Ahem. Take a let­ter, please, Miss Maple.

Dear Saskatchewan and North Dakota:

Please keep your freakin’ thun­der­storms and hail­stones to yourselves.

Your friend,


And now for some­thing com­plete­ly different.

Sam­ple from today’s writing:

They set up the pro­jec­tor in one of the chairs in the small con­fer­ence room, bal­anced on the black leather seat. Antoni turned away while Cabrell punched his auth code into the lit­tle key­pad on the pro­jec­tor’s flank. One of the green lights turned yel­low as it read in his office key, then red as it enabled full crypto.

All right,” said Antoni, set­tling into one of the remain­ing chairs, “any minute now.”

Cabrell glanced at the wall clock, synched to flotil­la time. 8h59. “Any sec­ond now,” he said, and the pro­jec­tor chirped.

Go,” he said, tak­ing his seat, and Grz­gy appeared.

A shag­gy moun­tain, he over­filled the chair, his image oblit­er­at­ing the arms. He’d cho­sen an ursine cor­pus, a sham­bling dis­play of raw pow­er, and Cabrell had to admit that it was intim­i­dat­ing. He nod­ded to them, and his sharp ivory canines flashed as he said, “Boss Antoni, May­or Cabrell.” His voice was thick, drawn up from that mas­sive chest.

Cabrell felt his anger rise up in him, now that he was look­ing at its focus. He nod­ded, jaw clamped shut. Antoni said, “Chief Grz­gy,” speak­ing, it seemed, for both of them.

Now,” said Grz­gy, “I have some items. Boss Antoni, I would like you to assign an engi­neer­ing gang to check on that for­ward vent. It’s leak­ing heat again.”

I thought that it was fixed,” said Antoni.

It appears to have come unfixed.”

There’s no indi­ca­tion of it in the main­te­nance system.”

Then I sug­gest you have an engi­neer audit your soft­ware, too,” said Grz­gy. “We don’t want unfore­seen trou­bles.” His clawed fin­ger­tips drummed against the ebony-veneer table in per­fect silence.

Of course,” said Antoni.

Also, I’m for­ward­ing instruc­tions to the city engi­neers to–”

All right, that was it. Cabrell said, cut­ting the old bear off, “Look, Mr. Grz­gy.” The chief bris­tled, pow­er­ful mus­cle shift­ing under sleek dark fur. Cabrell knew that he pre­ferred the mil­i­tary forms of address, that he was in fact insult­ing the chief by call­ing him “mis­ter” instead of “chief” or at least “boss”, but right now he did­n’t real­ly give a damn. “All I want to know is, when will the press­gang order be lift­ed? I mean, after all, you’ve already cracked the Queen­dom cryp­to scheme, the fake keys have been built, and the, uh,” try­ing to recall one of the mil­i­tary sum­maries from almost two weeks ago, “the fool­er soft­ware has been, in your words or the words of your sub­or­di­nates, ‘writ­ten, test­ed, and deployed’. All before we crossed the orbit of Sat­urn, as I recall. So when will you release my people?”

Antoni was star­ing at him, open-mouthed. He could­n’t read Grz­gy’s eyes, but whether that was inscrutabil­i­ty or lossy holo­graph­ic image com­pres­sion he was­n’t sure. He could guess, though, that the old bear was prob­a­bly no longer in as good a mood as he’d start­ed this meeting.

Good, he thought. Why should I be the only one pissed off?

Mr. May­or,” said Grz­gy, “sit down.” Cabrell real­ized only then that he’d come half out of his chair dur­ing his lit­tle tirade, lean­ing on the table. He sat back, and now the holo of the chief stood up, thick sinew rip­pling. He start­ed to pace, his range lim­it­ed by the holo pro­jec­tor so that his steps became an odd, jit­tery half-skip. “May I remind you, Mr. May­or, that as leader of the civil­ian part of this mission”–he did­n’t quite snarl on civil­ian, but Cabrell could sense his displeasure–“you are large­ly a fig­ure­head, most cer­tain­ly devoid of any real pow­er when it comes to mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, and as such you are in no posi­tion to demand any­thing of me.”

Mmmm, first draft-a-licious…