Yep, that’s right, Tarot fans, I’m up to number ten, the Wheel, sometimes called the Wheel of Fortune. I’m still working on the font and layer style for the title and number.
EDIT: My complete edits so far are now available for viewing here, in my spiffy new Tarot Gallery!
(FURTHER) EDIT: I have since inserted the updated versions of the first 12 trumps, having lost the “in-between versions” during some unwise file deleting.
Then, because, I feel like it, here’s another joke:
A policeman sees a man walking down the street with a penguin waddling along next to him. He goes up to the guy and says, “look, mister, you can’t be walking a penguin down the street like that. Take that penguin to the zoo!”
The man looks pleased at the idea, and says, “certainly, officer! Right away!”
The cop shakes his head as he watches the man walk off, penguin in tow.
The next day, while walking his beat again, the officer sees the same man walking the same penguin down the same street. He makes a beeline for the duo.
“I thought I told you to take that penguin to the zoo!”
The man smiles broadly. “I did, officer; he had a great time. Today we’re going to the ballgame.”
And then, because I said I’d mention it, here’s the first act of the work in progress, “The Great Wobbly Fuzzy Buddy™ Caper of 2384.”
“They’re called what?” Captain Wilmington Parkhurst asked incredulously, his brow furrowing with confusion and annoyance. The scar running from just below his left eye, crossing his throat to touch the base of his jugular, twitched with irritation; Parkhurst the Wolf clearly did not like what he saw.
There’s not a lot that disgusts him, Kat thought with delight, watching her commander scowling at the things on the table. But for sheer provocation value, you can’t beat cute.
“Wobbly Fuzzy Buddies™, Captain,” the ship’s gunner explained, as he picked one of the more shockingly colored furry tubular things up from the table, gave its belly a brief squeeze, and then replaced it amongst its fellows, where it immediately began flopping around the tabletop in irregular spasms, rolling listlessly around from one point to another. “They’re the high prime right now,” Zap Tarsis continued, grinning hugely. “Everyone who’s anyone has got one. Or twelve.”
“Wobbly. Fuzzy. Buddies,” the captain repeated in a flat tone, pausing between each word as if he could not bear to link them together in the same sentence.
“They’re part of the ‘Fuzzy Buddies™’ line, Wing.” Maia Windsor, ship’s navigator, was also a professional Hollander – and, in that capacity, the captain’s private mistress – and thus, the only one with enough nerve to address him by his familiar name, at least in public. And although he liked to keep a loose ship, Wing Parkhurst did have a certain reputation to keep, and ‘cute’ was not a concept that figured anywhere in his world. Lieutenant Kat Sandersen watched with rapidly growing amusement, then, as her captain’s expression progressed from mildly aggrieved to insanely livid while he listened to Maia reel off the names of the popular toy line:
“It all started with the original Fuzzy Buddies™, then came Mini Fuzzy Buddies™, Squeaky Fuzzy Buddies™, Floaty Fuzzy Buddies™, Giggly Fuzzy Buddies™, Whirly Fuzzy –”
“ENOUGH, Sergeant!” Wing barked, causing several of the patrons at neighboring tables to look round at him.
The place itself wasn’t half bad; the proprietor was an old family friend that had owned a highly disreputable tavern in-Belt, before the war had started, a little over a half-decade and an eternity ago. Unlike the old hole, where the smeck menu filled a datapod and the food menu was listed in the health code violations handbook, this one served decent enough meals and only allowed the heavy intoxicants here in the back room, away from the refugee families that had converted an adjacent storage hull into a ration-house and ad hoc civic center. Outside the beaded curtain, the sounds of children playing and their parents casually gossiping over bowls of rice and tivip drifted in to mingle with the thick veil of omnipresent smoke and, more conveniently, to mask the conversations of the establishment’s less wholesome elements – smugglers, assassins, musicians, pirates, and other societal flotsam, crouched over their bottles and their hydropipes, just as casually plotting the overthrow of the forces which had displaced the people on the other side of the curtain.
Kat could only imagine what their fellow renegades made of this one; no one could miss the loathsomely bright-colored plush toys strewn across the table, a single disconcertingly pink one still fitfully writhing amongst its fellows. Parkhurst the Wolf, once the terror of the inner solar system, now the latest victim of the Fuzzy Buddy™ craze, she thought, stifling another laugh.
Wing glared at the other tables occupied by bands of free-thinkers, smeck dealers, political dissidents, and folk artists with enough palpable hostility in his expression that everyone rapidly returned to minding their own business quite emphatically, but still the captain of the Lunar Trading Ship Scorpion lowered his voice as he turned back to address his crew. “I get the general idea, Sergeant,” he continued with a growl, “but I distinctly remember ordering you and the squad to buy supplies, and possibly get us another hauling contract to pay for it all, not to squander our hard-earned, rapidly disappearing Orchids on … on souvenirs,” he finished with disdain, eyeing the wriggling pink tube squirming around amongst its companions on the table.
“Actually, Captain,” the ship’s operations tech spoke up in her matter-of-fact way, “these are our new hauling contract. Or rather, a sample of the merchandise.”
Wing’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry, Corporal Xaraax,” he murmured in an ominous voice, “it almost sounded as if you just said we were going to haul these … things … as cargo.” He gazed pointedly at the Mercurian with such sharpness that she immediately ducked her head, fiddling nervously with the cybernetic implants on her wrist.
“The pay’s solid, captain,” Jem Xaraax said defensively, “and you said we were in desperate circumstances –”
“Not this desperate, Corporal,” Wing muttered bitterly, indicating the tableful of unpleasantly adorable merchandise between them with a disgusted gesture. He turned to the disc-shaped droid floating at his left shoulder. “Consultant Rochester, tell me you at least tried to explain to the squad why this is such an absolutely ridiculous, completely inane –”
“It was my idea to take the contract, Captain,” the droid broke in stiffly, his lights flashing blue-white with indignation upon his scuffed and dented brass shell.
Kat stifled a laugh as she saw Wing’s eyes grow wide with astonishment and barely suppressed fury; the captain recovered himself only with a titanic effort of will. “Rochester,” he asked coolly, “when I asked you to think creatively –”
“You said,” the old droid broke in heatedly, “that you wanted me to find us a contract that was legal, lucrative, and easy to transport, so that you could, and I quote, ‘be able to have maybe five krecking minutes to myself so that I can put this krecking boat back together and perhaps even make her fly krecking properly again.’ The job at hand satisfies all your requirements: the owners of the cargo are licensed to manufacture, sell, and arrange for transport of the complete Fuzzy-Buddies™ product line anywhere out-Belt, and what’s more, they’re willing to pay full Guild rates to ensure safe delivery.”
Wing frowned suspiciously. “Full Guild rates? That puts me on alert – all right, Consultant, I’d like you to define your parameters for ‘easy to transport.’”
The droid’s lights flickered with violet and orange embarrassment, but a flare of white showed he wasn’t exactly happy with the captain right now, either.
“My parameters,” he snapped, “are, as always, calculated to include the maximum odds for the survival of the crew at any given moment.”
“So then why, when I consider your track record, do I think that you might include the phrases ‘easy to transport’ and ‘possible exchange of firepower’ in the same breath?”
“I don’t breathe, Captain.”
“Yes, and you’re lying through the teeth you don’t have, too,” Wing answered sharply. “Now quit scrolling: what aren’t you telling me?”
Rochester bobbed irritably. “I knew you’d get this way,” he growled. “Captain, we both know I’m not hiding anything; you’re just looking for an excuse not to have anything to do with this job. And we both know why you don’t want this job.”
Wing’s jaw jutted out, but eventually he deflated under the droid’s sharp scrutiny. “Well, can you blame me?” he asked, after a long sip of rum. “I mean look at them –” he indicated the plush toys with a disdainful wave. “They’re … they’re just so …” he shook his head, uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
Kat couldn’t hold herself back any longer. She put down her Plavda Fizz and picked up a brilliantly yellow-green tube, squeezed its middle, and released it onto the table, then repeated the process with a dozen of the more alarmingly colored ones before turning to her commanding officer with what she calculated to be her most infuriating smile.
“Frankly,” she said, “I think they’re cu—”
“Don’t you dare finish that word, Lieutenant.”
Kat bit the inside of her lip. “I was going to say, ‘curiously appealing.’”
Wing glowered at her, but she returned his look with the most innocent expression she could muster.
Eventually, sighing with resignation, the captain picked up one of the toys Kat had set in motion, and watched it flop listlessly in his grasp for a while, its irritatingly orange hempvelt fur almost glowing in the dim torchlight of the back room. Then, with a sudden air of decision, he drew a small piece of metal from a hidden pocket, ignoring the gasp of startled protest this drew from the squad, as well as the sudden shift of atmosphere in the room.
There might well have been a half-dozen considerably dangerous people here in the back room of the Orquídea Viajar, but none of the assembled war-weary fighters would stand half a chance against the legendary Parkhurst the Wolf, captain of the most feared squadron in the Smugglers’ Guild, high council member of the Assassins’ Guild, ruthless talent agent and nefarious nightclub pianist. Even the man himself wouldn’t survive five minutes against the legend, and he often said so himself. But no one could ignore the fact that Wing Parkhurst, as an Assassin, had acquired enough powerful enemies in a career spanning just over a quarter-century to make the fact that he’d survived that quarter-century a minor miracle.
Wing, Kat knew, didn’t believe in miracles; he preferred to rely on his fighting skills. So when he pulled out the weapon that held more notches on it than could be counted on a casual scan, the ambiance of the room naturally chilled somewhat, the temperature dropping even more when a lethal sliver of white-blue light popped into existence, extending some ten centimeters from the handle.
Kat opened her mouth to reproach Wing for activating his slaadyen in such notoriously edgy company, but wisely re-considered when she saw the murderous gleam in his deep-set gray eyes. The silence reverberated thickly, accented by the squeal of a child beyond the beaded curtain. Everyone watched, transfixed, as the captain first looked at the toy, then at his weapon, then back to the toy, the glow of the buzzing laser blade illuminating the furry orange into a sickly tangerine.
With a savage lunge, Wing cut along the length of the reviled object, instantly releasing a small storm of tiny round pellets, which immediately skittered everywhere, rolling from the table to the surrounding floor.
“Someone’ll hafta clean that up, Parkhurst,” a rough voice rang out from the gloom.
Not seeming to hear the remonstrance, Wing turned off his weapon, the slaadyen’s blade disappearing with an audile crackle, and thrust it back into his tunic. He carelessly tossed the empty tube of fabric onto the table, where it landed on Zap’s plate of spiced tivip.
“You … you killed it, Captain,” the gunner of the Scorpion mumbled faintly.
“Nonsense, Corporal Tarsis. I’ve liberated it; see?” Leaning forward, Wing daintily extracted a thin, transparent filament from the limp fabric shell, holding it up between forefinger and thumb, where it jerked erratically, still trying to move the now-destroyed plaything in the desired wobbly manner. With a slight bow, he handed it to his crewman. “There you go; now it’s a Twitchy Fuzzy Buddy™.”
Zap looked down at the single fiber now wriggling pathetically in his hand. “It’s … it’s not fuzzy, Captain.”
“Indeed, Corporal. Well, we can’t pollute the integrity of the Fuzzy-Buddies™ brand line with non-fuzzy merchandise, now can we?” The squad looked on in speechless amazement as their commander plucked the offending filament from Zap’s un-protesting hand and dashed it to the floor, where he ground it to dust under his boot. The crushed mechanism burst into flame briefly, even igniting one or two of the nearer pellets of fill, before they, too, were extinguished beneath the captain’s heel. “So much for safe toy design,” he muttered almost to himself, surveying the sad mound of smoldering ash.
“I told you before, Parkhurst,” the voice from the back of the room spoke up again, “clean up or clear out – I was five hours mopping up after your last escapade.”
Wing craned his neck, peering through the thick haze to address the shadows from where the voice came. “No worries, Shodo, I plan to do both in short order. But I believe,” he continued, getting to his feet, “that while you were done mopping up the physical remains by the evening, I had twenty-one weeks of dealing with the diplomatic repercussions at the Guild. I’m not very well liked right now.”
“You’re so pretty when you sing me your troubles, Parkhurst. I’ve got eighteen-to-one says you’ll be singing me a different tune come Saturday next.”
“Or we could just declare me right and split the difference,” Wing answered cryptically. Kat shot her captain a quizzical look, but he avoided her eye as she the rest of the squad got to their feet.
Whatever joke she missed, Shodo Nivoli got the point; his harsh laugh rolled around obscenely with the smoke in the air. “Whatever you say, Parkhurst. Just clean up your mess and get the ghenna out of here.”
“But of course. Corporal Tarsis, pick up this mess; perhaps friend Shodo can rent you a broom and dustpan. Corporal Xaraax, Sergeant Windsor, why don’t you two head back to the ship? Consultant Rochester and I have some business to attend to and will meet up with the rest of you by nineteen hundred fifty at the latest.”
“Captain?” Kat began, confused.
Wing paused favored her with his blandest smile; it was clearly his turn to look innocent. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
Kat gritted her teeth. “Your orders for me, sir?”
Wing’s smile didn’t exactly turn into a smirk, but it was spamming close enough for Kat’s blood to start boiling. “I should have thought that that was obvious, Lieutenant,” he murmured in his sweetest voice. Since you think that these –” he waved a dismissive hand in the general direction of the surviving Fuzzy Buddies™, “are so very, as you say, ‘curiously appealing,’ you can distribute them to the children.”
Kat’s jaw tightened. She hadn’t expected this level of revenge. “Sir …”
“They’re children, Lieutenant. They won’t bite.”
“They’re children, Captain.” And you know that’s not the point, Wing.
“There are far worse things than being young, Lieutenant. And I thank Gaia,” Wilmington Parkhurst said, smirking openly now, “that, although their parents may think otherwise, children, at least, aren’t always cute.”
Oh, and where’s the shameless self-promotion, you say? Well, if you like this short story in progress, check out my collection of finished short stories, The Scorpion Files, available for sale by sending me a comment below, or at Amazon.com, here.