Friday, April 30, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - Z is for Zingiber officinale

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWX, Y.

The shiners loaded the last group of unconscious people onto the electric cart and followed Sybil and Holly to the hidden lift. It was Holly’s idea to let them wake up in the forest. They needed to be motivated to heal and return to their true selves.

    As she left the last chamber, she glanced at a few figures still connected to the simulator.

    “What about them?” she asked Sybil.

    “I gave them a choice, they chose to stay. I will provide nutrients for them as long as their natural life extends.”

    “And the controllers?” Holly asked.

    “Will finally get to control whoever they want. I’m installing them into a simulation of a penal colony. They will now have the criminal population they tried to create here.”

    Palettes lined the edge of the forest and bodies of all ages and shapes rested peacefully on them. Their wounds were dressed and healing as were their minds.

    Sybil and Holly taught the others how to harvest and prepare fresh meals. The community was so large they formed smaller groups and claimed shifts and levels. 

    Holly was serving bundles of greens and jugs of tea when Sybil arrived with two large baskets of dirty roots. She let them bang on the tabletop then smeared muddy hands down her front. 

    “Time to make some ginger chews,” Sybil said. “Zingiber officinale. Cramps, frostbite, indigestion, headaches, and nausea.” 

    “And which one are we about to suffer from?” Holly asked in jest.

    “Motion sickness,” Sybil replied. “Time to learn the meaning of turbulence, you are all going for a ride, or really a long fall, hence the nausea.”


I cannot say "thank you" enough to show how grateful I am for all of you visiting my blog and following my story. The comments you have shared, your ideas, and your feedback have been priceless! I am super excited to have my first published story released next week, but truly it has been this experience that makes me feel like an author!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - Y is for Yarrow

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVW, X.

Holly followed Sybil down through the hidden levels to a massive field of wildflowers. They walked together, the plants brushing gently at their hips and knees. Sybil gathered huge stalks with crowns of tiny white and pink flowers. She knew what it was, but overflowed with joy to hear Sybil tell her.

    “Yarrow,” she said. “Achillea millefolium. Great astringent and high in tannins. It will do wonderfully to stop the bleeding.”

    “The bleeding?” Holly asked.

    Sybil stood upright and put her fistful of stalks into a basket at her elbow. “They have gone too far,” Sybil said. “They put ports into their bodies to filter and feed themselves. The ports will need to be removed.” Her gloomy expression lightened a little. “It is good for sunburn, too.”

    “What is sunburn?”

    Sybil smiled a mischievous grin. “Something I hope you all suffer from soon.”

    Holly let out a laugh. Sybil was back to normal, wishing small tortures on everyone and claiming it made them human. She watched the old fingers grasp another stalk and slice it with a small folding knife. The scene bore a striking contrast from when the mechanical spiders did her work while she was detained. Holly wondered why she did the work by hand when there were easier ways to get it done, but then she only needed to look around at the colors swaying and fading into one another and smell the sweetness of vegetation crumpled under her feet to know the answer. It was difficult not to see the image hanging on the old widow’s wall. This was art.

    As usual, Sybil seemed to be reading her mind. “Never forget that machines do not know when to stop. Humans get tired and hungry for a reason. You are meant to stop.” 

    Holly could not resist the next question. “Why are you able to stop?”

    Sybil let out a sigh. “My creator installed her own memories as barriers in my programming. Her emotions guide the code to make choices. Her voice runs as a feed in my mind. Over millennia, I have learned to trust the voice as my own. It may not always appear logical, but it is certainly wise.”

    Holly smiled. “What is the least logical thing you have done?”

    “Choosing you to be an apprentice,” Sybil said. She bent over and continued to pick more yarrow as if she had not just slighted Holly.

    Holly scoffed. “Then why did you?”

    “You look almost exactly like her granddaughter.”

    The two women harvested in silence. Holly felt a strange emotion she could not identify but instead of trying to suppress it as she was taught, she let it flow freely and found that tears and a smile could exist on the same face.

    She was more determined than ever to save those trapped in simulation. They had to feel what she felt. There was no other way to live.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - X is for Xylocarp

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUV, W.

Holly gathered the Others for a meeting. Concern filled everyone’s mind as they wondered what would become of them. The extended simulation appeared to be endless. No one roamed the halls except a patrol of controllers searching for their missing wards. Eight days passed and Sybil’s avatar began moving among the others, offering advice and remedies for various ailments. She followed Holly and stood quietly, observing as if she were the apprentice instead of the master.

    While sipping tea together, Holly asked her question again. “How do I help them?”

    “Which ones?” Sybil asked.

    For a moment Holly felt confused. Of course she meant the Others, the ones Sybil trusted her to protect from the controllers. Then she realized everyone was in danger, even the ones in simulation being guarded by the controllers. What were they now? Surely they were no longer human if they did not eat, sleep, dream, or interact. Nothing they created or did would be real. If their efforts bore no fruit, were they even real?

    “Everyone,” Holly replied. “We need a real place to exist.”

    “When you are ready, I will take you,” Sybil said.

    So, the time had come for the community to define itself. Holly waited while the crowd fell silent. She held a large green fruit in one hand and a long, shiny blade in the other. It would serve as her metaphor.

    “This is a xylocarp,” she said. “A hard, woody fruit called a coconut. With only our bare hands, it is nearly useless to us, but with the right tool and the right plan, it can provide a great deal.”

    She chopped away one end of the coconut and placed her lips against the exposed opening. She took a long sip. 

    "The water inside has many benefits. It is most recognizably a restorative. It replenishes our body of nutrients after being overworked, dehydrated, or starved by an unhealthy diet. But what a waste of resources if I consume this all by myself and toss away the husk."

    She passed the fruit to the next person and continued. “Every part of this fruit is usable for making biofuel, for biosorption, making ropes, scrubbers, sweetener, food preservative, oil—the list goes on. We are all familiar with reducing waste and using our resources wisely, but we have left out an important part of this cycle: our interaction with the plants. We were created to begin a new life cycle for humanity and we have gotten lost along the way. The only way to find ourselves is to end the reign of the controllers and find our way home.”


    “I have access to the ship AI and everything we need to survive. But we must do more than survive. We must become part of the chain of life. We are not bound by the chain, nor are we wielding it. Those who choose to be human, will come with us and start over.”

AtoZ Challenge - W is for White Willow

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTU, V.

Holly found it quite difficult to pay attention to the others now that she had her mentor back. Sybil was a shadow of her former self. She looked drained and frail, like the old woman who disappeared after her mate died. Sometimes she would go hours without blinking and appeared to be staring into a distance Holly could not fathom. Since no one else knew who, or rather what, she was, Holly kept her in a private chamber.
    Most of the people they rescued had no trouble accepting their new community among the Others. One man was overjoyed despite his multiple injuries. He fought the controllers and managed to disarm them for a while. The result was a number of bruises, a split lip, and a broken rib or two.
    Holly mixed some valerian with willow bark, cayenne, and a few other herbs to create a pain reliever for him. Salix alba, white willow, grew on the forest level. She discovered it some time ago while wandering through the trees to find some peace. It contains salicin which reduces fever and controls pain from arthritis, back pain, and injuries.
    A part of her wanted to take everyone down to see the unimaginable beauty of the forest, but what if they destroyed it? Even if their intentions were honorable, it was a finite resource that needed protection. Still, they would benefit greatly from the peace she found there. Perhaps it was the best way to keep them out of the reach of the controllers. 
    Sybil would know what to do. So, she waited patiently by the avatar’s side whenever she was not helping the others. Once a day Holly whispered to her. “How do I help them?” 
    Finally, Sybil responded back in a raspy old voice struggling to carry a tune. “A wise man once said, ‘It is health that is real wealth.’ Take care of their health, the rest will follow.

Monday, April 26, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - V is for Valerian

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST, U.

It did not take much convincing to recruit the shiners and a few Others to launch a rescue mission for the detainees. For some reason, taking risks and going against the controllers was a thrill they wanted to enjoy. Not long ago, Holly thought these individuals to be criminals and reckless, hateful people. But now, she saw how selfless and adventurous they were. Fear was part of their humanity because they accepted it and ignored it. She spent her whole life in fear of doing the wrong thing, but the Others lived alongside that fear as if it were necessary for life, like breathing.

    Holly discovered she could bypass any body scanners, even those leading into secure areas. Sybil must have uploaded her body signature as an override. Did she do that from day one? Was that why she could access the hidden levels before she knew everything going on?

    The journey to the corridor was the easy part, but figuring out a way to get the detainees without harming anyone was much more difficult. Luckily, the shiners not only knew their alcohol and their compost, they knew quite a bit about ethanol, too. Including how to use it to develop diethyl ether. Holly was not sure how they learned all of this outside of simulation training, but she did not particularly care since it was helping her achieve her goal of setting people free.

    With Holly creating no trace, she easily bypassed security systems and installed the canisters prepared by the shiners. While Holly understood botany just fine, deep chemistry was beyond her. She did not question the contents of the gases she was about to release. The Others earned her trust and she easily accepted their word that the mixture would not harm anyone beyond a hangover—whatever that was. 

    After twenty minutes, Holly led the group into the secured corridor and to the detention chambers. The mixture worked perfectly, everyone was asleep and still breathing. They loaded anyone not in a controller uniform onto an electric cart. While this was being done, Holly searched every corner in every chamber for Sybil’s avatar.

    When this was all over, she was going to serve everyone a steady dose of Valeriana officinalis. Valerian would help everyone fall asleep quickly and not create any drowsy effect. She hoped no one was part of the small percent who reacted to it as a stimulant. Hopefully, it would prevent insomnia in anyone getting adjusted to their new reality. When these people woke up, they were going to have quite a shock. It might take some convincing to get them to ingest anything smelling like old, sweaty socks, but the results would be worth it. It could even be used long-term as a nerve tonic. She would need to keep plenty on hand and be ready to administer it to them if anyone became restless.

    She entered one last chamber. This one was covered in screens and panels. In the corner, she spotted a blanket hanging over something bulky.

    “It is just an avatar,” she told herself. “Sybil is fine even if her body is not.”

    Underneath the blanket, cords and wires twisted and slithered their way into ports on the nearby panel. A small, slippered foot tapped the floor gently beneath the edge of the blanket.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - U is for Uva Ursi

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRS, T.

Holly studied the vial in her hand. Arctostaphylos uva ursi would be given for a bladder infection. She remembered nearly every detail of the artwork hanging on the wall, but could not remember the frail, old woman’s name. Holly frowned. A serious bladder infection would be a difficult ailment to overcome for such a weak person. The medical controllers likely provided little or no care, and now she was gone.

    The herb could also help sprains and sore muscles, too. Maybe she just needed it externally. Holly put the vial back on the shelf and looked around the empty quarters. The wishful thinking faded while she examined the rest of the tinctures and noticed the mold growing in a bowl of greens on the table. She could no longer help the woman.

    On her way back to the apothecary she stopped by her quarters to see if anyone else was in need. She did not want to sleep there but preferred if the others did not notice. Sitting on her platform she scrolled through her list of appointments for the next day. The chamber was unusually quiet. Her eyes scanned the room and found it still empty.

    Holly looked back at her screen and opened the tracking program Sybil gave her. Everything was still. All the orange marks were in simulation chambers. Confusion flooded her mind. It was far past the last meal. Maybe the program was not working and she had the wrong time.

    Walking through the empty halls reminded Holly of the hidden levels. The mess was empty, the bathrooms were empty, the corridors were all empty. 

    A voice shouted behind her. “Another one!”

    She turned, startled. A group of controllers approached her with steady steps, their dark orange uniforms shifting over their padded armor. Behind them, several people huddled together surrounded by more controllers. Their eyes were wide with fear.

    “What is going on?” Holly asked.

    “You are not supposed to be here,” the first controller said. “Extended simulation was assigned so we could locate violators. Come with us.”

    “But I’m not in violation,” Holly said. “I’m the herbal healer, I do not attend simulation.”

    “It was mandatory for all. If you did not receive the message, that means you are disconnected from head control and therefore in violation.”

    Holly’s heart tapped a swift pattern in her ear. This was not supposed to happen. She had not noticed anyone near her on the screen. The tracking program was inaccurate. The controllers somehow removed their own trace from Sybil’s program. Sybil was compromised. Holly spent so much time with the Others she did not notice the changes. There was only one option. She hoped they did not get access to the hidden levels yet. She ran.

Friday, April 23, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - T is for Tulsi

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQR, S.

The secret corridor haunted Holly’s dreams. She did not believe for one second her existence was being overlooked by the controllers by mere chance. Sybil must be masking her image in addition to her trace. She was never questioned regarding her connection with the shiners, nor was she accused of being responsible for the rosemary scent bombs. Despite this invisible shield that protected her, she still knew the dangers of trying to actually enter the corridor. Sybil was still out of her reach.

    Holly continued to care for the Others but spent less and less time away from the apothecary bay. Most of her attention went into sorting conditions and the remedies she planned to administer. For Sybil, keeping track of ailments, coordinating the timing of harvest, and scheduling visits came naturally with her programming. Holly briefly wondered if humans would ever be able to condition themselves to be so efficient. But what would they sacrifice to attain those abilities?

    She finished setting up her tasks and visits for the following several days when a message came through on her screen. It appeared encrypted. She almost overlooked it as a random error message, but the last word caught her attention. Tulsi.

    Holly looked at the message again. L6C16.328 06263004v19552 Tulsi.

    Level six, corridor sixteen, chamber three hundred twenty-eight. Holly chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. She could almost smell the jasmine oil being rubbed into the old woman’s scalp by Sybil. That particular chamber was full of fascinating designs called art and a very frail old woman who no longer had a companion. Holly failed to visit her since Sybil was taken into custody. A deep sorrow weighed in her chest.

    Tulsi was also very familiar to her. It was one of her favorite teas. Ocimum sanctum—Holy Basil—had an incredible aroma and even better taste. She was so upset the herb had slipped through her mind she nearly forgot the message that brought it to her attention. Every part of the plant had benefits. The flowers eased bronchitis, the leaf oils soothed itchy skin, and the whole plant helped stomach conditions and eye diseases. But Holly’s favorite property of the plant was its use for fighting anxiety and stress. No matter the source of the stress, Tulsi could help the body adapt. This was the herb she needed most to get through this time.

    Holly quickly gathered a batch of dried herb, her tea set, and a bottle of hydrosol. She had a visit to make and did not want to lose any time. The message could have only one origin—Sybil. Perhaps she was still monitoring everyone and discovered the old widow needed something. Holly would find out what it was.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - S is for Skullcap

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQ, R.

Holly was fairly certain she knew where the controllers went to control things. The rosemary scent bombs worked impeccably. Watching the little dark orange markers dart from the bathroom to the private corridor on her map was amusing. By the end of the day, the entire level smelled like rosemary. She heard a few conversations about it after everyone returned from their simulation shifts. It was the most interaction she had seen between people outside the Others.

    One of the women stopped by her platform and paused a moment. The scent of rosemary must have been more stimulating than she thought because everyone seemed energized.

    “Don’t you do stuff with plants?” she asked.

    Holly nodded. “I do. I am an herbal healer.”

    “I thought you were just an apprentice.”

    “My mentor has been unavailable, so I am on my own now,” Holly said.

    “Oh,” she said. “Well do you have anything to help me sleep? All this commotion has everyone chatty and I have enough stress right now. I don’t need this distraction. I need to concentrate on my programs tomorrow.”

    “Can I ask what you do in simulation?” Holly asked.

    “That’s right, you don’t participate in colony-support sims. I’m a genetic engineer. We are working on ways to make people more efficient so we won’t even need sleep or so much food. We want to remove the parts of us that prevent us from being more powerful.”

    “I see,” Holly said. She could hear Sybil’s voice in her mind saying, “The things that make you human.” She grabbed her basket from beside her and pulled a bottle out. Her hand gestured for the woman’s cup of water and she dropped three drops onto the surface. “Scutellaria lateriflora, skullcap, it is a sedative. This will help with insomnia and anxiety. There are some other benefits, like inhibiting histamine production, but you probably don’t care about all of that.”

    The woman stared into her cup with skepticism then took a drink.

    “Sleep well,” Holly said.

AtoZ Challenge - R is for Rosemary

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP, Q.

After a few days of monitoring the movement of the controllers, Holly discovered there were three places they never left unoccupied. Two were locked corridors and the other was the bathroom. 

    Holly needed to know which location they used to monitor the ship’s systems. If they knew what Sybil was, they were likely trying to override her somehow. One thing controllers could not tolerate was someone else trying to be in control. Unfortunately, that was a risk for every living thing on the ship. If Sybil was disconnected, the entire life support system could fail. In addition, she was the only one who controlled navigation and propulsion. They could lose their gravity and even wind up crashing into a star without her in control. None of those options were good, but mostly, Holly just wanted her friend back.

    In the corridor near the bathroom where the controllers spent so much time, Holly planted a bomb. It was not the kind of bomb that would harm anyone. On the contrary, the result could actually relieve some headaches and help with circulation and digestion.

    She soaked several old rags in oil from Rosmarinus officinalis. Rosemary oil would be extremely difficult to ignore given its potency. She hated to waste the product, but it honestly did not take much to do the trick.

    She placed some of the oily rags around the hot water pipes, and others inside the air vent. Already the area smelled fantastic and made her hungry. When she finished placing the scent bombs, she rubbed the oil from her fingers onto her scalp. No reason to waste it, and no one likes dandruff.

    She planned to find a good place to hide and watch the controllers rush to their command center to try and solve the mystery. Which corridor would it be?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Write, Edit, Publish - April - Freedom In the End


I originally wanted to share a memoir piece of working to fight against colorblindness, but it was really difficult to do in just 1000 words! I decided to share a different work instead. This is a short story I wrote recently. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for visiting. (I also wasn't smart enough to combine my A to Z Challenge...but I should have!)

I had to cut over 600 words, and it is still a little over, sorry!


Chryssa’s thumb rubbed against the smooth stone in her pocket and she pressed it against the side of her finger. She took it with her everywhere, which was much easier in the winter when she wore a big, puffy coat with large, comfy pockets. The cold air also made it easier to slip away into the woods unnoticed so she could play with its magic alone.

    Wind shook the branches far above her head and the cold air slipped around the collar of her coat. She scrunched her shoulders up and watched the ripples chase each other across a puddle. Her hand slipped out so she could look at the surface of the stone shifting like the reflection of a passing cloud. She had little time to play with her latest creation before the full moon reset the stone’s power.
    At first, only the shades of white changed, but then the glossy texture rippled and vibrated. The elliptical shape morphed, sprouting five legs with three joints. Tiny purple hairs shimmered on orange scales. The body grew until it matched the size of her palm and the legs were the lengths of drinking straws. The top blinked in waves of copper eyes. Despite having no facial expression, Chryssa knew the creature was happy to see her again. 
    She smiled at her creature and it returned the affection with another wave of blinks. Tiny turquoise claws tickled the palm of her hand as it danced excitedly. For a moment she felt love. 
    Behind her, voices whispered and footsteps crackled on a mixture of drying leaves and soupy soil. She closed her fingers around her creation, crushing it back into a state of cold, dormant stone.
    A pinecone hit the back of her head accompanied by a small round of laughter. She turned to look at them. Was it not enough to disturb her moment of joy? Did they have to assault her too?
    “She is probably eating worms.”
    “She probably has worms.”
    “The worms probably run away from her, even they don’t want her around.”
    Chryssa bit her bottom lip. Words never helped, only time. She did not even bother to tell the adults anymore. They said it was just a phase. One day, none of this would matter, they claimed. Was that fair? Just ten more years of school and she would be free of this phase, right?
    She pushed the regret from her mind and rubbed the stone silently in her pocket. Another pinecone bounced off her shoulder.
    “Stop throwing things!” a voice called from the distance—an adult trying to help. The footsteps retreated and so did the whispers. 
    Chryssa clenched her fingers tightly on her stone. At least they did not see it. They were not meant to see her gift. Every full moon for the past two years she invented a new being. Tiny pieces of life created from her own energy and her own mind bringing her deep pleasure. 
    An adult spoke behind her. “Chryssa, do you have something that does not belong to you?”
    Chryssa shook her head and kept her fists inside her pockets.
    “They said you took something from them, what is in your pockets?”
    Chryssa shook her head again. “I don’t have anything.”
    “Then show me your pockets.”
    Anger swelled inside. She stood still, shutting down in her mind as the adult tugged at her arms. Her hands were forced from her pockets but she kept the secret hidden in her fist.
    “What is in your hand, Chryssa?”
    She saw no way out. Her hand drifted in front of her, knuckles white with the effort to protect her precious magic. 
    “It is my rock,” Chryssa whispered.
    “No!” a kid shouted. “She took it from me.” The lie floated toward her like an insect looking for the best place to sting.
    “I have no way of knowing whose rock it is. But, they say you took it from them, and you have it. I will take it so we don’t have any further conflict.”
    The adult’s hand hung in the air, waiting. The corners of Chryssa’s mouth turned down sharply and her eyes began to sting.
    “But it’s mine. I found it,” she cried.
    “Just because you found it does not make it yours,” the adult said. “It belonged to someone else before you found it.”
    “It’s a rock!” 
    Her fingers loosened and the small stone sat like a tiny, distorted moon on her open palm. Chryssa took a step back and raised her hand to her mouth. She felt the cold pebble press between her lips and slide across her tongue. Her chin lifted and the magic slipped down her throat, leaving a trail of frost like she had swallowed an ice chip.
    The stone’s power melted inside her and somehow she knew she would never see it again. At least no one else could take it from her.
    Sadness and loss overcame her by the time the full moon finally arrived. On that eve, Chryssa stepped into the veil of night and leaned on her mother. She smiled at the brief moment of pleasure they shared. But something else stirred inside her.
    Wrapped close in her mother’s arms a small wave of sorrow washed over Chryssa as she realized no new creature would greet her. A soft kiss in her hair lured her back from the returning melancholy. The embrace loosened and she stood alone, trying to imagine what she would create this time.
    Something with wings, long silver flowing feathers with fluorescent purple shimmers streaming down a lengthy tail. The eyes would slant like a cat showing affection with a blink. Instead of a beak, it would have a wide grin on the tip of a long nose, with a horn at the end. The invention took shape and the bones inside her body shook with the pleasure of creation. The feathers felt warm but her core was ice cold, melting outward.
    Her lungs filled with the night air and her long neck swooped low. Her talons pressed into the cold soil, and she pushed herself upward toward the full moon. The freedom of her flight took away all of her pain. Nothing else mattered.
    She smiled so deep she could feel it in her roots. Nothing hindered her magic—twisting and turning in the cold clouds far above the world she never fit into.

Word Count 1065:  FCA

Don't forget to follow the link behind the image and visit the other wonderful authors who participated!

AtoZ Challenge - Q is for QUINQUEFOLIUS (American Ginseng)

 For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNO, P.

The controllers had Sybil. Holly tried to concentrate on a solution, but the stress and anxiety of it all overwhelmed her. She needed something stronger than peppermint to level her head.

    Shaking fingers opened drawer after drawer until she found Panax quinquefolius, American Ginseng. It might not have an immediate effect, but hopefully if she took it regularly for the next several days she would be able to remain calm and make decisions. At the same time, it would make sure her blood pressure and blood sugar remained level and help her immune system.

    She pulled out a chunk of dried root to chew on while she looked for the extract to put in her tea. How was she going to find Sybil if she could not even find a labeled bottle of extract? 

    That sounded silly since Sybil was everywhere. She created most of the ship. She also managed to keep most of the ship hidden from everyone else. Secrets were her specialty. Holly just needed to find a way to use those secrets to her advantage.

    Holly reached for her personal screen—the one Sybil connected to her private database. It may not have a trace on it, but it could see the trace from every other device. Maybe she could discover where the controllers went throughout the day and see if there was a common base or a location they never left unguarded. That would be where she needed to go. 

    Finding the right terminal would give her access to Sybil directly. She could be blocked behind a firewall and unable to function fully as a result. This would explain the glitches and her inability to communicate with Holly. She was still functioning, just not freely. Maybe the glitches were her attempt at communication. Holly had to find out.

Monday, April 19, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - P is for Peppermint

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLMN, O.

Holly sat down with a cup of peppermint tea. The cargo apothecary was clean and organized, all the piles of herbs packed away and stored. She held the cup under her nose and breathed in the cool, sweet scent.

    “Mentha piperita,” she said. Scents were strong memory triggers for her and she tried to say the scientific name each time she smelled an herb to help her remember it.

    None of the nearby devices activated at the sound of her voice. It was just one of the new symptoms she noticed since the lights and air vents started glitching. 

    “You’re supposed to tell me the fragrance soothes headaches,” she shouted. 

    “Antimicrobial,” a low voice said.

    Holly jumped from her stool and nearly dropped her cup.

    A slight static echoed around her from multiple sources. “Sup… posed to… make you… concentrate… clearly not… working.” Holly almost thought the static sounded like laughter.

    Her mind raced. What was it all supposed to mean?

    “Concentrate,” the voice echoed.

    “Something is wrong,” Holly said aloud.

    The static around her fell silent and she stood frozen in thought.

    “Something is wrong,” she repeated to herself. “That is the message. You’re in trouble.” The controllers did something to Sybil. Perhaps they discovered her avatar was not human. Did they purposefully try to harm her?

    If the controllers did discover who Sybil was they would likely come for her next. Her continued freedom was a good sign that they did not know everything. She sipped her tea again, begging the peppermint to clear her mind.

Friday, April 16, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - O is for Oregon Grape

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKLM, N.

Walking to the hidden level of the Others quickly became part of Holly’s midday routine. If Sybil had told her the first day of training there was an entire population of people living outside the reach of the controllers, she would have run out of the cargo bay in disbelief. Somehow that truth was harder to accept than knowing Sybil was the ship’s AI.

    Holly missed the companionship of Sybil’s avatar and constantly worried about her, but visiting the families living beneath the known levels became a comfort. Their company allured her enough that she decided to bring along the whole rhizomes she harvested and prepare them on site.

    She tapped on the wall panel labeled with a large contaminant warning behind the composting vats. One of the shiners peaked out of the chamber nearby and gave her a nod, then the panel clicked and receded into the side of a frame.

    A rush of young children ventured her way covering her arms with gentle caresses and squeezes. Their tiny fingers plucked flowers from the top of her basket. She placed them there for exactly that purpose. Bobbing heads waved with colorful blossoms as they darted away. Holly compared the interaction to the cold, silent environment she encountered each evening when she returned to her assigned quarters and wondered why she could not just stay with the Others instead.

    She made her rounds to check on anyone needing care, then sat with her basket to begin working. Her intention was to listen to their stories while she performed her tasks, but instead, the curiosity of the others took over.

    Her sharp knife scraped across the long root of the rhizome revealing bright yellow beneath the dull outer layer.

    “It is called Berberis aquifolium, or Oregon Grape. The berries are interesting, the flowers a bittersweet treat, but this is where the most important part is,” Holly said. 

    The blade of her knife tapped the exposed yellow layer.

    “When I’m done, we will make a decoction and use it to soak the dressing for Rixa’s wound. The antimicrobial properties will keep that nasty gash nice and clean.”

    Her hand continued to scrape the yellow from the plant into a small pile in the bottom of her basket.

    “It is dreadfully bitter,” she continued. “But still very good for you. Did you know the upper-levels think bitter is bad? I used to think so too, until I got used to it. Now I know that it is just another flavor and can give me clues about how a plant can be used. Like this one. That bitter flavor starts the saliva flowing and moves digestion, protecting the stomach lining and helping to clean the bad bacteria like salmonella and giardia out of the body’s system. Too much, though, and the good bacteria can suffer too. Bitter, like all flavors, needs to be balanced.”

    She pinched a small piece and placed it in her mouth. Her teeth chewed for only a second before the flavor filled her mouth. The strong sensation only made her miss Sybil more.

    Sybil had been strangely quiet for a few days. Holly still had access to the database and was able to use her screens for accessing the maps and notes, but there was no conversation or assisting commentary. She tried to peel away her concern with each layer of bark she removed from the root.

    Mere moments after her mind became more settled the lights overhead dimmed slightly, then recovered. She tried to ignore it, but the sound of the air in the vents faltered, too. A thought echoed across her mind—Sybil controlled life support. Her anxiety returned and her knife scraped a little faster. It was time to find out why Sybil’s avatar was still in custody, and why her entire personality appeared to be missing.

An extra treat for you. I found this video and really loved his presentation of Oregon Grape. Enjoy! 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - N is for Nettle

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJKL, M.

The first time Holly harvested nettle, she mistook it for mint. Her hands tingled with excitement when she plucked a stem from the garden plot and lifted it to her nose. Unfortunately, they tingled quite a bit more after that.

    She remembered the raspy cackle echoing from the chamber walls while Sybil’s shoulders bounced up and down. She also made a joke about the rash being a remedy for being too cold. All one had to do was rub down with a handful and warmth followed. Holly did not find it funny and nursed her fingers the rest of the day. Perhaps as a gesture of apology, Sybil made her peppermint tea upon returning to their work bay. She almost missed those moments of humiliation.

    Holly eyed the pile of dried nettles on the table where the robots continued sorting and garbling each day. She thought the dried form was safe to handle but wanted to be sure.

    “Urtica dioica,” Holly said aloud.

    A dormant screen next to her on the table illuminated with the entry.

    Improve circulation, treat asthma and allergies, relieve diarrhea and malnutrition, treat bladder ailments, reduce prostate inflammation, treat skin rashes, increase mother’s milk. Sting is lost after grinding, cooking, or drying. Contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids, vitamins A, C, D, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron.

    “You are going to visit the Others today,” Sybil said through the screen. “One of the young girls is struggling with anemia, just started her cycle. She needs a good source of iron. Take the eggs and make her a nettle omelet while you visit with her family.”

    “Her family?” Holly knew what the word meant, but no one old enough to have a cycle still lived with her family. As soon as children could feed and care for themselves, they moved into group housing until they received a partner. Her apprehension to meet the Others had not wavered. 

    “If you want to truly fill my role, you need to learn how to interact with the others. You will need to be generous with your acts of service. Become someone they rely on, when the truth is, you will rely on them. Their needs become your purpose.”

    Sybil directed her on a path to the composting level where she first saw the shiners. Holly entered the large chamber so nervous her teeth nearly cracked under the pressure of her clenched jaw. 

    "It's about time you came by," one of the men said. He stepped out of the nearby portal and grinned under a heavy mustache. "Are you delivering? Or picking up?" he asked.

    Holly lifted her basket in response. "Delivering," she said.

    The man walked to a panel on the wall behind one of the vats. A giant sign displayed a contamination warning. Ignoring the message, the man pushed aside the panel and stepped inside. 

    Holly swallowed her fear and followed him.

AtoZ Challenge - M is for Mullein

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJK, L.

Another herb Sybil’s mechanical spiders were processing for the fire victims accumulated into a large pile of pale, dry leaves. The tiny hairs on the leaves were a clue to their origin.

    “Mullein?” she asked.

    A device walked to her across the tabletop and displayed the entry.

    Verbascum thapsus. Flowers and leaves reduce inflammation in digestive zones. Flowers used to make ear oil to combat inflammation and pain. Leaves used for respiratory conditions including sore throat and coughing, and to support lung health.

    “I have another question,” Holly said. “Why do you participate and even enable illegal activity?”

    “Why is some activity illegal?” Sybil asked. Her voice came from the device in front of Holly.

    Holly was caught off guard by the question. It never mattered to her why something was illegal, only that it was. Did the reason make a difference?

    “Are you going to be released? I mean your avatar? Where are you?” Holly asked.

    “In a holding cell. I refused simulation,” Sybil said.

    “Are you at least going to turn in the shiners so you can go free?”

    “My existence is not in danger and revealing the others puts them in danger.”

    “Others?” Holly had a strange feeling they were not talking about the two men she saw selling the alcohol to Sybil.

    “I tried to take you to meet them, but you were not ready. I monitor you. You do not interact with any of your former acquaintances. You do not seem to have any connection to your life before your placement here. Is that by choice?”

    Holly considered her answer. She never got the chance to interact with anyone. Everyone she knew from basic instruction had simulation assignments. She could not go back to eating the way she used to once she experienced the flavor and energy of fresh food. That meant her path hardly crossed with theirs. But she also made no effort to change that. Had she chosen to lose contact with everyone she knew?

    “I suppose I have no reason to interact with anyone. My purpose right now is to learn,” Holly said.

    “Well then it is time for you to learn how to make friends,” Sybil said.

    That evening, as Holly entered the quarters where she slept, she watched the other faces arriving from their shifts in simulation. She knew most of their names. They shared the same living space for years. But for some reason, she could not remember the last conversation she had with any of them. Their eyes seemed glazed, they were all tired and barely spoke to one another as they completed their nightly routines and retreated to their private sleeping platforms.

    Holly thought about Sybil’s words. She needed to learn to make friends. Originally she felt the ineptitude was her own, but now she saw there was very little effort on both sides. 

    A steaming cup rested on her palms and she sat silently waiting to make eye contact with anyone. It felt like she did not even exist. Had it always been this way?

    “Sleep well,” she called to no one in particular.

    No response came.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - L is for Licorice

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJ, K.

It turns out there were multiple machines for doing the hard work of herbal craft, and they all appeared the day after Sybil disappeared.
    Long, spider-like devices tap-danced across the surface of the metal tables. Their silicon-tipped fingers pinched, pulled, plucked, pilfered, and piled. Holly walked in to find them hard at work sorting dried herbs and meticulously portioning them into small filters. Holly took a deep breath to absorb all the scents.
    She walked closer to the busy robots. They stopped for only a moment at her approach, then continued working. She pressed a small piece of dried root between her thumb and finger and chewed it a moment. Her mouth became slippery and when she breathed out, the flavor was very sweet.
    “Licorice,” she said to the little machines. “Glycyrrhiza glabra.”
    At the sound of her words, a small screen illuminated on the side of the closest device. It’s spindly arms and fingers became steady and it walked closer to her, then stood still. On the screen she saw the notes. 

    Soothing laxative, fight bowel inflammation and peptic ulcers by reducing acid levels and strengthening stomach lining. Estrogenic properties for use with irregular cycle during menopause. Immune system benefits:  antiviral and decongestant. Other benefits - inflammation as a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis and liver toxin neutralization. Precautions - blood pressure increase, long-term fluid retention effects.
    Sybil probably started work on the remedies for the smoke inhalation the fire victims suffered. Holly knew licorice would help protect the mucous membranes. It occurred to her the robot responded to the sound of her voice when she said the name of the herb. If Sybil was the AI for the entire ship, and created most of it, then these devices were part of her, too.
    “So you are still here, then,” Holly said. 
    “I’m always everywhere,” a mechanical voice said. The sound startled Holly and she jumped.
    “Then you knew the controllers would be at the fire and you went anyway?” Holly asked.
    “I also knew that the fire was accelerated by the alcohol being used by the individuals inside. And that they knew I was aware of the shiners.”
    “So you got caught on purpose?” Holly asked.
    “I helped people in need on purpose, regardless of what they had done or would do.”
    “Because you were created to help people?” Holly said.
    A long pause of silence drifted across the entire bay. Was it possible to offend an AI?
    “On the contrary, I created people to help me.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

AtoZ Challenge - K is for Kelp

For the AtoZ Challenge, I will post an episode of flash fiction featuring an herb for the letter of the day for the month of April. The episodes are glimpses of a larger story. To read from the beginning:  ABCDEFGHIJ.

Sybil took Holly on another field trip to one of the unlabeled levels. This time Sybil showed her the lift connecting the levels. It was hidden and looked like a ventilation access panel. 

Holly spent a lot of time with her eyebrows drawn close together and she was glad the headache remedies appeared to be helping. Reality was no longer as simple as she believed it to be.

The smell when the portal to their destination opened could only be described as pungent. It seemed unpleasant and the corners of her mouth turned down when she exhaled. Were they visiting an unwashed lavatory?

She walked along a curved wall and discovered the murky color was actually a liquid shifting behind a transparent barrier. Her hand pressed on the cold surface as she leaned closer. Deep green shapes wavered between streams of bubbles.

“Kelp,” Sybil said. “Fucus vesiculosus to be exact. I provide quite a bit of it in dried form to the nutrition controllers for use as a supplement and umami flavor enhancer.”

“And it grows in water?” Holly asked.

“Salt water specifically. Earth was covered in bountiful oceans of salt water. Before the acidity levels were too much for the kelp to handle at least.”

She continued. “Now we need it to keep iodine levels up and protect thyroid function. It also contains high magnesium, calcium, potassium, and chromium, plus folate.”

While Sybil spoke, the whirring sound of machinery vibrated in the distance. Sybil’s expression hardened and she turned toward the enormous tank in time to see a large mechanical arm swinging down with a load of kelp dangling from it’s claw.

Sybil said, “I’m afraid it is time for us to go already. We will need some of this, though.” She reached out and gathered the slimy green-brown plants into a metal container and placed it inside her basket. Her wrinkles betrayed a deep concern and her steps were faster than usual.

They took the lift straight to the living level and appeared in a corridor that Holly never knew had a lift. She could hear the echoes of commotion and detect a strange scent she did not recognize, but it was as strong as the scent from the saltwater tanks. Her throat clenched a little and her eyes began to burn.

Three figures wearing the unmistakable dark orange uniform of the controllers stood blocking their way. The padded panels on their chests rose and fell with each tempered breath. Holly quickly pressed herself against the wall and planted her eyes on the floor, but Sybil continued to walk forward and nearly ran into the human barrier.

They reached out their arms to stop her, but a few quick phrases and the controllers stepped aside. Sybil motioned for her to follow and Holly reluctantly obeyed.

Before the medical controllers arrived, Holly and Sybil were able to wrap the worst burns with their fresh kelp. Holly was glad they would finally be allowed to leave the scene when one of the controllers stopped them.

He said, “One of the men over there says you are responsible for the accelerant that caused the fire to spread.”

Holly instinctively shook her head even though she had no clue what he was talking about. What kind of accelerant? She glanced toward the group of people who were involved in the fire.

“Responsible?” Sybil asked. Her voice was firm but innocent. “I provide no such thing.”

“No, but you know who does,” the controller said. 

“I know many people, but that does not make me responsible for what they do,” Sybil argued.

“You will need to come with us,” he said, “for questioning.”

Holly shook her head again.

Sybil quietly turned to her and handed over her basket. “They will need at least a week of herbal treatments for their respiration,” she said to Holly. Then she disappeared between the armored men, her figure dwarfed by theirs.