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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 7

This post was supposed to go up on Sunday, but this is what happens when you are hit with SURPRISE CRITICAL SERVER MAINTENANCE! Which took us until Monday night to really resolve, so now I can finally bring you all the seventh and final special Boosting the Signal post for the 2015 NIWA anthology, Asylum. The final featured author is Walt Socha, whose story in the anthology is “The Seventy Percent Solution”, and he offers you a small prologue for that story now! (And Walt is now the second Boosting the Signal guest I’ve had whose piece stars non-humanoid protagonists, too! With a nice tasty goal of GTFO, always a classic.)




Prologue to “The Seventy Percent Solution”

“Your food cravings will cause trouble,” Adur chittered. “Think of the future.” He wiped a paw over his face.

“Future?” M’rist shook her head, whiskers quivering. “We People are bred to be sacrificed to the whims of the Two Legs.”

“Stealing food from the nest of the Two Legs worker will not help.”

“But the dark food is very tasty.” M’rist lowered her gaze. “Makes me feel good.” She looked up. “Is there no hope of communicating with them?”

“We have discussed that. Remember our non-talking smaller cousins? One ran the maze quickly without pretending to be confused.” Adur shivered. “The chief of the Two Legs cut his head open.”

“Even if they knew we can talk like them?”

“We hear their low pitched sounds and understand them, but the Two Legs can not hear our higher pitched words. Even if they could, I doubt they could understand.” Adur sat, licked the back of his paw, and brushed it across his face. Even if they did establish communications by sound or by inking the sound symbols on paper, what would the Two Legs do? Could they trust creatures who cut their prisoners heads open for merely running through their primitive mazes without hesitation?

Letting his grooming falter, Adur let out a deep breath. The Peoples’ only hope was to escape this prison of pain.

But what then? The People did not even know what lay beyond the hard metal doors. They had mastered the many sheets of symbols stored in the nests of individual Two Legs. But even with visual images, it was difficult to interpret the descriptions of the outside world.

He resumed his grooming.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 6

And now, the sixth post in the special Boosting the Signal series for the 2015 NIWA anthology Asylum! Making her Boosting the Signal debut is today’s author, Connie J. Jasperson. Her story in the anthology revolves around Billy Ninefingers, the Rowdies, and the fundamental idea of asylum—the concept around which the town of Limpwater has grown. The Fat Friar, Robert De Bolt, pushes Billy to widen his horizons and take on a bad job in this wandering tale of snark and strange majik. Here now as a prelude to that story, Connie offers this bit of flash fiction: “The Fat Friar”.




“The Fat Friar”

Billy Ninefingers, captain of the mercenary band known as the Rowdies, stood behind the bar at Billy’s Revenge. His inn had only been open for three days, but already he was doing good business. Several merchants he’d never met who were traveling the trade road stopped there, promising even more business for his Rowdies.

A rather portly looking man entered, wearing the robes of a Brother of St. Aelfrid.

“I’m looking for Billy Ninefingers.” His voice was deep and clear, the sort that would resonate at a naming ceremony or a funeral, bringing comfort even to those in the back of the chapel.

“Who shall I say is looking for him?” asked Billy.

“Oh, sorry. Robert De Bolt. I was told the church could buy some lots from him. I’ve been sent here to—what is this town’s name, anyway?”

“Limpwater. I’m putting the signs on the trade road today. I’m Billy Ninefingers,” replied Billy, holding up his maimed hand to forestall the friar’s onslaught of words. “I’d be happy to sell you what you need. Have you some idea which lots are you interested in?”

“I suppose we should look at them.” The friar looked longingly at the mugs on the shelf behind the bar. “But perhaps we might quench our thirst first?”

“It’ll cost you a copper,” Billy poured a mug and handed it to the friar. “So you’re building a chapel here in Limpwater.”

“And also an infirmary,” replied Robert, savoring his ale. “I’ve the plans with me. Mother Agnes will send sisters for healing from Hyola once I get the chapel open for business.”

“You’ll want at least two adjoining lots,” said Billy.

“Eight. This will be a larger infirmary as it has to serve Dervy and Somber Flats too,” Robert said, smiling broadly. “But I’ll need to build a double-cottage, one side for me, and one for the sisters. Separate entrances and all. I’ll make the sisters’ side of the cottage spacious, as several healers and their apprentices will be sent here. The Patriarch and Mother Agnes expect this town to grow quite rapidly.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” replied Billy. “The nearest Sisters of Anan were in Somber Flats, but they were run off.”

“I know about Somber Flats. The church is taking a dim view of that, which is I why I’m here.” Robert held his mug out again. “I’ll need a room here until I get the chapel built.”

“The lots cost five golds each, because I have to figure out how to get the streets paved and sewer catches installed. I don’t have enough gold for that right now. Selling the lots covers those costs. We’ll have water piped to pumps at the street corners so everyone has good clean water. That means the water system will need to be cleaned every year and repaired, and so we’ll have to have an annual subscription for that. Folks need access to a sewer-catch on each street to dump their chamberpots. James Holloway, the king’s architect, designed the sewers, but maintaining them costs money. I’ll have to levy a small fee for that.”

“That’s fair. I spoke to James before I left, because you’ll need to expand them soon. You’re smart to plan ahead for maintenance.”

Billy looked ill. “How soon? My pockets are empty these days.”

“Next year, by the look of things.” Robert set his mug down. “Don’t worry. I’ll help you find the golds. But I’ll have to wait until later for another mug.” Sighing, he said, “My stipend is small, and my appetite for ale is over-large.”

Billy chuckled. “Well, let’s get you set up in a room for now and talk with the carpenters. Builders and thatchers have come from all over to work.”

Robert said, “I noticed you’ve a lot of refugees from Lanqueshire and Somber Flats here and they can’t feed themselves, much less pay for the lots.”

“I know, but I can’t turn them away. Once they get settled they’ll be able to pay their way.” Billy grinned. “I’d have nothing if not for the men and women from all over this sad, bad world who have come here looking for refuge.” He looked away. “I’m hard-pressed to feed us all, but the river is full of fish, and it was a good year for turnips.”

“I’ve some ideas you might be interested in, to bring more coins to town. We’ve a lot of raw material to work with here that will provide income for your citizens and pay the fees for your projects. And I’ve a large shipment of beans and dried peas on the way from Harlynde, courtesy of the church.”

Billy smiled, feeling one burden lifted away. “Everyone has pitched in, and we’ve a stockpile of root vegetables for now, but our beans didn’t do well this year. That will help get us through the winter.” He drew the friar a mug of ale. “You just earned yourself a mug on me!”


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 5

The special Boosting the Signal week for the NIWA 2015 anthology Asylum continues! Today’s featured author is Pamela Bainbridge-Cowan, whose story is “Going Sane”—and whose unnamed narrator is seeking to escape The Facility. (And oh my no, a name like The Facility is not the SLIGHTEST BIT OMINOUS.) Before that, though, there’s a goal of figuring out how to cope with life, and Pamela’s sent me an excerpt in which her narrator and her friend Vo discuss how the narrator has had to cope with what life has thrown her up till now, via painting.




I had one friend at The Facility, maybe one friend anywhere. Of course the universe, with its ironic sense of humor, made sure that he—the least likely to help me—would be the only one who could.

Vo Danielson. Unless you’ve spent your life beyond the Milky Way you’ve heard of him: the best musician of our time, maybe of all time. And also that guy who wrapped his hands around a transport slide wire which discharged, melting his hands into unrecognizable lumps of useless flesh.

I remember the first time we talked. It was late and we were the only ones in the community lounge. Earlier, the walls of my room had felt like they were shrinking. I was having one of my manic nights, a dish of self-pity served with a side of rage.

Brazenly I stared at his hands, balled up into fists on his lap. “They say you didn’t know the wire carried enough energy to fry your hands. Did you?”

I was sitting at one of the carved mahogany tables. Had been reading. He was sitting on the end of one of the tastefully horrific white and pink silk couches my mother had donated. Had been doing nothing. He looked up and smiled. “I knew,” he said.

Later, he asked about my family.

“My family…” I repeated as I thought about the question. “My family is brilliant and unique. My mother, before she retired to be my business manager, was in genetic R&D with Myer-Hoy. She designed me when she was sixteen and perfected her work at nineteen when she got her first breeding license. She hadn’t wanted me to be conventionally pretty—there were far too many pretty people. Instead, my pattern was a truly heteromorphic design. As you can see, she made my features stark and angled, my eyes sharply slanted and of course just this lovely slash across my face for a mouth. She also wanted me tall, but since my torso is about average she put most of my height in my lower legs. Then, to make things more symmetrical she designed my forearms to be extra-long. She thought she was creating a really new exotic, not an ugly freak who looks more like an insect than a human.”

Sometimes Vo made me forget what I was. Forgetting is a set up. It’s like drinking, or drugs, or dreams. It’s a temporary fix that takes you up and drops you so you hit the ground again. It hurts when you hit the ground because you can remember the last time and the time before that: all those bad landings. The aggregate should kill you—but it doesn’t.

Vo eventually asked me why I paint the things I do.

I didn’t want to talk about that, but I didn’t want him to go away again either. Finally I said, “When I was thirteen I saw a dead raven beside a garbage can. It was an old bird, feathers ruffled, not bleeding, not shot. I thought maybe it had a broken neck, some sort of natural death. I wanted that to be true. Someone had tied a wide pink ribbon around its legs. Maybe so they could carry it without touching it too much. I don’t know. And why a ribbon, something so pretty? It was death and beauty. It was black and pink. Rough and smooth. I ran home and painted it. Everyone thought it was amazing. My mother saw it as my first truly creative moment. It was proof that she’d done everything right. Not just my design but all of it—not marrying, giving all her passion to her work. It was affirmation.

“She took it to a gallery and they wanted more. So for five years, I painted dead birds. Dead birds with ribbons around their feet or their necks. Dead birds covered with flowers, hung from twisted ivy in the branches of trees, heaped on the shores of breathtaking lakes. I got sick of dead birds. One day I painted a bird without feathers. Raw sinews and tissue purple with blood, feathers torn off and thrown down. I was having a tantrum. And they loved it.”


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 4

The special Boosting the Signal feature week for the 2015 NIWA anthology continues! Today’s post features another previous Boosting the Signal guest, E.M. Prazeman, who now offers us a bit of a prelude to the story “Travail”. See below for the author’s own intro, and a bit of backstory for the jester Pick, in which Pick faces the goal of not only acquiring a messenger boy—but also surviving keeping him.




Travail takes us back in time, about three hundred fifty years before the events in The Lord Jester’s Legacy trilogy. In this era, Jesters, the masked courtiers that do the dirty political work for the noble class, wear bells to warn of their presence, and knights in armor are given a piece of a king’s or queen’s soul and sworn to dispense the monarchy’s justice.

Pick is a jester to a minor lord. Strong, tall, and quick-witted, he has a somewhat undeserved reputation for skipping the bribery, scheming and trickery associated with his trade and going straight for the throat of the matter. Unlike most of his compatriots he prefers gaining the trust of people who have great skill, intelligence, learning, or preferably all three, regardless of accident of birth.


I made my way through the broad, cluttered alley where merchants store their empty crates and barrels that will later be filled with goods to be traded at the Amendsday market. In daylight this was an innocuous place, but I traveled at night with a lantern that burned too low to serve well. I had the wick set that way on purpose. If I thought I could get away with no light at all I might have tried it. It’s so much easier to intimidate someone when they can’t get a good look at you. I had height, strength and a good sword on my side, but that only really meant that whoever might try for me would either have me outnumbered or they’d ambush me. So much for height and strength.


The relief rushed out of me like a wintry gust. “Gary.” The artfully-named little boy, Gary Gray, moved into the light. My relief was short-lived. He had someone with him, someone burly. No. Two men, one close behind the other.


“You didn’t say he was a jester,” one of the men said.

“You didn’t tell me you were bringing friends,” I added. I turned my head just so and allowed the bells on my steel-beaked mask to ring as I did it. “Is there a problem?” I listened carefully, not to them but behind me. That’s where the real danger would come from. Two men in an alley I could handle. An axe through the back of my skull, on the other hand, would fell me. It’s a weakness of mine.

“You have him running messages and he’s no messenger,” the man informed me, as if I didn’t know. “So yes, there’s a problem, jester.”

“I’ve heard of you, Pick,” the other man said.

That wasn’t good news. “Gary gets paid for his trouble.”

“Will you pay his corpse when whatever you’re tangling him in gets him killed? He’s only a child, for pity’s sake.”

Hmm. That didn’t sound like concern. My guess? They found out he was getting money and they wanted him to get more so they could take it from him. The air in the alley didn’t carry much but I would have bet my bells that they smelled like wine and shit. The sort that took a small boy’s bread money usually did. “It’s better than begging, wouldn’t you say? But you’re right. I’ve been taking advantage and that’s wrong, so wrong of me that I should like to make amends. It is Amendsday, now that it’s after midnight. How does ten ar sound? And I shall never trouble you to carry messages for me again. Unless.”

They took in so much air in anticipation of my next offer that I wondered that there was any left for me to breathe.

“You would like to keep carrying messages for me. For an ar each?” I had no intention of paying that rate, of course. To a beggar boy? That, not my messages, would get him killed once word got out. Word usually did, too. I kept listening behind me. Someone was there, I was fairly sure. They hadn’t been there before. They must have hidden well away and had only now reached the alley to cut off my escape. My nerves lit like lightning inside me.

“Tell you what,” the first man said. “You pay ten ar now, for the trouble you’ve brought him so far, and he’ll run those messages for an ar a week. Won’t you, Gary?”

“Yes, please.”

“It’s one or the other.” I had to make some sort of show of resistance or they’d catch on too soon. It might have been my growing fear that I wouldn’t get out of this alive but I thought they tensed. Maybe they already knew. “Consider. Ten dangerously attractive ar now in ten silver coins, versus an ar, dispensed in cupru so that it doesn’t draw too much attention, at least once a week for as long as he cares to carry. You’re the boy’s father. Consider his future. That’s a decent living for him.”

“He’s not my father.” Gary’s small voice released the lightning.

In the end it was just Gary and myself left standing in pure darkness, for the lantern had gone out in the midst of my attacks. I bled, I hurt, but we were both alive. I braced against the wall, gasping for air, and he braced alongside me. He’s a smart boy, Gary Gray. He might have invited those men to rob me or coerce me. But he didn’t grieve for them, and it seemed we were friends, for now.

“An ar a message?” he asked.

“I have a better, truer offer,” I told him. “I’ll be your patron, if you’d like to become a real messenger.”

“They’re rich,” he whispered.

“And they live in nice houses, and travel to see the world. Unless you’d rather have the ten ar.”

“No. I want to be a messenger,” he said quickly.

“Good boy.” With my wind back, I stood back up. “Did you deliver my message?” I asked.

He gave me the answer into my hand.

I knew then he would serve me well.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 3

Welcome to the third post in this special Boosting the Signal feature week for the 2015 NIWA anthology, Asylum! This post is featuring NIWA member Madison Keller, who I hope to feature in another forthcoming post for her novel Flower’s Fang. Till then, she’s in the anthology with her story “Clary’s Asylum”. And if I had to hazard a guess about Clary’s goal, based on this snippet, I’d say she’s got a real tough time on her hands protecting a certain book!




Clary struggled against the straps of the gurney as the paramedics lifted her into the ambulance. The girl she’d saved, Rael, had already been taken away by another ambulance, which had sped off lights flashing and siren blaring, only a few minutes earlier.

Her friend Gunny, a retired Marine, watched from the dock, a broken cigar clamped in his teeth. Water still dripped from his diving suit and the spear-gun he still had a death grip on. Clary could see her watertight diving bag, which contained her spell book, potions, and protective amulets, lay abandoned on the dock behind him.

Gunny shifted, spat out the remains of the cigar into the ocean. “Clary, don’t you worry. These nice men will get you better, get you making sense again.”

The straps that held her arms thwarted most of her spells. She chanted anyway, feeling the magic surge through her like burning night. At the height of the surge she bit down hard on her tongue. The spell snapped out, inflicting the pain she was feeling ten-fold on the paramedic closest to her. He cried out and fell back, blood dripping from the side of his mouth.

“Gunny,” Clary screamed, twisting her head to keep his face in view. “Blue water black night hides their eyes. The stars are still right. Protect the book-”

While she’d been talking a paramedic had inserted a needle into her arm. Clary’s speech slurred and she drifted away into slumber. Her last thought before she went under was escape.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 2

The special Boosting the Signal feature week for the NIWA 2015 Anthology Asylum continues! Today’s post is a piece from author William J. Cook. In his story “The Last Refuge”, Qunbula, a splinter group from Al-Qaeda, has destroyed Seattle in a nuclear holocaust. A firestorm of anti-Islamic hysteria is sweeping the country, and the newly established Patriots Administration is rounding up Muslims on the west coast and confining them to prison camps in Montana and Wyoming. Hamza, the registrar at a community college near Portland, is on the run with a very straightforward goal: trying to survive as he grapples with the growing virulence around him, even from children. A very timely story, I feel!




Lunch in the Burger King was terrifying. He knew his American history. A dark-skinned man huddled in the corner with a suitcase? He imagined sitting at the counter of a whites-only diner in 1950 Alabama. Children were the worst. While grownups would usually look away when they saw his darker skin and hair, children would stare at him and point. They had already been taught profiling by their parents.

“He’s one of them, Momma, I just know it,” a tow-haired boy about his daughter’s age whispered loudly, while tugging at his mother’s sleeve.

Hamza hunkered down lower and rushed to finish his sandwich and fries. This is my country! he thought helplessly, eager to get out from under the watchful gaze of the unforgiving child. I’m an American citizen! I served in the Army! But something vital had ruptured, some organic kinship with this boy and his mother had dissolved. The threat these people felt from all things Muslim was projected onto Hamza. Soon someone would stand up and point an outstretched arm at him, shouting imprecations at the stranger in their midst. He envisioned uniformed Patriots crashing through the glass doors, guns raised.

Through it all he imagined his daughter’s confused face, her eyebrows arching, her lips quivering. “Why Daddy? Why don’t they like us anymore? I go to school with them. We play jump rope and volleyball together. They came to my birthday party.”

“Why Daddy?”

How could he have explained this dark secret, this violence at the heart of things, to a ten-year-old girl—or to his wife for that matter? Despite his grief, he was glad he would never have to.

In a moment, he was up and hurrying out of the restaurant. In his haste, he caught his suitcase in the double doors and the clatter drew all eyes to him. He saw several people reach for their cell phones.

Again he ran.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 1

Normally I run Boosting the Signal posts on Fridays when I have them to run. But since I’m a member of NIWA, and NIWA does a yearly anthology, I’m running a special feature week to highlight the 2015 NIWA anthology! It’s called Asylum, and features stories by both NIWA and non-NIWA authors, all along the theme of the anthology title. Today’s Boosting the Signal post features a piece from Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins to highlight their story “Bedlam Asylum”. Of this story, Jeffrey says that it’s set one month after their novel Foul is Fair, and it’s a strategic analysis of the emotional needs of disabled pixie Ashling. And as you might guess, Ashling’s goal is pretty much what the anthology says on the tin: asylum.




Humans mistake pixies for butterflies and sprites for moths. Pixies travel and work in glimmers; sprites, in murmurs.

Pixie magic focuses on locations, and sprite magic focuses on events, but the important thing is that it’s always done together.

Ashling’s wings were torn years ago. She relies on a service crow just to fly at all. Her glimmer left her behind a long time ago. She’s worked mostly alone with her crow, or with people fifty times her size. She says she’s fine. She’s lying. Who knows if her friends can tell, but any pixie or sprite could.

An outcast sprite and an outcast pixie will understand each other in ways a half-human sidhe princess and a half-menehune will never fathom, no matter how good of friends they all are.

But Ashling is friends with the princess. The princess whose little clique in Seattle is safely off-limits from Faerie conflict for the rest of the season.

Ashling needs not to be alone anymore, and that’s all the ‘in’ a sprite looking to be granted asylum could ask for.


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