Excerpt


Nurse Smith looked at the patient. Gerry looked rather pallid, with two full cotton balls stuffed up his nose, each of which was soaked, rust-red, to near its edges. Dry and brown blood caked his upper lip, which cracked like the floor of Death Valley as he smiled, apologetically.

“What is it this time?” Smith said.

“Well, let’s call it a cautionary tale of flying too close to the sun. Only in this case, it was less Icarus flying to high than his cousin Picarus delving too greedily and too d-”

“Stop! Stop. That’s enough,” Smith said. “I’m admitting you for anemia and clotting problems, and the next time I see you, you’d better be dead or dying without another gross self-inflicted malady, you hear me?”

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Like humans, elves have several different blood types, with the key differentiation being the type of H antigen and the presence or absence of Diego-A antigen. The types of H antigen common among elves are classified as hX, hY, hZ, and hW, with the Diego-A antigen’s presence or absence indicated by a + or – symbol. As such, elves have been known to express the blood types X+, X-, Y+, Y-, Z+, Z-, W+, W-, and ZW+ or ZW-. Approximately 50% of elves have type X blood, 25% have type Y blood, 12.5% have type Z blood, 8.33% have type W blood, and the remaining 4.66% have type ZW.

Due to their close genetic relationship, the blood type is similar to humans and transfusions are possible. However, the H antigen is extremely rare in humans, occurring in less than one in a million people, with the result that while elves can and do donate blood to humans, only very rare and specially screened humans may donate blood to elves. The Diego-A antigen is relatively rare in humans as well, meaning that humans of certain backgrounds will need to be screened additionally to make sure there is not a mismatch.

Human/elf hybrids, while inveriably sterile, do exist. They will generally inherit either a human or an elven blood type, with or without Diego-A or Rh antigens. This can cause pregnancy complications if, for instance, a human mother is carrying a child of an elven father. Modern solutions to this problem exist, but it led to the folk legend that elven women could not bear children with humans but that human women could bear them with elven males.

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“You say we are parasites. Freeloaders. Thieves.” Aachi said. “I say that we are survivors, living by our wits, though that which sustained us is long gone.”

“A thief never admits to being a thief,” Took said. “There is always an excuse.”

“For generations, we followed the great beasts of the plains, eating what they stirred, picking parasites from their flesh. We could not nest and brood our offspring, so we left them with fosters as we followed the great beasts.”

“Go back there, then,” hissed Took. “Go back to your beasts.”

“When the striders came, they killed the great beasts and we were left starving.”

“So should you have starved, then.”

“Would you have said that to your mate, your chicks? No. We survived. The striders killed the beasts, yes, but they also killed the trees that had kept us from the lands toward the rising sun. We expanded, we adapted, we survived. I will not apologize for that, any more than you would apologize for cracking a seed hull to fill your belly.”

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“Fairburn expects us to work together,” said Sexton. “I think I can forge whatever documents we need, get whatever costumes are necessary done. But keycards, biometrics? That is outside of my experience.”

“I have friends who still serve,” Kunstler said. “Contacts. They will be supportive if they know it could lead to my reinstatement.”

“Really?” Sexton said. “After all that?”

“There are still patriots in uniform, just as there are traitors,” replied Kunstler.

“Ominous much?” said Crys. “Sounds like you have a bunch of racist fascist insert-your-own-ist sleeper agents.”

Kunstler glowered. “Patriots,” he said. “People who know who, and what, they are.”

“Yeah,” Crys replied. “Fascists.”

“Come on, this isn’t helping,” Sexton said. “Fox, any ideas?”

The hologram shimmered. “Hook me up to the computer system, dearie, and I’ll show you just how useful I can be.”

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“The Gumdrop Kingdom?” Dean, the barbarian, said. “Really? That is so lame.”

“Well, you can take the road through the Hellblaze Realm if you think that’s going to be too sugarcoated for you,” replied Celeste, the dungeon master.

“Dude, let’s just take the sugar route,” Hailey, the rogue, said. “We can build levels. It’ll be easier.”

“Pretty sure I can work the body parts of the candy people we slay into some killer sugarmancy,” said Matt, the wizard.

“You’re such a murder hobo, Matt,” said Sam, the cleric. Matt, in reply, made an innocent “what, me worry?” expression with his hands clasped under his chin, Precious Moments style.

“All right then,” Celeste said with a sly smile. “Upon entering the Gumdrop Kingdom, you are beset by a tribe of Oreorcs. Roll for initiative at -5.”

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When he hatched, Tsee first knew warmth from the press of Cheer’s feathers. He then knew love from Took, who pressed a spider into his wide-open mouth. Light came later, and was its own brilliant discovery.

His nestmates, Purty and Sweet, seemed to lack the same energy that Tsee had. When his parents came, he was always first and loudest, greeting them with upturned mouth that they might fill it with love in the form of food. By contrast, his brother and sister seemed smaller, quieter. Took and Cheer fed them too, but Tsee was always at the forefront.

Cheer would sing and squeak softly to her children when she was on or near the nest, telling her of the love she had for them and repeating the gentleness she knew from her own mother. Took was less sentimental, urging the nestlings with sharp metallic pips. They had better eat up, he said, if they wanted to be big and strong enough to defy the many mouths open wide for them in the world.

Occasionally, though, Tsee would perceive another figure, a darker blur compared to Took’s red and Cheer’s auburn. It would dart in, a gift of food clutched in its beak, and warn away Purdy and Sweet with a sharp sound.

“Know that you are watched over,” the shape would whisper. “Know that you are loved.”

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I ruminate on the past a lot myself
Which is odd
Considering how little there is
To ruminate upon
The struggles of adolescence are
So far away
And yet
So near
Folks can’t always choose
What they care about
If something is your life for 4 years
When you turn 18
That’s 20% of your experience
Even more if you allow
For the first few years
Being blurry
At 40, I’d need to do something
For 8 years
To have the same impact
I was not poor
I was oh so very white
And yet I look back on the struggles
That consumed me
Body and soul
Most solely in my own mind
And I cannot help
But whisper
“What if…?”

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The cowbirds had been linking and clawing at the windows for days. We chalked it up to their stupidity and rowdiness, but after my wife accidentally left the window open when we went out for groceries, we learned that they had a much more cunning plan in mind.

We stood there, together, looking at the small brown-marbled egg laid in the middle of our master bed.

“We have some very ambitious obligate brood parasites,” I said.

“Let’s get rid of it,” replied my wife.

“I dunno,” I said. “I think, by the law of the forest, we need to incubate it and raise it as our own now.”

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The concertmaster fell back, gurgling from the wound, while the conductor nonchalantly cleaned the sold titanium baton that he used for conducting…and murder.

“This is why you always hit your notes in the Orchestra of Evil,” the conductor added. “When the pay is this good, the reward for any mistake must be death.”

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Took and Cheer had their first brood early that year. Three eggs, laid just as the spring rains were dying down.

The eggs hatched, and the chicks emerged. As was tradition, the chicks were not to be named until they were able to fledge and leave the nest. Cheer was in charge of names, though Took would veto any he did not like. The first chick stopped moving after three days, and Cheer sorrowfully dropped it to the ground below, chirping out the name she had hoped to give it.

A day later, a squirrel found and raided the nest, making off with another nestling. Took had not been fond of Cheer’s proposed name for the child, but her sadness led him to grudgingly agree to consider it for one of the others. Then came the massive thunderstorm that washed out the treetops with high winds and torrents. The two remaining chicks perished, drowned along with their names.

Cheer dutifully began building another nest, but with no successful broods the year before, their first, she told Took that he was free to seek a more successful nestbuilder and mate. He refused, saying that he would stay true to Cheer even if she were sitting on rocks.

Took and Cheer’s second nest was four eggs that year, and a greedy raccoon took all four in one night, while Cheer and Took were out hunting for food. Devastated, Cheer promised that the next nest would be the last of the season. Took agreed, but repeated his early statement of fidelity.

As it was now mid-spring and food was plentiful, Cheer had no trouble laying, and soon two fresh eggs glinted in her new nest. One day, though, Cheer returned to the nest to find an egg she did not remember laying. It was slightly smaller, with subtle variations in color and pattern compared to her others. Her first thought was to eject it, but a warning pip from Took stayed her. He would explain why later, he said. For now, best to brood it.

For her part, Cheer whispered the names of her children–forbidden names not yet fit to be given–through the shells. Purty, you will be called, she said to the first. Sweet will be your name, she said to the second. And to the third, the odd egg she did not recall laying, she pipped the name Tsee.

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