Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Penprints Flash Fiction Dash: Painted with Light

[I wrote this story based on a prompt for the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash.  Yay flash fiction!  If you check out the Penprints site in early June, you will be able to see the stories from everyone who participated!  The Penprints site is <https://rosalievalentine.wordpress.com/> ]

Painted with Light

Duomik slipped through the liner’s banquet hall, a poncho wrapped around him, bare feet sure.  Despite the blasting warmth of the liner’s heating system, the floor carried a trace of cold.

“That’s one of them—the divers,” a teenage girl hissed to her mother, abandoning her plate of fish.  “Ask him!”

“Excuse me,” the older woman called sharply.

Duomik turned back, squinting against fluorescent lights and tourists’ stares.  Skinny, pale, he was anything but impressive.

“Does it work?  The lights?  Does it bring them out?” she asked.

“It says in the brochure, na?” Duomik wrinkled his nose.  The stinks of tourist food filled the room, so he breathed out, then didn’t breathe in.

“Public relations,” the woman scoffed.  “But is it true?

Answering would mean taking a breath.  So Duomik shrugged and eeled out the door.  He darted up the ladder to the moonlit deck, not bothering to use his hands.

Clean salt air.  He breathed deep and swept off the poncho, then held it over his head as he ran toward the stern, letting it sweep behind him like a cloud of jellyfish tendrils.  The thrum of the icebreaker ship carried back over the water, a deep song.

“Evening, Dominic,” called the sailor on watch.

“Even-ing,” Duomik called back, careful to answer to the name.  His papers said that his name was Dominic Quiroga and that he had been born in Ushuaia, Argentina.  

His papers lied.

“Where’s your coat, man?” the sailor frowned.  “It’s freezing out here!”  Fifty yards off the bow, chunks of ice bobbed in the sea.  Beyond the icebreaker’s wake was the ice sheet, almost twenty feet thick, covering the ocean like armor.

Na, I’m not cold.”  But Duomik let the poncho drop back around his shoulders.  

“Lights!” came a sudden shout from the upper deck.  “We’ve got lights!”

In less than a minute, the crew and passengers were gathered along the rails, staring at the water with binoculars and S84 phone-cameras.  Cries of “There!  Do you see that?” “I told you they were real!” and “It’s all done with special effects, I say,” echoed from every side.

Duomik, crouching low, watched the lights with mild interest.  Pale green and yellow, the lights circled one another in a complex pattern before drifting farther under the ice and out of sight.  While the tourists continued to stare at the empty water, Duomik slid backward through the crowd and paced to the far side of the ship, now all but deserted.

Barely visible under the ice sheet, a single light flickered.

Duomik did not shout.  Instead, he reached into the waterproof sack at his waist and brought something out.  With a flip of his wrist, he sent it flying.  As it struck the water, the tiny object began to glow.

Over the next few days, the cruise liner made another seventy miles southwest through the ice sheet.  It would not go much farther lest it hit the reefs off the Antarctic coast.

On the fourth day, the liner’s engines fell silent.  “Our professionals will be diving first, to make sure that the dive area is free of obstructions!” declared the master-of-ceremonies.  Although it was only 0900, he wore a tuxedo, his lapel concealing a wireless microphone.  “Once they have established a safety perimeter, those guests who have subscribed to our full tour experience will be invited to dive!  Other guests are encouraged to watch from the gallery, where live video from our divers will be available!”

Duomik, shielded in his heated diving gear, waited until it was his turn to dive.  Despite the air tanks dragging at his shoulders, he swirled easily away from the ship, following his assigned partner out under the ice.

They did not look for underwater obstructions; the liner’s elidar had already checked.  Instead, they activated glowing drones, which would follow a course in and out of the tourists’ sight all day long. 
Duomik shook his head as they released the last.  He hoped no tanaia-fish would try to eat one.

He was relieved when it was time to return to the ship.  The tourists, with their wild movements and bright lights “guaranteed to attract underwater denizens!” were hard to keep inside the perimeter.  When they spotted lights, they tried to chase them.  Obviously, that couldn’t be allowed—they would discover that they were only seeing drones.

While Duomik did not care what the tourists discovered, he knew that they could die if they ran out of air.  So he shooed them back toward the ship, his arms waving like kelp.

Three more days, and the ship’s engines were silent again.  “Tomorrow, we turn toward civilization,” announced the MC.

As the sky darkened, the light show began, right on schedule.  The teenage girl dragged her mother to the rail, only to squint in disappointment.  The lights were too far away!

She let her mother stay there, and jogged along the rail.  If she had come on this cruise just to see distant lights that didn’t even show up properly in photos, her friends would tease her to death.  “Kylie, you’re obsessed.  Everyone knows merpeople aren’t real.”  She could hear them now.

Now she had reached a deserted stretch of deck.  Up ahead—there was that diver, the blond one.  Did he see something? “Excuse me!”

Duomik climbed onto the rail, ignoring the girl. It was time to go.

He dove—no heated suit, no heavy gear—straight into the ocean.  He kicked, shooting away from the ship.  He had a report for the Council of Six, ai yes.  And what a report it would be.

The girl, white-faced, stared after him.  He would die in the cold!  Was that what he wanted?  Should she call someone?

Then she saw the lights.  First yellow shapes on his skin.  Then rims of blue.

“Look!  Look!” she shrieked.  But before anyone could join her, the merman was gone—vanished under the ice.

The prompt I received.  Wild, na?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Story News: A Bride-Price for Hinzuri

Such excitement!  My story “A Bride-Price for Hinzuri” is included in the May 2017 contest issue of Spark magazine from Splickety Publishing.

I never expected to get a story into a flash-fiction romance magazine.  But the theme was “Ancient History,” so I couldn’t resist!  (Don’t worry—most of the stories in Spark are G or PG rated.  Mine is definitely G.)

There’s a lot you can’t include in a 700-word story, so I thought that I would give you some historical background here.

My story is set in the town of Nuzi in the 1300s BC.  Even though Nuzi was pretty close to Assur, the then-capital of Assyria, it was part of the small kingdom of Arraphe.  The king of Arraphe, in turn, was the vassal of the Great King of Mittani, a Hurrian kingdom as powerful as the Egypt, Babylon, and Hatti (Hittites) of that era.  Assyria had been under the control of the Mitanni, but shortly before my story, the Mitanni had begun to lose strength and the Assyrians to gain it.  A few decades after “Bride-Price,” Nuzi was abandoned due to pressure from Assyria.

(Mitanni cylinder seal imprint)
We don’t know as much about the ancient city of Arraphe as we would like, because the modern city of Kirkuk is built on top of it.  No one is in a hurry to move their condos so that we can dig under them.  *sigh*


Fortunately, we have lots and lots of data from Nuzi, including excavation reports showing the houses of people from the 1400s and 1300s BC and hundreds of tablets, mostly from family archives.  Families kept records of their many many legal transactions, which included adoptions, marriage contracts, and more.  Since you basically weren’t allowed to sell land to someone who wasn’t a family member, they got around this by adopting anyone who wanted to buy land from them!

Maynard Maidman’s 2010 book Nuzi Texts and Their Uses as Historical Evidence is a great place to start if you are interested in what was going in with each of the families at what point in history.  One multi-generational family archive includes texts that mention Tehip-tilla, his wife Hinzuri, their five children, eleven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren!
From the primary source texts, we know that Hinzuri had a complicated life before become the wife of Tehip-tilla and matriarch of his clan.  After her father died, it looks like Hinzuri and her brother Zikipa fell on hard times, so Zikipa negotiated her a contract “for sisterhood” with Hut-Arraphe.  Hut-Arraphe then gave goods worth 20 shekels of silver to Zikipa and settled an additional 20 shekels on Hinzuri (literally, “on the fringes [of her garment]”) for her dowry.  Zikipa got liquid assets, Hut-Arraphe got a hard worker and the chance to marry Hinzuri off to his advantage.  Eventually, he married her to Tehip-tilla.  This contract (JEN [Joint Expedition to Nuzi] # 78) is the background of my story.

But that hadn’t been the beginning of the real-life Hinzuri’s experiences.  Before being given “for sisterhood” to Hut-Arraphe, Zikipa had previously given Hinzuri “for sisterhood” to Inni son of Enna-mati.  We don’t have all of the relevant texts, but it looks like this eventually turned into a marriage.  After a while, however, Inni had what he wanted: sons.  He released Hinzuri back to her brother (along with her daughter Zige) in exchange for an undisclosed amount of money (JEN 636).  It was only after this that Hinzuri was given in sisterhood to Hut-Arraphe and then in marriage to Tehip-tilla.  I left this out of my story, for obvious reasons!

In the story, Tehip-tilla is the assistant overseer of a pottery workshop.  I chose this job for him because Nuzi is well known for its beautiful pottery, which it exported all over the ancient Near East.  Note especially the white designs on black or dark red backgrounds.  Google "Nuzi ware" for more!