Assembling a Cyberpunk Heist Team by Jodi L. Milner

My buddy James and I did a super entertaining blog swap. He asked me to stretch out of my writing comfort zone and write a cyberpunk “how to” article. Here’s what I came up with. Be sure to like and follow James at his blog. 🙂

James Wymore

As part of a blog swap (see my last post), Jodi L. Milner wrote these fun instructions, which I think you’ll enjoy.

Assembling your Cyberpunk Heist Team

By Jodi L Milner

Listen, if you’re reading this you are already up to no good. Kudos. I like your moxi. Chances are you’ve got plans, big ones, the kind that needs cash. We’re not talking about rummaging up enough coins to sleep in a real bed, that’s nothing. If you take my advice, you’ll never have to sleep on a pile of cardboard again.

We’re talking credits. Those penthouse-dwelling corporate yes-men got ‘em. You need ‘em.  The cybernetic enhancements you want won’t pay for themselves, and without ‘em you might as well start selling your brain space to the highest bidder.

To pull off a successful heist, you need a team.

The Mastermind – That’s you, sweetheart. Someone must know what’s really…

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Summertime, Volume Two

51ycfi2t0lSummertime (vol. 2) is the anthology of The Eagle Mountain Arts Alliance 2016 contest winners. My flash fiction piece, The Music of Heaven, contemplates whether it is better to allow mankind to suffer a long ugly death, or to destroy all life on the world to maintain the dignity of the human race.

Volatile When Mixed

volatilewhenmixedVolatile When Mixed is an anthology of The League of Utah Writers 2015 Fall Conference writing contest winners. My flash fiction piece, Mundane Chores, is a “slice of life” story about the frustrations and joys of a mother doing laundry around her toddler. Totally not inspired by real life, really. Ok, maybe a little bit. He’s still a cutie.

Toll of Another Bell

51-BE6kx1PLBreath has the distinction of being the first short story I’ve ever published. It tells of Fauna, the Guardian of Souls, who has discovered a vast emptiness in her life and is emotionally paralyzed until she can find a way to fill it. She seeks a solution from her brother Terran, the Guardian of Earth, who is reluctant to tell her because of its great cost. In the end he relents, changing history forever.

Published by Xchyler Publishing in Toll of Another Bell

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 26

Here we have come to the end of our story, Mike has found what he was looking for in the talented and charming Maybelle and now must bring her back to his home.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

fiction friday bannerAfter leaving Auntie Marie’s burrow, Mike and Maybelle made their way down the grassy tunnel that bordered the hedgerow. Maybelle walked with a carefree lightness that Mike hadn’t seen during his stay at Willow keep; it made him smile. Any doubts he had about taking her from her home vanished the further they traveled away from that horrid place.

Her happiness took the edge off of Mike’s unease, but he was still wary. Dangers lurked along the way, Tilly had warned him of the snake that hunted along the hedge tunnel, and then there were those horrid cats that prowled the walkways. Even as he thought about it he felt the hair on his neck stand on end. They weren’t alone in the hedge, and he knew it.

Maybelle stopped and breathed in the fresh fall air. “You’ve been rather quiet, is everything alright?”

Mike leaned on his cane and glanced behind them once again, unable to shake the feeling of being watched. “It’s nothing, really. Just eager to get home I suppose.”

“You would tell me if there were something wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“If it were worth mentioning, yes.” He kept his eyes down and drew a lazy circle with his foot over the packed soil, trying his best to look more at ease.

Maybelle set her hands on her hips. “Listen, I know we haven’t known each other very long and I have a lot to learn about you, just as you have much to learn about me. We are both too old to be playing games with each other like this. I need you to be honest with me. I can’t stand it when people try to hide things, I always find out.  Now out with it.” She spoke with sternness, but managed to sound kind as she did.

Mike stammered, his mouth working soundlessly before he could find what he wanted to say. “When I came this way before I was warned of –”

“Wait.” She stopped him with a hand, her head tilted toward the brush to their left. “Do you hear that?”

Mike froze and strained his ears for sounds of danger, specifically of the rustle of scale against dry leaf. He couldn’t make out anything unusual, but considering the possibility made his heart speed up and his mouth dry. “Hear what?”

She stepped toward the brush, her motions silent and concise. “Someone is crying.”

Mike peered into the brush. It was hard to make out anything in the dappled shadows until he caught a hint of red deep inside the hedge. Then he understood. “Tilly? Is that you?”

“Go away,” squeaked the tiny mouse from her hiding place.

“I promised to come back this way, I never forget a promise. I want you to meet Maybelle.” He climbed up closer.

A tiny nose peeked around the branch, followed by two curious eyes. “I don’t want to talk to you Mike Finnigan. You best go on home.” She sniffed again and dabbed at her face with her handkerchief.

“What’s happened, what’s wrong?”

“It’s not important.”

“Of course it’s important, it’s enough to make you sad so it must be.”

Maybelle placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s because of me. I think dear Tilly was hoping that you would return empty handed,” she whispered.

Mike’s eyes widened, the realization dawning on him. He didn’t want to admit Tilly’s fondness for him right away, he had heard saying things like that upset some women. “Why would you assume that?”

“I think I have some understanding of how another woman’s heart works.” She winked and then climbed up into the branches. Within minutes she had coaxed the field mouse down into the opening.

Tilly dabbed at her eyes again and gave Maybelle a nod before turning toward Mike. “She’s right, I was upset that you found someone. I know that’s silly but it’s true.”

Mike shuffled his feet, unsure if it would be appropriate to pull her into a hug.  She looked as if she needed one, but in light of the situation he thought better of it and rested his hands over the top of his cane instead. “No, love is never silly. The heart sometimes makes choices that the mind cannot unmake.  It must learn the hard way. I’m sorry that I caused you pain. You will always be a dear friend.”

Without warning, Tilly turned and wrapped her arms around him and buried her face into his chest. Mike pulled his arms free, letting his cane fall to the ground, and returned the embrace. When she had her fill she stepped back and straightened her scarf. “I’m glad to have known you Mike, be sure to come visit if you ever come this way again.”

“I promise, and you know I will keep it,” Mike said as he leaned over and retrieved his cane.

“You best be going, I’m sure you are anxious to get home.”

After Mike and Maybelle bid Tilly their farewells they continued on their journey through the grass-lined tunnel. They walked in an uncomfortable silence for quite some time. Mike felt like he needed to apologize, but wasn’t sure what for and didn’t want to appear foolish. In the end it was Maybelle who spoke first.

“Will we be meeting any more of your friends on the way?” she asked with a bemused smirk.

“No, no, I assure you. That’s it.”

Maybelle laughed out loud, a musical wonderful sound, and Mike knew all was right between them again. They left the park and climbed the hill to the yellow house with blush colored roses out front.

“This is home” Mike announced with a smile and his arms open wide. “Do you like it?”

Maybelle’s hands went to her mouth. “Oh, Mike – it’s beautiful!” She walked to a low hanging rose blossom and inhaled deeply before turning to him once more. “Haven’t you forgotten something?”

Mike racked his brain. What could he have forgotten? He had gotten them safely back to his home. What could he have missed? Maybelle twiddled her fingers, and made an act of being coy. He had to figure it out. Then, as if struck by lightning, he knew.

He knelt down on one knee before her. “Maybelle, will you marry me?”

She giggled and held out her hand, which he covered with kisses. “Of course.”

***

That’s the end of Mike Finnegan and his adventure.  Thanks for reading! I realize that this story is super flawed and I apologize that the beginning and the ending don’t match at all.  I think Mike lost his accent about 5 episodes in, whoops.  As my first serial piece I learned a ton about what it takes to write serial fiction and just how many wrong turns I made. This is all in the name of learning something new, so even it it didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked it was worth the time to at least try.

Feel free to give me a thorough verbal thrashing in the comments!

 

 

 

 

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 25

We last left Mike sailing through the air once again in the clutches of Ben the bluejay. He’s escaped Queen Caliee and the prison fortress of Willow Keep and is finally on the way home.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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Cool autumn air rushed through Mike’s hair and down the neck of his jacket, making him shiver. He held tight to Ben’s foot and tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in his stomach as the bird flew higher and higher.  It wouldn’t do to throw up in front of Maybelle, not after he had tried so hard to be brave.

Off to the left he spotted Ben’s gnarled crabapple tree and he remembered the promise he made at the beginning of his journey.

He craned his neck up and shouted out to the bird. “Can you set us down over by Auntie Marie’s burrow?”

The bird whistled in reply and began a steep descent toward the end of the hedgerow.

Maybelle tugged at Mike’s sleeve to get his attention. “I thought we were going to your home. Who’s Auntie Marie?” She yelled over the wind.

“A friend I met on my way here. You’ll like her.” Mike answered.

“Sweetie lady! Oh yes, oh yes!” Ben spun in the air, making Mike scream against his will.

Maybelle shrieked in delight, arms extended out as if she too were a bird. At least she was enjoying herself. Mike wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if she found the ride as terrifying as he did.

Ben dove down, pulled up sharply, and released his two passengers a few inches above the ground, making Mike tumble end over end in the grass. Maybelle landed lightly on her feet and for a moment Mike could do nothing but stare in open admiration as he lay flat on his back struggling for breath.

Before Mike could get up, Ben hopped over to him and started dipping the tip of his beak into the pockets of Mike’s jacket.

“Enough you crazy bird, I don’t have anything for you.” Mike shooed him away and climbed to his feet.  “That’s why we are going to Auntie Marie’s, remember?”

Ben bobbed his head. “Right, right.” He whistled again and rushed off into the hedge.

Maybelle suppressed a giggle behind a hand. “I’m guessing traveling by bird isn’t something you like doing. Am I right?”

“Let’s just say if there had been any other option to get us out of there, any at all, I would have taken it. I think I could live happily for a thousand years and not do that again.” Mike brushed grass off of his sleeve and sniffed. “If I remember correctly, Auntie Marie’s burrow is through this hedge. I hope Ben hasn’t eaten all the treats, that mouse is a marvel when it comes to cooking and baking.”

They passed through the hedge and followed the smell of candied hazelnut all the way to the burrow. When they arrived Auntie was standing at the tunnel mouth talking the ears off of Ben who was enjoying his share of nuts already.

Mike leaned in to Maybelle. “I suppose I should warn you, Auntie loves to talk,” he whispered.

“Don’t all aunties?”

Before Mike could answer, Auntie had spotted him. Her arms shot up and she released a delighted squeal.  “Mr. Mike! I’ve been so very worried ever since you left. Are you well dear, have they hurt you? Oh, of course you’re fine, just look at you. Why if it wasn’t for Ben here I might have run out of things to do.  He’s been so very helpful to me, bringing me things I need in the kitchen and what not. You’ll have to tell me all about this lovely girl here over some tea. Well let’s not stand around here flapping our gums, I have a fresh pear tart that about ready to come out of the oven and I won’t let you go until you had a slice.”

Mike opened his mouth to thank Auntie for her generosity but before he could speak she had turned and marched into the burrow talking to herself about how wonderful it was for Mike to be back.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding.” Maybelle said once Auntie was well out of hearing range.

“I never kid,” he chuckled. “Oh, and make sure you wash up well before going to her table. She’s half a mind to thump dirty hands with that ladle of hers.”

Inside the burrow Mike and Maybelle enjoyed Auntie’s cooking and did their best to keep up with her unending babble. At first Maybelle tried to slip in a comment or question here and there when Auntie took a sip of her tea or a bite of tart, but she soon gave up and sat back to enjoy the show.

Full of tart and tea and endless chatter, Mike leaned forward and rested his folded arms of the table and waited for Auntie to take a breath. The second she did he jumped in, there was a question he had to ask.

“Is Tilly or Jacob around?”

Auntie stammered. Mike imagined her train of thought crashing and she was forced to reorganize and reroute the cars before answering.

“They’ve gone back to their hole on the other end of the hedge, I reckon they’ll find you as you make your way back. They are always on the lookout.” She laughed to herself and launched right back into another endless stream of speech about her niece and nephew and how kind they were to visit her even though she suspected it was only for the food.

Maybelle finished her tea and gave a dramatic sigh before standing and interrupting. “Dear Auntie, it’s been a delight to meet you, I can see why Mike made a point to stop by on our way. We must be on our way if we are ever going to finish our journey today.”

Auntie stopped mid-sentence, unsure if she should be offended or not. Her whiskers twitched and she swallowed hard. “Well of course dear, you two love birds must be on your way.  Here, I’ll pack a few of these hazelnuts for you.”

“You’re the best Auntie. We’ll be sure to stop by next time we are around.” Mike hugged the chubby mouse who had removed a handkerchief from her pocket and was dabbing her eyes.

“Promise?”

“Of course.”

***

To be continued…

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 24

We last left Mike and Maybelle trapped in the engineering workshop with the enraged Queen Caliee at the doors. The queen is determined to not let Maybelle leave the keep and will stop at nothing to reach her goals.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning of the story, click here!

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Maybelle grabbed Mike by the hand and pulled him toward the back of the workshop which was lined from the floor to the ceiling with shelves filled with thousands of odds and ends.

“It will take her a while to breach the door, even with the key you must know how to align the three levers before the gears will spin.  I showed her how ages ago, with luck she won’t remember right away.” She lifted a thimble and frowned.

“Why would show her that?”

“She is the queen Mike. You don’t say no when your queen asks you for anything.”

“Well, I suppose that’s fair.”

Maybelle ducked under one of the lower shelves and shifted several of the items there. “There’s a hidden lever here somewhere, but it’s tricky to find.” She ducked into the next shelf and pointed Mike toward another. “Try in there, you’ll know it when you see it.”

Mike leaned into the shelf and instantly sneezed at the thick layer of dust sending a cloud into the air around his head.  The pounding at the door had quieted and was replaced with the sounds of metal on wood.  Mike could only assume that the queen had already found the key and had moved to figuring out the combination lock.

“Hurry Mike, if I know her at all its to know that she’s quick.  If she sees the tunnel, our escape will be useless.”

Mike nodded and searched faster.  He shifted a pile of bottle caps and looked behind a snail shell but found nothing. At the door the gears engaged and begin to turn. There were only seconds left before the queen and her guards burst through.

“Got it!” Maybelle gave a quiet cheer as she darted inside.

Mike dove into the inky blackness of the tunnel behind her and tugged the secret door shut just as the workshop door flew open. Shouts erupted along with the crash of chairs being toppled. Someone screamed.

Maybelle pushed at Mike in the narrow passage. He was reluctant to leave anyone to be hurt. “What about them? Will they be alright?

“My friends are strong, they can take care of themselves.  Caliee might be tough at times but she’s no monster. They’ll be alright.”

Mike allowed Maybelle to guide him along the dark narrow tunnel. He couldn’t help but worry what was happening beyond the secret tunnel entrance. Only being able to hear the shouts and crashes made it worse. His imagination kept running to the worst possible outcome. In a way he was glad for the darkness, it made him seem braver for Maybelle’s sake than he was.

The tunnel seemed to stretch on forever.  Darkness robbed Mike of any sense of time and Maybelle stayed quiet as they hurried along. The sounds of struggle grew quieter as they continued to move further away from the workshop and quite possible from the great tree itself.

At last ahead there was a shaft of bright light piercing the darkness. Maybelle turned back to Mike, lines of worry etched her face. “We’ve made it to the end.  Let’s pray that there aren’t any other obstacles.  The sooner we get away from here the better.”

In the dim light of the tunnel Mike stopped Maybelle. “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not too late to turn back.”

She placed her hands in his. “Listen. I made my decision back when we spent the night talking up on the balcony.  I’ve felt something with you that I thought was impossible for my heart to feel again.  I can’t live in that place anymore and now I have defied the queen.  She won’t forgive me for that, even if it is for a good cause.  She won’t understand. I don’t think she can.”

She was so lovely, even with streaks of dirt across her face. Hearing her determination to be with him sparked within him a desperate need to kiss her. She felt it as well, her eyes closed halfway and she leaned forward.

Before their lips could touch there was a shout from the outside of the tunnel.

“How did she find us? I thought no one knew of this place.”

“It’s not her.” Maybelle’s face lightened into a smile and she scrambled up the steep dirt passage and out into the light. Mike followed close behind, squinting in the harsh sunlight.

Outside in a small clearing in the brush Maybelle was hugging one of the women he recognized from the workshop. They separated when Mike cleared his throat.

“Mike, this is Rachelle, she’s my second in command. She’s aided us in our escape.”

The other woman nodded before turning back to Maybelle.

“The other engineers are leading her to one dead-end after another. They sent me to tell you to stay here.  Ben the bluejay will come soon and take you away from here. She won’t be able to follow you, even if she finds the passage or gets her hands on Ben you’ll be safe. The poor bird can’t remember one day to the next.” She glanced around nervously. “I must go before I am missed.”

The two women hugged again as the sound of flapping filled the clearing. Rachelle ran back into the cover of the brush as the bluebird landed.

The bird gave a happy chirp when he spotted Mike. “Why hello talking candy!  Do you have a treat for me today?”

“I sure do Ben, but you’ll need to take me somewhere to get it.”

Without another word Ben grasped them both and took off into the air.  Mike’s stomach lurched and twisted to be up high again but to his surprise he wasn’t half as scared as he’d been before.  In Ben’s other claw Maybelle spread her arms wide like she was a bird herself.  She smiled and laughed as Ben climbed higher into the sky.

To be continued…

***

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 23

In the previous episode, Queen Caliee informed Mike that not only can’t he court Mistress Maybelle, that if he refuses to comply with her wishes that she will have him locked up and used as breeding stock for the rest of his days.  Mike will not compromise with the Queen and is locked back into his room.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning of the story, click here!

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Once the initial anger from being locked into the small bedroom subsided, Mike began to pace.  He had to figure out a way to get a message to Maybelle and warn her of what was happening. He picked up his cane from the corner; perhaps he could find a way to use it. He had already tried it on the door, but being Tinker work it had been warded against Tinker magic. Typical.

When he had been locked in before, he had almost figured out the elaborate locking mechanism. He knelt at the door and studied the various gears and levers once again.  He reached for his jacket toolkit and realized that he was still in his night shirt.  That wouldn’t do at all.  If he managed to open the door he couldn’t just waltz down the hall dressed like that.  He had standards after all.

After quickly dressing and brushing he returned to the door. There would be standing guard, he’d have to deal with that once the door was open.  He could only hope that Queen Caliee had kept her plans for him a secret from the keep.  It didn’t make sense for her to share her plans with more than one or two trusted attendants and advisors, ones that sided with her and agreed that Mistress Maybelle should be forced to stay. Otherwise she might have a revolt on her hands.

The lock clicked and the bolt slid free of the frame.  Mike opened the door a few inches and spied the guard standing at attention.  Cane in hand, he opened the door the rest of the way.

“Hello there,” he greeted her in his most cordial voice.

She spun toward him, utterly confused. “How did you-“

Before she could finish he poked her with the end of his cane and released a bolt of magic sending her boneless to the floor. He checked the corridor for any witnesses, there were none. He hoisted her up and hauled her into the room and into the bed and then positioned her so that should anyone look in the door they would assume it was him.

Back in the corridor he wound his way towards Mistress Maybelle’s workshop. Along the way he passed several of the women he had met during the interview process.  Some gave him gentle shy smiles as if by some miracle he would change his mind and want to get to know them better.  Others he had rejected glared at him with open hostility.

Another guard stood rigid at the door of the workshop.  Her eyes widened when she saw Mike and she grabbed her spear. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. Obviously she was in on the Queen’s plan.

Mike didn’t stop or slow as he approached, his cane stretched out in front of him like an anemic battering ram.

“Stop, I mean it!” She held her spear at the ready and seemed terrified to use it.

Mike released a burst of magic at her and her eyes rolled back as she crumpled to the floor. He caught her as she fell.  “I’m sorry, none of this was supposed to happen.”

He was relieved to find the workshop door unlocked.  He dragged the unconscious guard inside and closed the door. When he turned he was greeted by the shocked expressions of nearly a dozen tinkers working in the shop.

Maybelle recovered first and stood from her stool, dropping her pliers onto the workbench. “What is the meaning of this?”

He placed the guard down against the wall and away from the door being careful not to knock her head against the hard floor. He then turned the giant lever that locked the door.

One of the workshop tinkers came forward with a hand to her mouth. “Is she hurt?”

“No, just sleeping. She’ll be fine in a few hours.”

Maybelle grabbed Mike by the shoulder and spun him so they were facing each other, her eyes wide with terror. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m fine, I swear it. It’s the Queen. She doesn’t want you to leave.  She’s threatened to put me in a cell for the rest of my days should I try to take you from here.”

“What?” She released her hold on him dropping her arm to her side. “That’s impossible.”

Mike sank onto one of the nearby stools and ran a hand through his hair. “She says that the safety of this keep depends on you, that you are the next in line to the throne.”

Maybelle gestured to the others to give them some space. “I suppose she didn’t bother to mention that there are six of us in line, six cousins that can all take the throne if needs be.”

“No, she wanted me to pretend that I was not longer interested in you and to take another girl and leave. I couldn’t do it. It’s wrong.”

Maybelle settled into the stool next to Mike and laced her hand into his. “I’ve been worried something like this might happen.  When the curse hit and Caliee was forced to take the throne it was a dark time for everyone, but for her especially.  The king died leaving her alone to protect the keep, she wasn’t ready.  The stress of it changed her, made her harder, more cunning. The last few years have shown us that if she is determined for something to happen she wouldn’t stop until it was done.”

Mike squeezed her hand. “Escape with me. The keep is in good hands. You have trained your fellow engineers well.  I’m sure that they can do whatever is necessary.”

“You don’t understand. She’ll come after us. She’s decided that I must stay here, she won’t stop until she has guaranteed that I will.”

“Don’t you want to leave?”

“Of course I want to leave.  I’ve wanted to leave ever since the curse took all that I loved from me. I want to start over somewhere new.”

“Come with me. Right now.  They won’t have had time to prepare yet, we might make it. You know this place better than any tinker alive.  Surely there is a secret exit, a way that we can slip out unnoticed?”

“This is my home and my family.  I can’t abandon them.”

“But you aren’t living. Every day you are tortured by your past. You deserve a life where you can be happy.”

Maybelle released a pent up breath. “I know.”

“Come with me.”

“I’m scared.”

Mike cupped her cheek, turning her face toward him once more. “I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“I promise.”

She squeezed his hand back and smiled.  “There is a tunnel under the east wing leading to an abandoned irrigation system.  We could be away from here within the hour.”

Just then loud voices erupted in the hallway along with sounds of someone trying to force the door.

Maybelle stood from her stool. “She knows you’re here.”

“How is that possible?”

“Never underestimate Caliee.” She pulled his hand. “Follow me, we might still make it.”

***

To be continued…

To read the next episode, click here!