Cool Story Bro

This opening often sounds like normal life, but…  You get a feeling you are in a tall tale almost right away.

So today we’re going to examine the technique of opening a story called “cool story bro.”  It’s not necessarily that different than Wait, What? and one sort of bleeds into the other.  In fact, after your Wait, What? opening, you need a good “Cool story, bro,” to keep it going.

The idea is to start your character off in something interesting enough that you don’t want to quit.  I just made a trip to the library, down three flights of stairs to look for They Walked Like Men, which has one of my favorite Clifford Simak openings, which I know I can’t remember properly.  Unfortunately the library is in great need of more shelves (as all our libraries tend to be, right?) and has boxes in front of where I suspect Simak’s paperbacks are.  This would normally not be an issue, but I’ve been under the stomach flu for almost 24 hours, and bending and pushing would not be good.  So I grabbed a couple of Simak hardcovers, which, if memory doesn’t deceive me, substantiate this.

Oh, here it is, this kind of does, from Our Children’s Children by Clifford Simak:

Bentley Price, photographer for Global News Service, had put a steak on the broiler and settled down in a lawn chair with a can of beer in hand, to watch it, when the door opened underneath an ancient white oak tree and people started walking out of it.

It had been many years since Bentley Price had been astounded.  He had come, through bitter experience to expect the unusual and to think but little of it.  He took pictures of the unusual, the bizarre, the violent, then turned around and left, sometimes most hurriedly, for there was compettion such as the AP and the UPI and an up and coming news photographer could allow no grass to grow beneath his feet, and while picture editors certainly were not individuals to be feared, it was often wise to them mollified.

But now Bentley was astounded, for what was happening was not something that could easily be imagined, or ever reconciled to any previous experience.  He sat stiff in his chair, with the beer can rigid in his hand and with a glassy look about his eyes, watching the people walking from the door.  Although now he saw it, it wasn’t any door, but just a ragged hole of darkness which quivered at the edges and was somewhat larger than any ordinary door, for people were marching out of it four and five abreast.

The thing is this is not exactly major action.  The guy is having a beer and something happens in front of him.  The something is bizarre enough you have to reassure the reader that he’s not insane, hence his little biography.

This particular form of “cool story bro” is both difficult as heck to do — I often feel like my characters flounder till page ten, wondering if they’ve gone crazy, at least in fantasy — very suited to science fiction, and very easy to pitfall into boring despite the opening.  You have to keep the mundane details really light, then go back to the strange.  The mundane details are needed to reassure the reader you know what you’re doing.  But you don’t want to overdue it.  I recently walled a book because right after the intriguing opening there were pages and pages and pages of the character going on about memories of his Victorian childhood.  Maybe it’s all related and ties back masterfully, but if I fall asleep while reading it, you lost me.

Because Simak often has an absolutely normal guy in a recognizably normal mid-century life as his hero and he often introduces completely bizarre elements to this normal life to cause the story to happen, he does this opening a lot.

If I remember the opening of They Walked Like Men right, it starts with “I’d have stepped in the bear trap, if my landlord hadn’t been a skinflint.”  Then explains that the light was dim, and he dropped his keys, so he had to kneel to find them, and that’s when he saw the rug was cut, and as he poked at it with something (don’t remember what) he saw the bear trap.  And then the bear trap rolls itself into a dark ball and rolls away under its own power.  By this time, you’re hooked, because it’s a bizarre situation and you can’t doubt it, so you want to know what happens next, right?

It’s easier to do this with action, as the beginning of Monster Hunter, quoted here, shows.

And sometimes it’s just a matter of keeping the reader interested enough, then punching them with something that makes them sit up.

Robert A. Heinlein, The Puppet Masters:

Were they truly intelligent? By themselves, that is? I don’t know and I don’t know how we can ever find out. I’m not a lab man; I’m an operator.

With the Soviets it seems certain that they did not invent anything. They simply took the communist power-for-power’s-sake and extended it without any “rotten liberal sentimentality” as the commissars put it. On the other hand, with animals they were a good deal more than animal.

(It seems strange no longer to see dogs around. When we finally come to grips with them, there will be a few million dogs to avenge. And cats. For me, one particular cat.)

If they were not truly intelligent, I hope I never live to see us tangle with anything at all like them, which is intelligent. I know who will lose. Me. You. The so-called human race.


For me it started much too early on July 12, ’07, with my phone shrilling in a frequency guaranteed to peel off the skull. I felt around my person, trying to find the thing to shut it off, then recalled that I had left it in my jacket across the room. “All right,” I growled. “I hear you. Shut off that damned noise.”

“Emergency,” a voice said in my ear. “Report in person.”

I told him what to do with his emergency. “I’m on a seventy-two hour pass.”

“Report to the Old Man,” the voice persisted, “at once.”

That was different. “Moving,” I acknowledged and sat up with a jerk that hurt my eyeballs. I found myself facing a blonde. She was sitting up, too, and staring at me round-eyed.

“Who are you talking to?” she demanded.

I stared back, recalling with difficulty that I had seen her before. “Me? Talking?” I stalled while trying to think up a good lie, then, as I came wider-awake, realized that it did not have to be a very good lie as she could not possibly have heard the other half of the conversation. The sort of phone my section uses is not standard; the audio relay was buried surgically under the skin back of my left ear-bone conduction. “Sorry, babe,” I went on. “Had a nightmare. I often talk in my sleep.”

“Sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine, now that I’m awake,” I assured her, staggering a bit as I stood up. “You go back to sleep.”

“Well, uh—” She was breathing regularly almost at once. I went into the bath, injected a quarter grain of “Gyro” in my arm, then let the vibro shake me apart for three minutes while the drug put me back together. I stepped out a new man, or at least a good mock-up of one, and got my jacket. The blonde was snoring gently.

I let my subconscious race back along its track and realized with regret that I did not owe her a damned thing, so I left her. There was nothing in the apartment to give me away, nor even to tell her who I was.

I entered our section offices through a washroom booth in MacArthur Station. You won’t find our offices in the phone lists. In fact, it does not exist. Probably I don’t exist either. All is illusion. Another route is through a little hole-in-the-wall shop with a sign reading RARE STAMPS & COINS. Don’t try that route either—they’ll try to sell you a Tu’penny Black.

Don’t try any route. I told you we didn’t exist, didn’t I?

The super secret agency that no one can find is, I think a universal “oh shiny.”  Well, it’s mine at any rate.  When I hit the secret entrance, I was hooked.  It was a cool story bro, and I was going to follow it to the end.

So the recipe is this “normal world” “disruptive elements” “bona fide” “strange enough to hook.

Shake and bake in any order, but don’t go too far into mundane world, because it makes you lose track of what’s cool about the story and the reader might — shudder — put the book down.

BTW far be it from me to criticize the work of the master, but that first paragraph of Puppet masters reads like an hesitation in the cut to me.  He wasn’t sure he had enough strange to hook you in the beginning, so he added the thing about “are they intelligent” to orient you on the aliens.  I’m not criticizing, really, I mean, what do I know?  And it hooked young me right enough.  BUT if I did that, it would be a sign of hesitancy, a sign of fear I’m not hooking enough.  Probably come across as such too, because I don’t have the strength of Heinlein.  So, try to avoid those.

And then some of your cuing elements might backfire.  The mobile phone identified this as science fiction and interesting when it was written, now of course, young kids might think it was an adventure at a western boys school.  But try to see it as that time, and how that would introduce the “Cool story, bro” element.  Because it did.  Without it though, the normal world goes on a little too long before we get to Mars and the element of great interest.

Between Planets, by Robert A. Heinlein.

I: New Mexico

“Easy, boy, easy!”

Don Harvey reined in the fat little cow pony. Ordinarily Lazy lived up to his name; today he seemed to want to go places. Don hardly blamed him. It was such a day as comes only to New Mexico, with sky scrubbed clean by a passing shower, the ground already dry but with a piece of rainbow still hanging in the distance. The sky was too blue, the buttes too rosy, and the far reaches too sharp to be quite convincing. Incredible peace hung over the land and with it a breathless expectancy of something wonderful about to happen.

“We’ve got all day,” he cautioned Lazy, “so don’t get yourself in a lather. That’s a stiff climb ahead.” Don was riding alone because he had decked out Lazy in a magnificent Mexican saddle his parents had ordered sent to him for his birthday. It was a beautiful thing, as gaudy with silver as an Indian buck, but it was as out of place at the ranch school he attended as formal clothes at a branding—a point which his parents had not realized. Don was proud of it, but the other boys rode plain stock saddles; they kidded him unmercifully and had turned “Donald James Harvey” into “Don Jaime” when he first appeared with it.

Lazy suddenly shied. Don glanced around, spotted the cause, whipped out his gun, and fired. He then dismounted, throwing the reins forward so that Lazy would stand, and examined his work. In the shadow of a rock a fair-sized snake, seven rattles on its tail, was still twitching. Its head lay by it, burned off. Don decided not to save the rattles; had he pinpointed the head he would have taken it in to show his marksmanship. As it was, he had been forced to slice sidewise with the beam before he got it. If he brought in a snake killed in such a clumsy fashion someone would be sure to ask him why he hadn’t used a garden hose.

He let it lie and remounted while talking to Lazy. “Just a no-good old sidewinder,” he said reassuringly. “More scared of you than you were of it.”

He clucked and they started off. A few hundred yards further on Lazy shied again, not from a snake this time but from an unexpected noise. Don pulled him in and spoke severely. “You bird-brained butterball! When are you going to learn not to jump when the telephone rings?”

Lazy twitched his shoulder muscles and snorted. Don reached for the pommel, removed the phone, and answered. “Mobile 6-J-233309, Don Harvey speaking.”

“Mr. Reeves, Don,” came back the voice of the headmaster of Ranchito Alegre. “Where are you?”

“Headed up Peddler’s Grave Mesa, sir.”

“Get home as quickly as you can.”

“Uh, what’s up, sir?”

“Radiogram from your parents. I’ll send the copter out for you if the cook is back—with someone to bring your horse in.”

Don hesitated. He didn’t want just anybody to ride Lazy, like as not getting him overheated and failing to cool him off. On the other hand a radio from his folks could not help but be important. His parents were on Mars and his mother wrote regularly, every ship—but radiograms, other than Christmas and birthday greetings, were almost unheard of.

“I’ll hurry, sir.”

“Right!” Mr. Reeves switched off. Don turned Lazy and headed back down the trail. Lazy seemed disappointed and looked back accusingly.

As it turned out, they were only a half mile from the school when the ranch copter spotted them. Don waved it off and took Lazy on in himself. Despite his curiosity he delayed to wipe down the pony and water it before he went in. Mr. Reeves was waiting in his office and motioned for him to come in. He handed Don the message.


Don blinked at it, having trouble taking in the simple facts. “But that’s right away!”

“Yes. You weren’t expecting it?”

Don thought it over. He had halfway expected to go home—if one could call it going home when he had never set foot on Mars—at the end of the school year. If they had arranged his passage for the Vanderdecken three months from now . . . “Uh, not exactly. I can’t figure out why they would send for me before the end of the term.”

Ideally your element of “strangeness” or if not writing SF/F your element of “cool interest” (In mystery it would be either a crime or something puzzling, and in romance, of course, the arrival of the interesting one.  Only for this opening to work, it must be really startling, whatever it is.) should come in no further down than the first page.  It’s what gets the rube…. er…. readers to turn the page.

Your turn.  Go no more than 250 words (and I’m being generous.  Most first pages are 100.)

Tell me a cool story, bro.



  1. I belong to a club, an exclusive club. You can't buy into it. No amount of
    money will get you membership in this club. No study or application will gain
    entry. Entrance is only by birth.

    Members of the club, like me, have one thing in common. Somewhere
    along our maternal line one of our ancestors had congress, willingly or not, with a
    demon and, as a result, bore a female child.

    My name is Molly Joyner. I am a witch.

  2. ” . . . And I’d really love to go back in a few years when, in theory, the heat’s off, and just strip that museum. Look for other buildings. Find out where they went.” Ebsa scowled at the fabs. “Even Rat shish kabob was better than anything these could possibly produce.”

    Ra’d snickered. “Right. Three days after a totally disastrous field mission and you’re complaining about the food.”

    “Well . . . we’ve got a hundred semi-quarantined people, with one change of clothes each, and I’m not sure where they’re sleeping, nor who’s going to feed them.” Ebsa prowled around the corner. The Directorate building was the smallest of the three office-and-housing towers of the Empire’s embassy on the cross-dimensional world of Embassy. The third floor contained the gym, a med station and the cafeteria, surrounding the central core of elevators, stairs and utilities.

    “Except I suspect it’ll be me.”

  3. Sigh. Second attempt:

    If they were going to kill me, they wouldn’t have blindfolded me. Would they? Kelly thought. He’d had plenty of time for thoughts. His arms, tied behind him, felt stiff. He was cold despite the Florida heat, the air conditioner going full blast. To his shame he hadn’t even had a good look at the men who’d snatched him. One moment he was getting into a cab after another romantic conquest, the next a man pushed him inside just as he noticed the other on in the back seat. They had him tied and blindfolded before he could scream.

    Harper’s men? Had to be. But if they were going to rough him up and tell him to lay off, why wait until his vacation and why the long ride? That didn’t make sense, unless he intended to make him disappear. Despite his editorials, he never thought Harper had it in him. But if not him, who? No one else had as big an axe to grind, and he didn’t have enough money to be held for ransom.

    The vehicle slowed and the sound of the tires changed. He’d once read of a kidnap victim who’d kept track of where he was taken by the sounds he heard and turns, but he’d quickly become confused. They were clearly on dirt now, though the road was smooth. A few turns, and the vehicle came to a stop. He heard the door open and was helped out into the hot, humid, air.

  4. A couple of thoughts:

    I was just pondering this week on how the “wait, what?” beginning really needs to be associated with another type of beginning as well. Since the idea of the “wait, what?” is that the initial weirdness will be cleared up in a paragraph or two. As the author, you need to use those paragraphs to hook the reader for another reason.

    Secondly, the bit about the intriguing beginning followed by pages and pages about the main character’s childhood struck a chord for two reasons. First, I just walled a book that started with three paragraphs about the heroine fighting a wizard from another dimension followed by three chapters (as of when I quit) about teenage relationship drama. Second, I’m afraid it’s something I’m a little too inclined to do. I have a tendency to start with a prologue that’s meant to say, “Here’s where we’re going, if you stick with me through the mundane, we’ll get here eventually,” before going back to the hero’s normal life and how he got in this situation. However, this has been a stark reminder that even the most patient reader will only stick with it so long.

  5. And now, my attempt, from my current WIP. I think it falls in this category, though it still needs a lot of work:

    “My brother was murdered.”

    They were almost an hour into the journey, and those were the first words that Shane Richardson had spoken since his best friend Emma Greer had picked him up from the airport. At first, she was too relieved by the sound of his voice to register what he had said. Then, as the meaning of the words slowly reached her brain, she said, “What?”

    “I said that my brother didn’t die in an accident. He was murdered.”

  6. It was a late summer afternoon. Mason had decided to have a small little barbecue and relax from work. I was sampling one of his new brews that he had decided to try out, an imperial stout, and sitting on the back deck of his place soaking in the sun. He and Samantha were in the garage where he was showing off his new bike. He had decided to take up cycling instead of renewing his license.
    I was thinking about prodding him to get the burgers on the grill when there was a large bang from the front of the house. Dreading what I would find I rushed from the back deck to see what damage Mason had done this time. Knowing the fool he had decided to soup up the bicycle and something had gone wrong again. Getting to the garage opening there were Samantha and Mason looking down the driveway with puzzled expressions on their faces. Bike was intact, both mine and Samantha’s cars were intact. Nothing seemed to be wrong or out of place at first glance.
    Seeing that the issue wasn’t Mason, for once, I looked in the direction they were staring in and saw a small drift of smoke at the end of the drive way. First words out of Mason’s mouth were, “Well that was interesting. Not my fault for once.”

  7. Rising up from the Carribean, an air-tight pod climbed inexorably up a ribbon, stronger than steel and lighter than titanium, toward the lone structure in low Earth orbit tethered to the planet: Terran station. Most of those aboard the cramped pod were well-to-do, and most of them would be headed straight on to the lunar shuttle’s next trip – whenever it arrived. Some few, of course, were fortune seekers or bounty hunters looking to make a name for themselves outside the main terminal. One could always tell those few by the fact that they did not wear suits, even if they chose to forego more distinctive styles.
    Goddard Wyeth, among the businessmen trapped within the titanium and plexiglass cage, stood on the lunar elevator staring out the viewport without seeing the view. An exasperated sigh exploded from his throat – again – as he tugged at the hem of his suit jacket – again. These people should know better than to summon him out of the blue like this. It wasn’t done – not to business partners, and not often to subordinates, not when it meant traveling off-world. That was half the reason he was going: if his partners were this unschooled in the ways of business, he would give them a stern lesson face-to-face, not over some lag-riddled webcam connection.

  8. Tomas saw the candle on the table had burned down to noon. Once, they had been a clock at the inn, a machine of gears and springs that ticked away the hours. But that had been before Korwin.

    Deleted from a recent story.

  9. I should not fear the burning touch of iron. I am a rational man, in a rational age. Such superstition is beneath me.
    I was, I am told, born to a miller and his wife some two-score years ago. My mother’s labor bringing me into the world was difficult. The stress of it broke her mind. Only a week after my birth, she tried to kill me with an axe, screaming that I was devil-spawn. My father stopped her, but not before she gave me a scar and a noticeable limp, both of which I still carry. Shortly thereafter, she hung herself.
    I like to think it was in remorse.

  10. Interestingly enough, I just finished “They Walked Like Men” last week. Heckuva story.

    “It was Thursday night and I’d had too much to drink and the hall was dark and that was the only thing that saved me. If I hadn’t stopped beneath the hall light to sort out my keys, I would have stepped into the trap, just as sure as hell.”

    Then it goes on much as our Beautiful but Evil Space Princess wrote for the significant parts. Short para: I’m a newspaper man. Long para: The owners are penny-pinchers. Long and two short paras about the keys. “And it was then I saw it.”

  11. “That’s… an interesting pelt, honored father.”
    Ewoud blinked. White fur, so white it almost glowed in both mage-light and lamp-light, covered a black hide. The sturdy hide might be of use as boot-leather, but nothing lighter.

    “Yes, it is, Ewoud. The messenger from his Most Imperial Great Northern Emperor left it as a token of his master’s lordship.”

    “Was the pelt from a type o— the Great Northern Emperor? His messenger?” Ewoud caught himself as his father frowned, “Sir?”

    “Yes.” Tycho stared at the cold fireplace at the far end of the city council chamber. “After over four hundred years, his most Imperial Majesty is returning.”

    (from a WIP)

  12. This is the intro from the first of a series of novellas I’m working on. It’s set in the same story universe (but on a different world) as the bit of dialogue I posted last week. Hopefully the italics show up, but in case they don’t – the first paragraph is supposed to be italicized:

    Some people called them the Deceivers, some called them the Demons, while others called them the Dii after an ancient barbarian tribe on Earth. No one knew what the Dii called themselves or why they had traveled back in time to infiltrate the Earth’s past. The presence of the Dii, and of the humans who had pursued them, altered the course of history; sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. I was still not sure if the birth of one Jill Baker, that would be me, in 1905 was one of the subtle changes or one of the dramatic ones. I know that might sound immodest, however, back in the autumn of 1935…

    Something close by was very wrong. I pulled my pretty little Super 8 coupe over to the curb and pretended to check my lipstick in the mirror while I examined my surroundings. I had been born different, with an assortment of what my parents had decided to call special talents which for the most part I kept secret in an effort to fit in with the normal people around me. I had always been able to sense when someone or something nearby was different or out of place, like I was, and as I had grown older I realized some of what I could sense went beyond merely different – things that were dark and inhuman, things that truly did not belong in this world. What I sensed was firmly in the dark and inhuman category and it was searching, or perhaps hunting, for something.

  13. Captain Reamer walked up to the tourists staring at the Aagard art display, getting too close, into near-contact range reserved only for friends and family, and forced them to back up, to get away from him. As they looked at him, confusion and uneasiness written all over their soft, stupid faces, he grinned with all his teeth showing. “This hall is now closed. I suggest you try a different gallery.”

    They backed up another few steps, until far enough away they dared turn their backs, and then departed at a not-quite run. The disturbance in the room was enough to make other heads start up, sheep sensing a problem in the flock. He didn’t have to repeat himself more than twice before the equilibrium broke, and people poured through the exit.

    He resisted the urge to snap his teeth at the last few backward-glancing stragglers, and settled for a dead stare. When doors slammed, he found a lone holdout – an artist neither blinded by her handbrain nor deafened by earbuds, but lost in concentration copying a painting, frowning as she matched the original stroke for stroke, recreating Aagard’s own journey.

    She wore a jacket with full sleeves, despite the paint smeared on the right cuff – avoiding accidental touches from the tourists, contamination from their emotions and expectations. Snatching a hand risked damaging the painting in progress, so Reamer reached out and lightly touched the curve of her neck, where her hair had been swept away and a small smudge of bright yellow paint left behind.

      1. No, just riffing off a piece I read yesterday on the functional differences in thought processes between sociopaths and psychopaths. It brought up the question – how would empathy & telepathy present, in a non neuro-typical person?

        Which doesn’t exactly come up in the opening, but there you go.

  14. Star walked into the garage brushing at bits of gooey flesh. Her best friend glanced out of the washroom, one eyebrow raised over her glasses.

    “The blasted thing blew up.”

    What could almost pass for a smile grossed Robin’s face. “I did warn you that happens – a lot.”

    “Yeah, but these were new jeans, now they are covered in demon goo.”

    “I trust you left the worst of it somewhere else,” Robin said tossing Star a robe.

    “Yeah. Bits and pieces are in there,” she jerked her chin towards the dark circle behind her.

    “Good ‘cause if you think getting it out of clothes is hard, you should try getting the stink out of concrete. Now, if you don’t mind; please close that Gate. I really don’t need another daemon wandering out and taking up residence in the house. Fido would end up trying to Challenge it.”

    With an absent minded gesture, Star closed the Gate as she stepped out of her jeans.

  15. Not sure if this counts as “cool bro”, but I bet y’all can guess what happens to Mike.

    Salt Lake City, 1941
    “Oh, Daddy, a kitten! She’s so cute!” shrieked Dejah as she grabbed the squirming ball of fur from Mike’s arms.
    “She’s a he, Dejah, and his name is Graymalkin. You may want to put him down before he scratches you. You’re squishing him and he won’t like that. You need to hold kittens gently,” Mike advised his daughter.
    “You did not get a kitten, right before you deploy,” Sarah hissed at him, hoping not to be heard over Dejah’s excitement. “You know it will be my problem, not hers.”
    “Don’t think of it as a problem; think of it as an opportunity. Whenever she complains about me being gone, you can cheer her up with the cat Daddy got for her before he left. More immediately, it will keep her busy so I can give you a proper good-bye.”
    Sarah’s gaze didn’t soften, but the slight blush rising in her cheeks made Mike grin.
    “Don’t worry, no matter where they send me, I’ll come back to you.”

    especially since this is next:
    USS Oklahoma, Perl Harbor, 1941

  16. (Not science fiction/fantasy) I looked at the faint glimmer in the sky and was glad I had risen early enough to see Halley’s comet one last time. As the sky brightened and the stars faded I headed back to the city. The air was still and clear. I passed a pickup truck on the side of the road with five or six people milling around and realized a few seconds later that there was a flat tire. Not a problem for me with so much other help, I thought. The road curved around a small hill and I nearly ran into a fifty foot balloon hovering perilously close to the asphalt. The balloon bounded up as I hit the brakes. Then as I leaned out of the window the lone occupant of the basket called, “Can you help me?”

  17. Emma looked at the thin piece of paper. There wasn’t much left. She thought it would be sufficient to Read over the pastries for the party tonight. Cook wouldn’t be too happy if somebody had to run to the Copyist Guild to obtain another copy for her today. Rush jobs always cost more.

    Best bring it to Cook’s attention now while there is still time, she thought.

    Cook wasn’t very happy about it. “You’re sure you can get another Reading out of it?”

    “Yes, ma…”

    Cook interrupted, ” ‘Cause we don’t have time to waste. The Master is entertaining powerful people tonight and everything must be perfect. Otherwise, what good are you Readers?”

    “Yes, ma’am”. Emma finally got it out. “There is enough power to Read for tonight for perfection. But we’ll need a new copy. This one is the Mistress’s favorite so I Read it a lot.”

    “Very well. Get on with it. But tomorrow, you’ll have to take it to the Copyist Guild for a fresh copy. You almost left this too late, so it’s your responsibility to correct the mistake.”

    Emma’s heart sank. “Yes. Ma’am,” she said. She hated going near the Copyist Guild. She avoided it as much as she could. Readers and Copiers don’t do well together. It made her sick to think of going in.

    She returned to the pastry table where other servants were starting to work. Time for her to begin her Reading.

  18. Take off from the last opening:

    “Let me see if I understand you correctly. You are upset because your child does not have hemophilia?”

    “Yes,” Grand Duke Cern replied, obviously agitated.

    Doctor Halstea blinked. “I don’t understand. Yes, it demonstrates that your wife was unfaithful, but that’s hardly news to you.”

    “Yes, you don’t understand this. If she takes the seat, not being of the House, she dies. And if there is no one eligible to hold the seat, the duchy dies. And if the duchy dies…”

    Halstea was still confused. He’d heard of such magic before, usually laid down by truly mad dynasty-makers. There had always been rumors that Cern’s five times great-grandfather had been such, but the way his voice had trailed off indicated there was something more serious.

    “What happens if the duchy dies?”

    “Jonkvank returns.”

    Halstea went white.

  19. It was, as they say, bad study weather.

    I pulled my gaze away from the Ultimate Frisbee players deftly avoiding the potential hazards of the bronzing sun-worshippers and back to the dense biochemistry book open in my lap. For the twelfth time in an hour. The view of the guys was infinitely more attractive, but I did have a final in a few hours, which I had to pass to keep my scholarship.

    My cover was obnoxious, but never more so when the sunny weather allowed a game of Shirts versus Skins.

    I once again drew my attention back to the book held open on my tartan-clad lap (thirteen) and passionately wished that Central had decided to send somebody else—or that they had chosen some cover other than that of a dweeby scholarship student. I mean, the ankle-length skirt and bulky sweater were acceptable within the parameters of certain religious groups, but the bottle-bottom glasses were just too over the top.

    It might have been worth it if I’d gotten any breaks, but I’d been here for eight months without a hint. I was tempted to fail my final so they’d have to pull me out.

    While contemplating this path, I realize I was once again watching tanned skin in the sun. I carefully avoided swearing and jerked my eyes back to the same page I’d had open for half an hour. Fourteen.

    “Hsst. Maureen.”

    I hate that name.

  20. Okay, here’s the opening bit from an as of yet unsold alternate history short story, “The Summer Of Love”:

    September 15th, 1968

    You can watch the realization sink in, when they shuffle out of the darkness of the trucks and into the murderous Nevada sunlight. From the flat slab of bare rock we call the processing yard you can see into The Pit, that vast multilevel excavation, spiraling down through the desert rock like Dante’s Hell.

    Technically, of course, it’s the Silver State Cooperative Mine. But no one calls it that, except on official documents. By the time the men in the backs of the big black unmarked trucks get here, they’ve heard the stories. This is The Pit.

    We take gypsum out of the ground and put men into it.

    Beaten, starved, herded into containers and driven over miles of Godforsaken desert, the men know that they have been brought here to die. The average sentence of a prisoner is twenty-five years. The average life span is four. They know that, but it’s only when they see The Pit in all of its infernal glory that they understand in their hearts that they are walking dead men.

    I’ve been assigned here for nine years. I’ve been on the upper perimeter for the last three. I’ve seen a lot of men brought in. The Pit, as they say, is always hungry.

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