A quick notice from the management that Empowered: Traitor, the second book in The Empowered series, will be released on March 21st! The pre-order is now up on Amazon, and is a great way to get a copy automatically when the book is launched. I really love the cover art my designer, Clarissa Yeo, did for this book, it captures the feel perfectly.
By Dale Ivan Smith
I sat on the bus bench and watched Dori Little sing and play guitar, green eyes half closed, wind ruffling her short orange hair. Her voice soared along Fifth Avenue, honey and steel, making passersby stop and listen with wide eyes, as she sang about love lost, about regrets, and about redemption. My old bones ached a little less as she strummed her guitar, the chords an angel’s promise.
I used to be a wizard but my magic wasn’t worth a damn compared to Dori and her music. I still hung on to a couple of spells, but it wasn’t like the books or the games where you could keep using the same magic over and over again. You could only use a spell once.
Not like Dori’s songs.
The open guitar case brimmed with coins and money and it wasn’t even noon yet. It was shaping up to be a good day for Dori. As for me, any day spent listening to Dori was good.
I drew my worn leather coat closer. April and it still felt like winter. Getting old stinks. Being really old stinks even more. I couldn’t just snap my fingers and make a pattern that would send warmth through me. I’d done that already, once upon a time, helping Dori’s mother, now long dead, back when she’d been a girl.
A drawn out cough behind me interrupted my reverie.
“Mind if I sit and listen?” The voice rasped like a knife scraping against wood. It was Shadow.
I swallowed. “Still a free country.”
“Thanks.” Shadow sank down on the bench beside me, his ancient parka hooding his face. He still wore patched finger-less woolen gloves. “That voice transports me.”
“What are you doing here?” I should have killed Shadow when I had the chance.
“I want the same thing you do. Her.” He waggled at finger at Dori, her head bent as she played a long stretch, humming.
“I will help her.”
I grabbed his wrist. “She doesn’t need your kind of help.” Dori’s voice was low, filled with a building fire as she sang now of revenge.
“You call this a life?” He lazily pried my hand from his wrist. Like I said, being really old stinks.
“What do you know?”
His laughter sounded like crumpling paper. “I’ve been watching her, and you, you lovelorn old fool, for the past month. She can do so much more than busking at street corners for a few bucks.”
“I’ve saved a few spells, for just the right person. And I think I’ve found her.” I glimpsed a broken-toothed smile and was hit by a stale cigar smoke stink.
Dori had stopped singing. She looked over from where she played, a slight smile on her pixie face.
“I will ride her to fame and fortune.” Shadow chuckled. “And what a ride it will be.”
I fought to keep my face calm, and leaned in close to Shadow. “You don’t touch her,” I whispered. “If you do, you’ll regret it.”
I went to a nearby food cart and bought a bottle of diet peach ice tea, Dori’s favorite.
She smiled up at me as I brought the tea. “Thanks. Who is your friend?”
“He’s an old acquaintance. Just in town for the day.”
“I’ll have to meet him later on.” She took the tea bottle from my hands, slender fingers brushing against mine, and sang a little ditty about kindness, while her eyes shone at me.
I fought a blush and shuffled back to the bench.
Shadow chuckled. “You have it bad.”
“You could have her, you know.” More crumpled paper sounds came from his mouth. “Maybe I’ll let you once I’m done.”
Dori began another song, but the blood pounding in my ears drowned it out.
He ignored me and began twiddling his thumbs and fingers in a subtle motion, muttering a chant under his breath. Working magic is about finding a pattern and tracing it.
I recognized the pattern Shadow wove. A link. He would bind her to him, and with the binding, he could twist her thoughts and feelings, and perhaps even drain her.
My chest tightened and one hand clawed the air. The old ticker wasn’t going to last forever, but it couldn’t give out, not now.
“Calm yourself, old man.” Shadow spoke the words in between his chant, from the corner of his mouth. Ethereal strands stretched between Shadow and Dori.
I put a nitro tab under my tongue. My heart relaxed.
Shadow’s fingers blurred. Dori stiffened, and her playing slowed.
I bit down hard on my lip.
“Snatch. ” I spat blood. My hand grabbed the nearly invisible threads writhing in the air and yanked them into myself. I felt his will flow into me, like hot oil. I shuddered.
Shadow swore and then a grin broke across his face. “Even better. I’ll do her through you.”
He began another spell. His words whispered razor sharp in my ears. Dori suddenly felt close, as though she lay against my skin. Sweat dripped from her, she was hungry and tired but lost in her music.
He pushed my awareness into hers. Once the spell finished, she would feel what I felt, and when he broke my mind, he’d have her through me.
“I have a last spell, too,” I said, fighting to keep myself for a moment longer.
Dori strummed her guitar like a demon, her voice ringing out, in a song of releasing love.
I clapped my hands over my ears.
“Silence.” I bit down hard on my tongue.
And Silence broke over me. Shadow opened his mouth, eyes widening. Even though I couldn’t hear him I knew no words came out. He’d never complete that last spell.
Dori’s lips moved. Her fingers plucked her guitar’s strings. Passersby bobbed their heads, tapped their toes, and dropped money into the open guitar case beside her.
I heard only silence.
Flying monkeys are a favorite of mine, ever since I saw them in the Wizard of Oz. I even own a flying monkey fez (shown at left), perfect for when I need to draft like crazy. So, of course, I had to write an homage to Oz featuring flying monkeys as the heroes. The story took me quite a while to write: telling a complete story in a thousand words can be a challenge. It ran in Every Day Fiction in March, 2014.
Right after it appeared I was bowled over when talented author, audio reader and actor Tina Connolly emailed me that she wanted to buy the story for her Toasted Cake podcast. Tina is a fabulous reader and really did the story justice. Her podcast won the Parsec award for best speculative fiction podcast of 2012. Give it a listen—it runs about 7 minutes, the whole podcast is only 10 minutes long. Tina really did the story justice. The story is definitely darker than “Coffee Shop Crisis,” but if you don’t mind that, I think you’ll enjoy a flying monkey’s take on what it might take to escape from imprisonment. There’s also a link there to Every Day Fiction where the print version originally appeared.
Somewhat by accident this month’s blog posts have turned into my own February Flash Fiction theme, with “Coffee Shop Crisis” last week. Next week I’ll post my urban fantasy story, “Silence.” Thanks for reading!
“Nullified,” a linking story set between Renegade, the Empowered series prequel novella, and Empowered: Agent, is now available at this site. Sign up for my mailing list and you’ll receive a copy. If you are already on my mailing list, you’ll receive one shortly!
Also now available is the new version of Renegade, featuring a fantastic new cover by my designer, Clarissa Yeo of Yocla Designs. She did an amazing job of depicting Mat at 16.
When I was working on an early version of the Empowered series, I did a few practice writing riffs. One of them featured a snarky ex-super-villain having an afternoon date with her boyfriend at their favorite coffee shop. It soon took on a life of its own, as practice riffs sometimes do. I ended up with a flash fiction story called “Coffee Shop Crisis,” which ended up running in Every Day Fiction. If you want a different, amusing take on superheroes and super-villains, read on. A perfect story to read on your coffee break!
Coffee Shop Crisis
Dale Ivan Smith
All I wanted was a day off and a date with Christopher at Tai’s Mokka Korner, no costume, no super powers, no so-called heroes wrecking things. Chris wanted things to be different. This girl was working on it.
We were at our favorite table, a little round number, seated in plush wooden chairs, drinking Tai’s “Secret Blend”, our favorite coffee drink at Mokka Korner, which was our favorite coffee shop in all of Seattle, when my least favorite person in the whole wide world strode in from the rain swept street.
Dolomite. He had super strength. He could toss a bus like a brick. They called him a super hero. He was a super jerk as far as I was concerned.
He stomped inside, his shale-colored cape billowing, autumn leaves tumbling after him. Rain plastered his long black hair to his scalp, and the bedraggled locks trailed off to either side, giving him a bad mullet.
His gaze swept the room but he didn’t react when he looked at Chris and me. After all I wasn’t wearing my armor and my red hair was loose instead of in a braided pile under a dura-alloy helmet.
Dolomite strode to the counter. Water splattered the floor as he walked past a man and woman in business wear sitting together.
“Watch the breeze, buddy,” the man said.
“You are dripping water over everything, the woman added.
Dolomite ignored them.
Tai worked the counter that afternoon. He must have recognized Dolomite but he didn’t miss a beat.
“What can I get for you, sir?”
“Coffee,” Dolomite said, in a fake Italian accent. He claimed his super power made him Italian, but he was from Omaha.
“Well sir, we have a lot of choices here.”
“Funny man, eh? I will tell you this, if I wanted a double espresso with hazelnut, I would have said so. And if I wanted a vanilla latte with extra nutmeg, I would have requested that. I desire only coffee.”
“Americano then, sir?”
Dolomite frowned. “The thing I like least is people taking words and making them sound like they came from a language not their own. In particular, I dislike it when that is done to words from Italian.
“I want coffee, black. No cream. No sugar. Simplicity itself.”
“You don’t need to be an asshole,” the man in the business suit said.
Dolomite glanced back. “Please, citizen, keep to your seat and enjoy your beverage. This is none of your concern.”
Amazing that Crime Fighters North America had kept Dolomite on.
“So, that’s the big bad Dolomite?” Chris whispered.
“He can stop a bus by just standing still.”
“But apparently not catch a clue when it comes to fashion.”
Dolomite snapped his head around and glared in my direction.
I covered my mouth.
Chris held up his newspaper, mouthing, “please don’t.”
“I’ll be good,” I whispered back.
“Your coffee, sir.” Tai held a Grande cup out to Dolomite.
Dolomite sniffed and his face puckered. “The beans are not roasted in the proper style.”
“Sir, this is our house blend. Fire-roasted.”
“Your house blend is inadequate.”
Chris gave me a concerned look. “Fresh start,” he reminded me.
“It is.” Chris had wanted me to give up my old ways. I was trying, I really was.
I wasn’t going to get involved. It would lead to all sorts of trouble, and ruin our date. Also, I really didn’t want to send Dolomite to the hospital again.
Dolomite snatched the cup from Tai’s, brandished it. “I will announce this coffee’s imperfections to all passerbies, until you change the blend.”
Tai’s face paled.
A superhero, even a jerk like Dolomite, standing outside Mokka Korner, bad-mouthing the coffee could ruin the business. The regulars knew that Tai’s fire-roasted blend was awesome, but competition for java dollars was brutal in Seattle. Bad press could kill the bottom line.
Damn it. Dolomite threatened my favorite coffee shop, one place where I could go with Chris for a long talk while staring into each other’s eyes.
“Sorry, hon,” I told Chris. I kissed him. “Just this last time, I promise.”
He started to reply but I darted out the back door.
The alley behind Mokka Korner was deserted. I pulled up the manhole cover and slipped below street level, to find my backup outfit. A girl never knew when she might have to pull off a crime. Or in this case, distract a lunkhead.
A moment later, I was dressed for business. I soared through the opening, raindrops sliding off my armor. Frictionless metal came in handy. I hovered just above the pavement and kicked the steel cover back in place.
I landed atop the Java Empire across Third Street from Tai’s Mokka Korner. Might as well include the competition.
“Hey slag head!” I shouted at Dolomite
He jerked his head up. I flipped him off.
“Miscreant!” His bellow echoed off the neon Java Empire sign behind me.
I stuck out my tongue.
Dolomite grabbed a metal newspaper box and hurled it at me. I dropped to street level. The makeshift projectile smashed the sign where I had stood.
I grinned. “That the best you can do?”
He roared again and bounded across Third in one huge leap. His booted feet smacked the roof of a cab, sending it careening into a lamp post.
I jumped sideways and he crashed through Java Empire’s doors, and into the counter, sending customers scrambling, and toppling the nearest coffee machine with a huge rending crash.
I wrenched open the remains of the shattered door. “Get out if you want to live,” I yelled at the people cowering inside.
I always wanted to say that.
Then I flew off. My day had been ruined, but my foe’s was ruined worse, and my favorite coffee shop was still in business. Not bad for an almost ex-super villain.
I’m thrilled to report that Empowered: Agent, the first novel in my four-book series, The Empowered, is out!
The world says those with superpowers are either heroes or villains. But what if you’re both?
Mathilda Brandt isn’t the angry, out-of-control teenager she was before she got out of jail. She’s hungry for a chance at a normal life, but when a gang threatens her sisters, she has no choice but to use her illegal superpower to protect them.
A secretive government agency gives her a choice: go back to prison for life, or infiltrate a notorious super-villain group in order to stop a psychotic Empowered. To save her city, her family, and herself, Mat must become the last thing she ever wanted to be again: a criminal.
Empowered:Agent is the first book in Dale Ivan Smith’s The Empowered urban fantasy series. If you like heroes and villains, you’ll love this fast-paced, suspenseful read featuring a strong female hero.
Buy the book to start reading the first novel in The Empowered series today!
Renegade, the brand-new prequel novella to my series The Empowered, is now available on InstaFreebie! Get it here.
Out of billions of people, a handful possess superpowers. Sixteen-year old Mathilda Brandt just discovered hers: the ability to listen to and control plant life. For now, her being Empowered is a secret, but she will face a stark choice when the world learns about her new ability: either put on the blue jumpsuit and become a member of the Hero Council and follow any and all orders, or forswear ever using her power for any reason.
Mat refuses both choices, and instead goes underground, having found a hidden place where she can belong with others like herself. But if she wants a place to belong, first she must save it.
The novella tells the story of what happened to Mathilda after her “Empowering,” and is the story-before-the-story of Empowered: Agent, first novel in the Empowered series.
That is my other piece of news–Empowered: Agent will be published in late January! I’ve been working on this series for sometime. Book 1 is finished, Book 2 needs one finally editing pass, and Book 3 is in draft. I’m looking forward to sharing the series with you at long last!
Happy 50th, Star Trek! You were the very first science fiction show I watched as a pre-schooler, sneaking out from my bedroom to peek around a chair as my parents watched the first run on our tiny black and white TV.
You were more than worth getting in trouble for.
Space.com has a fitting tribute by Elizabeth Howell