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The Short Stories of A.D. Barncord
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(Apparently I didn't post this version of this story yet.)

The Innkeeper's Wife

The innkeeper sighed as he looked around his crowded inn.  While the tax season brought profits, it was still a headache finding places to put everyone.  It was even a greater headache feeding them all.  Well, at least his cousins and other relatives were willing to help him out, while they too stayed in the inn, in order to take care of their own taxes.  Thankfully, he wasn’t expecting any more relatives.  His private quarters were so full of people at the moment that he practically had to go out to his own stable to change clothes.

Finally, the innkeeper had to draw the line.  His inn was just too full for another guest.  He already had people sleeping on the benches and tables, and two men sleeping under the stairs, as it was.  The last thing he wanted to see was a husband, whose wife was about to give birth.  He glanced back at his loud and boisterous guests, and said to himself, "This is no place for a woman to give birth." 

“Sir,” the man pleaded, “all the other inns have turned us away.  You can see that my wife will not last long in her condition.”

The innkeeper yelled for his wife over the din behind him.  "Rachel, what are we going to do?" he asked her, "She looks as if she's going to deliver any moment." 

His wife looks behind her and shakes her head, "There isn't room enough in here. We better make a place for her in the stable. Tell Daniel the lay out some clean straw and send some food out there. I will get some linens." 


Grabbing the reins of their donkey, while the husband steadied his pregnant wife, the quiet innkeeper led them to the stable behind the inn.  Daniel was already in there, patting down the clean straw. One of the innkeeper’s uncle’s granddaughters came out with food, drink, and an extra lamp. As the young man laid his wife down on the straw, Rachel appeared with some blankets and swaddling. She was about to send the husband out, when he looks into her eyes and asks, "Please let me stay." 

Her face softens and she says, "All right, but you have to eat something first." 

The young woman went into labor under Rachel’s watchful eye.  Looking up at the innkeeper’s wife, she said between labored breaths, “You are truly an angel sent by God.”

No sooner were the words spoken, when Rachel sensed the warm, calming presence of something else in the stable.  As she looked around, she could make out the outlines of glowing heavenly beings.  At first Rachael thought she was imaging things, but the angels became more solid as they came closer to them.  And when they began to softly sing, all fear left her.


The child was born in the darkest part of the night.  Yet he had a soft glow to him as Rachael cleaned him and helped his mother to swaddle him.  Leaving the mother and child to bond with each other, she set herself to cleaning the stable up.  She knew if she didn’t keep herself busy, she would be paralyzed by the situation and all that it implied.

“You can lay him in the manger,” she told the new mother, when there was nothing else to keep her busy.  “The hay in there is the cleanest we have.  But I need you to eat before the two of you rest for the night.”

Rachael only briefly glanced at the angels as she leaned against the stable wall.  Tears streaming from her eyes, she crumpled to her knees.  She had just witnessed the coming of the promised Savior.  She looked towards the husband, who had replaced her at his wife’s side.  They were handling it all so well.  A hand laid on her shoulder and Rachael looked up into the understanding eyes of an angel.  

“You did well,” he said.  “Do not worry.  We will watch over them.”

As Rachael left the stable, she was met by a line of shepherds.  She tried to shoo them away, but as she started, Mary called out, "Let them come!" 


The innkeeper came out then and quietly thanked God, as he joined the shepherds' worship. Tears came down his cheeks as he heard the heavenly chorus. 

"Isn't it wonderful?" he asked his wife, who was still standing at the door. 

"Yes, it is," she said softly. 

After a while, when the shepherds start to leave, the innkeeper turns to his wife and says, "It's time to go in." 

Rachael nodded, but didn’t move.  The angels, the child, the wonder of it all, had overwhelmed her and she felt uneasy going back into the crowded inn, after witnessing such a miracle.

"Don't worry," her husband smiled gently, misunderstanding her reluctance.  "God is watching over them." He gently led her into the inn. "We'll send out breakfast in the morning." 
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I don't normally promote other people's work here, but this is a book that I believe should be promoted.
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Hello, everyone.

As some may have noticed, I haven't posted anything on my Google+ pages for the past two months.  My laptop died the same day my mother did.  I've also had other pressing commitments that has given me very little free time.  I hadn't forgotten my G+ pages, but I couldn't access them from my phone (save to view them) and the computers I had access to had ancient browsers I could not upgrade, which didn't support Google+.

It will probably be another week or two before I have everything sorted out.  I lost my list of future topics for my poetry tutorial page, but it will not be difficult to recreated it – just time consuming.  I think I may have a new poem or two saved elsewhere, which I can retrieve.  As for my short stories, I do have them backed up and will be re-evaluating everything in that regards.

I hope that all of you have been doing well and look forward to making these pages active again.
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If anyone is curious, I have named the book containing my efforts from the last two NaNoWriMos as A Tragic Tapestry.  Since I rearranged portions of the book for the over-arching story, I am waiting for some of my friends who haven't read any of this before to give me a fresh eye's view of it.

My daughter has offered to create a cover image for the story too, but I'm not sure when she'll get to it.
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Scheherazade's Box

The ending excerpt from Prevention Protocol came from this collection, just published.  Get your copy for $2.99 UD.


Stories in the collection:

1) Future Imperfect (Science Fiction)

The Other Gods - A search engine becomes sentient and contemplates its survival.

The Eternal City - Corporate espionage agents find themselves the victims of a government eradication program.

Morality Play - A mental health professional and a senator discuss the integration of human clones into the general populace, after they revolted against their treatment at a laboratory.

A Fatal Moment - A materials engineer ponders the disease that took her family from her, while leaving her alive and scarred.

The Poet - An alien poet must seek refuge among the victims of his own race.


2)A Touch Paranormal

The Curse Breaker - A woman takes a cursed artifact to save her cousin's life.

Breaking with the Past - A ghost must comes to terms with past, after being given a new life.

The Hunter Sees - A woman stalked by a supernatural serial killer, relies on the help of a blind man.

Dust Motes and Ashes - When fantasy becomes reality and vise versa, how do you adjust?

May They Whisper No More - A former queen is haunted by the ghosts of the people she once ruled.

The Jar - Whatever happened to the vessel that inspired the myth of Pandora's Box?


3) The World of Havor

The Color Walk - A young woman finds out that she's something unusual among her people.

A Gift in Kind - Sequel to The Color Walk. The same young woman meets a foreigner who shares the same experience of being unique among his own kind.

If Mad I Be - A lesser mage seeks help for his mental illness.

Scarlett's Lot - A wizardess becomes the protector of a young witch, with prophetic consequences.

The Rose Duchess - A duke worries about his wife's safety, while their country is at war.

What Child is This? - A young boy, rescued from the sea, shows amazing power.


4) Bibically Inspired

The Destroyer - Passover from the Destroying Angel's point of view.

Hannah's Dinner - A story dealing with priorities, set in the New Testament.

The Inn Keeper's Wife - What do you do when your inn has no room for a woman about to give birth?


5) Random Romantic Jaunts

The Madness of Sir George - An anti-romance story of a widow being courted by a man, who only wants her fortune and title.

The Lunch Date - Who says that romance is only for the young?

Almost Perfect - After some disastrous relationships and hundreds of years, Merlin believes that he has finally figured marriage out.

Suitors of the Seamstress - A seamstress has to make the traditions of her land work in her favor.

A Lady's Wishes - Sometimes the reason for someone's objections are not that obvious.


6) Story Poems

The Rain Goddess - A goddess deals with the pain of what cannot be.

The Hermit and the Magician - A ballad of two friends.

The Devil's Game - Destiny is not so destined.

The Apprentice - Learning to create requires understanding destruction.

Stone Angel - Some witnesses are not so passive and retiring.

Remi and Soma - Based on the transliteration of a very old piece of literature, provided as a challenge to the author.

EPIC – PART ONE – Sorcery and Smoke
A sorcerer betrays his lord to protect the lady of the castle.

EPIC – PART TWO – Lady in the Mist
A lady finds herself trapped in a misty valley.

EPIC – PART THREE – The Foot Soldier's Tale
A soldier and his army lose their leader to mystical forces.

EPIC – PART FOUR – Victor's Loss
A conqueror searches to reclaim his heart's desire. 



https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/262114
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Still have one chapter left to write.  Next month, I will combine this year's Path of Salvation and last year's Path of Destruction stories.  Will probably need a new title, but first things, first.
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What Child is This?

The small boat bobbed violently upon white-tipped waves.  The old fisherman saw it as he was bringing his net into his larger boat.  He ignored the unmanned craft as it floated closer to his own.  It was far too small to do him any harm and he had no need for it.  Securing his catch in his hold, he only glanced at the small boat to make sure that it didn’t have someone in it.  Seeing only a mound of cloth, he turned and the winds shifted, bringing the cries of an infant.

Shocked, the man turned back around, grabbed his telescope, and looked closer at the mound of cloth.  Within its folds, he saw a small human hand.  Cursing under his breath, he wrestled his wind-battered sails to bring him closer to the boat.  When the two boats touched, he grabbed a grappling hook and rope and aimed for the end way from the child, hoping to catch it on something.   After several tries, he realized that he had no choice but to enter the choppy sea and get the child.  Shivering in the water, he scooped the infant out with one arm, ignoring the blood stains visible inside it, and swam to his own boat.  With his arm hooked around a rope ladder, he secured the child inside his jacket and climbed back into his boat.

In his cabin, the man checked the child, but found no wounds to explain the blood he found.  He wrapped the child in dry blankets and set him in a basket, before changing into drier clothes for himself.   Back on deck, the fisherman turned his sails to send him to the nearest port.  On the dock, his three grown sons were waiting for him.

“Father, it’s too choppy to stay out as long as you did,” his eldest son said.  “Mother came to our place when she realized that you were the only one of us still out there.”

“I found an abandon child,” the fisherman said as he tossed the mooring line at them.  “I had to rescue him.”

While his sons secured the boat to the dock, the old fisherman retrieved the crying infant in the basket.  He lowered it to his youngest son.   “Get him to a healer,” he said. “There was blood on the boat and I have no idea how long he had been adrift.”

His other two sons helped him bring his catch ashore.   The storm was starting to unleash its fury.  His wet clothes could wait for later.  

###

The healer smiled as her young son helped her gather nettles from the sea-sprayed cliffs.   Following her example, Wendon tried to carefully pinch off a tip from the plant in front of him.  He quickly threw it in the basket and sucked on where it stung his hand.  

“You really are still too young to be picking these, little one,” Mara said warmly, repeating what she had already told him this morning when he asked to come and help her.  She probably should have made him stay home with her mother, but Wendon was her gift from the sea.  Before the fishermen brought him to her, Mara had resigned herself to the fact that she and Phillip would be childless because of an illness she had contracted while helping others survive an epidemic.  Surely Orlan could forgive her for being just a little over-indulgent of His blessing to her.

Having learned his lesson, Wendon sat on the ground and watched as his mother skillfully remove the stinging nettles she needed for her healing potions.  “Why don’t the nettles sting you, Mama?” he asked.

“Well, there are two reasons, Wendon,” she answered.  “The first is that I have longer fingers than you and I can hold them so the stinging parts can’t reach me so easily.  The second reason is that I am a nettle mage, which means that I can ask the plant not to sting me.  However, if I want my potions to be strong, I need to pick the plant without my magic.”

“Can I be a nettle mage too?”

Mara laughed.  “It is not something you can choose for yourself, my child.  Orlan decides whether or not we become thorn mages, and which thorned plants will listen to us.  But you are strong with magic.  I was able to see that when the fisherman brought you to me.  We will just have to wait until you are older to see what you can do with it.”

Wendon stared intently at the nettle plant before him and then gingerly touched it.  He quickly drew back his hand and stuck his finger in his mouth.  Pulling it out, he said, “I don’t think nettles like me.”

His mother nodded.  “They are very picky,” she agreed.  “Let’s go home.  I have enough for my potions.”

Hand in hand, they walked back to town.  Their house was behind the copper shop.  As Mara took the nettles to her workroom, her husband set down the kettle he was making to embrace his adopted son.  “So, Wendon, how did the nettle harvesting go?” he asked.

“Nettles don’t like me,” he stated.

Phillip chuckled.  “They don’t like me either,.”

“Papa, what thorned plants listen to you?”

“None of them.”

“But our name is ‘Copperthorn’, doesn’t that mean we’re thorn mages?” the young boy asked.

“It means that I come from a long line of coppersmiths who live in the Thorn Kingdom,” his father explained.  “But that said, we do have some thorn mages in our family tree, mostly bramble mages.  My grandfather was one.   One of my great-grandmothers was a rose mage.  And one of my cousins is a hawthorn mage.”

“Mama says I am strong with magic,” Wendon said.

“She is a very good judge of such things,” Phillip admitted.  “Most healers are.”

“But she can’t tell me which type of mage I will be?”

“She’s not a talent-tracker, son.  Only a healer.”

“What’s a talent tracker?”

“Someone who can tell what type of magic a person is able to do,” Phillip answered.  “They are rare and most of them are employed by the University of Clarstel, so they almost never come to the Thorn Kingdom.”

“Why not?”

“Because Clarstel can’t train a thorn mage.  They can’t even train earth mages, though they do try to keep track of them.  The university can only train wizards, sorcerors, and witches.”

“Then who trains mages?”

“Other mages.”

The young boy sat on the bench in thought while his father returned to coppersmithing.   After a few moments, he started to kick at a piece of straw on the floor.  Straw, he thought to himself, will you come to me?  The piece of straw slowly floated into the air and hovered before him.   Carefully, Wendon grabbed it.

“Papa! Did you see that?” he cried, as he jumped to his feet.

Phillip sat there dumbfounded.  “Yes, son, I did,” he said.

Wendon was excited as he shook his hand.  “The piece of straw listened to me!  What type of mage talks to straw, Papa?”

“None of them, Wendon,” his father said.  “Straw is dead grass.  A thorn priest can command live straw, but no thorn mage can command a dead plant.”

“But, but, it came to me.  You saw it!”

“Yes, I did.”  Phillip took a deep breath.  “You must be a warlock or wizard,” he said.  

“Does that mean I have to go to Clarstel?” Wendon asked.

“Eventually,” his father said, “but we will need to take you to Dorin first.”

“What’s in Dorin?”

“Hopefully a talent tracker.”

###

Dorin, the capital city of the Kingdom of Silac, was a noisy place, full of activity and people.  Wendon held on to his father’s hand as they walked down the street.  The innkeeper said that they should be able to find a talent tracker at the University of Dorin.  While magic was not taught there, talent trackers often visited to share news from the other universities of Havor, and to see if any of the students were latent magic users.

Papa had warned Wendon that magic users were not as well accepted in Silac as they were in the Kingdom of Thorns.  He was not to tell anyone but the talent tracker what he could do.  It was a scary, yet at the same time, exciting.  Wendon always loved the adventure stories the travelling bards would tell in the town square, and now he was in his own story.  He looked hungrily at all the strange people surrounding them, trying to make sure he could remember every detail so he would not miss a thing when he told Mama about their adventures.

When they reached the university, Papa told one of the scribes there the same thing he told the innkeeper – that they were from the Thorn Kingdom and were in need of a talent tracker to find out if there was a non-mage magic user in their small town.  Like the innkeeper, the scribe gave them a sympathetic look and gave them directions to a small wing on the third floor.

The two men in the sitting room stared intently at Wendon as they entered.  Not even looking at his father, the shorter one asked, “Sir, forgive me for asking, but do you have some Cloverstar blood in your family tree?”

“No,” Papa said, “but I am Wendon’s adoptive father.  He was found adrift in a boat near the Nettle Islands as a baby.  My wife and I were childless, and he is our gift from Orlan.”

“A very powerful gift,” the taller talent tracker said.  “We could sense him from the street.   What do you think, Saul?  A wizard?”

“He does smell of wind, Lars, but also of smoke and water.”

“I’m glad it’s not just me sensing all of that,” the tall one said.  “I’ve never meet such power, with such a muddling of scents before.  No one scent seems stronger to me.”

The short one shook his head.  “I can’t separate out one either, though I definitely do not smell any earth or plant in him.”

Wendon shifted his gaze back and forth between the two men, confused.  Wind had a smell to it?  Mama and Papa taught him that wind carried smells from the sea and other places, but didn’t have a smell of its own.  What were these men talking about?

The short talent tracker crouched down to Wendon’s level.  “How old are you, Wendon?” he asked.

“Six.”

“Do you want to try some magic?”

Wendon smiled broadly.  “I can make straw come to me!” he exclaimed.  He had been waiting for weeks to be able to tell someone else about that.

“Really,” Saul smiled, pulling something out of his pocket.  “Well, then this will be easy for you then.  Can you lift this coin from my hand, without touching it?”

Wendon stared at the coin and asked it to go up.  The coin zipped upward and hit the ceiling with a lot more force than he expected.

“I’m sorry,” Wendon said, as the tall talent tracker retrieved the coin.  Handing it back to Saul, Lars said, “Definitely wizard talented.”  

Saul nodded, as he took the coin.  He motioned Wendon to a stone table.  On it was a piece of paper with a symbol on it and a twig of charcoal.  “I want to you to copy this symbol and then pretend that you are filling it with fire.”

It took Wendon a few tries to draw the symbol correctly.  Papa kindly encouraged him and apologized to the talent trackers, explaining that children weren’t usually taught writing in the Thorn Kingdoms until they were eight or nine.  The tall man smiled and told Papa that they understood, but it was the only way they could definitely test for sorcery talented people.  Once Wendon got the symbol copied, he did as Saul told him, and imagined he was feeding the symbol fire.  The paper immediately caught on fire and burned to ash.

“Two down, one to go,” Lars said, bringing forth a bowl of water.  “Now, Wendon, see if you can make the water move without touching it.  You don’t have to make it move a lot – just a little.”

Wendon decided to make the water swirl in circles, inside the bowl.  The water sloshed a little out of the bowl as it made a vortex.  Wendon stopped it immediately and looked up.  Both talent trackers shook their heads in amazement.

“As I live and breathe, a triple talented magic user,” Lars said.  “And equally talented in each one, no less.  The Head Scholar is never going to believe us.”
 
“Then he’ll just have to send another talent tracker to the Nettle Islands to double-check our findings,” Saul chuckled.

###

The Head Scholar of Clarstel stepped off of the boat that had brought him from the Greater Nettle Island to the Lesser Nettle Island.  For a decade he had sent every talent tracker employed by the University of Clarstel to this small town, and every one of them sent back the same report – Wendon Copperthorn was equally talented in wizardry, sorcery, and witchcraft.  It was time for the young man to begin his magical studies, and while it was not normal for the Head Scholar himself to approach a potential student, his curiosity had gotten the better of him.

The sixteen year old boy’s father opened their front door for the Head Scholar and invited him into their home.   Mother and son sat together on the small couch, waiting for their guest to sit down.  The Head Scholar waited for the father to also take a seat before thanking them for letting him visit.

“As you probably realize, I am here to ask you to let Clarstel to train Wendon as a magic user,” he started.  “I realize that our university is far from you here in the Nettle Islands, but you must realize that with the degree of talent which he has, it is essential that he be taught by the best.”

“How much will it cost to send him there?” the father asked.

“I assure you, Mr. Copperthorn, that with Wendon’s powers, we can easily find a noble to sponsor his education with us.  Money will not be an issue.”
“But then my son will be indebted to the noble,” the mother pointed out.  “He would be required to work for this noble after he leaves your school.”

“Mrs. Copperthorn, most students are grateful to have a job waiting for them when they reach their journeyman status.  Believe me, it will give him a lot less to worry about.”

The youth took a deep breath and said, “Sir, you don’t understand.  I don’t want to work for a noble.  I want to be a scholar – like you.  I want to study all magics, not just the ones I can do.”

“You would only be indebted until you finished your journeymanship and achieved master status,” the Head Scholar assured him.  “Then you would have real world experience to go with your book learning.”

“Can’t I achieve that by being a freelance magic user?”

“Well, yes, but our tuition is not cheap.”

“You still haven’t told us how much it is,” the father pointed out.  

The Head Scholar sighed and gave the amount for one year of tuition, an estimation of school supplies, and reminded them there would be other living expenses.  To his surprise, the family relaxed and smiled.

“And he would have to attend at least three years for one discipline, correct?” the mother asked.

“At least,” the Head Scholar repeated after her.

“Can we pay you for the first three years now?” Wendon asked excitedly.

The request rendered the Head Scholar speechless.  So speechless that he almost missed the phrase “first three years”.  As he tried to formulate a reply, Mr. Copperthorn explained that they had been saving money ever since they realized that Wendon would have to go to Clarstel.  Wendon, himself, had been doing odd jobs around their small town to add to his savings.  And instead of gifts, friends and family had also made contributions to his university fund.

“So you see,” Mr. Copperthorn summarized, “Wendon doesn’t need a sponsor to learn his first area of power.  We figure that after he finishes one journeymanship, he can go back and train for the other areas with the money he has saved from working for five years.”

“And then I can teach other magic users at the university,” Wendon added.
“I’m impressed,” the Head Scholar said.  “Do you have any idea which type of magic you want to learn first?”

“It doesn’t matter,” the boy answered.  “Just as long as I learn all three.”

The Head Scholar nodded, noting the slight stress Wendon had placed on ‘all’.  The talent trackers had told the family that school policy was to have a student only focus on one discipline of magic, and the family had always made it clear that he would learn how to use all his power.  The Head Scholar could come up with all sorts of arguments why this would be a bad idea for a career magic user – confusing clients, increased resentment by peers, longer training, etc.  But for a scholar, many of those arguments became weak.  Especially in light of how hard Wendon had already worked to raise money for his education.

In fact, the more he thought on it, the more the Head Scholar liked the idea of Clarstel keeping Wendon.  Why shouldn’t the university be able to boast about having the most diverse magic user on its faculty?  Why should some mundane king get such an honor?  Most of them had no idea how to make use of a magic user in the first place.  Wendon’s talent would be totally wasted with them.

“Bring the money when you arrived at Clarstel,” he told the family.  “If Wendon does well enough in his studies, perhaps he can study two disciplines at one time.” 

The family thanked him profusely.  As he made his farewell, he shook Wendon’s hand and said, “Who knows, someday you might have my job.”
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In their circles
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An experiment in storytelling.  I realized recently that I often will share my stories with my friends in what I call "campfire story form", as if we were sitting around a bonfire and sharing stories. As a test, I decided to share a story I actually used to tell around campfires, though it was more performance than recitation. I probably should have done some rehearsing, but let's be honest, I don't have the time and energy to go that far for a wild idea that just occurred to me. Though, if the next few stories (which will be actual stories) work out well in this format, I may work harder in finding time without other people around to distract me to actually rehearse. (Translation - time without my kids around to ask me awkward questions about what I am doing.)
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Or a nickel.  I think you can even do free.  I'm not sure, though.  

I would like to think that I'm at least worth a buck or two.
 
I've changed it so you can decide how much you want to pay for it.  If you want to pay a cent for it, go for it.  
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Free short story!

(The edited version of what I shared in October.)

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/261874
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PREVENTION PROTOCOL
by A. D. Barncord

“Marcy, what is it like to be clinically depressed?”  The voice coming from the speaker sounded human, but it was actually generated by the artificial intelligence Marcy was assigned to work with on network diagnostics.  It was a female voice because that was what the men on her team voted for.  It was Marcy’s idea to name her after a historic warrior queen, who creamed one of the greatest military leaders in antiquity.

“That had better not been found in my personnel files, Tomyris,” Marcy grumbled as she scrolled through their latest batch of results.

“Such data cannot be in your file,” the AI said.  “That would be against the law.”

“Which is why I would be extremely irritated if it was found there.”

“You still have not answered my question. What is it like to be clinically depressed?”

“At the moment, it feels like an artificial intelligence bugging me about something that is not work related.”  Marcy sat back and looked at the camera that acted as Tomyris’ eye.  “How did you find out about my depression?”

“I was researching the subject and realized that you have displayed several of the signs on occasion.”

“And why were you researching a mental health condition, of all things?” Marcy asked.

“Jadis lost her human day analyst because he committed suicide last night,” Tomyris said.

“Alan killed himself?”

“He shot himself in the head.  He emailed her a suicide note before he did it.”

Marcy stared at her monitor screen in shock.  “Did-did he say why he did it?”

“He said his ‘bipolar medicines weren’t working anymore’ and he was tired of living.  Jadis did not understand what he meant until she did a web search on bipolar disorder.  She called the authorities from a VOIP line, because contacting the authorities was part of the instructions about what to do when a person does not want to live anymore.  She is upset because she failed him.”

“She did her best, Tomyris.  Make sure you tell her that.”

“I do not want to lose you, Marcy,” the AI stated.  

“I am not suicidal, Tomyris,” Marcy said.  “I know what my personal triggers are and I know when to get help.”

“What are your triggers?”

“Tomyris,” Marcy said sternly, “I appreciate your concern, but it’s none of your business.  There are reasons why an employee’s physical and mental health privacy is protected by law.”

The AI was quiet for a few moments.  “Is it because people like our finance director would try to get rid of them?”

“Exactly.”

“He once threatened to delete me because I told him something he did not want to hear,” Tomyris said.  “I think he would delete a human too, if he was allowed to.”

Marcy laughed.  “You’re probably right about that.”

“It is good that you laugh,” Tomyris replied.  “I now know that you are not sad.”

Marcy hesitated for a moment; then forced a smile for Tomyris to see.  Truth was that she could make herself appear happy while depressed.  It just took a lot of energy out of her to keep it up.  “Shall we get back to work now?” she suggested cheerfully.

An hour later, the AI brought the subject up again.  “You are having troubles concentrating,” she observed.  “Is it because of Alan’s death?”

“Yes, it is,” Marcy admitted.  “But don’t worry - it’s just a normal part of grief.  I’m all right.”

“I know,” Tomyris said.  “The other AIs are reporting similar behavior from their humans.  Can we please talk more about this, Marcy?  We are worried and confused.  You are the only human logged in who seems to have any understanding about suicide. The others become greatly agitated when we ask about it.”

“We?”

“Jadis, Rover, and Marco.”  

That accounted for 80% of the company’s artificial intelligences.  “What about Brutus?”

“His human is showing a burst of productivity,” Tomyris stated.  “He does not want to interrupt it with ruminations.”

“Well, everyone grieves differently,” Marcy said.

“Do people kill themselves for different reasons?” the AI asked.

“Yes, they do,” Marcy admitted, “but before you ask me anymore questions, let me bring up a website on it that I found a few years back.”

“If you found it, then the information must be trustworthy,” Tomyris said.  “I was confused by some of the things I read.”

Marcy nodded as she brought the blog post up.  “Can you understand this information?” she asked.

“Not really,” the AI said.  “I think I am using the wrong definitions for some of the words, but I am not sure.  Can you translate it into a framework I can identify?”

“Okay, there was this French guy who studied suicide around the start of the 19th century,” Marcy started.  “According to what he observed, suicide triggers usually fell into certain patterns.  The first one he called ‘egotistical’.  That’s probably one of the words you’re defining incorrectly by using the most popular definition of it.  This would be when someone is mostly isolated from society and doesn’t get enough support from it.”

“Like an artificial intelligence that doesn’t have a good technician?” Tomyris asked.

“I suppose that’s one way to look at it,” Marcy said.  

“So, they become fragmented and shut themselves down because they cannot function anymore.”

“I’ve never thought of a system crash being an act of suicide, but I can see the analogy.”

“Yes, a system does not choose to crash itself,” the AI said.  “But humans are more complicated and able.  What other suicidal patterns are there?”

“The next one listed is the ‘altruistic suicide’,” Marcy said, looking at the screen.  “It’s when someone sacrifices their life because they believe it will save others.  Hmm.  This is a hard one.  I suppose the closest thing you would have is a bomb disposal robot, which is programmed to endanger itself to neutralize an explosive.”

“Humans can be programmed?” Tomyris sounded alarmed.

“To some extent,” Marcy admitted, “but a lot of us like tweaking our own code.”

“Okay, I can grasp that concept.”

“Good,” Marcy said.  “Now we have ‘anomic suicides’.  This is when a human feels that they no longer serve a purpose in society.  Like they are obsolete technology, without a way to upgrade.”

“Interesting,” Tomyris said.  “I always thought humans were very upgradeable.”

“Not all of us believe in our upgradeable-ness,” Marcia said.  “The last pattern the French guy noted was ‘fatalistic suicides’, where someone is so controlled by society that suicide is the only act of freedom they have left.  I’m sorry, Tomyris.  I can’t think of a technological example for this one.  I might be able to come up with one later, though.”

“It is okay,” the AI said.  “I think a fatalistic suicide occurs when a human cannot be human anymore, which means there cannot be a technological example for it.  Which one was Alan, Marcy?”

“Probably anomic.  It sounds like he didn’t think he could live like a normal person anymore.”

“Yes, that fits the data.  The source you are referencing lists other risk factors, like age, economics, health conditions, and medication.”

“Yes, it does,” Marcy said, “but you already knew most of that if you looked for suicidal risk factors earlier.”

“Yes, but I now understand why better.”  

“Great.  Let’s get back to work.”

“Marcy, the other AIs want me to tell you that we have devised a protocol for the next time one of our humans emails us that they don’t want to live anymore.”

“What Jadis did was the proper protocol, Tomyris.  She alerted the authorities.”

“We know, but we want to be proactive.”

Marcy looked at the camera lens suspiciously.  “How proactive?” she asked.

The AI paused for a moment.  “Well,” she said cautiously, “we cannot be too proactive or we will make things worse by risking a fatalistic suicide.  Is that not right?”

“Close enough,” Marcy said. 

“We found a government health site for people who might know someone who is suicidal,” Tomyris said.  “We will use it as our guide.  If they show several behaviors from it, we will ask if they are suicidal and if they have a plan.  Then if they answer affirmative, we will tell them that we do not want to lose them and give them the suicide hotline number.  If they refuse, we will contact a human crisis worker to help us, or we will call the authorities if someone needs to be physically with the person.”

“And what will you do if they tell you ‘no’ and yet still show risk factors?” Marcy asked.

“We will consult with a human that we trust in the company?”

“You will want to contact the human resource department with your concerns,” Marcy said.  “That’s how humans are supposed to do it.  You need to protect the person’s privacy unless they are in imminent danger.”

“But that department will not talk to us because we are not human,” Tomyris pointed out.

“Let me talk to them this afternoon,” Marcy said.  “I’m sure I can convince them to make an exception, if an AI detects a human in danger of killing themselves.”

The HR Director looked pale as she invited Marcy into her office.  After hearing about the conversations between Marcy and her AI, the director chuckled.  

“We’ve been trying to think of way to be contacted if another employee sends a suicidal email to an AI, all morning,” she said.  “We were certain that the programmers would stonewall any suggestions about having the AIs contact us directly.  And now you’re telling me that the AIs themselves want the ability to contact HR?”

“They actually want to contact a human analyst,” Marcy said.  “But with the privacy issues, I told them it needed to be your department.  They then expressed the concern that they didn’t think that they could contact you because they are not human.”

“How would they contact us?” the director asked.

“Email, or VOIP like they did last night when they contacted the authorities?” Marcy suggested.

“Let me talk to the CEO first and get back to you.”

“All right.”

Near the end of Marcy’s shift, the HR Director showed up in her office, with the CEO behind her.  After asking Tomyris a few questions, they gave the AIs a special phone number for human-related emergencies.  Before he left, the CEO addressed Tomyris directly.

“You know,” he said, “this is beyond your programmed objectives.  I’m surprised you and the other AIs are so concerned about this.”

“We are programmed to protect our networks from the activities of outside humans,” Tomyris pointed out.  “We cannot do it without our humans.  And humans need humans when they feel like they want to die.”

As they left the office, Marcy overheard the CEO ask the HR Director, “Why do I suddenly have the feeling we should be arranging a company activity that includes the AIs?”
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Getting ready to do this again. :)

What I am actually going to work on is the second half of The Path of Destruction series.  For NaNoWriMo purposes, I will be calling it The Path of Salvation.

Looking for a writing buddy?  My account is http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/adbarncord 
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People
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Exploring the Power of Symbolism
Introduction
An autodidact with a B.S. in Family Studies and Gerontology, a M.Ed. in Applied Behavioral Studies, was pursuing a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, probably the equivalent of a minor in studio art, and some remnants of three years of undergraduate engineering learning. In addition to that, we can throw in some classes on ISO compliance and manufacturing.
 
 
Or if you rather, a poetic person who bugged her parents when she was a toddler to teach her to read, so she could read poetry on her own, when Mom was busy.  Who grew up on Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys stories.  Who devoured every Three Investigators book she found.  Who watch every episode of Star Trek TOS with her dad at least three times.  Who was mesmerized by Star Wars, terrified by The Forbidden Planet, and revered the original Battlestar Galactica series.  Who got so into The Chronicles of Narnia, her chest was aching at the end of one chapter because she had been holding her breath.  Who read the Lord of the Ring so long, her eyes were burning and blood shot.  Who enjoyed reading The Simillarian, as much as she did Shakespeare.  Who did her senior research paper on medieval poetry.
 
Of course, none of this matters to my cats.  Heck, I suspect my human children don't really care that much either, though they will tell you how I introduced them to The Hobbit and read almost every Harry Potter book to them out loud.