best? I don’t know. But as long as there is breath in me, I will keep on writing and hoping.

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AeroQuest 4… Nocturne 12

Nocturne 12 – The Flower Planet Rising

While Ged Aero-sensei and Naylund Smith-sensei were busy flying the Super Rooster towards the planet Cornucopea, the White Spider students gathered in the recreation room with the forward view on the holoscreen.   

Mai Ling and Taffy King sat together on the floor, missing their third since Jadalaqstbr hadn’t returned from her mission until after they had collectively left.

Shu Kwai, wearing his white vest and white pants stood on the starboard side of the viewing screen.  Hassan Parker, nude except for the goofy red fez on his head (since he was dedicated to the goofy nudity notions of the Classical Worlds, also known as Space Nudists,) stood next to him.

Gyro Sinjarac, the blue-skinned Nebulon, and his best friend Billy Iowa both wore their cowboy hats, boots, and space-cowboy clothes sitting in the middle of the floor.

Junior Aero, blue-skinned Nebulon, and his beloved young lady friend, Sara Smith.  Stood together at the back of the group holding hands.

The planet kept looming larger and larger in the viewing screen.  It was amazingly green compared to similar planets where life wasn’t merely thriving, but exploding with life.  Most such planets were blue from immense bodies of water.

“So, this is a dangerous planet, huh?” asked Mai Ling.

“Yes, those Throckpods were trying to rip my head off and drink my blood,” said Sara.

Taffy King shivered.  “I hate the idea of plants that can move and talk… and eat you.”

“Yeah, and it will be worse for us than it was for you, Sara,” Mai Ling said.

“Oh, how so?”

“You had your boyfriend there to protect you,” she said.  “Our boyfriends… Taffy’s and mine, are not along to protect us.”

“You two have boyfriends?”

“Taffy loves Rocket,” Gyro blurted out with accompanying giggles.

“But… you, Mai Ling?”

Mai Ling blushed deeply.  “Yeah, um…  Phoenix says of all the girls he’s met before, I’m the one he likes the most.”

Everyone laughed awkwardly, more from embarrassment than anything else.  But no one argued either.  They all instantly realized that Phoenix did treat Mai Ling differently. He wasn’t cruel to her.

“So, what about Billy, Gyro, Shu, and Hassan?” Junior asked.  “Who are they supposed to protect.”

“Well, it’s rather obvious that Gyro and Billy are in love,” said Taffy with a cruel grin.  “And Shu Kwai is more of a monk than a man.  And who’s even gonna get near the naked kid?”

Shu Kwai frowned at the teasing, and Hassan looked quite sad for reasons unknown.

“Well, my clairvoyance is pinging right now with answers to all of it,” said Billy Iowa.  “I see Gyro with an Earther wife and ten blue kids of varying ages.  And Junior and Sara will marry and have a pair of blue twins, a boy and girl… Robert and Valerie, I think.”

“Oh, what about Phoenix and me?” squeaked Mai Ling.

“Well… you do get married… but…”

“Oh, no!  What?”

“You can’t have kids of your own.  You have to adopt… I think.”

“And what about Rocket and me?” Taffy asked.

“One son, Alfred Einstein Rogers.  He’s such a handful you both decide never to have any more.”

“What about Shu?”

“Well, he’s going to be a great teacher, and first among all the White Spider Disciples.”

“Of course he is,” scoffed Taffy.

“And Hassan?”

Suddenly Billy’s face grew pale and the look on his face was the kind of horrified you associate with seeing ghosts.

“No!  Don’t say it.  I don’t want to know.”  Hassan folded his arms across his chest and glared at Billy.

“Do… do you already know it?”

“The curse?  It isn’t really any of your business.  Take your time-snooping nose out of my future.  Don’t you dare tell anyone.”

“Okay.  Okay… I wish I could forget it… myself.”

“I’ll take care of it for you,” Hassan said, putting his first two fingers of his right hand to Billy’s temple and pouring blueish telepathic energy into the side of Billy’s head. That, of course, left everyone so stunned about Hassan’s terrible secret that all the romance and future-children stuff was promptly forgotten.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 134

Canto 134 – Meanwhile, the Rebound…

King Killer stared out the main viewport of his Flagship, the Sherman Hemsley, looking intently at Grand Admiral Cloudstalker’s new flagship, the Giant Leaf-eater.

“It seems like such an insult for legendary pirates like Arkin Cloudstalker to be flying a dinosaur-shaped space ship. Certainly, the brains behind this new fleet coulda come up with something more respectful. It’s so silly… and green!”

“You are complaining for Cloudstalker?  Or f0r yourself?” asked Wicked Wanda.

“Yeah, yeah…  I’m not happy for me either.  His just has to sit there like some kinda brontosaurus, and he don’t have to charge about like a bison in a stampede.”

“You didn’t have to accept a triceratops ship, you know.  And that thing Cloudstalker has is a brachiosaurus.  There never was such a thing as a brontosaurus.  It was actually an apatosaurus.”

“So, you are now the ship’s dinosaur expert?”

“You know I’m not.  I’m your fleet communications officer… and paramour.”

“Yeah, I know it.”

King glared around the bridge at all of the snickering crewmen.  All seven of them on the bridge of the Hemsley.

“What?  You subordinates have opinions?” He growled menacingly.  Everyone ceased laughing instantly.

And then a gray and black trash dumpster materialized on the bridge of Admiral Killer’s flagship as if some gigantic material synthesizer pieced it together from random atoms there.

“What’s this on my bridge?”

“Um… a dumpster?” a timid crewman ventured.

They all heard the familiar snap-hiss of a sealed airlock opening, and then the thing morphed into a 1950s telephone booth.  It was almost a familiar sight to Admiral Killer.

“Dr. Hooey?”

The character who stepped out of the time-ship Star Wars was completely unrecognizable to King.

“Yes, it’s me.  I ran into some difficulties in Outpost’s near future.  I had to be reborn again, as Galagoans do, but at least I get to be younger in this body.”

“Um, why are you different from the old Hooey?”

“I understand perfectly,” Wicked Wanda said.  “Having been a holovid star myself, I definitely understand the need to change faces as you start a new season.”

“So glad you get it, old girl.  Forgive me if I turn out to be a bit cheekier than the old me.”

“So, why is the new you even here?” demanded King.

“Ah, yes!  To make sure you, Admiral King Killer, don’t give up in the coming battle of Outpost.  All you have to do to win it and establish the New Star League, is do what you intended to do before you started to have second thoughts.  If you just do the things you were supposed to do all along, the plan Ham Aero carries out will work and you all will be victorious.”

“Um, ah… what?”

But not even Wicked Wanda could interpret that one for him.  Because when did the second thoughts he was not supposed to have actually begin?  Were these old second thoughts?  Were they second thoughts that happened after the present time?  And what the heck were the first thoughts he actually had to do to win?

“Oh, never mind.  You’ll figure it out when the time is right.”

“And if I don’t figure it out?”

“Well, I guess, then, that the universe we know dies this time… once again.” King Killer glared at this new Hooey.  Yes, it really was a new Hooey.  Just like the old Hooey, only dumber.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 133

Canto 133 – Pink Space Cadillacs

The Super Rooster’s docking bay was filled with all the air/rafts, grav speeders, and small vehicles that Shen Ming had been able to muster from the city of Kiro and surrounding areas on the planet.  They were not exactly the most up-to-date technology in space, but they would do.

Four of the grav speeders were designed by an old interstellar vehicle company called Space Cadillacs.  Two of those were gray and white, while the other two were pink and white.

Shu Kwai was busy lifting boxes of equipment with his telekinesis and placing them into the cargo spaces of the speeders. 

Hassan Parker was busy watching and “supervising.”

Gyro looked at the pink Cadillacs with considerable curiosity.  “These things have a cockpit open to space.  How do we ride in something like that?”

“In our space suits, Smurf,” said Billy.  “The ones you altered to fit us.”

“Oh, sure.  I hope we don’t get swallowed by blossoms again.”

“That was actually a spaceship’s air lock, Gyro.”

“Oh, yeah.  But it was certainly icky.”

“Ha, where did you get a word like icky?”

“Some of you guys are real nerds, Billy.  You use lots of weird words like that.  And the Galactic English was put directly in my brain by Sara’s telepathy.”

“These pink Cadillacko thingies, Billy…  I kinda like the look of them.  Do we get to drive them?”

“Well, I might.  You would just crash one, Gyro.  You can’t drive to save your life.  Remember that grav-bike on Pan Galactica Five during the War?”

“It’s not fair to bring that up.  We crashed because it took too long to figure out what you were saying to me.”

“Yeah, it’s much easier to talk to you now.  It’s like you were born speaking Galactic English.”

“And that stupid bike thingy wouldn’t fly when I gave it a command.”

“That’s because you have to turn it on and use the proper controls in the proper way.”

“Nebulonin kanjeriey are so much easier to use.  You just tell them what you want to do or where you want to go and they fly there.”

“Those are the space-bird things that Nebulons use to get from the space-whale cruisers to the planet, right?”

“Or anywhere else you want to go.  They are much smarter than your Cadillackos.”

“It’s pronounced Cadillacs, Gyro.  And your space-birds are alive, aren’t they?”

“Very much so.  Born on gas planets, they fly in space, or they fly in atmosphere.  They carry their own oxygen-nitrogen fields with them.  Hassan could ride one through space totally naked and be fine, protected from the vacuum of space.”

“Yeah.  I don’t understand Classical Worlders either.  Why would anybody prefer to be naked all the time?”

“You remember we almost had to live like that back at Dr. Crushcracker’s school?  It was a boarding school for Classical Worlds kids.  They wanted you to go to school naked.”

“My worst nightmare.  I’m glad your dad got us out of there.  It was just too weird.”

“Yeah, well… we had to leave there because of our skin color.  We were hated for it.”

“Really?  Because of my brown skin?”

“Not really.  Because of my family’s blue skin.  We were hostile aliens to them.  They wanted to treat us as no better than the faceless ones.”

“I’m sorry about that.  It’s just stupid to think you and Jor and your Mom are not like the rest of us just because your skin is blue.”

“Well, and you and I are different too because of our Psion heads.  That’s what the Zaranians wanted to hang us for.”

“Yeah.  Thank the gods for Shan’s Prophecy and the Zaranian who saved us with it.”

“Anyway… Billy?  Would you teach me to drive one of those cool Cadillackos if I could make it have an energy-field and an atmosphere just like a space-bird?”

“You can do that?”

“I can now that Ged-sensei has trained us to get everything we possibly can out of our Psion powers.  It should be easy to make a field-generator that mimics the field-gland of a Nebulonin kanjeriey… um, space-bird.”

“In that case, I can teach you drive anything.  Especially a pink Cadillac.  I’ll have you driving it even better and with more style than Elvis the Cruel.”

“That famous pirate pilot?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“Thank ya, thank ya very much!”

“Oh, stop it!  You didn’t do that right.” As the driver’s training plan ended, Shu Kwai nearly dropped a crate on Hassan’s head, not because he couldn’t control it, but because the boy who was supervising was simply insufferable.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 132

Canto 132 – Comeuppance

 Phoenix dissipated his fire-sword and turned towards the Black Spider leaders and their fire-fighting crew.  There was an ironic smile on his face.

“You may have noticed that this entire place is now on fire.  We, the three of us have decimated your ranks already.  And we did not come alone.  We brought Jai Chang and the army of Shen Ming.  Jai-sensei needed a chance to prove himself faithful to the White Spider.”

Instantly Jai Chaing swooped down from the rafters, shooting his arrows as he leapt.  Fangwoman, still wearing the helmet, took the first one through the heart.  Three more fell to his arrows before the other warriors took their first shots.

Reacting as quickly as he could, the Green Phantom dropped himself through a trap door in the stage floor.

“Now you must kill me.  I was your sensei, and I deserve an honorable death at your hands.  Let the student now become the master.”  Bone Daddy lowered his head, ready for the final blow.

“What is that?  Some kind of old movie reference?  You may not like it, but I choose to honor you with love and forgiveness.  We will take you as our guest in a lead-lined cell.  We will heal you, and give you the chance to redeem yourself among the White Spiders.”

“Phoenix, no.  You dishonor me.”

“I do not.  You just don’t understand… yet.”

Bone Daddy slumped unconscious to the floor.  Fortunately, a wraith cannot phase while unconscious.

“I have the boy Freddy,” said Jai Chang, holding the unconscious child in his arms.  Of the three White Spider commandoes, he was the only one that needed attention from a healer.

Rocket, Jackie, and Alec were all roused and led safely out of the burning building.  Two soldiers carried the limp form of Bone Daddy out too.

Shen Ming himself retrieved the Avenger Helmet.

“Ah, I must be careful with this thing now.”

“Am I right in thinking you are the reason the Avenger helmet turned up on Jai Chang’s head, Shen Ming-sensei?” Phoenix asked.

“What?  Me, guilty?  Although I am admitting that it all worked out rather nicely for our worst enemies.  Fangwoman is discovering new dimensions.  Bone Daddy is now our permanent guest.  And Green Phantom is now in hiding, needing to recruit many new evil ninjas to his stupid way of thinking. 

“And, ah, so… we have cleaned out the Black Spider Organization in Kiro pretty well.” Shen Ming’s crooked smirk told Phoenix it was all true, but he was not unhappy about it.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 130

Canto 130 – Phoenix’s Final Faceoff

Phoenix knew they were doomed if he could not handle Bone Daddy by himself.  He knew Rocket and Freddy had already fallen.  He wasn’t sure if Jackie and Alec had made it away, but if Bone Daddy escaped him, then he was sure all the White Spiders would eventually fall to him.

Then, phasing through the wall behind him, Bone Daddy was suddenly there.

“So, Phoeni!  You and Alec have both come back to us.”

The fireball in Phoenix’s hand grew hotter.  He knew that the wraith’s phasing ability would allow almost any weapon to pass clean through his suddenly massless body.  The trick would have to be unpredictable, and capable of rendering the wraith instantly dead or defenseless.

“I’ve come to destroy you, Bone Daddy.  And if Alec has returned, or hurt Jackie, I’ll destroy him too.”

“Child, more than any other teacher you ever had, you were mine to teach.  Your skill and your cunning, that came from me!”

“But your treachery and evil, I never took from you.  I didn’t want those things.  And you never saw that in me.”

He stared at Phoenix with those mostly empty eye sockets.  There was orange fire blazing in those mostly invisible eyes.  It was hard to read any expression on the face of a wraith.  It was like looking into a milky-white skull imbedded in a head made of clear glass.

“You were my favorite, Phoenix.  The best I ever taught.  And I am glad at the last you came back to me.  Because I alone have the right to kill you for betraying the Black Spider. ”

Phoenix chose that moment to strike.  Bone Daddy had never seen him use the flame-sword psionic move with sun-plasma intensity.  He and Rocket had developed it in secret.

“And I alone have the right to slay you, my favorite teacher.”

The white-hot blade that burst forth from the fireball in Phoenix’s hand arced around three-quarters of a circle, slicing three quarters of Bone Daddy’s fireproof blade, forcing both his own blade and Phoenix’s into a deep cut on his left shoulder.

Had he wraithed into phase-ghost form, the strike would have gone clean through him and probably vaporized his heart even in phase form, killing him instantly.  He had saved his own life by anticipating the trick.  But had sustained a possibly fatal wound anyway.

“You honor me, boy.  That was the best attack you have ever done.”

The wraith-ninja in purple armor dropped to his knees.  His truncated sword fell from his hand.

“Surrender.  You don’t have to die,” Phoenix said with tears in his eyes.  He hated this alien being.  But not as much as he loved him.

“What would you do with me as your prisoner?”

“Convert you to the White Spider side.  You have skills you can still teach to us.”

“Ah, but this wound is probably my doom in any case.  Just because you can’t see my blood, it does not mean I am not bleeding.  Cut off my head and end it quickly.”

Phoenix raised the fire-sword to do just that when he was interrupted.

“Not so fast, young pyro.  Your friends have all fallen.  You are surrounded and alone,” said Fangwoman wearing the Avenger helmet.

“Yes, we have our fire crew here to put out your pesky flames.  We were prepared for your return,” gloated the Green Phantom. Phoenix dissipated his fire-sword and turned towards the Black Spider leaders and their fire-fighting crew.  There was an ironic smile on his face.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 129

Canto 129 – Spider Wars, Flamer-Style

“Yow!  It’s Phoenix!  He’s come back!  And he’s helping the enemy!” cried a nearly-scorched ninja.

“Ow-ow-owie-owch!” cried a flaming ninja.

“Run for cover!  There’s two flamers now!” cried a female ninja with blue hair.

“There are ways to battle even Phoenix!” cried the Green Phantom, the Galtorrian lizard-ninja.  “Those who don’t want to burn, follow me!”

Friashqaztla, more easily known as Freddy, sniffed his way through the smoke until he found Alec and Jackie.  They were chained to the floor in an alcove with sonic psionic dampers trained on them from all sides.  Jackie was completely naked.

Freddy crept up silently in Black Wolf form.

“Alec!  I’ve found you,” he croaked in a smoke-hampered voice.

“Freddy?  That you?” the groggy prisoner replied, looking at the Black Wolf with bleary eyes.

“Yes, I’m here with Rocket and Phoenix to get you out.”

“Phoenix is here?  Is he angry with me?  He told me he’d kill me with the next mistake I made.”

“No.  I don’t think so.  He said as long as you haven’t hurt Jackie he wouldn’t burn you.”

Alec was visibly relieved.

“Why haven’t you escaped with Jackie’s teleport power?”  Freddy was noticing that the girl was conscious, even though she was stark naked and bleary-eyed in the same way that Alec was.

“Psionic dampers.  They are trained on our heads, making it impossible to think or use our powers.”

“If I use my wolf fangs to gnaw through the power cables, I should be able to free your minds.  But can Jackie get you both out of here before Rocket and Phoenix burn the whole place down?”

“Help me to focus, furry-boy, and I will zap Alec out of here faster than you can say Herkimer Hairbloomers.”

Freddy smiled a wolf-smile.  That was an old Zaranian joke.  Herkimer had the psionic power of instant hair-growth.  And useless as that power was, it was a good test of teleport speed.  Herkimer could grow a hundred yards of hair in five seconds.  So, if you were standing next to him, and the teacher said “Herkimer Hairbloomers,” and you still managed to escape being entangled in his golden locks, you were a fast-enough teleport.

“Wait here.  Don’t go anywhere,” Freddy growled, still smiling.  He padded off on wolf feet to look at the power-supply box.

Meanwhile, Rocket was burning Black Spider Ninjas to cinders left and right, all around the Black Spider Castle.  He was having a lot of fun, but he was also wondering where Phoenix had gotten off to.  These ninjas burned easier than pine boards and paper, but the White Spiders were still vastly outnumbered.

Rocket was a naturally gifted flamer, but Phoenix seemed to know so much more than he did.  Especially about the evil and semi-evil stuff you could do.

The Green Phantom suddenly reappeared wearing a yellow and black fire-proof suit.  Of course, Rocket didn’t know what it was, it having been invented specifically in case the BS Ninjas ever needed to defend against attacks from Phoenix.  The Black Spiders seemed far more paranoid and untrustworthy than the White Spiders were used to.

Ninjas supporting hoses moved in to surround Rocket.  All of them wore the yellow and black firemen’s outfits.

“So, what are you gonna do?  Shoot me with water to try to put my candleflame out?”

“Something like that,” said the Green Phantom, probably smirking, but his face hidden within his firesuit.

Streams of white flame-retardant paste shot out at Rocket as if they were lines of toothpaste, sticky and cold, swirling around Rocket who was now apparently filling the role of tooth decay.

The fire was still at his command, but the piles of expended toothpaste didn’t burn.  It was frustrating.  After one final fire-flower decapitated an evil BS Ninja, Rocket could make no more.  His hands were covered in inflammable goo.

“Get a lasso around his neck!” Green Phantom ordered.

These ninjas were in no way psionic, but they were good at ninja skills.  Three loops found their way immediately around Rocket’s neck.

“Pull ‘em tight!”

The nooses cut off Rocket’s airways and he blacked out completely.

                                    *****

Freddy found the wire bearing current to the psionic dampers at about the same moment that the Green Phantom found him.  The Green Phantom lived up to his name not only by wearing green ninja cloth-armor, but also by being a full-blooded, green Galtorrian lizard-man.

“You, little White Spider, lose this round!” the green ninja swore as his katana arched through its attack pattern and sliced cleanly through Freddy’s right front shoulder.

Swiftly Freddy rolled over on his good left shoulder, picturing the muscle re-growth through his third eye just as sensei had taught him.  The black wolf-leg was replaced by the time he was ready to stand on all four legs again.

“So, a little werewolf, just like Ged Aero and his double, the Black Spider Bres.”

“Any part of you that I bite off won’t regrow as swiftly.”  Freddy glowered at the ninja with bright blue wolf-eyes.

“Never mind…  We’re prepared for you already…”  The ninja lowered his katana, turned, and ran away at full speed.

“I will bite through the wire first and then give him the chase and the bite he deserves.”

Freddy bit cleanly through the wire, but the energy that surged through it, and through Freddy’s tongue and mouth besides, was what any werewolf would have to call “silver fire” for the effect it immediately had.

Freddy was transformed into his original naked form and fell full-length upon the stone floor, apparently dead to the world… unconscious at the very least.

                                    *****

As soon as Jackie sensed the return of her teleporting power, she knew she had to free both herself and Alec from their chains.  She pressed her back against as much of Alec’s body as she could manage, then popped both of them out of their iron bonds.

Briefly she was standing there with him looking down at their now-empty manacles.  Already she began forming a picture in her third eye of the courtyard of The Palace of a Thousand Years.  It would take literally all of her remaining energy to get them there, but it would be worth it.  They would both be safe.  And now, she was confident that Alec really loved her, and she… well, she felt exactly the same.

“Jadalaqstbr, you have saved us,” said Alec, pronouncing her Zaranian name correctly for the first time that she could ever remember.

She turned to face him.

He put a gentle hand on her right cheek, and then his lips found hers.

“Alec, um…  I have to concentrated really hard to get us out of here.”

“Yes, Jackie.  But I love you.”

“I… I love you too…”

They moved together for one more kiss.

Then the Green Phantom popped them both with a stun-ray.  Both youths temporarily vibrated with the shock of it.  Then both of them fell to the floor.  Alec first.  Then naked Jackie on top of him.  “Not exactly faster than I could say Herkimer Hairbloomers,” said the Green Phantom.  “Too bad, Alec.  You lose again.”

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 127

Canto 127 – The Black Spider Theatre

Rocket had swiftly grown to trust Phoenix in ways that were hard to explain.  The two pyrokinetics had spent so much time transferring pyro-tricks back and forth with the aid of telepathy by Junior, Sara, or Hassan that he felt like he knew what the inside of Phoenix’s mind fully felt like.

He was surprised when they both ducked through a small, obscure doorway and found themselves in the dark wing of a mostly-dark stage.

Fangwoman was standing at the very front of the stage, wearing the Avenger helmet, holding both arms up and speaking loudly to about four hundred Black Spider ninjas in full ninja cloth armor.  Not only were there the ninjas in the audience gallery, but they were surrounded by a couple of thousand lit candles.

“Come, my minions!  Now is the time to strike!  The Palace of a Thousand Years is in chaos!”  She shouted into the candle-lit auditorium.  Strike in the name of Shen Ming!”

“Why would we fight in the name of Shen Ming?” asked one confused minion.

“Because Shen Ming has earned our anger!  He betrayed us and locked us away!”

“No, he hasn’t,” said a female ninja in peach-colored armor.  “If anyone has betrayed us, it would have to be Jinjiro, or Bres, or even Phoenix.”

“He betrayed us by locking us in a hole for a hundred years!”

“No, he didn’t.  You must be talking as the weird helmet.  The helmet was locked up in the Palace.”

“Oh, why am I arguing!”  Fangwoman launched three iron ninja stars faster than anyone could react.  The three ninjas who had spoken fell dead with the throwing stars partially protruding from their foreheads.

“We have to stop them before they get to the Palace,” Rocket whispered.

“Don’t worry, Rocket, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  Do you see all the candles in here?”

“Yes, but I see all the ninjas too.  We’re way too outnumbered.”

“Just follow my lead.”

Phoenix gestured at the far wall.  All seven hundred and fifty-three candles on that wall suddenly shot flames upward as if they were flame-throwers.

Phoenix gathered all the flame and heat into one tight column of fire, and then brought it down on the heads of around a hundred of Fangwoman’s minions.

Some died screaming.  Others managed to pat out the fires on their clothing.  Still others seemed to be wearing flame-proof armor.

Rocket gestured at a near wall to accomplish the same effect  It appeared at first that he had set about a hundred and twenty ninjas on fire.  The effect was very similar to what Phoenix had achieved.  However, more than twice as many put the flames out, and three times as many proved to be fire-proof.

“Well, this should prove difficult,” said Rocket through gritted teeth.’

“Oh, yes!  Difficult, but glorious fun!” laughed Phoenix. It was going to be a long, hot night, Rocket thought as he began to grow his fire-form around himself.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 126

Canto 126 – Enter the Spider

The Black Wolf snuffled along the streets of Kiro, past apartment complexes, Shinto shrines, manga cafes, noodle shops, child-care centers, accounting firms, Zen Gardens, and the once-famous clown college where the zaniest members of the Harlequin Brothers that Gaijin entertainment had once been saturated with.

Phoenix and Rocket Rogers in his conspicuous white cowboy hat followed at a discreet distance.

Finally, they arrived in front of a run-down athletic shoe factory.

“Is this it?” Phoenix asked.

“You don’t remember it?” Rocket asked.

“They obviously moved locations after Alec and Taffy and I became White Spiders.  Too risky to keep using a place we could take all of you directly to.”

“How did Alec know where to go, then?”

“Good question.  Do you think the rat might’ve been betraying us all along?”

“No.  I think it was the helmet.”

“My nose says they are inside this building.  Jackie was very afraid when they entered,” said the Black Wolf.

“We are going in, but we will split up inside.  Freddy, can you find Alec and Jackie for us?  Maybe even set them free if they are imprisoned here?”

“Yes, I can Phoenix-kun.”  Phoenix nodded, and the Black Wolf disappeared around the corner, sniffing out a possible entrance for a small black wolf.

“And what’ll we do?” Rocket asked.

“We see if we can locate the Avenger helmet.  But carefully so we don’t fall under its spell.”

“Right!  We definitely need to find out what that evil thing is up to.”

“It will mostly likely be in Fangwoman’s greedy hands.  She is the highest-ranking Black Spider after Jinjiro’s death and Bres’ banishment from the planet.  But be warned, she is not the most evil one there.  You need to leave Bone Daddy to me.”

“Bone Daddy?”

“He’s a wraith, not a humanoid.  His people have see-through flesh that makes them look like walking skeletons when they’re naked.  And they can alter their density to be stone hard or phase through solid walls.  Oh, and anything in between, so never let a wraith have a chance to grab any of your internal organs by hand.”

Rocket visibly shuddered. Of course, Phoenix knew that Bone Daddy would be the critical fight for him.  He would have to beat him in single combat or all the White Spider students would eventually die at his hands, not just Freddy, Rocket, and Phoenix.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 125

Canto 125 – Spider Hunting

Rocket Rogers, Phoenix, and Friashqazatla, better known as “Freddy,” were gathered in Shen Ming’s office when Tempi, the messenger boy, came in breathlessly explaining what had happened to Alec and Jackie in front of the palace courtyard. Shen Ming nodded seriously.

“What did Alec do?” asked Phoenix angrily.

“It seems, my young friends, that he put the Avenger helmet on his own head.  And then he made young Jackie strip naked and run away with him to the Black Spider Palace.  Tempi says the people in the courtyard could not stop him.”

“I always knew that Alec’s conversion to the White Spider’s service was the least likely to hold,” growled Phoenix.

“Gosh darn it!  Now I need three brave caballeros to go attack the Black Spider Palace and bring them back.  Especially the naked, pretty one.”

“We will do it, Shen Ming-sama.  We’ll burn them out of there.”  Rocket’s enthusiasm was almost too much.

“But we won’t burn our two classmates,” amended Phoenix a little more darkly.  “At least, not the pretty naked one.”

“Good, good, young ones.  If you make an oopsie and burn down the Black Spider Palace accidentally, don’t be too upset about it.”

A wide grin split Shen Ming-sensei’s face as the three boys left the office.

Phoenix was a little bit anxious about this test.  Going back to the Black Spider Palace would not be an easy thing.  He would be going back to a place where terrible things happened.  But it was also the place where he would probably have to face Bone Daddy once again.  And this time it would be different because he had betrayed his master, the wraith assassin from the planet Darkworld.   And facing up to that betrayal was going to hurt.

Phoenix looked at his two companions.  He was entirely confident of Rocket’s loyalty and friendship.  But Freddy?  Rocket had an arm around the younger Zaranian.   He would be loyal to Rocket, but there were things Phoenix wouldn’t be able to order Freddy to do if the need arose. 

“So, if we are going to track Alec and Jackie, we are going to need a good tracker,” Phoenix said.  He and Rocket both looked at Freddy.

“The Black Wolf, huh?”

Freddy sniffed the air and immediately transformed into the small black wolf form his Psion power allowed him to become.

“This way!”

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