Stealing the Best

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Stealing From the Best: If Shakespeare could do it, you can too. Steal your plots. Take old plots and weave “your particular magic” into them. Originality is the key to plagiarism. You cannot lift the exact plot, with the same characters intact, but you may take a pattern and use it, and plot is nothing more than a story’s pattern.

1. Halo Universe: a military fleet threatened by an unimaginably powerful enemy, that seems to have the weapons of war born of unnatural and inhuman means, momentarily escapes oblivion to fight another day. Followed to a mystic fortress, the fleet discovers something far worse than archaic beasts of combat.

2. Hunger Games Universe: the children of the empire are forced to endure the harshness of a dreaded forest; it’s a test of survival instinct, unflinching obedience, and strength of will. The citizens are forced to sacrifice their young to a sadistic and vicious king, a self-proclaimed god amongst mortals. But justifiable resentment is building, and a young Kadnisha Everdeen will soon lead the revolt that will topple the throne, and she is just twelve years old. (Game of Thrones anyone? :-))

3. Pride and Prejudice Universe: Keira Bennet believes that Doctor Darcy Macfadyen stands for all that is wrong with the world; he is obnoxiously wealthy and feeds upon the less-than-fortunate. She hates him. But their lives are about to be thrust into an adventure of apocalyptic proportions, forcing them to rely on one another for survival. When it seems it would be only the two of them left in all the world, Keira must reassess her feelings for this “kindly” doctor that did all he could to rescue her and her sisters from an invasion of vicious extraterrestrials.

DEVIL’S ISLAND

“No!” a cry fell unto the commander’s ears. He rushed to the starboard side and found one of his soldiers pointing skyward. Commander Santiago looked up, and descending upon him and his crew were winged beasts of fur and horns, controlled by sickly brutes wielding axes and cleavers. These creatures had called themselves the Covenant, in an attempt to mock the Holy Church.
A mistake.
Commander Santiago smiled; he was going to see some combat after-all.

“Fire!” Santiago Claves had shouted.
The men listened to Santiago, obeying without hesitation. They had loaded the ebony balls and lit the fuses, unleashing chaos on their enemies’ vessels, turning them into kindling. Within minutes the men had begun to howl with approval as the enemy ships fled, some patting Santiago on the back. Yes, they had obeyed him, and did so without pause. Yet, Santiago was not the commander.

It had been two months since the Midsummer Night had left port, and the sea was calm the entire time, save one fairly vicious storm. Nonetheless, the men were restless, bored and wanting action. Some grumbled about the lack of fighting, a few drank themselves into deep sleep on the sly, while others filled the time with card games. Commander Dmitri Xing spent a great deal of time in his quarters, reviewing the information provided by Naval Intelligence.
The Midsummer Night had been launched after reports of pirate convoy sightings had reached the Crown. Pirates were a terrible threat to decent civilization, so the gathering and mingling of such barbarians must be met with quick and decisive force. At least, that was how the orders had read when presented to Dmitri.
Royal Intelligence had pinpoint a sector off the coast of Mauritania where the convoys had been seen most recently, and it was the job of all the sailors aboard the Midsummer Night to seek out the pirates and to destroy them with righteous prejudice. For the first two weeks the crew and their vessel had slinked along the coast, eager for combat. Then, when nothing presented itself, they ventured further out into unknown waters. It was out in the unknown that they had spent the remaining time of the last two months. And it was in the unknown waters that they had all met boredom.

Santiago had served under Commander Dmitri Xing for three seasons; he had respected him greatly. He could not understand how anyone could betray him as Guthri had done. But that did not matter any longer. Both Guthri and Xing were dead, their bodies blasted out into the ocean when the enemy began their attack. Sailors were frantic and afraid, scurrying about as cannonballs rained down upon them, shattering wooden planks. Something must be done, so Santiago had called the men to order.
“Damnit men,” he had shouted. Sailors stopped dead in their tracks, peering up at Santiago standing beside the wheel. It had been a wonder any of them heard Santiago at all. “Are we going to allow some savage bastards to best us,” he had continued, “the best sailors of the Crown’s Navy?”
As explosions boomed and shook the war vessel, the sailors shook their heads. “Then do what you were trained to do, prepare the cannons!”
The cannons fired continuously, bombarding the enemy; a thundering orchestra of warfare and obliteration.

Back Cover Copy:

The Pillar of Autumn was the most splendid Man-of-War in all of the Spaniard Military fleet. It was a massive vessel, eluding both majestic illustriousness and battle-spirit. It not only obliterated the enemy, but did so without receiving damage. And with its unprecedented crew of three hundred, it was clear it was the future of ocean warfare.

The English Royal Fleet was jealous indeed.

In this time of relative peace though, the mighty vessel was docked in the military city of Alcance, a wondrous place for any military man. But Commander Santiago Claves itched for excitement. He stood at the helm of the vessel wanting to set sail, but he and his crew had orders to remain docked. There were no active traitors to the Spanish Crown lately. Spain was too formidable.

Commander Santiago smiled at the thought of being invincible. He stood straighter, his eyes affixed upon the calmness of the sea. He had much to be proud of: a flawless military record, the unrelenting support of the Spanish Crown, a beautiful daughter named Mathilde, and the confidence of the Holy Roman Church.

No one knew it, outside of the Commander and his Lieutenant, but aboard his vessel was hid away one of the greatest secrets of the war against the pirates: a holy knight in blessed armor, which was argued by some to have been created by the Angels of God.

But holy peace can only last so long.

On Patrol

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Her chocolate hair was full and curly, her coppery skin smooth, and when she smiled at Keyon, his heart dangerously skipped beats. They have only been dating for several months, yet every once in a while, Keyon mulls over the idea of a life together. Sometimes when he gazes at Zaketa, he catches himself imagining what it would be like to have her as his wife and wonders what their children would look like. It frightens Keyon that he has fallen so very hard and fast, his emotional defenses always crumbling whenever she was near. But he continued to exclusively date this wonderful and pleasant university librarian.

            That’s how they met, at one of the campus’ libraries. Keyon had been doing some research about Watch Guard’s history and their conflict with the EDA when his computer inexplicably shut down. At first, he had thought he stumbled upon some information that the government had not wanted to be viewed. But that’s when Zaketa showed up, cursing the cheap Dean, stating that their computers often shut down because they were too old. From that moment as he watched her reboot the system, chewing at her lips through irritated mutterings, he knew he was in trouble.

            He had left her his number, an uncharacteristically bold move. And he was so very surprised, and grateful, that four nights later he had received a text from her. The message asked for him to join her at a concert just outside the city. Keyon had never heard of the band, but he went anyways. That night he met several of her friends, all of them graciously providing their opinions of him. A month later, they went on their first date, just the two of them.

            During the first few weeks of courtship, Keyon toyed with the idea of calling it quits, or at least putting up better emotional protection. He had been heartbroken before and he should have been more guarded against another relationship flop, but this woman had him entranced beyond what logic would dictate. In those first few weeks, he awkwardly attempted a few times to sway Zaketa’s pursuit by telling her that he was not sure of what he was seeking. She had only smirked and kissed him or pulled him into a hug that warmed Keyon better than any blanket ever had. She cast away his foolish inconsistency as if she knew some greater purpose for their coming together. She had recognized from the beginning what they were building; and she knew that it was great. Keyon had to trust her charm and yield to her wisdom and affections. He had, and he was ever so grateful.

            A few nights ago, they went to a ballet and had dinner on the top floor of the Howlette Hotel. It was a relaxing and romantic evening, followed by them walking to Zaketa’s home. They could have afforded the bus fare, but a walk through downtown on a cool summer night, hand-in-hand, just seemed a better fit.

            When they reached the stoop of her condo he kissed Zaketa softly and told her that he would call her the next day. She smirked and her eyes seemed to glow, then she kissed Keyon so deep that he nearly melted. His eyes remained closed after her lips had left his. His mind and pulse raced; Zaketa had never kissed him like that before. She ascended the stoop leisurely, unlocked the door to the common foray, and stepped inside. Keyon was still inert at the bottom of the stoop, lost in awe.

Whistles and Cuckoos in the Belfry

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Her gelatin cup and soup bowl were empty, all the apple juice and water was gone, a half empty bag of potato crisps lay on the desk, and the crust of the bread remained on the white plate. It was a satisfying supper, simple and surprisingly filling. With the distraction of needing to satisfy her basic physical needs met, Nina pulled her hair from its ponytail holder, allowing it to fall over her shoulders and chest. She ruffled her long brown curls until they hid her face in shadow, and then pulled out a small leather suitcase from underneath the floorboards.

            In a puff of dust, she unzipped and flopped open the cover, revealing an old video recorder and a large reel of film. Slowly she removed the recorder and the reel from the suitcase, inspected the film, buttons, and lens, and then meticulously set it all up on the nearby desk made of pressboard. She moved with precise, unhurried movements.

            Once the recorder was in the perfect position, she pulled over a tattered wooden chair, placing it directly in front of the barred window. When she sat in it, she became an unidentified silhouette, the descending sun shining from behind her. She leaned forward pressing the power button, and the reel began to spin. She sat back and sighed. After ten seconds an indicator light blinked on, signaling to her that the waste film had passed through; it was time to start.

Dear Whomever,

Are you paying close attention? Are you prepared to know unadulterated universal truth? Yes? Good. You need to know how your money is being used. You need to know that you are an accomplice to malicious genocide. How can that be? It’s all about where you keep your savings.

The First Hope Fiscal Bank international financial institution is covertly utilized by NARP. There is a small band of virtuous, law-abiding citizens that have uncovered this horrible truth, and now they have made the bank a primary target for sabotage and destruction with the hopes of crippling the NARP infrastructure.

What is NARP? It is an acronym for an organized and immoral movement designed by a misguided and twisted soldier who wholeheartedly believes they are doing the right thing. The Neurosapien Assessment and Relocation Program is a fancy way of saying ‘we find people who are different, then kill them because we are scared.’ It’s a modern day Nazi agenda.

Nothing has truly changed since World War II; NARP is wrong and I am going to stop it.

I can’t do it alone. No, I will need help. Maybe even yours. And to ensure success I will log everything in my journal, as I always do, in case I don’t make it. And if I fail, hopefully someone will pick up the work and put an end to the genocide of the extraordinary people now referred to as Neurosapiens. Maybe that is you? Funny, the name speaks to the brain as the root of the difference between normal folks and us. I don’t know how true it is, we have been around for thousands of years, maybe longer. But obviously, of course, I personally have not lived for multiple millennia, though I suspect there are some in the world that have

Zealots Reach

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Note to reader:

The characters in this book are from all over the world, representing various cultures and ethnicities with their own distinct languages. And to help convey the use of various languages by these characters, dialogue not spoken in English will be within brackets (<dialogue>), rather than the standard quotation marks (dialogue).

This is a practice generally used by the comic book industry, but I feel this visual tactic can work just as well in literature. And please understand, there are instances where a language other than English is within quotation marks, and I provide no verbatim translation. This is done purposely.

Now, please dive right in and enjoy these extraordinary tales from another universe so very much like our own.



The horizon is bright with reds, pinks, purples, and oranges, as the sun stretches its warmth outward and upward across the skies. Shrine bells toll throughout the city, signaling the beginning of a new day with vivid lessons. The bells ringing from the rooftops of temples were some of the last reminiscence of primeval Dajistan, and two boys are walking the final trek to their designated place of mystic teachings, talking about what boys talk about at their age.

            <Her smell, I don’t know,> Tressler murmurs. <I can’t really explain it, Oseri, but I’ve noticed she has a unique aroma. It’s sweet, like, desert berries and honey. Or maybe—>

            <Desert berries and honey,> Oseri gasps. <Are you serious? I mean, her smell is unique?>

            <Well, I guess technically every living being has a unique smell. At least, that’s what Lecturer Hindru says. He teaches that is how animals know their pack from another. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how it works with people though, but the science of it must be the same.> Tressler scratches his head, his lips twisted.

            <Sometimes, I forget how weird you are,> Oseri laughs, his head popping back with oomph. Oseri then playfully shoves Tressler forward.

            <Seriously, I mean, I could totally tell the difference between you and your little brother, just by how you smell. I can even tell the twins apart by the scent I get a whiff of when I’m near them. It makes my head hurt sometimes when I try to decipher the different scents.>
            <Stop being so weird! Look, just tell me what you plan to do for Surna Hyqiat.>

            With Oseri changing topics so abruptly, Tressler realizes that the conversation is making his friend uneasy, so he chuckles and says what he thinks Oseri wants to here, <I’m gonna talk to her. I think maybe she’ll want to find one of the Sacred Charms with me.>

            Mystical artifacts like the Sacred Charms, lessons of historic arcane practices, and bizarre ancient customs like the Surna Hyqiat, are all part of Tressler’s life now, and Oseri’s. And they are both honored to be two of the few chosen future royal servants of the Dajistanian ruler, Zoryn the Protector.

            Truthfully though, Tressler has always found it odd that the Protector had altered the ancient laws, banishing the practices and beliefs of the Dying Age, yet had not removed the temples, the Elder Council, or some of the other pivotal Dying Age customs. Through his studies he has been learning that these changes were fairly recent, so maybe that is why some of the archaic ways are still around.

            Either way, he and his friend are soon to be christened into the Zoryn Order and will directly serve the realm for the rest of their lives. The Surna Hyqiat is the first phase of their induction ritual. It is a ceremony in which all the potential servants are tasked with challenges to prove the truth of their destiny, which will then reveal their role in the servitude of the Protector.

            The selected few could complete their challenges alone or with a partner. Tressler has been pondering for weeks now if he would ask Oseri for help or take the rare opportunity to work alongside a girl he favored.

An Emperor with a Pest Problem

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Emperor Jaroka Maiki of Munguzia finished his Miunywa and placed the empty goblet upside down in its holder. The delicious beverage made of cloudberries, gojiberries, and ariona berries, mixed with sparkling water and distilled liquid from fermented sorghum grains, was one of the only reasons he enjoyed the diplomatic travels to Johannesburg. It was the only place outside his capital city that could make this delicacy taste so good.

            Looking out the window of his remarkable town car, watching as buildings of the growing tourist district whip by, he asked Rafida, <Are these new storefronts rooted to colonial influence?>

            She looked out the window and smiled. <These new storefronts are all local,> she told the emperor. <Local construction companies were paid with local money to build them for local owners.> Jaroka grinned. <I’m glad to see these people are still doing well, ensuring that the colonizers do not return to this ravaged part of Africa. It is a testament to their patience, determination, and strength. They should be proud of their accomplishments.>

            <They should’ve never been overtaken,> Yafeu muttered, his acidic tone filled with contempt.

            <I do not approve of your attitude,> the emperor groaned. <My Minister of Affairs shouldn’t be so bitter against those suffering from the ancient greed that led to this land being desecrated. You need to find compassion and empathy, and you shall do it promptly.>

            <I apologize, my eminence,> Yafeu said, his breath shuddering. <But I fear you misunderstand me. I’m angry at their ancestors for turning away the powerful hand of past Munguzian emperors. All of Africa should be under your banner now and never have suffered at the hands of any colonizers.>

            Jaroka laughed stoutly. <I can’t tell if you’re kissing up or genuinely displaying jingoism. Either way, your words do have a hint of truth in them. If the archaic tribes of Africa had yielded to the might of Munguzia, the world of today would not be the same.>

            <Indeed, my eminence,> the fourth rider in the town car spoke up. <If they had bended knee to past emperors, you would rule this whole world today.>

            <Ah Sifiso,> Jaroka sighed. <But what would I do with a world yielding to my rule?>

            <Anything you could conjure or dream, my emperor.>

            Jaroka laughed. <I would conjure very little, for ruling over the world would be boring and a tedious task with no reward.>

            Sifiso nodded and smiled. <Yet, one could not argue with the world being better off in the hands of the Munguzian ruler. Our people’s might and mystical prowess is unmatched.>

            <We have enemies that ardently disagree,> Jaroka sneered. <Speaking of which. Have you scheduled appropriate appointments with War Chieftain Gorata Bakwena and General Thuthuka Zwane?>

            <I have,> Sifiso answered, pulling out his modest electronic calendar from his multilayered cotton satchel. He flipped it on and made a show of scrolling through the various agendas the Munguzia cabinet had set up for the next few weeks.

Taming Turmoil

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As the desert wind howled, innocence swayed from an old Yucca Brevifolia. The aroma of decay filled the air, provoking relentless scavengers. Residents from a small town in Scorpion Valley gathered around the withered plant, their hearts heavy as they watched the sheriff lift a dead child down from the parched branches.

            With its blistering grip, the unforgiving morning had turned the young flesh into something unrecognizable. The sight alone should have made him vomit, but Sheriff Miller had a job to do. “Hansen,” he called out to his deputy, “don’t just stand there like a woman. Help me!” The sheriff was having issues with unraveling the rope that had been wrapped so tight around the child’s neck that it had almost severed it.

            Deputy Hansen had been standing with his mouth open wide collecting hot sand that blew up from the desert ground. Despite being queasy, he made his way to the sheriff’s side, slowly. Looking down upon the pale face of the dead girl, tears began to fill his eyes. Hansen’s heart skipped beats when the sheriff snatched a hold of his wrist, “Damnit Hansen,” the sheriff snapped. “Get it together!” Hansen had to be brought back from sympathetic grief if he were to be of any use at all.

            As the deputy assisted with unraveling the rope, a folded piece of cloth fell from one of the child’s pockets. Hansen unfolded it and read the words that had been written in the blood of the now dead child. His soul burned with disappointment, and hatred and fear. “Jon,” he whispered to the sheriff. After handing over the piece of cloth, Hansen took a look back at the gathering townsfolk, his lips twisting in anger. Hansen wanted to draw his pistol and let lead fly.

            Sheriff Miller read the bloodstained cloth quickly and crumpled it up before throwing it to the dirt. Pushing Hansen aside he verbally attacked the onlookers, “Damnit! This ya’ll fault! All yous idiots done killed this girl.”

            The townsfolk were shocked as the sheriff spat his rage. The crowd murmured but no one approached. No one asked how they were to blame. Shaking his head in disbelief Miller continued, “Those Wilson Brothers done left us a message here today. Those soulless bastards don’t care about your children. They don’t even care bouts’ your women!”

            Motioning toward the lifeless girl that lay on the ground, the Sheriff continued his bellowing, “Them boys demand one thing from us, and longs as we follow through, all remains right under the sun! Long as we don’t make trouble, this type o’ thang won’t happen!”

            Deputy Hansen had remained silent long enough, “Those soulless bastards used this girl as an example to the rest of us.” Hansen grinded his teeth as he gawked at the shocked faces of the townsfolk. “This po’ gal life been taken ‘cause somebody in town stole one them Wilson boys’ chickens,” he added with spittle.

            “And worse,” Sheriff Miller continued, “ole man Johnson refused to pay the stipend.”

            From the gathering crowd an old voice shrilled, “Why don’t ya just bring in them US Marshals to stop those Wilson boys?”             For a brief moment, only the sound of the rustling wind could be heard. Then, someone else from the crowd of frightened onlookers asked, “Why not, sheriff?”

A Chilly Wednesday

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It is a brisk Wednesday, and it is raining.

            Staring at my family wretched with grief, I take cover behind some mulberry bushes at the top of Cemetery Hill, wearing a black trench coat and hiding my face beneath a wool hat.

            I watch my mother and father fall apart as my uncle fruitlessly attempts to console them. Dad tries pulling mom closer, brushing her black curls back. But she shoves him away, shaking her head, and continues crying over the mound of dirt beneath her feet. I observe my high school sweetheart finding comfort in the arms of my best friend, who hides a grin as she weeps on his shoulder. I always knew Benson was a scoundrel. Then my kid sister speaks, pulling me away from my sense of honor and duty.

            Tears fall from my eyes as I listen to her give a stirring eulogy at the grave, completing it by saying that I’m her role model and promising that she will make me proud. Her words are more impactful than the ones spoken during the funeral when my grandfather had given the official eulogy. And I want to tell my sister that I am very proud of all her achievements. I want to tell her that she will inherit a far better world, one in which monsters and false gods won’t plague humanity. She will help build a better nation where her skin color and gender would no longer be viewed as a hindrance. But I know I cannot.

            I have to admit, viewing my own funeral is very strange.

            I am not dead, though. My heart beats and my chest cycles breath. I am dead on paper only, and it is because I am a warrior of justice. Being here today, watching my family grieve over a necessary lie, is my first mission as a symbol. This is a testing moment to prove I am ready to fight for a future free of vile fiends and ideologies. So, I watch my family and friends say their goodbyes to me. For me to serve humanity and my country, I must die. At least, that is what my commanding officer eventually told me after having me escorted from the barracks by MP in the middle of the night.

            “Private, get up!” Sergeant Grace barked. As my body jumped to attention, I could see him smile. I saluted and he gestured toward the exit, his voice booming with confident authority. “Move it soldier. The United States military has a new assignment for you.”

            It was a Friday, and the night air was uncharacteristically dry.

            I did not know what time it was or why Sergeant Grace had the MP hurry me outside in my skivvies and shirt. With the assist of the MP, the sergeant escorted me past the whites-only barracks with a dizzying haste, ordering me to remain silent. Other Negroes would have been afraid and fought back. Not me though. I had learned to trust Sergeant Grace; without protest, I followed orders. It is what I excelled at. It was the reason commanding officers favored me over my fellows.             The MP rushed me over to a tattered jeep and motioned for me to get in back. Sergeant Grace got comfortable in the front passenger seat as I got in. As the vehicle lurched forward, he threw a thick blanket on my

Power Byte

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Submission: Warrior Nation on the March

Posted by: EmpoweredPowerlessChick

In history class this week, we learned a little about the country of Sarmatia. Well, I guess I should say we learned all that their culture would allow the world to know. For centuries, the small nation thrived with almost no contact with the rest of the world. Our teacher decided that learning about Sarmatia’s past would help us students cultivate a balanced viewpoint in regards to current events. I mean, I still can’t believe that their queen ordered her army of female warriors to march into Syrvia. It totally dissolves their pact of mutual tolerance which lasted some two thousand years. But I guess with all the civil unrest with Goshia, they look like a pretty good target for rulers craving to conquer other nations.

My problem is how incredibly crazy the idea is. Like, when was the last time a country invaded another? So why does the queen invade? Is she really unafraid of how the world will respond? Are the rumors true about Sarmatia covertly seizing small and helpless countries in the region? Has she been getting away with it for years? Why is the world responding now? What is there to gain?

Of course, this invasion has much of the world comparing her to the monarchs and dictators that caused the great wars. This march of hers is insane and shouldn’t be happening. I just never understand why rulers find it necessary to conquer anything. Why can’t we all get along?

Submitted: 07:33 p.m. Tuesday, March 18

Leave Comment

Comment:

Oh man @EmpoweredPowerlessChick. I luv the cliché, but let’s be honest, the queen’s been plotting this for decades I bet, and her no-frills authority is what Syrvia and Goshia needs. Maybe she’ll end their civil unrest!

Posted by: EriqWangFan3000

Posted: 05:45 a.m. Wednesday, March 19

Comment:

@EmpoweredPowerlessChick, what school do you attend? My teachers ain’t talking about this at all, and I think it’s real suspicious. This is about to be World War 3 and they’re quiet?!? Something ain’t right.

Posted by: IWuvRedBowl1993

Posted: 10:11 a.m. Wednesday, March 19

Comment:

Who cares what a #### does with an army? She’s going to get trampled by Syrvia’s military. This is why girls shouldn’t play politics. So let the ##### march into Syrvia; she’ll get what she deserves!

Devil’s Island

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<Fire!> Santiago Claves shouted.

            The sailors obeyed Santiago without hesitation. They loaded the ebony balls and lit the fuses, unleashing chaos on their enemies’ vessels, turning one into kindling. The Stalwart Dawn, their mid-sized Man O’ War, fired relentlessly on the small throng of pirates who had foolishly attacked them, and within minutes the sailors howled with approval as the remaining enemy ships fled. They turned to Santiago, cheering wildly and patting him on the back. Yes, they indeed obeyed him, and did so without pause. Yet, Santiago was not a commander.

            He pushed his way through the admiring sailors so he could kneel next to the bodies of Captain Coleman and Commander Rothe. The captain and his second in command had been caught in the initial volley of canon fire when the pirates attacked. If that had been how the pirates planned it, Santiago knew they would return with more vessels to finish their assault. He voiced his concern, but the sailors laughed, claiming pirates were unintelligent brutes and pillagers, nothing more. Santiago did not argue, but instead, he gathered five sailors to help him bury the bodies of the fallen at sea per navy custom. Luckily, the ship’s Vicar survived and the last rights he purveyed over the dead were splendid.

            After their dead were cast out into the open waters, the sailors seemed distressed. They had just lost their commanding officers and several sailors, but they had also successfully fended off four small pirate ships. The waves were quiet now, the sea air fresh and pleasant. And these sailors were hopeless and without direction, looking to Santiago for guidance. He was an Ensign. He was not their leader.

            <Do we return to port?> the Lieutenant Commander quietly asked Claves.

            Santiago was embarrassed for the young man, who was obviously out of his element. He stepped closer and whispered, <You’re in charge now, sir. Both the captain and commander are dead. You need to lead us. We’ll follow your direction.>

            Lieutenant Commander Lehto swallowed hard. He turned his head for a moment and looked at all the eyes staring at him, each one pleading for orders. His chest heaved big and fell before turning back toward Santiago. <Come with me,> he ordered.

            The two men climbed down from the helm to the deck and made their way to the captain’s study. <Ensign Claves, close the door behind you. And then sit down for a moment.> Santiago obeyed, watching the young man rifling through papers on the captain’s sturdy cedar desk.

            After a few moments, Lehto spoke up. <I’m going to tell you a secret,> he began, not looking up from his measured movements into the desk’s drawers. <I am not a leader of sailors. I am only here at the request of the Crown, to ensure no spies are upon her vessels. I gather and distribute information. I will not explain how I go about it but know that I’m not a leader. Coleman and Rothe were the leaders.>

Just, another Day

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BREEP BREEP BREEP BREEP BREEP BREEP BREEP.

            6a.m.

            The sun has barely peeked over the horizon and the darn alarm is blaring, like it does every morning. The inventor of the buzzer alarm clock must have been a sadist. You reach out and press the snooze button. Turning away from the sunlit window, you gather the pillow over your face and close your eyes. You drift off into a dream of cotton candy clouds, talking squirrels, and flying catfish. As you watch a troll float by using petite bat wings, you remind yourself not to eat just before bed.

            BREEP BREEP BREEP BREEP BREEP

            6:15a.m.

            Once more, you stretch out your arm, but this time you push dismiss. You roll away from the window closing your eyes again. Within seconds, though, something large, tough, and wet drags across your cheek, smelling of fish and something else. A loud bark from a fluffy yellow Labrador forces you to rise and acknowledge that the day must begin. After more licking, the Labrador plops her gentle head on your lap, staring up at you with big chocolate eyes. “Okay girl,” you mumble.

            Sliding off the bed, you stand, stretching to the ceiling, hearing bones creak. You moan as they free themselves from the night’s constrained sleeping positions. As you yawn, your Labrador mimics, then she darts out the room and down the narrow hall toward the kitchen, going to her food bowl. You slide your feet into an old pair of house shoes and shuffle after her, calling her name. “Nala girl, here I come.”

            Nala lies next to her empty food bowl, those chocolate eyes going back and forth between her bowl and the cabinet, which she knows holds her delicious morsels of dry food. Her tail wags as you open the cabinet, pull out a full two cups of dry food, and place it into her metal dish. She waits patiently, obediently, for you to give the go ahead, which makes you smile every time; evidence you have done something right by her.

            “Okay, baby girl, get it.” As you walk back to the main bedroom you hear her pushing the bowl around with her muzzle. She will be done soon so you move quickly, shoving on sweats and sneakers. Just as you come back to the kitchen Nala is already by the front door, her collar and leash in her mouth.  She is ready to run.

            The air is fresh, filled with the scent of the lavender you had planted a couple weeks before. The slight breeze is comforting, not too brisk this early in the morning. With Nala collared and leashed, you put in the earplugs of your Musik Mini and begin the morning jog. Your pace is steady, and Nala enjoys the opportunity to sniff out any and all rabbits that zig-zagged their way across the sidewalks and front lawns during the cooler hours of night. Pop songs boom in your ears as your legs carry you down your street and onward to the next, around a bend, up a steep hill, across Olde Gray Bridge, and onto a runner’s trail that splits Hanover Park into the east and west ends.             You travel the trail until it reaches the Grand Pool in Hanover Park, which sits at the center. Fountains spray forcefully, creating dancing spouts of water that rise from, cross, and drop back down into the pool. You only take a