From Machine to Man

max

“Sir? You need to wake up now, sir.” The white, uniformed human shook Max’s shoulder. He focused and tried to make sense of what he was seeing. A woman stood over him and peered intently into his face. Max turned away. He did not feel well. Not well at all. And wasn’t that rather odd?

He closed his eyes and tried to remember. What happened? Ah, yes, Ingot thugs, mercenaries who preyed upon unwary merchants burst aboard ship and caught him just as he was transferring his data to another guard. An unlucky moment. Surely, it had been planned. But who could have known? Abanaber? He was new and seemed eager enough, but then, he disappeared once the fighting started.

Max sighed. He remembered facing the lead Ingot, a thin, sharp little being. He didn’t want to have to kill him, so he raised one hand and offered—nothing. He looked down and his leg was gone. No pain. No horror. Just falling, sliding to the floor, and the Ingot standing over him, chuckling.

He blinked open his eyes.

The nurse was still there, still peering. Her brown eyes were crinkled at the edges. She was pretty, neat with short, stylishly cut hair, over fifty, and worried. Very worried.

“Sir? I need you to sit up so I can make a proper assessment. Can you do that?”

Keeping his face as neutral as possible, Max raised his upper body, expecting to list to the right since one leg was gone. But he didn’t. He scowled at the end of the bed and the outlined forms of two legs lay there in front of him. He carefully lifted the sheet that covered his lower half. Yep. Two legs. He peered up at the nurse, one eyebrow raised.

She beamed. “Yes, we managed to save it. You were nearly dead when they brought you in. Honestly, I never saw—but never mind. You pulled through, that’s all that matters, right? Now, I just need to take your vitals. You can lean back against these pillows—”

She pummeled a couple of pillows into submission and then, with a gentle shove; she pushed him back, still beaming. “There now. Feel better?”

Max opened his mouth but closed it promptly. What could he say? Did he feel better? He did not feel well. But was that better than how he had felt? How had he felt? Blinking, he realized that his head ached. He touched his head and tapped around. It did not feel like his head. It was bumpy and hard with no hair. His eyes widened as his gaze darted to the nurse’s face.

She stared at an instrument panel; worry crinkles around her eyes again. “Yes, your—skull—was damaged but we were able to replace the missing part.” She glanced at him and patted his arm, a confident smile replacing the worry. “And your brain is completely intact.”

Max shook his head. “I thought my leg was blown off. I had no idea—”

The nurse tapped a console and raised her finger for momentary silence.

Max waited.

She tapped the last time and turned to face him, offering her complete attention. “No, your leg was damaged, but it was your head that received the worst of the blast. You can thank Captain Kimberling that he got you here in time, or we may not have been able to save you. Your friend, Mr. Abanaber, has asked about you every day—for weeks.”

Max bolted straight up. “Weeks? How long have I been unconscious?”

The nurse glanced at the console. “Exactly three Lunar cycles. I honestly didn’t expect you to do anything this different this morning. I’m so glad you woke up. Doctor Mangham will be here momentarily.” The nurse adjusted a tray near the table with studious concentration. “She wrote up a review about you for a prominent scientific journal. You’re the first android she ever worked on. And such an—”

Max shook his head. “But my leg was blown off. The Captain was taken and Abanaber was nowhere to be found—”

The nurse titled her head and smiled indulgently. “You were just dreaming. A nightmare, I’m sure. After all, it was a serious explosion. Stupid accident. Someone didn’t pack their materials properly, and then you came too close with your magnetic—”

Max almost rose from the bed, but a sharp pain to the head forced him to freeze. Holding his head in his hands, he moaned. “I can’t dream. I’m an android; I—”

The nurse chuckled. “Well, maybe you were an android once. Not anymore. At least not completely. I saw the pictures. The doctors were amazed. They wanted to do further studies, but of course, they needed your consent. It was Kelly who saved your life, really. She was the assistant on the scene. When the emergency team realized you were an android, they were going to turn you off in order to make the necessary repairs, but Kelly insisted that they check your brain functions first.”

The nurse leaned in and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Your android brain is overgrown with the human neurons they placed in you at creation. If they had turned you off, they would’ve never have been able to turn you on again.” She straightened up and adjusted the sheet. “You’re a lucky man, Max Wheeler. Most humans add mechanical parts and turn into machines. You, on the other hand, have changed from a machine into a man. A miracle, if I may say so.”

She turned to leave. “The doctor will be in shortly. Get some rest. You’ve awoken into a whole new life.”

Max watched her leave and lay back on his pillows. He blinked and felt an odd ache behind his eyes. Apparently being human involved some level of pain and discomfort. But then—he considered the possibilities—human?

He smiled as a tear traced its journey down his cheek.

New Historical Fiction Novel: Melchior

Well, here it is…. The working cover of my newest historical fiction book: Melchior

Britain in the fifth century was a land torn by war, while Melchior was a man torn by choice. His son is accused of murder, his daughter is forced to marry a brutal king, and his sister is driving him mad, but a prophetic vision saves him from despair. 

Trese M Gloriod is my book designer—she always does beautiful work!

We plan to have Melchior available on Amazon this spring.

Blessings!

Ann

Lilliputians

“It’s the little things that tie us down—you know—like the Lilliputians.”

Adam snorted, his eyes stayed glued to his phone. “Life’s what you make of it, Grandma.” His attention wavered. She said something he couldn’t catch.

He scrolled. “Yeah, sure, whatever.” There were three new messages, and he was itching to check his Facebook and Twitter pages. His stomach rumbled. He checked the time. Sigh. He knew his duty. “Hey, have you eaten yet, Grandma?”

Her puzzled frown annoyed him. It was a simple question; it shouldn’t cause brain strain.

“I—I don’t think so…. But don’t worry. I’m not hungry. You go ahead and check your box now and then we can chat.”

On autopilot, Adam scooted the kitchen chair out and sat with his arms propped on the table. There were a lot of posts to scroll through…and through.

A sudden bang snapped his head up. Grandma’s stricken expression propelled him to his feet. She stood in the middle of the room staring at the fallen teakettle as if it had flown through the window. A pool of steaming water slowly spread across the floor.

“You okay? Did you burn yourself?” The stovetop was glowing red and the kettle spout smoked like a chimney. Adam gritted his teeth as a wrenching pain punched his gut. He led Grandma to the table.

“Here, sit down. I’ll clean up. What were you doing anyway?” He grabbed a towel and tossed it over the wet floor. The twin pools of confusion and disappointment in Grandma’s eyes sent another twist to Adam’s gut.

“I just wanted to make us a cup of tea—for our chat.” She plopped down heavily on a chair. Her right hand stayed fixed with the palm up.

Snatching a potholder, Adam conveyed the kettle back to the stovetop and turned it off. He plucked ice from the freezer, wrapped it in a paper towel, and handed it to Grandma. “Here, put this on your hand.”

“Why?”

“Cause you burned it, see? It’s red there. Might blister. Dang it, Grandma, you know you’re not supposed to touch the stove! Just let me do it next time, okay?”

Grandma blinked back tears and straightened her shoulders. “I’m not a child—or a loony—you know. I can still make a cup of tea!”

“Sure, sure. I know. I shouldn’t yell. Just Mom will get so mad that you got hurt under my—”

Adam’s phone chimed. He snatched it up and stared. “Oh, brother! Some idiot just plastered a bunch of political slogans on my page.” He barely glanced at Grandma. “Just a minute, I gotta—”

Grandma shook her head as she rose and returned to her tea making.

An hour later, Adam looked up. Grandma’s place was empty. A cold cup of tea with a slice of lemon balanced on the saucer and a little cookie sat before him. He stood and looked around. Her washed teacup lay neatly drying on the drain board. Long evening shadows slanted across the tidy kitchen.

Adam tiptoed down the hall. “Grandma?” He peeked into her room. There she lay, sleeping peacefully on her bed, her hands folded over her trim waist. She’s really a beauty—funny I never noticed before.

~~~

Two months later, Adam sat beside Mom on the front pew at church. Grandma was laid out in her finest, and her hands once again rested in quiet repose over her neat, trim waist.

Mom’s shoulders shook as she covered her face with her hands. Dad wrapped his arm around her and leaned in. “You were always there for her, honey. Now, it’s time to let go.”

Adam stared straight ahead. All he could see through his parched, unfocused eyes was a cold cup tea with a slice of lemon on the side. His phone vibrated in his pocket. But he only felt the sharp snap of strings breaking.

Ishtar’s Redemption FREE on Kindle

Great news! My son, Ian, will be publishing his first book—The Dwarven Pillar, an epic fantasy—out this year, and I plan to get my newest book—Melchior, a fifth-century romance with a spiritual bent—published very soon. I’d like to give our books a strong kick-off, so I’m doing a “REVIEW QUEST” for my books. I’ll be easy, cost-free, and hopefully, a lot of fun.

Please get a free copy and write a quick review—no more than a few words. That would be a fantastic support to this author and our family.

God bless!

Ishtar’s Redemption is FREE on Kindle Thursday, April 13th—Saturday, April 15th

Link to Amazon: Ishtar’s Redemption

April Poem: Go On

GO ON

Winter never came,

Spring came too soon.

Summer came and burned us up,

Autumn’s hope from doom.

Childhood raced me by,

Grown-up came too soon.

Parenthood came and livened things up,

Ancient wisdom is my future bloom.

I live upon the seasons, God,

Seasons come and go.

So fast, oh God, so fast.

We yearn, we long,

We freeze, we burn,

We change as seasons go.

Forgive us, Lord,

We forget; we long for seasons gone.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Look and see the leaves fall and freeze,

Then, oh God, the spring breeze.

Go on—go on.

This Devil Doesn’t Lie

man_baby

Clare flopped down on her bed with her arms spread wide and her legs dangling over the edge. A black cat jumped forward and curled up on the pillow, nearly blanketing Clare’s face. With a nudge, Clare pushed the shorthaired feline aside. “Hey, you, pillow-stealer!”

The cat blinked, yawned expansively, and then laid its head back on the pillow.

After slapping the light panel off, Clare nudged the cat to the side and wiggled contentedly under a thick blanket. “Ah, nothing like a well-deserved rest after a long, hard day’s work.” She closed her eyes, murmuring, “Nothing you’d know anything about.”

Only a faint moonlight shone through the window, illuminating the sharp edges of her dresser and a couple wall pictures. With the pleasant sensation of drifting into dreamland, Clare’s lips curled into a contented smile.

“Clare.”

Clare sat bolt upright. She knew she had heard a sound, her name, but who— She blinked and swallowed, her mouth half open. Peering over the sleeping cat, she braced herself. Nothing. She frowned. Her eyes scoured the darkened room as she tensed for the slightest noise. Silence. With a shake, she gripped the blanket and pulled it tight around her shoulders and lay back down.

It took a little time to release the tension in her body, but soon her muscles relaxed, and she felt a comforting drowsiness claiming her.

“Clare, I must speak with you.”

Shooting like a star across the room, Clare was in her robe and slippers before the cat could slip out the door. She swiped her Dustbuster off the dresser and held it firmly with both hands, aiming at the door. “Who are you?”

A long, weary sigh floated like a ghostly scent through the room.

Clare twirled like a ballet dancer, nearly falling off balance. “What the hell?”

“You’ve forgotten me? I’m affronted. Saddened, actually. I thought seeing me in person would forever sear me into your memory.”

Clare lowered the weapon as her formerly pink face blanched of all color. She slapped at the light panel, illuminating the room. “Damn you!”

“I certainly hope not. Unkind, Clare, very unkind!”

“Show yourself!”

Omega appeared in the center of the room. He stood, dressed like an ordinary Newearth human in loose fitting, black pants, a light blue sweater, and brown loafers. He lifted his arms and twirled like a model on a showcase runway. “Like it? The very epitome of ordinary. I’m trying to blend in, you see.”

Clare raised the Dustbuster again. “Why are you here?”

Omega snapped his fingers and the Dustbuster instantly rematerialized as a stuffed animal—a pink and purple giraffe. “Please, stop playing ridiculous games. I have very little time, and I have a score to settle with you.”

Clare stared at the stuffed animal, her eyes widening. She threw it against the wall and glared at Omega. “A score with me? I should be the one—”

“Yes, of course! You made it quite clear in the courtroom, before my nearest and dearest, what you thought of me. A devil you called me. You have no idea, Clare, really, no idea at all.”

Pressing her hands together, as if to hold them back from spontaneous combustion, Clare shook her head. “You play with us like toys.” She glanced at the stuffed animal that now lay forlornly in the corner.

Omega huffed. “Because you don’t understand, you lie about me. How human! I simply won’t stand for it any longer. Why do you hate me? Or rather, why do you think you hate me?”

Clare’s breathing rose and fell in shuddering gasps. “You—killed—my—parents! And then you wanted to analyze my suffering—”

“Lies, lies and more lies. I did nothing of the sort. On the contrary, I saved your life. Your parents died of poisoned stew, true, but to be quite honest, I don’t know who poisoned them. But I did realize that someone intended to wipe out your whole family, so I went out of my way to make certain that you were safe. I watched over you like a devoted father hen.” Omega paused, one eyebrow rising.”I’m not sure that works.” He shrugged. “Anyway, when I asked you questions, it was to get to the bottom of the mystery—to protect you.”

Clare stood rooted to the floor. A flush spread over her cheeks. “It can’t be. You never cared.”

“I always cared.”

“No!”

Omega stamped his foot. “I don’t have time for this! I have to leave soon, and I have a request to make.”

Clare stared stone still and silent.

Omega stepped closer, his gaze boring into Clare’s. “Watch over Justine and the child. That silly idiot named her Aurora. How cliché. Like some Disney film. Oh well, I didn’t endow Max with the creative talent I offered Justine—poor fellow. In any case, I’ll soon be—how shall I say—indisposed for a time.”

Clare stepped forward. “But there’s trouble coming, something called Cosmos is on the loose—”

“Yes, I’ve heard. Unpleasant, but then biological life is always perilous. Ask the Bhuaci, they know.”

“But I can’t protect Justine or anyone, not against Cosmos.”

Omega laughed. “By the Divide! I never expected that. I want you to protect them from each other.”

“What?”

Omega looked up as if listening to an unseen alarm. “Time’s up. I must be going. Remember what I said. I saved you once, now save my family. After all, it’s only fair.”

In a blink of blinding light, Omega disappeared.

Clare found herself standing in the middle of a silent room. The cat meandered back onto the pillow and settled in for a contented slumber. Clare stumbled over to the edge of the bed. Her gaze slid to the multi-colored giraffe in the corner. She stood and snatched it off the floor. Tossing it on the bed, it landing peacefully next to the cat.  Clare shrugged. “Go ahead; you two sleep. I surely never will.”

Every Word

Lawry considered the long, red scratch on his face. “It’ll leave a scar—that’s for certain. Just the luck! Spiteful bush! Clip a few branches and wham—raked across the face. Well, I was never handsome to begin with….”

Lawry dabbed the dried blood with a wet tissue and stumped past his unmade bed to his littered desk. A cup with dried fruit juice, a scattering of cereal flakes, and bread crumbs testified to where he ate a majority of his meals. Tottering piles of books crowded around his computer. He fell into his chair with a sigh.

His mom had knitted him a blue hat with his name in scripted, bold, red letters across the top L-A-W-R-Y three Christmases ago, but never having the courage to actually wear it, he had placed it jauntily on his stuffed monkey who adorned the top of his computer like a good-hearted, though rather mischievous looking, angel.

Maximus Monkey, Ruler-Of-All-He-Surveyed, was the main character in a series of comics that Lawry had been working on for years. A moldy orange rind had somehow landed on Max’s shoulder. Lawry winced, and pinching the offending bio-matter in two fingers, he pitched it into an over-filled trash can. He tucked Max’s arm against the wall for better support. Though the little monkey still leaned, at least he wasn’t in imminent danger of careening to the floor. Lawry peered under his desk, his eyes widened. “Oh, wow! I really need to do something about this mess.” He looked for a broom, but as none was in sight, he returned to his computer screen and hit the power button.

He checked his mail. Nothing but spam. No agents or publishers begging rights to any of his stories. He checked the news. “Yep—the world’s going to hell in a hand basket—as usual.”

He opened his recent story page and stared at the blinking cursor. What could he write about that he hadn’t already written? What story was left to tell that hadn’t been told a million times over in cyberspace—a universe filled with unread, unloved stories?

A light knock drew a grunt from Lawry’s middle.

The knock tried again.

Lawry grunted again, a little louder, a little more articulately. “Yeah, what?”

A young boy, Jimmy, stuck his head through the opening. “Mom said thanks for cutting the hedge, and she’s making—hey, you get cut?”

Lawry rolled his eyes. Jimmy had an exasperating habit of stating the obvious as if it was headline news.

“Yeah. It’s nothing.”

Jimmy took those three words as an invitation and crept into his brother’s inner sanctum—holy ground—albeit a messy holy ground. A badminton racket dangled from Jimmy’s hand.

Lawry shifted his gaze away. He wasn’t an outdoorsman as today’s battle with the hedge surely proved. He sighed, his shoulders slumping even further. He leaned in towards the computer screen, tapping keys aimlessly. Just look busy.

“What’re you working on?”

“Nothing.”

“How about Maximus? He doing anything?”

Lawry’s gaze shot to the skinny eight-year-old. How did the little twerp manage to stay so skinny? He ate at least as much as any ravenous jungle animal Lawry had ever read about, but he stayed stick-thin. Metabolism. Lawry shifted his heavy frame in the chair. Damn metabolism.

“Can you read me something?”

Red, hot blushing fury filled Lawry. It was ridiculously unfair. Here he’d written his heart out for three long years, read every book there was about the art and craft of writing comics, joined clubs, took on-line classes, worked at a stupid, menial job on the side just to pay his fair share while he still lived at home—yet nothing. Not one,

“Dear Mr. Lawry Lawrence,

             We would love to represent you—”

Not even “—like to represent you—” heck even a “—we’d consider representing you—” would be a joy. But no, week after week, he received: “Your work does not fit our needs at this time.”

Lawry glanced at Jimmy’s hope-filled eyes. He was a lonely little kid. Doesn’t seem to make many friends at school. Just hangs out with his stuffed animals, mostly.

Lawry’s hands dropped to his lap. “Well, I don’t have anything new—not really—”

“That’s okay. I like all your stuff. How about ‘Maximus Meets a Moon Alien?’”

“I read that a hundred times. It’s—well—not one of Max’s favorites.”

Jimmy slid to the edge of Lawry’s bed and leaned against it. A stuffed rabbit peeked out from his pant’s pocket.

Lawry tapped his fingers on his desk and stared straight ahead, unblinking. He cleared his throat. “Maximus doesn’t have any favorites. Not anymore. Max is thinking about moving away. Maybe getting a real job—in the real world.”

Jimmy’s eyes widened, fear rippling across his face. “But Max can’t go! He can’t leave here. At least not till he saves his Monkey clan—like he’s always planning….”

Lawry felt the lump in his throat rise before he realized that his eyes stung. “Maximus can’t save anyone, Jimmy. He’s really a rather unimportant little monkey. He’s decided to settle down and stop all this adventure nonsense. Can’t be a silly monkey forever, you know. Gotta grow up sometime.”

Jimmy brushed back tears with the back of his hand, pretending he wasn’t.

Lawry glanced out of the corner of his eye. He reached up, lifted Maximus off the computer, stared into Maximus’ read-for-anything eyes, and passed him over to his little brother. “You take him. Maybe with you, he can have some fun. He’s tired of being stuck in down here every day. Go play badminton with him—or something.”

Jimmy slid Maximus under his arm uncertainly. “We can’t play alone….”

Lawry huffed a long drawn out sigh. “Oh, what the heck. We’ll play together. Max can watch.”

~~~

Two weeks later, Lawry sat at his computer desk. His face was almost healed, though he had been right, there was a scar. His desk was clean, the floor was swept, and his bed was neatly made. He placed one last sheet of neatly printed paper onto a stack and clipped it into a large, red binder entitled in bold blue letters:

THE ADVENTURES OF MAXIMUS MONKEY

By Lawry Lawrence

For Jimmy Lawrence on his Ninth Birthday

Lawry snatched car keys off his dresser and hustled outside with the binder snuggled under his arm. Jimmy was swinging Maximus from a long “jungle rope” in the backyard. Lawry smiled as Jimmy trotted over.

Jimmy pointed to Max. “He hasn’t given up his adventures—see? He’s back in the jungle and leading all the other monkeys to safety.”

Lawry grinned. He could almost see the entire herd as they swung from branch to branch under the green canopy. He patted Jimmy’s shoulder. “Listen, I gotta go to work now, and I probably won’t be back till late—but I wanted to give you this. It isn’t much, I know, but you always liked my stories. I figure they’re best in your hands.

Jimmy hugged the binder—his eyes wide. “Wow! You sure? I mean—I can’t believe it. Now I can read ‘em whenever I want. I can read them to Max!” Jimmy scurried back to the tree, untied Max’s dangling arm, and showed the little monkey the cover of the binder. Max’s face glowed.

~~~

Fifty-six years passed, and Lawry sat in a wheelchair near a bright window. His mind wandered endlessly after a severe stroke and the ravages of diabetes took his body places he never intended to go. Speaking was a challenge now, but he could hear as well as ever. His ears were cocked for the light tread of his brother returning home in the evenings. The shadows are growing long. Soon, he’ll come. He’ll sit with me awhile—he always does. Green day—almost feel—

The door opened and Jimmy stepped in, heavier, stooped a bit, and gray hair crowned his head. “Hey, Lawry. The grandkids were going through the attic over the weekend and guess what they found?”

A bald-spotted, dustier version of his former self, but still staring out of those read-for-anything eyes, Maximus Monkey landed in Lawry’s lap. Lawry blinked. His hand, as well as his voice, shook as he lifted the adventuresome critter. “I—almost—remember—”

Jimmy chuckled as he scraped a chair near, into the dwindling sunlight. “Don’t worry. I remember every word.” Jimmy leaned in, patted Lawrey on the knee, and grinned. “Once upon a time, there was a monkey named Maximus, and he had grand plans—”