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Stardusters… Canto 61

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Canto Sixty-One – Sizzahl’s Primary Laboratory

Sizzahl awoke suddenly as a large chunk of metal crashed down from the ceiling above.  The Bio Dome shook with the shockwaves of some massive crash above the lab.

“That will be Senator Tedhkruhz,” said Makkhain calmly.  “He has come to put an end to all of us.”

“We can’t let him destroy the control systems in this building, Uncle Makk.  They can repair the planet’s atmosphere if they keep running, but we are all doomed if they don’t.”

“Maybe you didn’t understand me earlier, my love,” said Makkhain, “we have reached the point where this world is doomed.  It is the end of everything.  The Senate decided the world should end before we ever went to war.  We have reached the end times.”

Sizzahl looked at him through horror-filled eyes.  “You are not my Uncle Makk!”

“No, I haven’t really been him for some time now.  But I have enough of his genetics and enough of his real original memories to know that I love you and regret that I must kill you now.”

“What?  Why?”

Makkhain pulled out a knife and a small slug-thrower.  He smiled as he moved sinisterly towards Sizzahl.  “Because my master, Senator Tedhkruhz, commands it.  We were supposed to conduct a simple mop-up operation here.  No one knew that General Gohmurt had failed to kill all of your family and scientific minions.”

“No!  It can’t be.”  Sizzahl’s face was dripping with oozing tears.  She had never believed that she could be made to cry before that moment, but here was her fake Uncle proving her completely wrong.

“I will make your death swift and painless, little one.  I am not without feelings for you.”

Makkhain raised the slug-thrower and fired at her as Sizzahl twisted the buckle on her belt.  The bullet stopped in mid-flight and clattered harmlessly to the floor.

“Wha… what magic is this?”

“It’s Science,” said the weeping Sizzahl.

“What sort of Science?”

“The Telleron kind…  I guess I owe Mrs. Castille for forcing me to wear this uncomfortable Telleron jump suit.  It has a force field built in.”

“A force what?”

“Those frog people are at a higher tech level than we are… even higher than the Earthers are.  And they are more generous and thoughtful than we are.  They have no stake in this planet, yet they have only tried to help me save it.”

“Come closer to me, dear,” said the false Makkhain.  “Show me this magic armor you wear.”

Sizzahl turned her face away from her uncle.  Of course, if he grabbed her with his hand he might be able to kill her with the knife.  So, she turned the dial on the belt buckle further.  She shimmered for a moment and then completely disappeared from view.

“You know, Sizzahl, I can still find you.  I have legendary tracking skills.”

“The real Makkhain did,” she said as she invisibly dashed out of the lab, “but you are definitely not him.”

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 60

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Canto Sixty – The Bonehead

Light suddenly blared into the prison pit with a brightness that sledge-hammered the skull of anyone and everyone who had eyes.  From pitch dark to bright light in practically no time at all.  The optic nerves had no time to adjust, let alone the reactions of an intelligent brain.

“We are landing!” called out a Galtorrian voice that Farbick had not heard before.  “Now is the time to be free of that prison.”

“Okay,” said Farbick carefully, “does that mean you are setting us free?  Or are you just asking us to come out so you can kill and eat us?”

“We don’t trust Senator Tedhkruhz to allow us to survive for very much longer.  You were right to point out to us that we are not helping ourselves by helping him.”

“And you let me live when you could’ve killed me, Stabharh,” said the voice of the guard from before.  “We kinda owe you for that…  I do, anyway.”

“Yes, what is up with that, Stabharh?   First you betray your precious Bahbahr, and then you try to convince us to do the same with Tedhkruhz?”  It was the first voice again.

“Slahshrack, is that you?” asked Stabharh.

“Of course it is, you fool.  Who else knows you well enough to question your actions… especially the changes from your old ways?”

“It is Slahshrack,” Stabharh said to Farbick with a sudden toothy grin.  “We went to Galtorrian Centurion School together to learn to become generals.”

Slahshrack and the guard helped all three prisoners out of the hole.

“There are only two of us that will help you,” Slahshrack said directly to Stabharh.  “No one else trusts anyone else aboard the Bonehead.  Helping one another is against Tedhkruhz’s rules, and gets you turned into dinner.  Most of the Galtorrian soldiers who are left alive are not really capable of thinking for themselves.  But I am, and Goahnahd is as well.  That’s why he told me about your plans.”

“I’m very glad he did, and you came back to let us out,” said Farbick.

Slahshrack glared at the Telleron.  “We wouldn’t have believed it if Stabharh hadn’t stayed in the prison pit.  It made me believe he really had changed.  If you had just killed Goahnahd and escaped the pit I would’ve killed you as worthless minions of the Galtorrian system.”

“You don’t believe in the system any more, Slahshrack?” Stabharh asked.

“Of course I don’t.  Tedhkruhz is more conceited and ruthless and corrupt than fat old Bahbahr could ever have been.  But I couldn’t go it alone.  And now, Stabharh, with you as an ally, we can make the world our own.  Tedhkruhz has the last working space ships and the last living army on the planet.  If we slay the great dragon, then we can easily become the next great dragon.”

Suddenly the entire space craft crashed into a large, domed building.  It had finally come down to the planet.  Unfortunately, the damage and violence to the craft probably guaranteed that it would never lift off again.

“What happened?” asked Farbick.  “Why have we crashed?”

“Well…” said Slahshrack, “we kinda started this rebellion by killing the pilots.”

Farbick was beginning to feel a little queasy in the craw.  He pulled Starbright to him and folded her in his sucker-tipped arms and fingers.

*****

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Writing a Canto

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“Canto” is what I idiotically call a chapter in my hometown novels.  Writing a chapter in a novel is a much more complex and difficult thing than you might  realize.  I just finished rewriting Canto 23 of the novel I am working on for the third time.  I will share that chapter here as an example of what I am blathering on about.

Canto Twenty-Three :  Scaling the Wall of the Werewolf House 

“So, you figured out how to get across the gap between the branch and the window?”  I asked Milt.

“Of course.  Look up there at the peak of the roof directly above the window.”

“What exactly am I looking at?” I asked.

“Don’t you see that knob thing on the top corner?”

Straining my eyes, I did see a tiny silver ball thing on the centerboard of the roof, right at the very peak of the corner.  It looked microscopic from the ground.

“Yeah.  So?”

“Well, that’s the answer,” said Brent, pulling a coil of rope out of his backpack.I swallowed hard.

“You mean…”

“Yeah.  I’m gonna throw the rope over the knob thing and then you can swing in through the window like Tarzan.”

I began to feel ill in the pit of my stomach.“I don’t know…”

“You aren’t gonna chicken out now?” asked Superchicken.  “This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for a Norwall Pirate.”

“And I’m gonna be the only one swinging in?”

“Naw.  If you don’t die swinging in first, we’ll all do it.”  Brent grinned with the confidence of somebody who never experienced accidents the way the rest of us had at one time or another.

“Why do I have to do it first?” I complained.

“Because Andrew decided not to come.  We always make Andrew do the life and death stuff first.  But he’s still mad about the dilly-whacking party going bad, and nobody being willing to go to it.”  Milt was grinning that lop-sided grin of his, like a Cheshire cat, only more snarky.

“So if I die, you will tell my folks how it happened?”

“Of course,” said Brent.  “We’ll make sure they know the whole thing was entirely your idea.”

“And we’ll say you forced us to do it,” added Milt.

I looked up at the tree.  Branches for hand-holds were not too far apart.  I had climbed worse trees before that particular tree.  Then I looked at Milt.  He was nodding “Yes” and grinning.

I looked back at the tree and swallowed hard again.  Then I looked at Brent.  His grin was even more fake than Milt’s.

I looked over at Superchicken, probably the most sensible member of the Pirates.  He looked kinda grim and just shrugged at me.

I figured the time had come to decide.  I started to walk away from the base of  the tree.

“Whoa, there, buddy,” said Brent, grabbing me from behind and turning me around to face the tree again.  He gave me a push towards the tree.

Gingerly I tested each branch before I used it to pull myself upwards.  And then I got a foothold on the lowest branches.  As I climbed higher, Milt started up right behind me.

“Keep going, Todd,” Milt said.  “You can’t just stop climbing.  You stop climbing while I keep going, you end up sitting on my head.”

I looked down at him and frowned.  He grinned up at me.  When he was on the third branch up, Brent began climbing after us.  Superchicken brought up the rear guard.  If I didn’t keep going, Superchick might end up with three guys sitting on his head.

Then I got up high enough to be on the branch that was about even with what we believed was Torrie’s window.  Ooh, did that look narrow out towards the end!  But I bucked up the old courage and slid out towards the little end.

“Guys, this branch is bending down!”

“Be brave.  We’ll tell your parents you died heroically if you fall.”

“Um, yeah.”

So I ended up sitting on the narrow end of the branch, sagging down about two feet below the bottom of the window.  There was about four feet of empty space between where I sat and the window.

“Now what?” I complained.

“Now the rope!” said Brent.  He tossed it outwards and upwards, the coil carrying it up over the knob on the roof peak just as slick and as cool as Roy Rogers ever did during one of those singing cowboy shows.  The rope uncoiled back down until it dangled in front of me, just out of reach.

“So, how do I get a hold of that?” I complained again.

“Lean out and grab it,” Brent said, like that was nothing.  Like that was the easiest thing in the world.

“Yeah right.”  I leaned out as far as I could.  I could just barely touch it with the tips of my fingers.  I tried twiddling my fingers to get hold of it,  That just made it wiggle and dance out of reach.

“Lean out further,” Brent said.

“Easy for you to say.”

I leaned out an inch too far.  And suddenly I was airborne.  My feet were hanging over nothing.  My heart was trying to escape by coming up out of my throat and bursting across into the side of the house.  Or maybe that was my stomach.  My flailing hands snagged the rope.  I bashed into the side of the house with a loud thump, but I had saved myself from falling to my death like the Andrew stick figure in Milt’s diagram.

“Hang on!” said Milt and Brent together in hoarse voices.

“You hang on!” I said to Brent.  He was anchoring the rope with both hands and his legs were wrapped firmly around the branch.Just then, the window went open and the baby werewolf was looking out at me with a scared expression that was probably at least the equal to the one on my face.

“Wha-what are you doing there?” Torrie stammered.

“We came to visit you,” I said, breathlessly.

“Oh, wow!”  Torrie seemed to catch his breath.  Then he caught hold of the rope and helped Brent pull me up to the window sill.  He grabbed me by the seat of my Levis and hauled me into his attic bedroom.

Then, as I sat disheveled on the floor and looked at Torrie, his hairy face blossomed into a huge white-toothed smile.

“I can’t believe it!  I mean, I hoped you would come, but I never imagined…”

“Hey, werewolf!  Swing the rope back to us so we can come in too,” commanded Brent.  Torrie quickly moved to the window to comply, but never for a moment dropped that huge happy smile.

*****

So, there you have it.  A single filigreed puzzle piece in stand-alone form.  In the previous twenty-two cantos you would’ve learned that Torrie suffered from a genetic disorder called hypertrichosis, the werewolf-hair disease.  Because of that genetic anomaly, he was living his life in isolation and imprisonment due to his family’s shameful secrets.  Todd, the narrator-character, has vowed to befriend the secretive boy werewolf.  He is even willing to climb a tree to get to Torrie.  It kinda helps to know that stuff before you try to read and understand this canto.  But a canto has to have its own beginning, middle, and end.  There needs to be rising action, a climax, and a conclusion.  And yet, it has to link to the cantos both before and after.  And in a comic fantasy novel like this one, it helps if there are also funny bits.  You can see, then, why this canto was a struggle for me.  But I think now the hurdle is finally crossed.  So, on with the story!

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Stardusters… Canto 59

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Canto Fifty-Nine – In the Nesting Quarters of Tanith and Davalon

Davalon and Tanith had learned to cuddle and hold each other in the affectionate way that Earthers like Alden and Gracie Morrell always did.  They were doing it now in the nest Sizzahl had given them.  Dav could no more imagine being apart from Tanith than he could imagine going back to the old Telleron ways of killing and recycling the protein of tadpoles who proved to be unnecessary during the long space voyages.

“Are we going to survive this adventure, Dav?”

“Yes, I think we stand a very good chance now with the adults here to save us.  Especially Mrs. Castille.  She is a very formidable warrior.”

“How did our people survive without her?”

“That’s a very good question.  I think our people have been going down the wrong path for centuries.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever wondered about how our fundamental survival methods actually work?”

“No.  We were not programmed in the egg to think about things like that.”

“I think that’s a mistake too, Tanith.  We need more thinkers in our species.  With the protein recycling system we used to have, you and I might not have survived.  If we hadn’t undergone such a dramatic change on Earth, our whole mission might have gone extinct by now.”

“I don’t follow, Dav.”

“Think about it.  What kind of Telleron people survived most often in our society before we adopted Earther behavior?”

“Self-promoting evil ones like Commander Sleez… and, well… stupid ones like Corebait and Studpopper and Finkerblatt… the ones who were lucky enough to never be put in a position where their life was threatened.”

“Yeah, except Corebait disintegrated himself back on Earth, and Finkerblatt tried to flush a toilet into space instead of the molecular recycle grid and was pulled out into space by his…”

“Yeah, but Studpopper proves that the lucky stupid ones do sometimes stay alive.”

“Okay.  You’re right.  But it is also the steady and quietly competent ones like Farbick… and maybe Commander Biznap that not only survive, but get critical things done and help others to survive as well as themselves.”

“So, what are you saying, Dav?”

“I think we know what we have to do, and what kind of Telleron people we need to become.”

“We need to be lucky and stupid?”

Davalon smiled as he saw how brightly Tanith was smiling at him.

“We need to be people who think and solve problems.  We need to be competent like Farbick.  We need to take the lead like Biznap.”

“You think that thinking is our job or something?”

“Exactly.  Promise me you will help me learn how to think better and more clearly.  You are smart, Tanith.  If you and I help each other, we will both get smarter.”

“And maybe we can raise up tadpoles of our own.”

Davalon smiled at her.  She was lovely cradled in his arm and close up against his chest.

“Yes.  We can make a new world where Tellerons are better than they have ever been.”

“We can evolve into a better people?”

“Yes. And with a little of the lucky that used to be only for stupid Tellerons, maybe we can be a people who live to old age and rebuild a planet.”

“You are giving me good things to dream about,” Tanith said, closing her eyes and falling softly into the realm of good dreams.

*****

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Stardusters… Canto 58

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Canto Fifty-Eight – On the Gundahl Moon

Xiar looked around at the moon base.  There was considerable damage to the buildings and the power plant was going to need to be replaced by Telleron Magna-Grav generators.  But, unlike the main planet below, the atmosphere on the small, broken moon was breathable and totally conducive to Telleron life.  His people were saved.  They could thrive here.

Biznap walked up with a young Galtorrian boy trailing in his shadow.

“Can we install an energy shield to protect us from that space craft you mentioned?”

“We can go one better,” said Biznap.  “The defensive slug-throwers are still operational here.  They have a rail gun set up here that we can electronically enhance and increase the lethal power to levels the Galtorrians cannot match.  They will not be able to drive us out.”

“The news pleases me,” Xiar said.  He nodded toward the boy.  “Who is your young friend?”

“I have appointed Jahzpuhr here the leader of the Galtorrian children on this moon.  He is helping us with repair and construction.”

“You will not try to kill and us, will you, Jahzpuhr?” Xiar asked.

“No, sir, Captain Xiar, sir.”  The boy looked very much like a scale covered human from Earth, but the tail was definitely a difference.  He was dressed in a new cadet uniform made from Telleron synthesizers.  “Your people have saved us from death.  You are feeding us.  We owe you a life-debt and will serve you to the very end.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Galtorrian children we found here are all refugees from the planetary war,” said Commander Biznap.  “They were starving to death until Farbick found them and fed them.”

“Our masters were keeping us around so they could eat us when all the food was gone,” said Jahzpuhr.  “You have given us more than we could ever have hoped for, and we are grateful.”

“Well, I am just happy you didn’t eat Farbick, or any of us.  I do need to take this base for my people, however.”

“The base is not ours, sir, Captain Xiar, sir.  It belonged to Overlord Bahbahr the merchant prince.  We will evacuate at once if you desire it.”   The boy said it with a look in his eyes that told Xiar he was really begging to stay.

“Nonsense.  You will stay here and work for us.  If you do your jobs well, we will reward you.  And you can certainly live here among us.  You are all mere children, right?  And there is to be no eating of Tellerons?”

“We will be faithful, sir, Captain Xiar, sir.”

“I like how polite you are,” Xiar replied, “and I definitely appreciate the no eating of Tellerons thing… but you don’t have to keep calling me sir, Captain Xiar, sir.  Your majesty will be fine… or your ultimate gracious highness… or maybe just Captain.  OK?”

“Yes, sir, Captain Xiar, sir.”

“Not a very quick learner, huh, Biznap?”

“No, sir, he is not.  None of the lizard children seem particularly bright.  But they do work hard and they have some skills in the construction department.   They will be useful.”

“And your Earther wife, Harmony, can teach them all that Bible nonsense, eh?  Instead of me?”

“She will appreciate more souls to save for Jeezis, or whoever it is,” said Biznap, “but she didn’t let up on me just because she had the rest of you to preach to.  She has a sincere faith, and a very large capacity for curing un-taught heathens of their heathen-ness.”

“Is there any way to track them and get them back?  Particularly Harmony and Shalar, I mean?”

“I will take a wing and go after them, but knowing Harmony, she will not slow down without finding and rescuing the lost tadpoles first.”

“That’s too bad.  I really miss Shalar.”

“And your missing tadpoles too, I suppose?”

Xiar tried to remember which ones those were that they were talking about.  “Yes, them too, I suppose.”

****

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Stardusters… Canto 57

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Canto Fifty-Seven – Sizzahl’s Primary Laboratory

Sizzahl let the Senator into her sanctum with the key she rarely ever used.

“Your father had more secrets than I knew, didn’t he?” asked Makkhain with a resigned sigh.

“Yes.  Truthfully, he didn’t trust you totally because you are always so anxious to go to war over everything.  Father believed we needed to at least try peaceful solutions.”

“That is the one thing about your father that makes him a hopeless fool.  Galtorrians are a warrior people.  We solve our problems by removing the greatest threats by force.”

“But you can’t declare war on toxic chemicals and gas, and then just kill them.  Those problems are not mortal.”

Makkhain nodded.  “I did not believe that your father could reverse the pollution problem.  I thought scientists had already doomed us, making the war unwinnable.  I took steps to undermine their efforts.  I may have made a terrible mistake.”

“What did you do?”

“I targeted your father’s installations for destruction.”

“But he didn’t tell you where the atmosphere scrubbers were located.  He didn’t trust you, so he gave you misinformation.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“Of course I do.  They are operating under my direction.”

“Will you tell me where they are now that I have found you again and vowed to protect you?”

“No.  I love you, Uncle Makk, but I don’t trust you any more than Daddy did.”

“What?  Why?”

“It is too important that we keep them optimally operating.  We cannot allow them to be interfered with in any way.  The only way I won’t keep them going is if I decide our world is not worth saving.”

“Not worth saving?  What are you talking about?”

“Galtorrians are alpha predators on this planet.  They can’t be at peace because they are dedicated to killing, maiming, and destroying.  They are vicious and without morals because it is in their genetic make-up to be that way.  Creatures like us deserve to die and make way for a better, more thoughtful race of beings.”

“That’s what the Galtorrian/Human fusions are for?”

“Of course.  I will save this world… but I intend to save it for them.”

Makkhain’s lizard eyes were glowering at Sizzahl with undisguised menace and loathing.  Was this the uncle she loved?  The only relative who had ever treated her like a worthy being, and not just some brain-blossoming freak?  Or had his adventures during the war changed him somehow?

“Well, I don’t expect you to save the world for me.  I am nearly at the end of my road no matter what.”

“What do you mean?”

“When Senator Tedhkruhz finds us… and he soon will with the tracking mechanisms implanted in my body… he will slay me once and for all, and use all the information he can torture out of you to squash your father’s legacy.  Our destruction is, after all, guaranteed.”

*****

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The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto (a book review)

 

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The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto: A Novel
by Mitch Albom (Goodreads Author)

Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 23, 2017

 

It was amazing!

This book is a miracle. It makes words into music and fills your imagination with some of the most beautiful guitar music ever played. It introduces you not only to a very convincing portrait of a fictional musician and Rock and Roll icon, but a vast array of very real musicians and show people who agreed to be used as a part of the story, approved the sections about them, and even helped Mitch Albom to compose it. These include notable music makers like Lyle Lovett, Darlene Love, Tony Bennett, Paul Stanley, and Burt Bacharach. The story itself transcends its fictional form, giving us a look at a musical history whose scope goes from the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s to Woodstock, and on to the present day. It even gives us glimpses into the distant musical past, framing the story with the song Lágrima by the classical guitarist Francisco Tárrega. And all this music the book fills your mind with is actually performed only in your imagination and memory. Albom proves again with this book how his mastery of language makes him an absolute master story-teller.

 

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And now, here is me trying to make sense out of a reading experience that made my figurative heart grow wings and soar into the clouds in ways brought forth only by the strains of a sweet, classical Spanish guitar.

Stories like this one make a unique music in the mind, and though it is all fiction, occurring silently in the theater of your mind, you hear the music in your heart.  This story elicited the music of Rodrigo’s Adagio throughout, a piece I know intimately.  I myself have never written a musical book the way this fiction book was written.  But I know now that I have to try.  Poetry becomes song lyrics, right?  There is a connection between a good archetypal story about life and love and laughter, and the bittersweet strains of music on a Spanish guitar.

I truly and utterly fell in love with this beautiful book.  Mitch Albom is a genius… for a Detroit Tigers baseball fan.  And I would not risk telling you anything that might spoil such a beautiful story.  All I can say is, don’t read it… listen to it as you would a piece of beautiful music.  Listen to it and love it.

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