NaNoFeed: Live from the Traditional Tour! (Warning: Death by Crossbow)

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Jackson’s Coffee and Gelato, Minneapolis MN. A lovely place to spend a cold, foggy, snowbound November afternoon on the way to the NaNoWriMo finish line.

Here we are now at Jackson’s Coffee and Gelato, a cozy and writer-friendly location on Minneapolis’s Lake Street, rich in electrical outlets, cozy atmosphere, and yummy eats (I highly recommend the black chocolate gelato, as well as the roasted almond).

However, I ate my food (yogurt parfait, half-and-half serving of the aforementioned gelato flavors) while it was still photogenic, so was only able to document the wreckage.

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Yogurt parfait and gelato, after the fact. I assure you that they were both delicious.

Today’s word count is not all it might be, due to a research side-trip on topics such as how to construct an improvised crossbow, and the sound of a crossbow bolt’s flight and impact. There is also the bacon torch discussion (including vegetarian options for those would prefer not to make their thermal lance out of animal products), but that’s an interesting side-light and will only be deployed later in the tale.

However, this resulted in the scene where Hernan and Taryn, my romantic leads, first catch sight of each other, probably the least romantic “meet cute” on record, in which technique trumps technology–with a trigger warning for anatomically specific death by crossbow. 

Hernan stood in the alcove thinking about what to do, as the short-lived rain pounded down on water-slicked grey concrete. He heard a sizzle and sharp crack and smelled the hot-metal ozone reek of energy-weapon discharge—

The wall in front of which she’d been passing was charred and melted, but she wasn’t there.

And then there was a short squirt of whistle and a soft thunk, and he turned to see a figure topple from the mezzanine above—somersaulting over the railing to land on its back, blood fountaining from a wound  below the ribcage with a bolt stuck out of it.

He stared at the corpse, as arterial spray bloodied the concrete. This is shock, he realized, as the world slowed and cooled, and his memory pulled up an anatomical diagram to highlight the abdominal aorta.

Yes, lots of blood there, and under high pressure as it surged out of the heart, bearing oxygen to the lower extremities.

Not any more, though, as the spray of blood flying upward competed with the torrents of grey rain falling downward, and the rain bore away sheets of reddened water across the grey concrete.

Not far from the body lay a palm-sized energy weapon. He recognized that blue gleam in the grass because it was a twin to the one holstered under his Shipyard coverall. He didn’t reach for it.

No, he was not apparently going to move at all; against whatever judgment of danger, he was not going to move at all. His body had decided the matter for him.

The dead man stared empty-eyed up at the rain. His olive face was slick with it, and rain welled out of his eyes as if he were crying open-eyed at the heavens. His mouth, open as well, was filling with water. Spit it out, you fool, or you’re drown, Hernan thought, and then:

Energy weapon against crossbow: the crossbow wins. Low-tech in the hands of a highly skilled operator trumped high-tech in the hands …

Of a dead, no doubt professional, assassin.

He stared at the bolt, realizing that it wasn’t a standard-issue arrow. No, it appeared to be a bit of linear scrap from the metal-shop. No matter; propel something under enough force, and it behaved like a projectile. A teacup at terminal velocity …

His brain insisted on setting up the initial conditions, as if it were a lab problem.

He looked up, and the unknown was staring at him.

Staring right at him.

As if she knew who he was.

They stared at each other for a minute that lasted centuries, as the rain lanced down in grey streaks from the suddenly dark sky. He remembered ancient accounts of startled encounters on battlefields, where the astonished soldiers had stared like this, and then run in opposite directions.

He couldn’t run. There was a wall at his back.

She lowered the crossbow, but it was cocked, with another bolt laid in the shaft. The design was clearly improvised (he could see the beige web-tape that secured the bow to the shaft), but her finger rested on the trigger; she could shoot one-handed.

No need for threat on her part. From where she stood, she commanded the lines of fire, and could raise the weapon and release its trigger in less than a heartbeat.

His hands went ice cold, and his feet, and time slowed to glacial stone.

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