Tag Archives: fiction

The Horse, the Dog and the Emperor

Part of my ninja pirate robot universe.

I think having a ninja pirate robot universe is a very fun thing to have.

The Emperor is a robot.

I just have a lot of fun with this universe.

Originally published 17 Apr, 2007.

Today the Emperor recieved a petition for pardon from a man who had used his neighbor’s horse to sire foals that he sold for a great deal of money. His neighbor involved the shogun, who decided that the appropriate punishment was to kill all the horses involved that they not cause temptation and unrest. The petitioner argued that it was inevitable that horses were bones of contention by reason of their value and by reason of their usefulness.

The Emperor computed, and sent back a reply asking how it was that a foal was sired using only one male horse and one male man. The Emperor had thought that the laws clearly stated that a male conducting itself to the point of coitus with another male was subject to beheading in any case. The emperor also wondered as to how two creatures such as they were had achieved projeny given what it understood of the biological process that resulted in foals.

The petitioner sent back his humble apologies, and his explanation that the foal had been sired on a female horse belonging to the petitioner that he had owned for many years and bought legally. Included with this letter was the bill of sale, which the Emperor dutifully examined and found valid. In cross-referencing the bill of sale the Emperor did find that the seller was a horse thief condemned and hanged the year before. Since it had no record of a missing horse fitting the description given in the bill of sale, the Emperor considered this information null and void in relation to the case in question.

The Emperor considered the problem late into the night while the Imperial concubines rubbed it with oil and checked to make sure that its hardware was in tip-top physical condition. The Imperial concubines were the finest mechanics the planet had to offer. It relaxed under their gentle ministrations and considered the problem of horses.

That night and late into the next morning, the Emperor sat and thought about law. It then downloaded the revised laws (all of them) that it had created into the Imperial Database, from which its drones drew their operating code. It also sent simplified versions of its revised laws to its human shoguns, that they might warn their people of the new way of things. It sent copies of the laws also to the imperial family, the far-flung nobles who still lived and ruled despite the Grand New Order. It did not expect them to listen to its laws (they seldom did), but it did expect them to read the revisions.

Considering as it did that humans placed value on things that was not concrete and inherent, it had in the night calculated the exact values it felt were appropriate for each material, by weight and usefulness, so that there might be no more talk of ‘value’. Each thing had a value per weight, and each job had a value per time/skill ratio, and these values were now fixed throughout the empire. To pay anything other than these prices was punishable by pirates, and the Imperial Drones stood by to enforce the new price scale.

This did not work as well as the Emperor had hoped. Unhappily the Emperor reverted its code back to, scrapping all revisions inherent in and going back to the drawing board on the matter of the value of horses.

The morning after that, the Emperor decided to test whether the Empire would work better if the humans were the beasts of burden and the horses were their overloads. To be fair to the other animals, all other domesticated beasts were included. Violence against a beast on the specified list was punishable by death (after all, yesterday the reverse had been true). Beasts were to be taken care of to the best of the servant human’s means and capacity, and the beasts were to do no work they did not want to do.

After betatesting, it decided that while having the beasts running the country worked very well in keeping the complaints down, it had also spurred a turn towards violent rebellion among the humans that the Emperor was loath to ignore. Once more, the Imperial code reverted to and the Emperor considered the petition.

That very afternoon, before it had a chance to consider its next code upgrade, a message came via dog. The dog had a red ribbon around its neck, and the Emperor’s database indicated this probably meant it was female. It executed a perfect bow, muzzle to the ground and paws out in front, tail high, and then trotted forward to lay the scroll it held in its teeth at the Emperor’s feet. One of his concubines retrieved and read aloud a retraction of the previous petition and a declaration that he would submit to the divine will embodied by his shogun.

Throughout the Emperor’s thinking about this development, the dog showed no signs of distress. It sat quietly and wagged its tail, tongue hanging out slightly as it panted.

This drew the Emperor’s attention.

“You are not afraid of me in the slightest, are you, dog?”

The dog barked happily.

“I thought not. Would you like to be my grand vizier, dog? I have need of someone who will speak her mind freely and be not afraid of me.”

The dog barked again.

“Very well. The position is yours. Serve well and faithfully.”

The dog barked.

Respite: Taking a Moment

Originally published April 9, 2007.

There’s a moment in-between moments where all the moments rest.

She lifts her pen from the page, and watches a drop of ink grow on her pen and drip onto her paper, and considers that she just made a mess of a perfectly good thought. It used moment too much (using the same word too much is too wordy), but she liked it.

She sets her pen point-first in a little stand for just that purpose, next to her inkstand, and stretches, rolling first one shoulder, then the other, then twisting, first to the right, then to the left. Then her neck, to the right, to the left.

Back to center. She considers getting up and making tea or cakes, feeding the cat or watering the plants, and then she doesn’t. She’s in her quiet place, and all those important things fade away into her conciousness and get lost in the ripples.

It doesn’t matter who she is or what she was doing or why she was writing. It doesn’t matter where she is, what she thinks of her cat, or what sorts of plants she grows.

What matters is the moment she was writing about, the one in-between. She isn’t doing anything but staring into space and thinking to herself that she should dust, because of all the cobwebs.

It isn’t a very exciting story. Oh, there are ninjas out there, but she’s indoors. They can’t reach her here. There are pirates, but she’s on dry land. Their cannon-fire is a distant echo, easily ignored. Her calligraphy is done for the moment, ruined, so that doesn’t matter either.

There are robots in this story too. She’s writing her letter to the robot emperor, explaining why she doesn’t want to marry as he wishes her to. It’s a very polite letter, but she doesn’t feel like finishing it.

She’s wearing a plum-colored kimono with plum blossoms patterned in black. Her hair has sharp hairsticks in it, perfect for a woman who doesn’t want to wear visible weapons, and her fan has a sharp edge.

She stands. She turns. She kneels before an altar, prays, lights incense.

Perhaps it matters a little, the world outside this room and this moment. A little. But not enough to phase her, to let her expression change.

She claps her hands once, and is surrounded in a flurry of handmaidens.

“We shall fly our kites today,” she informs them, and they scatter to certain posts that are their jobs on kite-flying days.

Two stay with her, her attendants and fellow kite enthusiasts.

“Princess,” one says, “We must take the long route. There is a mess in the garden.”

“How tiresome,” says the princess, but she does not feel like walking in the blood of enemy ninja today.

She and her attendants take the long route. They travel through many rooms kept apart by paper screens that slide, each decorated in its own beautiful, unique way. In some rooms, such as the room filled with the sound of water and wind, she chooses to sit. The kites will wait. In fact, if she never reacts the kite meadow, it would not matter. Sitting here is an equally good use of her time. She stays there, in the room with the small stream running over elegant pebbles down the middle of the floor, an indoor canal, and listens to the players playing the sounds of wind and birds on their instruments, and she is content.

She imagines flying a kite, how she would slice through the strings of her opponents kites and send them fluttering to earth, claiming them as her own. One of her handmaidens has a green kite decorated in an exotic pattern of leaves that she wants badly, which is why that handmaiden must always fly her kite against the princess when the princess feels like playing kites.

The princess has lost five kites to that handmaiden this season. She finds it tiresome, and likes her imagination more than the actual competition. Today she would have lost her peach kite, and still not been given the green one as a token of her mastery.

It was better to dream. In her dreams, the leaf kite was hers and her handmaiden knelt before her, foolish arrogance forgotten.

It was a good dream. It was a good way to spend a day.


Originally published Apr 21, 2009.

As I lay me down to sleep,
I pray to god my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray to god my soul to take.

Pretty messed up, isn’t it? A thousand children have been scared to go to sleep because of that one. I wasn’t raised in a Christian household, so I didn’t have to worry about god taking my soul in my sleep. I was just lucky that way, I guess. This one time, though, I did have a problem with someone coming ’round in my sleep and taking something of mine.

It was two days before Christmas, the eve of Christmas eve, which just happened to be my birthday as well. Snow on Christmas didn’t always happen at my house, and that year it decided to snow on my birthday and clear up by Christmas time. I didn’t know the snow was going to clear up, though, and I was thrilled to bits by it. I went to bed on the evening of the 23rd happy as a clam (as some of my friends have called me), eager to experience the next leg of my three-day holiday.

When I’m woken up in the middle of the night, I don’t start awake with grand declarations like ‘who’s there!’ or even ‘ghnmmgah?’ Oh no, my idea of waking up is a long silence punctuated by ‘nngh,’ after which I go back to bed and let whoever it was deal with it. Whatever it was.

Still, I do have some skill for waking up under exceedingly strange circumstance. So when I woke up for the second time, the first time being when I first heard someone entering my room, it was to the very strange sensation of someone unzipping my skin. Right down the back, with a little zipper made of metal. It made my back muscles feel all cold and drafty, and if you haven’t felt that you can’t even imagine it.

“Oy!” I shouted, mumbled, whichever. “Stop that.”

I rolled over, to be confronted by Mrs. Claus. You know, Santa’s wife? She looked just like I always pictured her, and while I’d never believed in god as a child as such, I’d always believed in Santa.

She frowned down at me in the dim light of my room, illuminated only by the burning torch held by her elf henchmen.

“Dear, hush. This won’t take but a moment.”

“You can’t have my skin.” It was obvious, in that moment, what she wanted. And I just wasn’t having it.

“You shouldn’t be unreasonable about this,” she told me, muttering to a henchman, “Did we bring the chloroform?”

“No, ma’am. We left it in the sledge like you said.”


“I can hear you.”

“Oh. Sorry, dear.”

I lay back against my two very comfy pillows and sighed. “Get out.”

“Why should I? Santa needs good new skin to look his best on Christmas day.”

Opening one brown eye, I glanced at my clock, which happened to be decorated with pictures of roses.

“Because it’s still my birthday for another twenty-five minutes,” I informed Mrs. Claus. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I was just tired, and it was my birthday, and I wanted to go back to bed.

“Oh,” was her reply. “Well, I suppose that is a bit different, then.”

“We really didn’t bring the chloroform?” She asked her henchmen.

“No, ma’am. We didn’t.”

I could still hear them, but I chose to ignore it.

“Well,” Mrs. Claus said to me, “I suppose you’ve got a good point there. We’ll just be going, unless you want me to zip you back up?”

“I’ll do it myself.”

I could tell they left when the light went away, and I rolled back over, pulled the blankets right up to my chin, and fell back asleep.

Brushwork, Chapter Four: Coming Together

Originally published June 19, 2008.

Read: Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three

Wherever I went, men followed. Strong men, fast men, men that wanted me dead and flayed. I ran and ran, eating seldom, sleeping less, but the men followed. I found myself pressing further and further into the lands of men, for they were jungle men and I knew the lands of men as well as the jungle.

I did not think about where I was going, only that I needed to get away. I was tired, and I felt old, and these men were fierce with anger because I had destroyed their brother, and laid waste to his bones.

They found me, and they chased me one last time. There was a garden wall before me, and I leapt.

It was something of a shock when my tiger appeared before me, so many years after we first met. It had been long enough that I would not have laid odds that he was alive, and yet it made sense to me, in a way. He had always been something of an unusual cat. We regarded each other searchingly, until there was a clamoring commotion in the hall and armed men burst through the entrance to my garden, with spears and swords at the ready. My husband was among them, talking to their leader, and they seemed in agreement.

I asked then, as they circled my tiger, “Excuse me, dear husband, but what is all this? Why are you all so agitated with my pet?”

I went to my tiger, and knelt by him, my skirt growing stained by the grass, and touched his neck, burying my face in his fur. He nuzzled at me, gentle.

“This is your pet, my wife?” My husband asked.

“Oh yes, my husband,” I answered. “Did not I mention that I bought him?”

“These men say they chased a tiger in here, my wife.”

“Oh yes, my husband,” I said again. “And my tiger chased it away again.”

The men protested, but my husband took my word above theirs, for I was his princess and his wife and they were common peasants. They were sent away, and we were alone.

I awoke from my slumber to find my princess and her tiger wrapped in embrace, her fingers trailing in the water, her eyes closed. She slept, and I rose to the surface. The tiger, still beautiful, but aged into his beauty, regarded me.

“Did you know all this would happen?” He asked me.

“I did not,” I replied. I hesitated. “Will you stay, this time?”

“I will stay,” he replied.

We watched each other, as the day faded into darkness, and it was enough.

Brushwork, Chapter Three: Life Apart

Originally published June 19, 2008.

Read: Chapter One Chapter Two 

It could be said that much of what transpired in that ensorcelled place was a mystery to me. While I was there, it seemed I moved in a dream, all parts choreographed and fixed. The creatures I met there were more than real, and the few minutes there were as real to me in comparison as all the rest of my years combined. When I left that garden, my limbs had grown strong, my teeth long, my fur lengthened and rugged. I had come into my prime without noticing.

I traveled past the dwellings of man, out into the wild reaches. There I found deer and swallow, and found it good. I slept beside running water, and dreamed of patterns of orange and black. I woke, and killed again, and traveled further into the forest, fording a river, pausing to chase wild pig. Again I feasted. Muddy, I went for a swim, and bathed myself with long, slow licks. My fur shone, and I was languid in the summer sun.

It would mean less than nothing to you, my dear, to relate all the days that passed under the sun and moon where I did naught but kill, eat, bathe and sleep, but it must be related that these days occurred, for they are at the heart of my character. I learned in that time that I was both meant for only that and meant for more than that, for I thought often of love in those days. I wanted to be known by someone, and to know them. I wanted someone to be near me who was neither prey nor stupid, beneath me. I did not know what I wanted, but it frustrated me not to have it.

I suppose to you it will seem a betrayal of what was, and what is to come, to say this, but it is truth. I found love, passionate and harsh, with another of my kind, only about a year after I left that garden. We made love like tigers, and parted as tigers do, and I watched from afar as she raised our cubs. They grew tall and strong, and went their ways. I fought one, for it would have encroached on my territory, and fought another male of my kind for the right to get her with cubs again, and won. Again she raised my cubs, and I found another mate, though not for want of one. Her territory was near mine, and it would have hurt my pride not to have her.

My life was good there, and I had many children. Some of the females stayed nearby and became my mates, and the males went their way and mattered naught to me. For a tiger, this life of claw and bone and anger was better than any sweetness, more soothing than any touch, more fulfilling than any easy meat. I grew old with passion and languor. I feasted. I played. I swam. I lived.

There is a truth to my life that should be evident to you by now, my dear. I was born with a skill not common in tigers, the speech of men, and their ability to reason. I thought little of it in my youth, and thought little of it again in my years of freedom, but in my next tale it mattered more to me than anything.

It came to pass that a hunter came to my woods, and I evaded him with little thought, spending my days in the trees, considering whether to kill him sooner or later, and how sweet his flesh would taste. Man was a rare treat. I hesitated too long, and he killed my first mate, who had grown old and half-blind while I still felt young and strong. He skinned her, and ate the flesh from her carcass, his fire a brand in my forest.

I stalked him and leapt, scattering his fire and leaving him in the dark, with my claws pressing him into the earth. I asked him, “Did you stop to pray, that her spirit might find rest? Did you ever think that any would miss her, or that she might have cubs?”

He stammered in the language of men, “I am a hunter. I kill. She was prey, and I needed the money she would bring. If she had cubs, I can kill them to, so that they do not suffer. She is a tiger, and every tiger lives alone.”

I tore his throat out, because I did not feel like talking anymore.

The death of a man is like an evil curse. It haunts the lands around it, and draws ill luck to it. I left my home that night, and traveled on. I would find a new home, and again I would find a life for myself. Alone.

I was a princess, and expected to marry, but I did not. How could I explain that all I thought of when I thought of marriage was a tiger’s bloody teeth? No one knew I was in the garden that night, and I did not care to explain. My father put up with me, for some reason, and I was sheltered and protected by him as long as he lived. When my father died, a new lord came, and he wed me and bedded me. I was fond of him, after a fashion, but my heart stayed distant, and he reacted with distance of his own, though I think he would have loved me if he could have. He was a good man.

I had no children, and eventually he brought his brother’s sons to live in his household as his own, to take the lands when he was gone. I lived as I had always lived, quietly, in my garden and in my rooms. I never wished to know the larger world, and never did.

I was not lonely, because I knew no other existence.

In the end, when the choice was going mad with boredom and doing something about it, I locked my mind away, deep within myself. I lived as a fish must live, sometimes, for food and water and sunlight above me. I circled in my pond, and my mind slept.

Brushwork, Chapter Two: Goodbyes

Originally published June 19, 2008.

Read: Chapter One

I reached out with my paw to touch her, and she flinched away from me. I know now that it was with her word that the spell was released, and she thought I was going to harm her. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, though she was too scared of me to see it yet.

It was with faint regret that I said to her, “You really are beautiful.”

She was, she is. Such a fish there has never been, near as long as my foreleg, with stripes in all the holy colors, with scales that shone like fire and eyes that were like nothing I’d ever seen before. I was young then, and had never met a sorceress before.

The need to breathe struck me and I lunged for the surface, breaking through it with a great roar of delight and landing, sodden, on the soft bank. There I dripped, while before me a tableau of action halted mid-motion persisted.

In the years between my sixth and sixteenth birthdays, I would not say I thought often of what my fate might have been if that tiger had not disappeared as it had. I was not one to question fate, as a child, and felt that if my father told me that all was as it should be, such was the truth. It was reason enough to be proud, however, that even so fierce a beast could not defeat me, and in my pride I was unfortunate.

It came to pass that I, like the lotus flower, bloomed, and like the flower of the lotus I was full and curved as the gods intended. I did not much think of it, except as it was pointed out to me, busy with lessons and stories from my nurses. Ever I was guarded by my father’s men, who were loyal to him and respected him, and wished me no harm. Even when I was struck by some fancy and thus insisted on carrying it out, still I was obeyed and respected by men much my senior in years and in acumen.

On the night following my sixteenth birthday, the captain of my father’s guard came to me and on bended knee took my hand in the garden. He asked, “Will you marry me, your highness? For I have looked at you from afar, and I must have you for my wife.”

I did not move to reclaim my hand, but I looked at him with unkind eyes. I asked, “Have you put this question to my father?”

He replied earnestly, “Your highness, you are the only one who I care about. If you will marry me, I will convince your father.”

Since he had always been good to me, I did hesitate, but I felt nothing for him, and honesty insisted I tell him so. “I will not marry you, I think. I am sorry.”

He shook his head, and stood, still holding my hand in his own. He was not taller than me, but he seemed to loom dark. “I cannot accept that, your highness,” he said, stepping forward. We were close enough that our sleeves might brush against each other. “I will not.”

I do not know what would have happened then, and I do not care to speculate on such matters. Instead, let us say that it was at that moment that my tiger appeared, slick with water in the starlight, and he bared his teeth at us and growled.

The captain of the guard still held my hand in his when he drew his sword with the other, but the tiger was a rush of motion and the captain screamed, and choked, throat red as the tiger’s jaws, breath crackling and breaking, ending, dying.

My tiger looked at me and grinned, teeth so red, and licked his lips free of the captain’s blood. I was frozen, and could not move. I could hardly even breathe, the effort of breathing making me tremble.

His tail flickered, near the edge of my vision, the very tip of it swishing, and he grinned at me. I shivered, I admit.

Then, as if he made up his mind, the tiger turned, soaring over my garden wall in a tremendous leap.

It seemed to me that this was his way of saying goodbye.

Watching them together was the hardest thing I had ever done. I could not know whether the tiger’s promise would hold, or whether she would scream and call more guards, or whether the man who I used the tiger to destroy would destroy him in turn and take for himself the kingdom as some few of my visions suggested.

It did not help that he had been my constant companion of ten years, and now he was gone, and further away with every moment. It did not help that my beautiful charge was grown and did not need me anymore.

It did not help that I ached to speak with both of them, just once. Just once more.

Brushwork, Chapter One: First Meetings

Originally posted June 19, 2008.

In a land far off, with mountains capped in white and waterfalls that go on forever, where men wear conical hats and women have hair like the wings of ravens, there are strange and fantastic things, my dear. There are peaches that grant immortality, and a woman and a white rabbit that live on the moon. Dragons sleep under the water, and in the boughs of trees you can find the elusive phoenix.

There are so many wonders in this fantastic land that it is little surprise that even the lowliest of creatures is amazing. Yes, I am speaking of that lowliest of creatures, that common ape, the thoughtless and ugly, that creature of gangly limbs and graceless lines. Even man is amazing.

My limbs are not long. My every movement is grace. In every particle I am superior. The orange of my fur glows like forest fire, and the black in it is the color of starless night. My eyes see farther, my ears are sharper, I can track the moon by its scent.

This human had hair as black as mine, and skin like umber, and eyes that flashed when she spoke. I knew what I was going to do with her the moment I saw her.

When I was six and playing in my father’s garden, a tiger leapt the wall and tried to attack me. He meant to eat me, I am sure. He leapt at me, but did not realize I was playing on an island in father’s pond. He made a tremendous splash, and I got quite wet. I ran inside while he was underwater, and father’s men didn’t find him when they searched.

Before the little princess came along, I belonged to her father, his most trusted advisor, but her birth changed that. He charged me with her welfare and nothing else. That was why I prevented her death at the claws of the tiger.

I had been planning the spell all day, but this was the first time I had seen the tiger, too busy after my vision of blood and gore to look at the creature who would create the catastrophe. The first thing I remember thinking after he dropped into the water was, My stars, he’s beautiful.

Even then, young and lithe with youth, he was smarter than he looked, and his gaze pierced me, leaving me frozen.

“Let me out of here, wise one,” he said to me, in his voice like a growl.

I, who was both fish and sorceress, replied, “The spell will be broken when you tell me what I want to hear.”

He paced, tail snapping, fur streaming in the water, paws slow to rise and slow to fall, as I swum slow circles around him. He snapped at me, but his ivory teeth did not touch my fins.

“Your scales… they shine like metal. Black, like varnished iron, and amber. Some are white, like….”

“I am not vain,” I replied. “That is not what I want to hear.”

“Then tell me,” he snapped, and I wanted nothing more than to do so, for he was so beautiful, and so fierce.

I had a duty.

“I cannot. You must learn it on your own.”

“May I ask questions?” My tiger asked.

“You may,” I replied, angling back and forth in front of him, languid and watchful.

“Who are you, sorceress?”

“I am koi.” Koi need no names amongst themselves. We are, and we know we are.

“Why are you here?”

“To protect.”

“…but she is human. She is nothing. She is beneath you, sorceress.”

I turned a somersault of negation. “It is my choice to make, and I made it. She is protected.”

“If I promised not to hurt her, would you let me go?” He asked.

I considered for a moment, but a tiger’s promise is a tricky thing. “No. No, I don’t think so.”

“Then what?” He asked. I had no answer for him, so we circled each other in silence for a time that stretched on.

You should understand, my dear, that time underwater has different properties. Time underwater is cool and slow, and only occasionally does speed come into it. Time stretches to accommodate the seeking mind, and that is what happened then. While we circled, time passed above, though our circling only seemed to last minutes in that blue domain of mine. With my other eyes, I watched my princess grow and strengthen, taking heart from the tiger in her dreams. Her eyes flashed with his pride and her limbs drew strength from his will, and her father was proud that she was so blessed.

In that time that lasted ten years, his thoughts were ever on her, and her thoughts ever on him, and I rode the waves between them and was their connection and their anchor. What little I understood of fate and destiny insisted, though my heart cried out, for in the moment I saw him I fell a little in love, and naught had changed that yet. For me it was an eternity and a few moments, but for him it was only a few moments.

There is a law, my dear, that anything one is for one’s sixteenth birthday, one is forever. Our princess was tall and beautiful, fierce and loyal, savage and glorious, gentle and playful. On her sixteenth birthday she wished to the stars that she might have a tiger all her own, for she would not be afraid this time.

I know not whether it was my magic or her wish that prompted him, but at that moment, so short a time and so long a time later, that he said, “If I promised to love her, would you let me go?”

And I said, “Yes.”