Trigger Snowflake and the Secret Guild

By Ingvar:  Timo Tay sat at the short end of the meeting table, looking down at the two lines of Guild members seated before him. He lifted his small wooden mallet.

“As chairbeing. I declare the fourth annual general meeting of the Guild of Copycats and Plagiarists open.”

The mallet thudded onto the small protective butt, rather than the table.

“First item is the financial report for the previous year. Could Miss Cristina Blatante please read the economic report?”

Cristina stood up and cleared her throat. “The Guild received 81,000 Solar Credits in membership dues. The Guild spent 147 Solar Credits for buying off one complainant. The Guild member whose unsubtlety caused the ruckus has been fined 500 Solar Credits. We further spent 40,000 Solar Credits on legal insurance. In total, last year saw a gain in the funds of 41,353 Solar Credits. The Guild has no outstanding debt to service. This concludes the economic report.”

“Thank you, Miss Blatante. Anyone opposed to adding the economic report to the Guild’s archives? Hearing none, the economic report is filed. Next, we need to elect Guild heads for the coming year. The proposal is that Timo Tay is elected as Guild Master; Cristina Blatante is elected as Mistress of Treasure; and, a change, Slem ven Pocketry is elected as Voice to the World, replacing the esteemed Anna min Scortch, who has decided to step down for personal reasons. Anyone opposed to this proposal in bulk?”

A voice rang out from the far end of the table. “Yes!”.

“Having heard an objection to electing in bulk, I will proceed position by position. Anyone opposed to Timo Tay staying on s Guild Master? Hearing no objection, I find myself elected Guild Master. Anyone opposed to Cristina Blatante as Mistress of Treasure? Hearing none, I find Miss blatant re-elected as Mistress of Treasure. Anyone opposed to Slem ven Pocketry being elected as Voice to the World?”

“Yes!” rang out from a single voice.

“Anyone in agreement with electing Slem ven Pocketry as Voice to the World?”

“YES!” rang out from most of the assembly.

“Finding that the voices in agreement vastly outnumber the voices in opposition, I find Slem ven Pocketry elected as Voice to the World.”

“Next, we have a motion to amend the rules of acceptable standards for Guild members. Mr ven Fengsler, if you would be so kind?”

John ven Fengsler stood up and cleared his throat.

“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I find it still necessary to proceed in front of this august assembly. I have put forward a motion to amend the rules of acceptable behaviour of Guild members. Having perused the Guild archives, I have found that many of our esteemed members have, in the last five years, neither plagiarized nor copied. As the Guild rules stand, this is not required. But my motion purports to make it mandatory to commit at least one plagiarism every three years, for continued membership. With a sunset clause, requiring any member who does have more than three years since the last plagiarism to commit one in the next 18 months, or risk expulsion after investigation by the board. The full text has been duly added to the agenda, and everyone should have a copy. As a side note, the motion is a slightly edited copy from the Performing Works section of the constitution of the Sulphurian Society, so technically counts as a plagiarism.”

“We have heard Member ven Fengsler present his motion, and will now proceed to debate. Debate will start with those opposed, alternating between supporting and opposing, until such a time as we have exhausted one side. Who is first? Ah, proceed, Voice ven Pocketry.”

“I am, as is Member ven Fengsler, part of the Sulphurian movement. I was one of the people arguing for our movement having a similar rule, but I oppose it here. For one simple reason. Sulphuric poetry, song and art is tolerant of mistakes. But, in plagiarism, there can be no margin for error. If you plagiarize unwisely, we would attract the notice of the authorities. And as we heard, even without this policy, in the last year our Guild have spent over 40,000 Solar Credits either to preemptively protect us, or as a direct result of someone having been caught. And for that reason, I am opposed.”

“Very well. Anyone speaking for? Member ven Fengsler has the floor.”

“We are a Guild of plagiarists, for a guild of plagiarists. It is imperative that our members actually practice the trade we propose to regulate and foster. And in plagiarism, as in many things in the world, skills decline if left unused. I have not looked deeply into our member that was caught, but I would not be surprised if the time since last registered plagiarism before unfortunate most recent is more than four years. My research shows that plagiarism skill declines slowly over a period of 20-26 months, then with an accelerated decay from there to 34-40 months, at which point it normally drops below the level we would accept from a competent Guild member. It is for this reason I urge the Meeting to pass this motion and add it to the Laws of our Guild.”

“We are now looking for someone in opposition? No one? That means the floor is open for either opposing or supporting. Ah, Member min Scortch wishes to speak.”

“Beloved Guild members. Member ven Fengsler consulted with me before putting this motion to the Meeting. At that point, I was in favor. But, I must say that Memb, ahem, Voice ven Pocketry have convinced me that this is a cure that is worse than the disease. For that reason, I urge the Meeting to oppose this motion.”

“Well spoken, and clearly against. We are now looking for a speech supporting. No one? Anyone wanting to argue against? Finding none, I will now take votes. Anyone opposed? I see a raised hand. Member Bobbingsley, what is the matter?”

“I call for this Meeting to vote via secret ballot. It is far too divisive a question for open voting.”

“Secret ballot has been called for. Every member should have been given two stones, one white and one teal. In an orderly queue, please walk to the voting table, then deposit your vote into the urn marked ‘Vote’ and your other stone in the urn marked ‘Discard’. If you would like the motion to pass, please deposit a white stone as your vote and if opposed, the teal one.”

The meeting dissolved into a chaos of people moving about, slowly forming into something that looked like a pale imitation of an orderly queue. When people eventually returned to their seats, Chair Tey picked the urn marked “Vote” and spilled it onto the table in from of him.

“I have not yet done a count, but from the look of the pile of voting stones in front of me, I would say that the Ayes have it. I will now proceed to do an accurate count.” A few minutes later, the stones had been separated into one white and one teal pile, the white pile towering over the teal. “Having counted the votes, the Ayes have 48 votes, the Nays have 17. The Ayes carry the vote, and we now have a rule requiring committing at least one plagiarism every three years. As of this moment, all members with more than three years are on an eighteen-month grace period.”

This is the point where we leave the remainder of the annual general meeting of the Guild of Copycats and Plagiarists to wend its own way.

#

Trigger was sitting at the kitchen table, his morning bowl of cereal and syntxemilk in front of him, spoon in hand, chewing the first mouthful of cereal, when he decided something was definitely not as it should be. He wasn’t quite sure what was wrong, but something was. This, this was not normal.

“Beloved Coraline, did we get the right cereal?”, he asked.

“Dearest Trigger, it should be Nutty Neptune Nuggets, as usual”, his wife replied.

“Hmm. Something’s not right, then.”

Trigger stood up and walked to the dry-goods cupboard, opened the doors and looked. He could see the cereal box, and it looked as it should. Wait. No, something was off.

He looked carefully at the package again.

“Beloved Coraline, it seems we have purchased a box of Nütty Neptüne Nüggets?”

Coraline darted out from the bedroom, hair still in disarray from the night. She stopped beside Trigger and looked at the cereal box.

“Why, indeed. This is not Nutty Nuggets, at all. Whyever did this happen? Let me telephone the General Store right now!”

After having dressed, Trigger walked downstairs, to his office.

“Dearest Trigger”, Coraline said, “I have spoken to the store manager and he is as surprised as we are.”

“What I shall do, beloved Coraline, is to walk over and talk to him in person. We know this is not right, and it needs to be investigated.”

Trigger walked through the front doors of Fort Corallium General Store.

“Abner? It’s Trigger. What’s up with the cereal delivery?”

“Well, Sheriff, I have looked at the shipping manifest and we should have received a pallet of Nutty Neptune Nuggets, half a pallet of Sugary Snowflakes, and half a pallet of Maize Crispies. But, looking carefully at the contents, it seems that a full third of the Nutty Nuggets are these… Nütty Nüggets, And all of the Sugary Snowflakes are, instead, some sort of impostor Snowy Sugarflakes, that I have never seen. Most of the Maize Crispies are right, but one out of about ten is a Maze Cruspies packet. I have checked and double-checked, and it just makes no sense.”

Trigger scratched his square, manly jaw with his right hand. Something was afoot, and it was not good game.

“Odd indeed, Abner. Odd indeed.”

#

Slem ven Pocketry sat down in front of the table. On the other side sat Timo Tey, in the middle, flanked by Cristina Blatante and Lena Bobbingsley.

Timo cleared his throat.

“Member ven Pocketry, you have a report?”

“Yes, chairbeing Tey, I have a plagiarism to report. I have successfully infiltrated fake cereal onto the market, at normal market price, at a 55% profit on my initial investments. As a dues-paying Guild member, I wish this to be recorded in our books.”

“Well done. Does any of the other members of the inquisitors panel have any remarks or questions?”

“Member ven Pocketry, could you explain why you chose cereal products for your plagiarism, instead of something more conventional, like books, illustrated magazines, or art?”

“Certainly, member Bobbingsley. It is actually a much higher return on investment. Having previously primarily focused on plagiarizing furniture and sculpture, my profits tended to be in the 5% to 20% range, but in cereal, my initial probing attempt incurred a 40% profit and with some streamlining of my counterfeit production line, I could easily realize the current 55% profit margin. It is thus much more profitable and I envision the ability to expand this to plagiarizing and counterfeiting other food items. Alas, my learnings really do not carry over to luxury items, all my attempts at counterfeiting caviar have, for example, all fizzled out. While I can make a convincing replacement, I do so at a cost higher than what I can sell it for.”

“And how, exactly, are you recouping your costs?”

“Ah, this is possibly the most clever bit. I have contacts at a wholesaler, and I am using that to essentially pad their stocks and shipping my copies out mixed in with shipments of the originals. Quite ingenious, even if I say so myself.”

#

Trigger Snowflake had checked up on the transport company that had sent the shipment to Fort Corallium General Store, and they were headquartered in Ytterbium Valley. While outside his jurisdiction, he had a pretty good feeling he would be able to get permission from the local law to investigate.

He arrived at the Ytterbium Valley Sheriff’s Office and knocked on the door.

“Sheriff Scrogginski? It’s Trigger, from Fort Corallium. I need to be accredited to do some investigation and a few interviews here in Ytterbium Valley.”

“Trigger! You know you can call me Urbel. What’s up?”

“I have this weird case with counterfeited breakfast cereals, and I thought I would simply go and talk to the next step in the transport chain. I’ve already interviewed the store manager and he seems to be on the up and up. Next, I thought I would talk to the transport company, but since they’re here, I either need you to do it, or you can deputize me and I can use that to ask the questions that will be needed.”

“Hm, well, that seems quite straight-forward. Let me just give you a deputy star to complement the one you have from Fort Corallium.”

About an hour later, properly deputised, Trigger arrived at Intersolar Transports, the transport company he was after. He walked up to the reception, where a young man was sitting behind the counter.

“Hello, I am Trigger Snowflake, deputy to Sheriff Scrogginski. I need to interview a few people in regards to a crime. Who would be the logical first person to talk to?”

“Ah. Eh. Well… You probably want to talk to the general manager, who can guide you further?”

“Excellent, can you give me directions to his office?”

“Who? Ah, the general manager. Yes, if you walk down this corridor, her office is the thrird door on the right-hand side. It says ‘General Manager’ beside the door. I’ll just give her a call and tell her to expect you.”

Trigger knocked on the door, and a gruff voice called out “Come in”. He opened the door and quickly scanned the room, not really for threats, just out of sheer unbridled habit. Angled against the far right corner was a sturdy desk, behind which was sitting a woman, dressed in tough-wearing coveralls.

“Hello, I am Trigger Snowflake, deputy to Sheriff Scrogginski. I am here to investigate a crime discovered in my home jurisdiction of Fort Corallium, where counterfeit cereal was shipped to our General Store. The shipment came from this company, and I would like to get to the bottom of this.”

“Cereal crime? This is unheard of! Oh, pardon me, I am Jenna J. Jameson, the general manager for Intersolar Transport in this orbit. Well, if you can tell me, roughly, when the shipment was delivered?”

“Two, maybe as many as four, days ago.”

Ms Jameson hummed, as she walked over to a filing cabinet. She pulled open a drawer, rifled through the paperwork, then slammed it shut, only to open another one and rifling through some more papers.

“Aha. Yes, this is a shipment that came in from Luna, a week ago, and was delivered three days ago, to the Fort Corallium General Store. The shipment should have been half a pallet of cereal boxes, a quarter pallet of canned goods, and a quarter-pallet of chocolates and other sweet items. Let me see… Ah, as I thought. You need to speak to Ear-John. Follow me.”

After about five minutes of rapid walking, they arrived at a small glass-walled hut, in the middle of a gigantic warehouse. Inside was a man, again dressed in the seemingly ubiquitous hard-wearing coveralls. Stitched to the right breast of the man’s coverall was a name badge, reading “J Marriott”.

“Ear-John, this is Sheriff Snowflake, from Fort Corallium. He’s been properly deputized and is here to ask you some questions. Please answer them as fully as you can.” With that said, Ms Jameson turned around and walked away, at quite a pace.

“Hello, I am John Marriott, foreman of local loading. They call me Ear-John, because I have a good memory for details and, for this noisy environment, good hearing. What can I help you with?”

“Three days ago, you sent a pallet of goods to the Fort Corallium General Store. Was there anything unusual about it?”

“Not really. We used a new subcontractor to ship it from Luna, but other than that, it was all pretty standard. Why Was there any damage?”

“No, no. Well, not damage as such. It’s just that when the shipment arrived, a large proportion of the cereal boxes had been substituted for fakes.”

“That must’ve been before it arrived at this warehouse. Hm. Actually, I think we have a representative from the subcontractor, over by the arrivals processing area. If you follow me?”

Another few minutes of brisk walking, then Ear-John walked up to a man dressed in a sharp suit.

“Mr ven Pocketry? From Sniiki Transport? I have someone who wants to talk to you.”

When Slem ven Pocketry turned around, he saw Trigger Snowflake and went suddenly very pale, as if all blood had just left his face. “It wasn’t me, Sheriff. I don’t forge cereal. You can’t prove ANYTHING. I want my lawyer!”

Trigger Snowflake was stunned. Not only was this a ne’er-do-well that he had encountered before, but ven Pocketry had pretty much confessed without a single question being asked.

“Slem ven Pocketry, I am placing you under arrest, on suspicion of cereal forgery. Anything you have said, are saying, or will say can and will be held against you in a court of law. Will you follow willingly, or will I have to hand-cuff you?”

Back at the Ytterbium Valley sheriff’s office, ven Pocketry was sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair, looking morose.

“Urbel, we can either do the interview here, or if you rather I take the suspect back to Fort Corallium?”

“Might as well do it here, Trigger. I have this nagging feeling that you want to be close to the spaceport.”

After some extensive interrogation, which we will skip, since it is no fun at all, ven Pocketry had duly confessed to forging the cereal boxes, and had named three other persons involved, all based on Luna.

#

Trigger and his prisoner arrived at Luna Spaceport, having duly sent ahead a message listing the Luna-based suspects. As they passed through the arrivals check, the processing officer suddenly froze.

“Aha. Sheriff Snowflake. I have a note here that you should go straight to the Office of the Peace, where you and your prisoner are needed as soon as possible. I will now take the liberty of requesting a buggy to take you there, unless you strongly prefer to run?”

“A buggy will be fine, gentle herm. Will it be long?”

“It is just pulling up behind the door to my right. If you walk through, you will be taken to the Office of the Peace.”

Some quick driving through Luna Colony later, they arrived at the Office of the Peace, the main office of the organization that appointed sheriffs throughout the Solar System. Trigger had only been at head office twice before. Once for his official swearing-in, and once to receive his transfer order from being a sheriff-at-large on Mars, to his posting at Fort Corallium. They walked the limestone stairs up to the main entrance.

“Sheriff Snowflake, Fort Corallium, with a prisoner, as ordered. What next?”

“Ah, excellent. We have the suspects you named under arrest, and we’ve started interviewing them. It seems, from all we can tell, that the only counterfeiter among them is ven Pocketry here, who will be prosecuted under the False Pretenses act, while the rest of them mainly seem to be in it for the opportunity to defraud the shipping industry, also a serious crime.”

“That is good to hear. Will you need me to give further statements?”

“Not as such, we just need you to counter-sign the telefacsimiles you have sent, in order to make it less of a contentious point at trial. Would you like to stay for the proceedings?”

“No, Officer, I would rather go home to my beloved wife, not having to think about cereal trials.”

Trigger Snowflake and the Metamorphic Rock

By Ingvar: “Beloved Coraline, the muffins are toasted, and the coffee has just been poured. Breakfast is ready!”, Trigger said.

“Coming!”, Coraline replied. “Thank you for making breakfast, darling Trigger.”

Normally, it was Coraline who took care of the morning meal, but Trigger had some special news and thought it would be appropriate to also do some housework just before announcing it.

“Beloved wife of mine, I have had a request from my brother, Kochs. He would like both of us to come to the family home for Wheelmas, to celebrate the first space station’s 200th anniversary of becoming operational. He also says there’s a few more surprises in store.”

Coraline sipped her coffee, thought for a few moments then replied “I would be delighted to finally meet your parents. Will all your family be there?”

Trigger shook his head. “No, only my mother and father, and my brother Kochs, and my sister Precious. Apparently, Precious’ husband and her kids are out by Pluto and can’t make it in time and Kochs, well, Kochs never married.”

Breakfast finished, Trigger quickly checked the regulations again. Nope, there still was no way of casting this as a work-related trip, they’d have to go by normal space liner. This was no big problem, it would just take longer.

That evening, they had finished all their packing, for the two weeks away, and went to bed, sleeping the sound sleep of upright citizens everywhere.

#

Trigger pressed the bell button of his parents’ habitat module. A scant four seconds later, the door slid sideways with only a quiet whisper of bearings and lubrication.

“Trigger!”, his father said. “You’re here, excellent! This must be your wife, Coraline. Coraline, I am John, Trigger’s father, it is a pleasure to finally meet you. Come in, come in. Delicate is in the dining room, but I think we can get some coffee and cookies in you, if you want.”

They walked through the door, through a hallway, into the dining room on the right side. Seated at the table was a woman who clearly was Trigger’s mother, she had the same nose and eyes.

“Trigger!”, the woman said. “And this must be Coraline? Welcome, welcome. Would you like some coffee? We have fresh cookies! Oh, forgive me. I am Delicate, I am Trigger’s mother. Would you like some cookies?”

After plenty of cookies, some cake and some really rather good coffee, Trigger and Coraline sat down on the sofa in the front room. They’d been relaxing for two, maybe three minutes when a man entered, looking as if he was just a few years older than Trigger.

The man looked at seated couple, his gaze piercing Trigger. “Ah, excellent.” His gaze shifted, and lessened in intensity. “And you must be Coraline. I am Kochs, Trigger’s brother. I need the help from both of you.”

Trigger looked stunned, “But? Kochs? Why would you need our help?”

“I have been tasked, by the Solar System Literary Review magazine, to form a small panel and award the lesser-known Separable Stone prize.”

“Separable stone?”, Trigger queried.

“Aha! That’s how it works!”, exclaimed Coraline.

“What works?’, said Trigger.

“Kochs, do you mind if I explain this? I mean, if you really want, I am sure you know it at least as well as I do, but it is well within my sphere of knowledge as a board member of SysLiCon, a former poetry slam chair, and generally involved in the literary scene.”

Kochs guffawed, “No, by all means, go ahead. I am sure you actually know this better than anyone. Frankly, I am a bit surprised I was picked.”

“So, the Separable Rock. It is the prize for the most blatant slate in the nomination phase of ethics Exploding Star annual literary award. I know it has been given out, in a quiet ceremony behind the scenes, but I was not sure how it was actually selected. Now, the way the nomination for the Exploding Star works is that every subscriber to one of five literary magazines is allowed to nominate four works first published or performed in the previous year. From these four nominations, the five most popular works are selected, as well as the five most popular authors.”

Trigger nodded, “So it would be advantageous both to have many people nominate one specific work of yours, as well has having many people nominate more than one work of yours?”

Kochs nodded emphatically. “Yes, yes. Excellent! Now, I have been charged with forming a panel, and with both of you having been in literary news recently, and Coraline obviously being someone of standing in the literary community, I have chosen you two to my panel. We have been sent five candidates, and we need to rank them from least to most slate-like and send tae back. We had there days. I suggest we go through them one by one, then rank them as we go through the list.”

#

Kochs pulled out a printed paper. “This is the first candidate. I have seen all of them, but I will try to not influence you in advance of our discussions. So, without further ado, candidate A”

The best fifteen poems I read last year, by REDACTED

In no specific order, these are the fifteen best poems I read in the last year.

* “The sweet smell of flowers”, Rick ven Fleerbo

* “Bec de Corbie”, Sean Hantap

* “Ares”, Sine Nomine

* “A winter’s morning”, Erica Youngsblood

* “And ode to Black Forest Ham”, Rick ven Fleerbo

* “The teacup”, Leanne Ackie

* “The Sun, blazing like a star, at the centre of my heart”, Erica Youngblood

* “Papercuts”, John ven Fengsler

* “Clients, clients, clients”, Susan Doed

* “Planets, spinning like children’s toys”, Leanne Ackie

* “Oceans”, Sine Nomine

* “Heyyeh”, Anna min Scortch

* “Visits from the Suck Fairy”, Whalie Correadore

* “Waltz, and other standing up with clothes on”, Anna min Scortch

* “Saturn, a Jupiterian tragedy”, Ortho King

After the three of them had skimmed the list, Kochs said “Well? What do we think? How does it place on the slate scale?”

Trigger stroked his square, manly jaw. “Well, my understanding of a slate is that it is tries to guide nominations in a specific direction. And this, well, doesn’t seem to do that. It just mentions things. And it’s by a pretty random selection of artists, as far as I can tell. I mean, I am by no means as well-versed in these things and my beloved Coraline. But, look, different names. And not seemingly in any order. So, pretty low? Coraline?”

“As Trigger said, this is an impressive array of different styles. Some Sulphur poets, not necessarily my favourite, but when they’re good, they’re pretty good. A few that I’ve read and liked. And a few by artists I have read in the past, even if I hadn’t read that specific poem. I see this more as a ‘I liked this, if our tastes are similar, you may want to evaluate these as well’, rather than an actual slate.”

Kochs nodded, “That was my thought as well. OK, so for the moment, this is the only one we have, so it’s the only candidate on the list.”

#

“We have looked at the first, no let us look at the second.”, said Kochs. “Then we can rank the two.”

The best four poems of the ones I read last year, from the desk of [REDACTED]

Of all the poems I read last year, and the ones you should truly consider for your Exploding Star nomination ballot. In order from the one I liked most, to the one (of the four) I liked slightly less (and there are another five or so I consider to be nomination-worthy, just they weren’t as good as these four):

* “Bec de Corbie”, Sean Hantap

* “The teacup”, Leanne Ackie

* “And ode to Black Forest Ham”, Rick ven Fleerbo

* “Clients, clients, clients”, Susan Doed

If you nominate these, you will make me a happy [REDACTED], and I urge you to do so.

Kochs waited for everyone to have finished reading. “What do we think? I would say that this is definitely more slate-like than the first.”

Coraline put two fingers to her chin. “Yes, but there’s something missing. There’s no, well, agenda here. It’s simply a list of four fairly solid poems. But, yes, of the two we have seen, this is definitely the more slate-like.”

“We’re all happy ranking exhibit B higher than exhibit A, then?”, said Trigger.

Kochs replied, “I’d say you have that right, brother.”

#

“Next, we have yet another one. This is perhaps a bit harder to judge. But, as usual we will red it, then discuss it.”

My Exploding Star poems from last year, by [REDACTED]

We’re coming up on nomination season and like all of us, I find it hard to navigate all the poetry written last year. To at least make it easy for you to find what I’ve written, I have composed this letter-of-comment to at least have a full list of my works, and where to find them.

               *             [REDACTED], published in [REDACTED]

               *             [REDACTED], published in [REDACTED]

               *             [REDACTED], published in [REDACTED]

               *             [REDACTED], published in [REDACTED]

               *             [REDACTED], published in [REDACTED]

               *             [REDACTED], published in [REDACTED]

I hope that at least one of them will make you consider it worthy of a nomination, but as always, you must let your conscience be your guide.

Trigger looked up from the paper. “Hm, I am conflicted. There’s less work on this than there was on exhibit A. But, it clearly has a message encouraging a free choice. And if we take it at face value, it is simply a list of what the poet produced.”

“I concur, brother. For me, this falls somewhere between A and B, but much closer to A, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it a slate at all.”

Coraline scrunched her normally smooth forehead. “Yes. But… It is short. Not short enough that all of them would fit on the nomination ballot. But short. All things considered, I still think we have the ranking correct. This is definitely less of a slate than the second.”

#

“Three down, we only have another two before we’re done”, Kochs stated. “So, let us get on with this, so we can finish up.”

The Sulphuric Manifesto, or How You Should Nominate In The Exploding Star, by [REDACTED]

With the attacks on Sulphur artists over the last few years, there is a need for all of us to band together, and forcibly encourage the wider literary establishment to recognise our undoubted brilliance in all forms of written and sung art. To that extent, I have (with some help from other sulphurists) prepared a short-list of poems for you to nominate for the exploding star. In no specific order:

* “The sweet smell of flowers”, Rick ven Fleerbo

* “And ode to Black Forest Ham”, Rick ven Fleerbo

* “Papercuts”, John ven Fengsler

* “Waltz, and other standing up with clothes on”, Anna min Scortch

There were other noteworthy sulphur poetry that could have needed up on the list, but some consideration was taken to promote those of us who have in recent months had more public defeat than others.

Coraline laughed. “Well, this is definitely a slate. There’s exactly four, there is an explicit call to use the list as-is. And, furthermore, it pretty much states exactly what the intent and motivation behind it is. This is the most slate-like we have seen. Or, at least, that is my opinion.”

Kochs grunted assent. “I’d say you have summarised my thoughts for me.”

Trigger nodded. “Yes, in order from least to most slate-like, as things stand, it is A, C, B, D, for me.”

#

Kochs grabbed another set of papers from his briefcase. “Well, then. Only one more to go. Let us red, then discuss. That process seems to have worked well so far.”

PoetsForProsperity and how you can help, [REDACTED]

Dear fellow PoetsforProsperity members, We all know that great income and fame can be generated by writing quality poetry in the forms that people are willing to buy. And to further our great cause, I have prepared a list of poems composed by members of our tribe. S you can see, some of the poems have been marked by a star, those are the ones that my sources in the receiving department of the Exploding Star office have assured me had not, at the time of writing, received a single nomination. If you nominate from this list, consider nominating one of those.

* “Bec de Corbie”, Sean Hantap {*}

* “Ares”, Sine Nomine

* “A winter’s morning”, Erica Youngsblood

* “The Sun, blazing like a star, at the centre of my heart”, Erica Youngblood

* “Oceans”, Sine Nomine

* “Visits from the Suck Fairy”, Whalie Correadore {*}

* “Saturn, a Jupiterian tragedy”, Ortho King {*}

* “Pluto, planet or dog?”, Ortho King

* “This thermocline of mine.” Sean Hantap

As you all know, if we can get our nominations in, the chances of one or more of us ending up on the list of finalists is just that much larger. And if we can but get one or two of us on the finalist list, I think the chances of joint success and wealth next year will be that much higher.

Trigger sighed. “This one… is tricky. There’s a fair few number of poems on the list, but there’s a definite pressure to pick all nominations from the list itself.”

Kochs nodded. “Yes, what makes this slate-like, to me, is the explicit ‘especially consider these, as they are under-nominated’ aspect of the starring.”

Coraline nodded with vigor. “Yes, that takes it from a recommendation list, into something that I can only see as a slating attempt.”

Kochs sighed. “Well, then, for me the most slate-like is the fourth, with the fifth, the second, the third and the first being in order less and less slate-like.”

Trigger said “Yep, for me it’s D, E, B, C, A, in that order.”

Coraline put the paper down on the coffee table. “I concur, the fourth is definitely the most slate-like of these. I am not sure how I rank this and the second. I mean, there’s definitely a wider choice here, but there’s also some agenda divorced from quality exhibited here.”

Kochs let his eyes scan across the faces of his brother and sister-in-law. “We’re agreed, then? The fourth is the most slate-like? It is our final choice for the Separable Rock?”

Trigger and Coraline both nodded.

#

Later that evening, they were all sitting down for dinner. A fairly quiet affair, with roast beef, a variety of vegetables, and homemade lemonade to drink.

Coraline put her cutlery down and cleared her throat. “Delicate, dear mother-in-law, there is one thing  I don’t, quite, understand. How is it that you have a name suited for the surname Snowflake, and yet that is your married name?”

Delicate hummed. “Well, I guess you weren’t to know. I was actually born Delicate Snowflake. On marriage, John took the Snowflake name, to keep it alive I was a single child, and if he hadn’t, the name would’ve melted away on my marriage. John?”

John guffawed. “Yes, I was born Schnee John Wain, a name I did not like. And when my darling Delicate explained that she was the last of the Snowflakes, I could not in good conscience let the name simply disappear. We discussed it, between us, then I had a brief chat with my dad. And, here I am, John Snowflake. And with both Kochs and Trigger to take the name forward, our daughter Precious is free to stay a Snowflake. Although, I understand that she’s actually considering taking a new name on marriage. She’s currently courting Amanda Gemstone, and sees some amusement taking her name on marriage. Anything else we can clear up, before dessert?”

Trigger Snowflake and the Meltsygate

By Ingvar: Trigger looked at the street outside his office. For once it was utterly calm and no dust in the air. To the extent it was visible, this far out in the Solar System, the Sun was providing some comfort light, although not much heat. It looked like a perfect day to visit the Coffee Emporium.

“Coraline, darling? I am walking down to the Coffee Emporium, would you like to come?”

“Sorry, Trigger, I have a few things to finish up. By all means try their new Softly-Softly roast, I understand that it is delicious.”

“Thank you, I will. I may be an half an hour, maybe a full hour?”

“Don’t you worry, I have plenty to keep me busy.”

Walking down the street, Trigger nodded his head and touched the wide brim of his hat at the people heading the other way. It was not long until he arrived at the Coffee Emporium. Once inside, he took his hat off and strode up to the bar.

“Ms Dimatis, it has been said that you have a new roast in?”

“Ah, the Softly-Softly? Yes, Coraline was in only yesterday for a cup. Would you like one?”

“That sounds like a marvelous idea.”

“Would you like a grilled synthecheese and a vanilla Danish to go with that?”

“Ms Dimatis, you…”

“Oh, I think you are allowed to call me Barbara now.”

“Barbara, you know me too well. Maybe it is time that I patronize another coffee shop.”

“You jest, Sheriff Snowflake, you jest.”

Trigger headed for an empty table, and had just sat down when his coffee and a pastry was placed in front of him. He lifted the cup, savouring the pungent smell of the bean extraction. It did smell quite delicious. He took a sip, and the coffee rolled over his tongue, coating the inside of his mouth with a rich, earthy, warmness. Coraline was right, this was coffee well worth having. He took a bite from his Danish, and as he returned the pastry to its plate, his grilled synthecheese arrived. It was made just the way he liked it, one slice of wholemeal sourdough, one slice of rye, both toasted, with a healthy chunk of synthecheese between them. Then fried, on both sides, in plenty of butter, with just a hint of black and white pepper. It was a flavour that paired surprisingly well with the coffee.

He was just about done with his late morning snack, when Barbara Dimatis, the proprietor, walked up to his table.

“Sheriff? Mind if I sit down?”

“Oh, no, not at all Ms Dim.. Barbara. What’s the matter?”

“Well, I am sure it is nothing, really. But, there’s this weird thing starting to go around in the periphery of the literature comment-sphere. And I don’t quite know what to make of it.”

“Oh? Weird thing?”

“Yes, it’s nothing, I am sure, but there’s a few of the Sulphur crowd, you are familiar with Sulphur artists?”

“I am, indeed, aware of them. I’ve even had a few run-ins with some of them.”

“Ah, yes, ven Fleerbo, wasn’t it? So, in the last few weeks, I’ve seen a few of them refer to me, as far as I can make out from context. But they keep calling me ‘Meltsy’, and it is making me slightly uncomfortable, the whole thing. And I was wondering if I should do something? Or if there’s something you can do?”

“I don’t know Barbara. But if you can forward me some of the letters-of-coment, that’s what you call them, yes? I can have a look in my office. It’s not quite the thing I normally deal with, since it’s clearly out of Fort Corallium and I am only charged with enforcing the law here. But, as you know, I know law-keepers elsewhere, and if there’s something that seems to be dubious, I can always ask if there’s something someone else can look in to. And my beloved Coraline has spoken quite highly of you, and how you’ve stepped into her shoes here at the Coffee Emporium. So, certainly, forward me these comments and I will have a look for you, it’s the least I can do.”

Barbara Dimatis sighed with relief, stood up and started back towards the counter. About halfway back, she stopped, turned back to face Trigger and said “Thank you, Sheriff Snowflake. It lifts a heavy weight off my heart.”

#

“Trigger, darling?”, Coraline’s voice easily carried to the upper floor. “Barbara Dimatis is here, with some papers for you?”

“Thank you, beloved. I will be down in but a few moments.” Trigger hastily put his bolo tie on. It would not do to greet Ms Dimatis in such an informal state of dress. He quickly descended to the ground floor, and the Sheriff’s Office proper.

“Ah, Ms Dim… Barbara. These are print-outs of these letters?”

“Yes, Sheriff Snowflake, these are the relevant letters-of-comment from a variety of magazines dealing with literature and poetry over the last six weeks. Plus one that arrived only after you’d left the Emporium. Coraline, you may want to look through them as well. Based on the latest, this very much is all of our concern. It seems like one of the Sulphurs, not one I’ve seen much from before, but he’s done some inspiring poetry, in a cross-over Sulphur/Beat style, quite a challenging form really… Where was I? Oh, yes, ven Fengsler claims to have irrefutable evidence that I am actually Trigger Snowflake.”

Coraline looked at her husband, then looked at Barbara. Then looked back at her husband, for a few seconds more. Then, slowly, turned her head back to Barbara.

“You? Married to me? What is he basing this fantasy on?”

“As far as I can tell, it’s because he’s seen a copy of an envelope, from a letter I posted, that was clearly stamped by the Fort Corallium post office, not long after the SysLiCon security report was published, last week.”

“But, you live and work here?”

“Yes, I know. Apparently it is obvious that because I like coffee, don’t write frequent LoCs, have once or twice mentioned legal matters, as well as now that you’re on the SysLiCon board that I must be a legal professional, married to a former coffee shop manager, and live in Fort Corallium.”

Trigger took a deep breath. Then a second. And, for good measure, a third.

“Ms Dimatis, can you please step into my office. We should probably not continue to have this conversation half on the street. I think we need to look carefully at these. If nothing else, this ven Fengsler is accusing you of being a lawman impersonating someone else. Or me. I am not sure. But it does not sound right.”

Barbara stepped through the door, and closed it after her. Trigger walked to his chair, clearly surprised and concerned by the news he’d just received. Before he sat down, he swept his right hand, indicating the chairs in front of his desk.

“Please, sit, both of you.”

Coraline shook her head. “No, I will make a pot of coffee. And I may just bring down one of the bottles of Saturn Sippin’ Whisky, this all seems like coffee would not quite be enough.”

Trigger waited to sit until Barbara was safely in one of the visitor chairs.

“Let me get this right? Because you know about coffee, and have posted a letter at our post office, and Coraline is on the SysLiCon board, you are me?”

“That is how I understand these letters.”

“Hm… Interesting.”

They both furrowed their foreheads, deep in thought, when Coraline came down the stairs.

“There is coffee and sandwich in the kitchen. And please tell me what is going on.”

Trigger and Barbara both stood up, and as Barbara headed for the stairs, Trigger picked one of the magazines off the pile. They seated themselves around the kitchen table, Coraline and Trigger sitting next to each other, opposite Barbara.

#

“So,” said Coraline, “what is this whole identity confusion thing?”

“Well…”, said Trigger. “As far as I can tell, this is something that started in, and is mostly contained within, Sulphur Artist circles. Here is a letter to a publication called ‘Yellow Flowers Of An Elemental Nature’.”

“Aha!”, said Barbara. “Yellow Flowers is a poetical allusion to flaky, elemental sulphur. And it is indeed a publication that most frequently circulates in the Sulphur crowd. But one of my contacts mentioned that I should look at the latest number, so I had it facsimiled on the far-sender network. Pray tell us, Sheriff Snowflake, what it says?”

Transcription of a round-table conversation of the Elemental Smartalec Group, planetary day 7643

John ven Fengsler: To the matter of Meltsy. I have, as you all know, spent some time researching this “Barbara Dimatis” and there is no question that Barbara is actually just a cover identity for Trigger Snowflake.

Rick ven Fleerbo: Are you sure? No question or doubt?

JvF: No doubt indeed. I have, no expenses spared, managed to retrieve a true copy of the envelope in which last month’s letter from Meltsy to “The Jupiterian” arrived. It is very clearly post-stamped in Fort Corallium, where we all know that Meltsy lives.

Anna min Scortch: This sounds a bit thin?

JvF: Not in the least. We can see from multiple letters that this “Barbara” is well educated in coffee. And Meltsy married that Hoyter woman, you know. The one who sent Rick packing, for no good reason. And she, I tell you, was the proprietor of a coffee shop. So, the link is clear and indisputable.

RvF: Indisputable indeed. That Trigger, he’d stoop low enough to use a woman’s name as a gym, every day of the week. Or at least days that have both consonants and vowels.

AmS: Ah, so every day.

RvF: Indeed!

AmS: I… Yes, the evidence seems fairly clear. Anything else?

JvF: Indeed there is. These “Barbara” letters became more frequent after Trigger had that court case on the Moon. Clearly an event that would fuel his anti-Sulphur resentment. And they’re all, or so I have from reliable sources, post-stamped in Fort Corallium. Incontroversible evidence, the post stamps do not lie!

AmS: And what do we do with this information?

RvF: We destroy him, and his career, and his marriage! I believe that Coraline Snowflake will NOT stay married to a man that stoops to impersonating a woman.

JvF: We are all clear, then, that we need to spread the good word, and terminate Meltsy’s letter-writing career, once and for all?

AmS, RvF: Sulphur! Sulphur! Sulphur!

End note: Anna bestowed John ven Fengsler with an admiration gift mostly composed of Martian Ares-fruit compote, with a fetching hint of Venusian bacon from her breakfast. Rick ven Fleerbo, due to his current circumstances, was forced to limit his admiration to just Venusian bacon and beans.

“This… This… This makes no sense”, sighed Trigger.

“Post-stamped in Fort Corallium. Of course my letters are post-stamped in Fort Corallium, that is where the Coffee Emporium is, and since I live in the rooms above, I would of course use the post office across the street”, said Barbara. ” Anything else would be deranged.”

Coraline sniggered. “At least they haven’t, yet, decided that we are the same person, Barbara.”

Trigger flipped pages in the magazine. “Ah, there’s another letter about that specific fact.”

Transcription of a round-table discussion at the Elemental Smartalec Group, Planetary Day 7652

Anna min Scortch: John, I have spent some time digging into this Meltsy business. You are clearly right. Not only does Meltsy have a passing knowledge of gourmet coffee. Not, I might add, as good as yours, but decent nonetheless. But, look, in this letter to “The Plutonian Argus”, there’s this one sentence that gives no doubt to the theory that Meltsy has an interest in the law. And do you know who has an interest in law? A sheriff!

John ven Fengsler: Anna, my dear, it’s good that you have found this further evidence. I know that it has been said that we may be wrong, but the coffee, the law interest, and the post-stamps all paint an undoubtable picture. And, furthermore, that very same letter is also clearly written y a man. Look, it uses forceful words. And it is rude, something that we all know is outside the scope of any planet fearing woman’s vocabulary.

AmS: Yes, I saw that. But I was never in doubt that this “Barbara” was secretly a man, all along. It’s just like those lily-livers to hide behind a woman.

Rick ven Fleerbo: I say, should we get Slem involved? This might just be the crowbar we need to break open that disgusting verdict Meltsy masterminded on me?

JvF: If you think that is the right course, we shall of course proceed with this excellent move in our hyper-dimensional game of Walk.

RvF: I will send him a missive, anon.

End note: Rick again could only provide Venusian bacon and beans for admiration. John bestowed a gift of Saturnian plum wine to Anna, and the same for Rick. Both Anna and John provided gifts on Rick, for his excellent idea of contacting Slem ven Pocketry.

#

The three of them continued to peruse the letter columns, growing more and more amused, and in Barbara’s case, distressed, at the confusion spreading through the Sulphur community.

Trigger suddenly lifted his head, staring into infinity.

“Beloved Coraline, Miss Dimatis… I have a seed of a plan. We know they’re completely wrong. We also know that Sulphur artists never miss a chance to gloat. And it’s been months since we last had a poetry slam at the Emporium. So, my thought here is that we arrange one for next month, and make sure all three of us are there to introduce it. “

Barbara thought for a few moments. “Yes, as long as there’s enough time to come out from the inner system, we can be assured there will be at least one Sulphur artist in attendance, for an attempt at some sort of public unmasking.”

With preparations made, and the Poetry Slam duly announced in the relevant magazines, the day finally arrived. As the start time of the event finally ticked on the clock, Coraline Snowflake walked up to the microphone in front of the counter.

“Hello, and welcome everyone. I am Mrs Coraline Snowflake, the former proprietor of the Coffee Emporium. It is my honour to bid you all welcome to Fort Corallium’s fourth Poetry Slam.”

From among the crowd, someone yelled “Where’s Trigger, then?!”

Trigger walked up to the microphone. “Hello, all. I am Trigger Snowflake, and I am the sheriff of this town.”

The same voice yelled again, “Trigger? Hah! What about Barbara Dimatis, Meltsy? What about Barbara? We know that’s what you go by in the magazines!”

Barbara walked up to the microphone. “Hello, all. My name is Barbara Dimatis, I am the proprietor of the Coffee Emporium and I have arranged this Poetry Slam, with some help from my predecessor and good fried, Coraline.”

It was at this point that the proceedings were interrupted by someone rapidly standing up and running out of the Emporium, shouting “Ooooh! Oooooooooh! I can’t believe I believed ven Fengsler!”

Trigger Snowflake and the Conference

By Ingvar: “Trigger, darling?”

Sheriff Snowflake looked up from his desk, at Mrs Coraline Snowflake, his beloved life.

“Yes, dearest?”

“I’ve been invited to join the board of the System Literature Conference.”

“You have? That’s marvellous news. SysLiCon is truly the biggest event in poetry and other fine written art.”

“But I am a wife now, how could it possibly be correct for me to participate?”

“Beloved Coraline, you are indeed a wife, and it is therefore no longer proper that you own and run a business. But SysLiCon is a charity and volunteer organisation. And thus entirely proper.”

“Well, they’re planning on holding the next conference over in Ytterbium Valley, so it would be quite close, as well.”

“That’s excellent news. Would you like me to talk to Sheriff Scrogginski about possibly helping him out with public order during the event?”

“Would you? That would be lovely.”

“I will despatch a message this evening, that’s early enough. Was there anything else?”

“No, dearest husband. And thank you, for being such an understanding and gentle husband.”

Trigger let his eyes wander back down to the paperwork. While Fort Corallium was, on the whole, a quiet settlement, it seemed that the day-to-day life of half a thousand people still managed to generate more forms in a week than Trigger could easily file away in half a morning per week. Sometimes, growth comes with pain.

#

“Welcome, all. This is the third meeting of the board for this upcoming SysLiCon.”, John De Viance lifted his chair’s mallet. “I wish to, on behalf of the entire board, extend a warm welcome to Mrs Coraline Snowflake, hopefully well known to all of you, by name and reputation if nothing else. Any other remarks before we start?”

Thirty seconds of quick glances being exchanged in silence. John took a deep breath, “No pre-meeting business, good. Hereby I declare the third SysLiCon board meeting open.”

The mallet landed on a small leather pad, with a satisfying thunk.

“First item, where are we with the venue? Pete?”

Pete Gentle grunted quietly, “Spoke to Ytterbium Valley Lodge, there’s been a delay with the extension. But everything is still on track to be finished three weeks before we open our doors. That means we won’t have final floor plans until about then, rather than the three months we were hoping for. Still, on track.”

“Good, good. Next, Erica,  membership?”

Erica shuffled the papers in front of her, then looked at the top one.

“We have 764 signed-up attending members. They have all acknowledged our Code of Conduct, as simple as it is. Looking at the names, I recognise five to ten known Sulphur artists, but as they’ve all agreed to the CoC, I feel we don’t need to do anything. We’ve also received a supporting membership from Rick ven Fleerbo, which I guess most of you have heard of. I think that’s about it from the membership division.”

Pete nodded, “good, good. And, finally, from the security division. Urbel?”

Urbel Scrogginski took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled.

“Well, these Sulphur artists, I am not so sure about. They’ve caused some problems over in Fort  Corallium. But, I guess, as long as they behave, they’re as welcome as anyone. We could probably do with some more level heads during the event, though. So I would ask the board to allow me to inquire of Mrs Snowflake, if it would be possible to have Trigger Snowflake available for the conference?”

The entire board looked at Coraline. She fidgeted, not used to being under such obvious scrutiny. “If it is the wish of the board, I will certainly ask my dear husband if he can find the time.”

#

It was a fine morning, the dust haze at an all-record low, as the doors to SysLiCon opened. A long queue of raucous novelists, poets, song-writers and others who express themselves through textual forms started snaking through the wide double doors, up to the reception, where they were duly signed in.

Standing just inside the doors, to either side of the queue, were Trigger Snowflake, on the left, and Urbel Scrogginski, to the right. The attendees walked past them, both Trigger and Urbel scanning them for signs of problems.

About an hour later, the queue had dwindled to nothing, and the two lawmen nodded to each other, walking separate ways to give the halls a quick once-over.

Half an hour later, they met back at the security office. Urbel sat down, looking at Trigger.

“Did you see anything, Trigger? Far as I could see, it was quiet.”

Trigger looked at the other empty chair in the office, sighed quietly, then walked over and took a seat.

“Saw? Well, I did see Slem ven Pocketry, who represented ven Fleerbo at Luna, ix months ago. Problem? Don’t think so, he’s signed off on the conduct code, hasn’t he? So it should all be well. Might behoove us to keep an eye on him, but unobtrusively, of course.”

Urbel scratched his chin.

“He one of those Sulphur poets?”

“Don’t know, actually. I suspect he runs with the Sulphur crowd, otherwise I can’t see why he represented ven Fleerbo. And he’s Venusian, of course. Most Sulphur artists are, although I can’t right say how many of the Venusian artists run in Sulphur circuits.”

“Well, we should make sure one of us is in this office throughout the conference, this is one of those touchy matters I would prefer is handled by a full lawman, rather than a deputy.”

“As you say, Urbel, as you say. Touchy things, literary conferences.”

“Especially SysLiCon, we’ve so far had a perfect record, and I would really prefer nothing happens on my shift.”

As the days of SysLiCon passed, this was as exciting as the security office managed to get. There was one instance of a member being over-inebriated and gently escorted back to his room, and one misunderstanding that was quickly straightened out, stemming from a dialectal difference, where one person expressed admiration for another’s work, with words that were insulting in the recipient’s dialect.

#

With SysLiCon over, and his beloved Coraline fêted and celebrated for he stellar contribution on the committee, Trigger relaxed back in his comfortable office. All of a sudden, Coraline burst down the stairs, waving a magazine of some sort in the air.

“Trigger, darling, have you seen this?”, she said in an obviously distressed voice.

Trigger looked at his wife, “No, beloved, I have not. But if you give it to me, I can read it now.”

She handed the magazine over, opened to a page head-lined “Why I Will Not Go To SysLiCon Again”.

Why I Will Not Go To SysLiCon Again

By @SlemVenPocketry

This past week, I attended SysLiCon, a literature conference that I have for a long time considered my “home conference”. And I will never go back. When I started going to SysLiCon, it was a warm and welcoming event, where everyone was treated well and everyone respected one and each other. There were even displays of extreme gratitude and respect, once in a while. But over the eleven years I have been attending, I have noticed that SysLiCon have slipped further and further into Social Justice and Safe Space worship. No longer are Sulphur artists welcomed with open arms, instead they’re only catering for non-Sulphur poets, writers, song-writers and others.

They have even instated a so-called Code of Conduct, that require and mandate certain behaviours. It is disgraceful. I no longer feel welcome in such a stifling environment, coddling people and demanding that the conference is a “Safe Space”.

I had heard that this trend so common in the literature circles had finally caught up with SysLiCon, but being that I have so many fond memories of chats, talks, panels, workshops, and, yes, excellent food at previous SysLiCons, I did not believe what I had been told. But, this year, as I was about to demonstrate thankfulness and respect, having earlier had an excellent half lobster, some asparagus and some delicious Sauce Bearnaise, something quite suitable for the level of respect I felt, I was told, in no uncertain words, by a known hater of Sulphur artists. I was told that showing my respect would be against the Code of Conduct, by no one else but Trigger Snowflake, who abused the court system to have my dear friend and Sulphur colleague Rick ven Fleerbo legally required to stay on Venus! Yes, this is clearly an injustice and an obvious sign that the Safe Space mentality has finally conquered SysLiCon!

From now on, I will only attend literary conferences where Sulphur artists can feel free to show gratitude and respect, in our own manner!

Annoyed,

Slem ven Pocketry

#

Trigger looked at the article. Then he looked at Coraline. Then he looked back at the article. After a while, he sighed.

“Beloved Coraline, nothing in this article seems to bear any resemblance to what I saw in the security office. None of our deputies reported any interaction with ven Pocketry, and trust me, we made it very clear that any incident involving a Sulphur artist should be reported. I will confer with Urbel, I suspect we’ll have a written report from our end for the Board, within a few days.”

Later that day, Trigger knocked on the door of the Sheriff’s office in Ytterbium Valley. A few moments later, the door opened and Urbel Scroggisnki looked, with quite a surprised face, at Trigger.

“Sheriff Snowflake, what brings you to Ytterbium Valley? I take it from your serious face that his is not a simple social visit?”

“I wish, Urbel, I wish. No, I am here on a SysLiCon matter. We need to get all the deputies in, one by one, and compile a report for the Board, in regards to this.”, Trigger handed the magazine over, opened to ven Pocketry’s article.

A few minutes later, Urbel nodded.

“Yes, I think you’re right. If you step in, I will start making calls.”

A considerable number of hours later, with much paperwork, the final report for the board was completed. In essence it read “We have read the SysLiCon report by Slem ven Pocketry. While we cannot comment on his state of mind, we can with confidence say that none of the people in the security division interacted with him in any manner, especially none that corresponds to anything in his report”.

And with that, the wrapping-up of the latest SysLiCon could continue unhindered.

Trigger Snowflake and the Legal Clothes

By Ingvar: Having finally tied the nuptial knot with his beloved Coraline, Trigger Snowflake slowly walked through the front doors of the chapel, out onto Main Street, Coraline’s dainty hand cradled in his elbow. The general admiration and happiness from Fort Corallium’s inhabitants beamed at them in waves. Trigger and Coraline both waved, when all of a sudden, Trigger froze.

Coming up the street, begging-pan in hand, was Rick Ven Fleerbo. This was unconscionable, he had certainly been put in his place, but compounding that by illegally pan-handling on Main Street was definitely a few steps too far.

“Dearest Coraline, I know it is uncouth to leave the bride alone this soon after the wedding, but I see misdeeds in our community and I feel compelled to act.”

“Trigger, dear, I would not love you if it was not for your steadfast and slavish attention to rooting out wrong-doers and miscreants By all means tell this… this… this PAN-HANDLER what for.”

Trigger gently straightened his arm, adjusted his formal clothing, cleared his throat and walked towards Ven Fleerbo.

“Rick Ven Fleerbo, you have been found pan-handling on Main Street. This is not allowed. Please cease immediately, before I am forced to use stronger measures!”

Ven Fleerbo froze, his eyes darting to the dressed-up lawman. His prominent Adam’s Apple jostled up and down, as if he just swallowed some saliva. He rapidly grabbed the few coins and the single note from the pan, shoved his ill-gotten gains into his pocket, then nodded and ran away.

Trigger walked back to his wife, bowed his head in apology and extended a bent arm.

“Coraline?”

Mrs Snowflake placed her hand yet again into the crook of his elbow, as they walked back to the Sheriff’s Office.

#

Trigger woke up, for the first time beside his beloved Coraline. She was still fast asleep as he sidled out from under the covers, put on some clothes and headed for the kitchen. Then he remembered that his BrewMatic 3000 had not yet been repaired and in the plentifulness of yesterday’s schedule, he’d completely forgotten to stock up on breakfast cereal.

With a quiet sigh, he reached for the communicator. It was normally reserved for official business only, but this once it was a luxury he would allow himself.

<

p style=”padding-left: 30px;”>To: barbara@coffeeemporium.fortcorallium.io
From: snowflake@sheriff.fortcorallium.io
Subject: Breakfast/brunch order

I know this is irregular, but this once I thought I would allow me the luxury of ordering food in, although using the communicator is quite expensive. Never mind, I shall just have to cover this cost out of my own pocket. Where was I? Oh, yes, brunch. I would like to order three grilled synthecheese, four of your delicious danishes, one black fresh-ground Colombian coffee for me, and you are probably better placed to choose the exact coffee that Mrs Snowflake would like, seeing as how you have been working next to her these last few weeks. It would be good if you can send a runner with the brunch.

When they had finished the delicious delivery brunch, Trigger finally got properly dressed and headed out for a somewhat later than normal customary morning stroll up and down Main Street.

On the second round, he heard something unusual, as well as unexpected.

“… for my taking Fort Corallium and that Snowflake to justice? Anything would be helpful, seeing has how it is not cheap, and the Sheriff has deprived me of my income, by destroying my chances to sell my work as Fort Corallium’s most prominent local poet.”

He lengthened his steps, this was clearly something for the firm arms of the law. He turned a corner and saw, not entirely unexpected, Rick Ven Fleerbo, holding a kettle, begging for money from people passing by.

“Ven Fleerbo?! What did I say about pan-handling?”

“Well, Sheriff,” smirked Ven Fleerbo, “I think the exact thing you said was that pan-handling on Main Street was out of the question. I did some quick checking, and it turns out you’re correct. Thus, I am kettle-handling, and I am doing so no less than five feet from Main Street.”

“I… I… You are correct, Ven Fleerbo. But you watch yourself, I am keeping an eye on you.”

Ven Fleerbo waved at the Sheriff. Unfortunately, this jostled the rather heavy cast-iron kettle in his off hand and he ended up taking two steps forward to recover his balance.

“Aha!” said Trigger. “You are now only three feet from Main Street and engaged in illegal begging. I shall again be lenient, just stop this obnoxious behaviour and be on your way.”

Rick Ven Fleerbo uttered a long string of crude and vile Venusian curses, then skulked off.

#

It was a month after the wedding, and Trigger still enjoyed every moment of being a married man. He and Mrs Coraline were currently enjoying a most excellent Sunday roast, in the upstairs dining room, a room that had been unused during Trigger’s time as a bachelor. But now it was used for their joint Sunday lunch, as well as for the occasional hosting of dinners, as the entertainment expected from recently-married couples.

Trigger was just about to put his fork to a bowl of delicious Neptune Mess, a dessert of sponge cake, ice cream, fruit jellies, jam, and several custards, swirled in a manner as to evoke the surface of the gas giant, when there was a loud knocking on the front door.

“Bear with me, beloved Coraline, as I check what is up?”

“You do that, dearest Trigger, the Neptune Mess will hold.”

Trigger went downstairs and opened the door. Outside was a courier, with a large box.

“Sheriff Trigger Snowflake? Of Fort Corallium?”, said the courier.

“Speaking,” said Trigger, “what is this?”

“Package for you. Sign on delivery, sir.”

Trigger accepted the package, quickly signed the counterslip and let the courier be on his way. As he placed the box on his desk, he heard Coraline’s voice from upstairs.

“What was it, Trigger?”

“A package of some sort. I have not opened it yet, I believe it can wait until after dinner.”

Having finally finished the Neptune Mess, as well as some cookies and coffee after dessert, Trigger headed back downstairs. It was a sturdy box, plywood and space tape. He drew his Stardust knife from the sheath on his right thigh, and slit the tape. He lifted the lid off the box and gasped loudly.

“What is it, dearest Trigger? You sound surprised?”

“Beloved Coraline, this is completely unexpected. I have received a law suit. I have not yet checked the inner pocket for the circumstances, but I have a sinking feeling I know exactly what this is about.”

Trigger unpacked the clothes, and felt in the left pocket of the vest, where by custom the reason for the law suit was stashed, so as to make it possible to construct a coherent defence. Looking at the paper slip, it seemed he could linger as much as three hours before he needed to start for Luna, where the Planetary Alliance System Court had its offices and court rooms.

Sheriff Snowflake went upstairs, heart heavy in his chest.

“Beloved Coraline, the knock at the door was a court courier, delivering a law suit, bought by that odious bore Ven Fleerbo. Unfortunately, I need to set off for Luna in a few hours, and I must ensure I am properly packed.”

“Dearest Trigger, it is true that I will miss you while you are gone, but you are true and just, and so will prevail.”

“I wish I had your faith, but I have been these things go unexpected ways before. Sure, it’s uncommon, but that does not mean one shall completely discount the possibility. Ah, well, the suit has been brought, and I shall simply have to Sheriff up and do the needful.”

#

“This is Luna Traffic Control. Inbound sheriff shuttle SGW-2249, please vector on landing beacon Zed Zed Alpha. Once landed, please proceed to bay 58.”

“This is SGW-2249, vector on Zed Zed Alpha, then bay 58, understood.”

Trigger relaxed, the shuttle was sufficiently clever to follow a landing beacon and doing collision avoidance. This was possibly the most relaxing bit of the whole journey, since the autopilot definitely wasn’t smart enough for computing transfer orbits. Thankfully, the common misconception that the asteroid belt was neck to jowl with rocks was false, but that did not mean that needing to traverse it was stress-free. But, for the next 20 minutes, Trigger could simply relax, before needing to find the bay where his shuttle would refuel and wait for him, should the legal case go well.

Half an hour later, Trigger finished getting dressed in the law suit, the only clothes he would wear until he was fully a free man again. With a snort and a shake of his head, he stepped put of the shuttle. As he locked the shuttle up, a young woman walked towards him.

“Sheriff Snowflake? I am Herm Kiselo Rockblaster, clerk to the honourable Judge Belfries. Thank you for sending a signal with your estimated arrival, this has allowed the System Court to schedule the first, preliminary, hearing in fifteen minutes. If you would follow me?”

Trigger blushed, how could he have missed the signs? Not a woman at all, but a hermaphrodite. His only excuse was out in the frontier, where he lived, herms were primarily seen in popular entertainment, and as such were a bit more obvious.

“Certainly, Herm Rockblaster. Lead away.”

A few minutes later, they entered an opulent court room, panelled in what looked like genuine wood, definitely an imported luxury on Luna. Seated on the left, Trigger could see Rick Ven Fleerbo, sitting next to what looked like another Venusian. If he’d had more of a chance to prepare, Trigger would have brought an advocate, too, but hiring one was no trivial matter, and he had hoped he’d be able to see to that before even the preliminary hearing. Thankfully, Luna being the centre of legal wrangling that it was, it would not be hard finding an advocate that he could trust and work with.

Ven Fleerbo turned his head, as Trigger was walking down the aisle, to take his place on the front right, where the defendant’s assigned seating was.

“Snowflake! At least you’re not enough of a lily-belly to coward out. Would’ve been quicker, but this is more fun.”

Ven Fleerbo’s advocate tapped him on the shoulder, making a hushing gesture.

Trigger simply tilted his hat, then sat down.

The court room basked in an uncomfortable silence, until the door behind the judge’s podium opened and Judge Belfries stepped out.

“Let it be known that Honourable Judge Belfries is in the court. The court will now start preliminary hearings for Ven Fleerbo v Snowflake, in a matter of racial discrimination.”

Trigger took a deep breath, glanced to the left and saw Ven Fleerbo sneer in an unpleasant manner.

“This law suit has been bought by Rick Ven Fleerbo, a Venusian and a professional Sulphur Poet, against Trigger Bolt Snowflake, a martian, and a professional sheriff.

“If counsel for Ven Fleerbo would like to start?”

Ven Fleerbo started to stand, but his advocate quickly put a hand on his shoulder and whispered something in his ear.

“I am Slem Ven Pocketry, a Venusian and advocate for Rick Ven Fleerbo. We are here, because the defendant, Snowflake, has maligned my client, conspired to deprive him of income, caused hm to be ejected from poetry slams, and in other ways harmed my client, my client’s pride, and worst of all, deprived my client of income that was rightfully his. We intend to prove that this is because Snowflake hates Venusians, hates Sulphur Poetry and specifically has done all of these things because he wishes to deprive my client of all these things specifically because Rick Ven Fleerbo is Venusian.”

“Thank you. Advocate for… Ah, would the defendant please speak? And before you start, are you intending to stand pro se, or are you intending to find an advocate, should this go to full proceedings?”

“I am Trigger Bolt Snowflake, a Martian and a Sheriff. My intention was to find an advocate before the preliminary hearing, but with only fifteen minutes from setting down, I deemed it more appropriate to appear in person and on time. I will search for a suitable advocate, once this preliminary hearing is over.

“It is true that I was one of three people who caused Ven Fleerbo to be disinvited from the Coffee Emporium Poetry Slam, about two months ago. The person who made the actual decision was the manager of the Coffee Emporium, then Miss Coraline Hoyter, now Mrs Trigger Snowflake. But the chief reason Mr Ven Fleerbo was disinvited was because despite multiple pointed letters, verbal warnings, gentle reminders, pointed remarks and the like, Mr Ven Fleerbo failed to understand that what is polite in Sulphur circles is not acceptable behaviour on the moons of Jupiter. Simply stated, Mr Ven Fleerbo’s behaviour is incommensurate with furnished spaces, and that and that alone is the reason he was disinvited.”

“I have heard both sides in this preliminary hearing. I find that neither side has convinced me beyond reasonable doubt that their side will prevail. In accordance with the Planetary Alliance System Court’s rules and procedures, I declare that this law suit will proceed to full session. The court will reconvene tomorrow, at 09:07, for the start of the proceedings. I, Honourable Judge Belfries, hereby declare this court adjourned.”

#

Trigger left the third prospective advocate, glumly starting to think that he might, after all, have to represent himself. He stopped at a street corner, contemplating the pros and cons of such a strategy, when a familiar face walked past.

“Lilyberg? I thought you were still in Fort Corallium?!”

The man stopped, turned his head and started at Trigger.

“Pardon me? Do we know each other?”

“Ah, I am terribly sorry. You look very much like a man I know, Joseph Lilyberg.”

“Joseph Lilyberg, jeweller in Fort Corllium?”

“That’s the man. Again, terribly sorry.”

“Ah, no, it is no problem. Joseph is my brother. I am Emmanuel Lilyberg. May I trouble you for your name?”

“Trigger Snowflake, at your service.”

“Ah, Sheriff Snowflake? Joe has spoken well of you. What brings you to Luna in general, and Practice Street in particular?”

“I have had a law suit bought for me, and the preliminary hearing is already over, and I would very much like to find an advocate I can work with before the main session starts tomorrow.”

“Hm. If you have a few minutes, you can follow me to my office and I can do some due diligence. If this is the Flerrbo v Snowflake case, I believe I have an opening in my calendar, if primary session starts in the next day or three.”

“Tomorrow, 09:07, Mr Lilyberg.”

“Ah, excellent. If you would follow me?”

#

The following morning, Trigger followed Emmanuel (‘Manny’) Lilyberg into the court room. They were the first to arrive. They’d only been seated for a few seconds, when the doors slammed open. Rick Ven Fleerbo entered the court room, with swaggering steps, his law suit adorned with a yellow cape.

Ven Fleerbo and advocate sat down in the Plaintiff’s Section, smugly waiting for the proceedings to start. Trigger fidgeted a bit. He was surprisingly nervous, seeing as how he’d faced down multiple armed assailants, more than once. But, then, a duel on High Street at noon was a battleground he understood, whereas a court was well outside his comfort room.

The door behind the judge’s podium opened, and Judge Belfries stepped out.

“Let it be known that Honourable Judge Belfries is in the court. This court is now in session for Ven Fleerbo v Snowflake in a matter of racial discrimination. Is the plaintiff present?”

“Aye!”, said Ven Fleerbo, as he quickly popped to standing, then sat down again.

“Plaintiff is present. Is the defendant present?”

“Aye!”, said Trigger, simply raising his right arm over his head, fist clenched.

“Defendant is present. I see both plaintiff and defendant have advocates present. Excellent. Yesterday, we conducted a preliminary hearing, which did not firmly establish one way or another where the truth in this matter lies. The purpose of this session is firstly to establish the truth. Secondly, based on the truth found, determine where guilt lies. And, thirdly, dispense justice, retribution and corrective measures as the court sees fit.”

The judge paused, to allow for any questions from the floor. A few seconds later, no questions raised, the judge continued.

“The court calls Rick Ven Fleerbo, Venusian and Sulphur Poet. Please take the witness stand, and place your hands on the truth sensors on the railing. Tell us what your perception of the events are. Remember that you will be under oath. Lying to the court is perjury and punished by fines in minor cases, all the way up to imprisonment and work camps for severe cases. Your pulse, skin conductivity and the like will be measured and analysed after the session.”

Ven Fleerbo walked to the witness stand, placed his hands on the metal pads on the stand’s railing, took a deep breath and started.

“Judge Belfries, the court, the audience. I am thankful that the court has decided there is merit in this suit. Mere words cannot express the depth of my gratitude.”

Ven Fleerbo turned to the judge and demonstrated an infallible aim, projectile-vomiting straight onto the centre of the judge’s chest.

“It all started when my publicist tried to censor…”

Judge Belfries stood up and roared.

“The Court finds Ven Fleerbo in contempt! Without taking the witness stand, as it is not usable at the moment, defendant Snowflake, is what we just witnessed symptomatic of why Ven Fleerbo was disinvited from the poetry slam?”

Trigger stood up. “Yes, your Honour. It has been my experience that the plaintiff is incommensurable with furnished rooms, especially when he feels a need to express gratitude.”

Judge Belfries ripped his robes off. Thankfully, he wore a full set of clothing beneath.

“This court now dismisses Ven Fleerbo v Snowflake. With prejudice! Furthermore, the court finds Ven Fleerbo in contempt, and issues a fine of 500 Solars, to be paid no later than the end of the week. Even furthermore, the court charges Ven Fleerbo with an induction to not demonstrate gratitude in public, anywhere within the Planetary Alliance, except within Venostationary orbit. This session is now concluded.”

#

Trigger shook Manny Lilyberg’s hand, then entered his shuttle. It would be a long trip back, but at least he would be able to change back into his own clothes. And at the end of the journey, his beloved Coraline would be waiting. And hopefully this would be the last anyone heard of the odious Rick Ven Fleerbo.

Trigger Snowflake – Prominent Local Poet

By Ingvar: Trigger Snowflake woke up, and as he normally did, he walked downstairs, to the kitchen in the Sheriff’s Office. He loaded his trusty BrewMatic 3000, and pressed the start button. Most mornings, this was an uneventful routine, but this morning, the BrewMatic 3000 made a few distressing coughing noises, then simply ejected tepid water and all the coffee grounds in a distressing spray.

Trigger sighed, went over to the refrigerator, grabbed some milk and went to prepare his customary morning bowl of Nut Neptune Nuggets. Unfortunately, it seemed as if he had not been paying attention the previous day, as he only had enough Neptune Nuggets for half a bowl.

After a less than completely satisfying breakfast, Trigger was busy doing weapons maintenance on his trusty revolvers, when the door was flung open.

“Sheriff, sheriff, I am being blacklisted, oppressed and simply denied my rights as a free man!”

Trigger looked up from his half-dismantled guns, seeing Rick Ven Fleebro, a Venusian who’d arrived a few years ago.

“If you take a seat, and describe the happenings to me, while I finish up maintenance?”

“I will do this, Sheriff Snowflake. I have been most unfairly maligned, lied about, and now blacklisted from the Poetry Slam!”

Trigger’s forehead lifted a small amount, the Poetry Slam would be taking place at the Coffee Emporium, under the kind and welcoming oversight of his fiancee, Miss Coraline Hoyter. Surely nothing underhanded could be happening?

“As you know, I am a prominent local poet, and six months ago, I published a defining work of Venusian Sulphur Poetry. It all went well, to start with, but after a short while, my publicist and publisher sent me a letter, asking me to please stop showing people what I ate for dinner the previous night, which is considered polite on Venus and especially among Sulphur artists. Of course, I did not pay her rude interjection any heed, as I am polite, well-spoken and generally considered to be a model Venusian. Then, probably forced to do so by the namely-pappy weakling brigade, she worded it a bit stronger. She sent a letter that said that I would have to only show my dinner on my own time, not during publicity speeches for my book, during interviews about how I am a prominent local poet and the like. Which, as you can tell, not only offensive but also a direct attempt at curtailing my free speech.”

Trigger nodded, it was a fiddly piece of disassembly in progress, the firing mechanism had to be daintily disconnected from the plebotium power core.

“And, then, this morning, out of absolutely nowhere, I received a card from Miss Hoyter, at the Coffee Emporium, saying that due to my Venusian background, I have been stricken from the Poetry Slam line-up. You must do something, Sheriff Snowflake. Arrest all of these people!”

Trigger finished cleaning the parts of hs weapons and looked up at Ven Fleerbo.

“First, I need to reassemble my proton shooters. After that I will make inquiries and arrests as appropriate.”

#

Susan Doed was heads-down in her paperwork, when a firm knock sounded from her door. She re-assembled the papers into a neat stack and went to unlock the front door.

“Ah, Sheriff Snowflake, what a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?”

“Perhaps pleasant is overstating things, Miss Doed. I am here on a matter of law.”

“Oh. Well. Let me not keep you standing in the door. Come in, can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Some coffee would not sit amiss. I will be taking notes, since this is after all a work visit.”

“Sure. Do you take sugar or milk?”

“One sugar, brown if you have. No milk. Now, Miss Doed, I understand you are the publicist for a Mr Ven Fleerbo?”

“Am, was, that is a little bit unclear. We have not formally dissolved the contract, but Mr Ven Fleerbo has made it blatantly obvious that he no longer demands my services.”

“Hmm?”

“Well, only two weeks ago, he stormed out of this very office, screaming ‘You will be sorry for this, you slimy porcupine-loving equality-fighting shnipty!’ Yes, he even used the S word!”

“Anything more you can tell me about your association with Mr Ven Fleerbo?”

“It’s probably better if I just go through this from the start. About a year ago, Rick Ven Fleerbo came to my office, with the manuscript for a Venusian Sulphur Poetry collection in hand and asked if that was something I would be interested in publishing. I said, as I normally do to walk-ins, ‘Leave it on that shelf, with a note giving your contact details, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.’ About two, maybe three, days later, I had time to look at it and it was good. I mean, it was good Sulphur. A somewhat specialised kind of poetry, as you know.

“I decided it was worth getting it typeset and printed. We agreed that I would also help Mr Ven Fleerbo with promotional work and arrange a few readings. And that’s when the problems started. You see, it’s a tradition among Sulphur artists to, as a sign of thanks and respect, regurgitate their last meal during a recitation, or upon receiving strong compliments. And it is then expected that the person, or persons, being thrown up on, should at least taste the effluvia.

“I didn’t initially know this, so I was, as they say, somewhat surprised having a grown man throw up all over the front of my dress. I informed Mr Ven Fleerbo that engaging in this habit would probably limit his ability to sell his volume of poems. At first, he seemed to take this in an even stride, but when I reminded hum, a few weeks later, after he’d thrown up all over the stage as the applause broke out during a recitation, he started getting angry, and screamed something about being oppressed.”

“And?”

“Well, this has been going back and forth, for a while. I have now stopped trying to book him for readings, because quite a few venues simply decline having Ven Fleerbo on stage, citing local health inspectors, clean-up costs and rapidly declining attendance numbers on any event where Ven Fleerbo is listed on the billboard.”

“Thank you, Miss Doed, I may return for some more questions, later.”

#

Trigger arrived at the Coffee Emporium as the lunch crowd petered out. He boldly went in, waving at his fiancee, striding up towards the counter.

“Good afternoon, dear Coraline, I am unfortunately here on business. Can we talk in the back room?”

“Certainly, Trigger. Let me just hand the counter over to Barbara, she can certainly use the experience.”

They went through to the back room. Miss Coraline Hoyter sat down behind the manager’s desk, sighing with slight relief as her weight transferred from her dainty feet onto the chair.

“So, beloved Trigger, business you say?”

“Unfortunately so. I was approached this morning by a Rick Ven Fleerbo, a prominent local poet. I take it the name is familiar?”

“Ah, yes, Mr Ven Fleerbo. I am assuming this is in conjunction with next week’s Poetry Slam?”

“How perceptive of you. Yes. Could you please recount your view of what’s happened, while I take some notes?”

“There’s nothing much to tell. Having had reports from poetry slams throughout the entirety of the mining colony, from Fort Hamhock, Duralumin Gulch, and even Beryllium City, I learned that Mr Ven Fleerbo has a tendency to engage in… certain behaviour that is not really appreciated by the audience. I wrote him a letter, saying that his attendance as a poet at the Slam was conditional on a promise to not vomit all over my Emporium. My expectation was that he would respond with a promise not to, or at least a non-committal ‘I will do my best’. His actual response was profanity-laden and contained a promise to sup on the most foul dishes on the previous evening, so he could truly show the Fort Corallium public in how high of an esteem he holds them.”

“Hm?”

“Yes, it is the tradition among Venusian Sulphur artists. You consume things, in order to absorb and filter the more exceptional of their foods, then you simply void your digestive system and let people partake of slightly less vile foods.”

“So, your response at this point was?”

“Well, I wrote back and simply said that as I’d previously told him, his attendance was conditional on the opposite that he had promised. So with some regret, I cancelled him from the line-up and that, as far as I am concerned, is that. Now, dear Trigger, why are you asking about this, is there some sort of problem, here?”

“Yes, I wish I could tell you more, but the integrity of law enforcement, etc, etc.”

“Oh, my beloved darling, it must be such a troublesome balancing act for you.”

“It is not the most pleasant situation, Miss Hoyter. Not the most pleasant.”

#

The following day, Trigger woke up and went to the kitchen again. As he was about to open the cabinet, he suddenly remembered that yesterday had seen neither the repair of his DripMatic 3000, nor a purchase of more Neptute Nut Nuggets. With a blue word, he slammed the cabinet door shut, all ready to go down to the Coffee Emporium to break his fast there, when the front door slammed open.

“Sheriff Snowflake! It is I, prominent local poet Rick Ven Fleerbo. You must immediately arrest the vile women at the Coffee Emporium! They have now moved into complete slandering of me!”

“Mr Ven Fleerbo, I would appreciate it if you depart my office, for at least one hour. I have not yet had a chance to break fast and I am not in the best of moods.”

“Ah, that is at least easy to repair!”

With those words, Ven Fleerbo inserted a quick finger into his mouth, tickling the top of his throat. And in a magnificent display of respect deposited all of yesterday’s evening meal, all over Sheriff Snowflake, the floor, the kitchen cabinets, and counters.

“Mr Ven Fleerbo! Have you no concept of how to behave in a non-Venusian setting? Depart immediately, or I will have you arrested for obstruction of justice!”

Half an hour later, after a change of clothes and the second shower of the morning, Trigger arrived at the Coffee Emporium. He entered, fund his accustomed chair empty, sat down and leaned his head heavily into his hands, elbows firmly planted on the surface of the table.

“Beloved Trigger! Such a face, this early in the day! The usual?”

“Yes, Coraline, the usual.”

He proceeded to eat his pastry, finished his coffee and was seriously considering having a second cup when the door was flung open and Ven Fleerbo entered.

“Collusion! You are conspiring with these vile women. I should have known it!”

“Mr Ven Fleerbo!”, Trigger shouted, “You are factually incorrect. Having considered all the evidence, I can find no conspiracy to put you down for your Venusian background, only for the complete and utter inability to be kept in furnished rooms. It is very possible to be a Venusian Sulphur poet without engaging in such graphic shows of gratitude as you are prone to. In fact, Morpo Ven Eensam, prominent planetary poet, has succeeded in doing the very same for near on ten years. You, Mr Ven Fleerbo, are just an uncouth bore. Now, leave my fiancee’s Coffee Emporium, before I have you arrested for bringing false accusations.”

With that, Rick Ven Fleerbo turned around and left the coffee Emporium.

“Oh, dearest Trigger, such a manly outburst,” gushed Miss Hoyter, “let me tell you what I have been working towards.”

Trigger let his gaze move from the now-empty doorway to the breathtakingly beautiful face of his fiancee.

“Plans, Coraline?”

“Yes, plans. As you know, it will be impossible for me to continue to run the Coffee Emporium, once I am a wife and married woman, as I will have to focus completely on the household. But, fear not! I have trained a replacement, to take over the Coffee Emporium.”

“Marvellous! Have I met her?”

“Yes, you saw her yesterday, she is Miss Barbara Dimatis and has shown a suitable strength of will and honesty. And to that effect, I have spoken to the Preacher and he can join us in matrimony this evening, if that suits?”

Trigger Snowflake and the No-Platformers

By Ingvar: Trigger Snowflake opened his clear, blue eyes. It smelled like a fine morning, heralding a great day. If nothing else, he would be taking lunch with his betrothed, Miss Coraline Hoyter.

He quickly got dressed and walked to the sheriff office kitchen, grabbed a bowl and poured a healthy serving of Neptune Nut Nuggets and added just a splash of milk, in order to get his breakfast cereal to the perfect balance between crispy nuttiness and slight moistness from the slowly penetrating milk. As he left the bowl to soak, he set his DripMatic 3000 to making his post-cereal coffee.

Quarter of an hour later, having fortified himself with a truly excellent breakfast, it was time to strap his gun belt around his trim waist, then pin the sheriff badge to his vest, then take a quick stroll through Fort Corallium, to ensure that the local businessmen were all happy and the local miners well-behaved. He put his hat on, opened the front door of the sheriff office and headed out, nodding cheerfully to his fellow citizens as he strolled down Main Street.

Trigger pondered the propriety of paying Miss Hoyter an early visit. Fully distracted by the complex problem of figuring this matter of etiquette, he did not notice Mr Lilyberg hurrying the other way, and in one of those moments that happen, they walked into each other, with such force that Sheriff Snowflake was half spun around, and Mr Lilyberg was knocked off balance and fell down.

“Sorry, Mr Lilyberg. Mind completely elsewhere. Everything alright?”

“Just lost my breath, Sheriff, nothing sprained or broken.”

Trigger reached down with his right arm, to help Mr Lilyberg up from the ground.

“Good to hear. Again, terribly sorry.”

“No one hurt, Sheriff, no one hurt. Just on my way to Agape, they called and my new shoes have arrived. Nothing I would recommend for you, having such a stately height, but being a bit on the short side…”

Trigger tipped his hat and continued his morning stroll, taking care to not let his mind stray to the fascinating conundrum that had bothered him.

#

Having walked entirely to the other side of Fort Corallium, Trigger checked his pocket watch. A brisk, but not over-fast stroll, even taking the Lilyberg incident into account. It would not do to be too fast in these peace-keeping strolls.

Trigger paused and looked around, nothing out of the ordinary. It truly seemed like it would be a perfect day. Now, it had been raining and windy the last few days. Trigger knew that the atmospheric systems did not keep any specific weather setting for longer than three days, in order to ensure that the townsfolk got variety, but never got really bored with the weather.

He started back down Main Street, wondering if he should stop for a cup of coffee on the way, or give the DripMatic 3000 a chance to make a second cup of the morning. He’d not gotten much further than listing the options in his mind, when he heard a loud commotion from the alley on his left.

Undoing the strap retaining his right revolver in the holster, Sheriff Snowflake purposefully strode towards the opening of the alley, certain in his conviction that a crime was in progress and he may have to discharge his firearm. As he stepped off Main Street, he saw, disconcertingly, Miss Hoyter on the ground, in stockinged feet.

“Miss Hoyter! What happened? Can I be of assistance? Where are your shoes?”

“Dear Trigger, please help me up and walk me back to the Emporium. I was viciously knocked down from behind, then a swarthy main, looked like an Earther, stole my new shoes!”

“Stealing shoes? I am continually baffled by how low criminals are willing to stoop. Here, Miss Hoyter take my hand, and I will help you to the Emporium. Will you be able to walk, or should I carry you back?”

“Walking back would not be a problem, darling Trigger. And it would be unseemly, this close to our wedding, for you carry me when I am perfectly capable of walking.”

“But…”

“No, Trigger, I shall walk, even if it may ruin my silk stockings.”

Sheriff Snowflake held his arm out to at least ensure that Miss Hoyter would have support as and when she needed it. They headed down Main Street to the Emporium.

Once at the Emporium, Trigger pulled his notebook out, as well as a pen, and placed them on the table.

“Well, Miss Hoyter, I should probably take a formal statement, since a crime has been committed.”

“Certainly. Would you like a coffee while we talk?”

“That would be splendid.”

Once two cups were on the table, and they had taken their first sip, he picked up his pen and notebook.

“Miss Hoyter can you describe the sequence of events?”

“Certainly. I was walking from home towards the Emporium, when I heard what sounded like a puppy down Natural Alley. Not wanting to leave any long animal in distress, I headed down, keeping an eye out for the pup. I’d walked fifteen, maybe twenty, yards when someone hit me in the back of the head. I fell to the ground, dazed, and as I was trying to get my bearings, I felt what seemed to be a knife cutting the straps off my new shoes. Then the shoes were taken off my feet. Whoever it was started running away and I shouted out. Then, a few moments later, a host dashing and handsome sheriff arrived.”

“New shoes? Any precious stones, noble metals or similar on them?”

“No, they’re a new model from Mars, picked them up yesterday evening at Agape. They’re honestly jus a new thing I thought I would try. They have, in addition to my customary high heel, that you are familiar with, an extra-thick sole under the ball of the foot. In total, they give me almost a full extra inch. But I don’t think they’re special enough to warrant stealing, they were fairly plain, smooth red leather, with a copper buckle on the ankle strap.”

“Hm. Well, I have written for statement down. Let’s enjoy the rest of the coffee, before I head back to the office.”

They finished the coffee, engaged in the normal smalltalk of a coupe engaged to be married, plans for wallpaper patterns and the like.

#

Trigger had just finished filing Miss Hoyter’s statement when the front door was flung open. He looked up at an enraged Mr Lilyberg rushing through the door.

“Sheriff! Sheriff! I am the victim of a heinous crime!”

“If you take a seat, Mr Lilyberg, I will take your statement.”

“I was returning from Agape with my new shoes boxed up. When all of a sudden, two armed men stopped me and threatened to run me through with their knives, unless I gave them the shoe box. These were special-order from Mars, Sheriff, quite expensive, and now I need to wait for two weeks, before a new pair can be here. This is an outrage, Sheriff! There must be something you can do!”

“Well, Mr Lilyberg, in confidence I can reveal that you are not the first person today who have lost a pair of shoes. Could you please describe the shoes for me?”

“Now, Sheriff, I am not a vain man, but you may have noticed that I am on the short side. Normally, this does not bother me, but as we are coming up on an election for the town council again, I thought it prudent to, ahem, increase my stature slightly. So I ordered a pair of dress shoes from this new company on Mars. They make a most satisfying design, giving me almost an inch of extra height. Enough to look solid and imposing, not so much that it looks unnatural. My thinking here is that it would make it easier in the store.”

“Curious. From Agape, you said? All the way down south on Main Street?”

“Yes, Sheriff, that’s the store.”

“Well, I have written up your testimony and I will do my best to apprehend the vile criminals. Alas, Mr Lilyberg, I shall have to work. You have a safe day, now.”

“Thank you Sheriff!”

With that, Mr Lilyberg stood up and left the Sheriff’s Office, leaving Trigger to compare the testimonies of the two victims.

#

Zacharias Bengtsen was fearing for his life. Two armed, masked men had burst into his store, forced him into the store room, then tied him up. Now they were busy ransacking their way through his merchandise, taking some of the stock, but mostly just throwing things on the floor.

If only he had listened to the urging of his brother and installed an alarm system with a hand-held activator. If he had, it would be triggered by now, and hopefully Sheriff Snowflake would be on his way.

Meanwhile, walking south on Main Street, Trigger nodded at his fellow citizens, on his way to Agape Shoes. He was a block away when he noticed something out of place. The front door was not only closed, but had a “CLOSED” sign displayed. This was not at all normal, it being not even mid-day yet, and definitely not Sunday. He loosened both his revolvers, ensuring that he would have a fast draw, if needed.

Trigger considered his options. He could simply kick open the front doors, but that was likely to incur property damage and necessitate leaving a guard on the door overnight, something that the Office budget certainly could stretch to, but definitely an unnecessary expenditure. He thought for a few moments, then remembered that there was a back entrance, straight into the store room. It was normally locked, but the override key would take care of that.

Trigger walked around the building, found the back door and readied himself to open it, when he could hear a faint noise from inside. He took a deep breath, leaned forward and listened. It certainly sounded like multiple people completely wrecking the place. He leaned back and let the held breath out with a sigh, unlocked the door and drew his right revolver. With his left hand, he ripped the door open and scanned the room. There, two masked men. Trigger shot the one on the right, but before he could shoot the second one, the masked man threw himself out of the store room. With a jarring crash of broken glass, the man must have destroyed one of the shop windows.

Trigger saw Mr Bengtsen tied up on the floor. With the hooligan well on his way, it would be better to free the poor man, rather than set chase.

“Mt Bengtsen, if you just relax, I will cut the ropes that hold you.”

He swiftly cut the ropes, and once Mr Bengtsen’s arms were free, the shop-keeper pulled the gag off his mouth.

“Thank you, Sheriff Snowflake. There were two of them, and they were stealing some of my shoes! I have never, in my fourteen years of shop-keeping, seen anything like it. They simply discarded most of the stock, looking at it, some of the more valuable items are here, discarded on the floor!”

“Very good, Mr Bengtsen. If you could make an inventory and forward a note with what has been stolen?”

“Oh, quicker than that. I was watching them, and they were just taking the new elevated shoes from Mars. There’s only the one pair left in stock. Quite annoying, I only had eighteen pairs, and of those only three were not pre-orders. Look, there’s only the one pair left!”

“Hm, this paints a troubling picture, two pairs of shoes like this have already been stolen today, and now they’ve attacked the source of the shoes. Would you mind if I take this pair back to the office, to examine them in more detail?”

“If that is what’s needed to catch the last remaining thief? Certainly!”

“That is it, then. On my way, I will stop by the undertaker and send Dr Cottage down here for the body. Do you need any help cleaning this up?”

“Don’t worry, Sheriff, once the corpse is gone, it’ll be right as rain.”

#

The bell over the door jangled as Trigger entered the undertaker’s shop.

“Dr Cottage? Customer for you, down at Agape, in the store room. A robber and a thief, caught in the act. You will find that he’s had a clean shot, right to the heart.”

“Very good, Sheriff Snowflake, very good. Are we expecting any other sudden customers in the near future?”

“Well, there were two of them, so it’s not entirely impossible. I would prefer to catch him and have him sent back to Earth, but if they insist on getting killed, I am happy to oblige.”

This sordid business completed, Trigger left the undertaker’s and headed back up Main Street towards his office, when suddenly a masked man wielding a cut-off shotgun jumped out from an alley.

“The shoes! In your hand! Give them to me!”

Trigger lifted his right hand, holding the shoes out in front of him at about shoulder height.

“These? Are you sure?”

“The shoes, or I shoot!”

Trigger quickly considered his options, then threw the pair of shoes towards the evil-doer. As the man tracked the ballistic trajectory of the footwear, Trigger quickly drew his left revolver, shot from the hip and drilled a neat hole in the man’s forehead. He turned around, saw Dr Cottage just leaving his shop.

“Ah, Doctor, seems we have a second customer more quickly than expected.”

“Indeed, Sheriff, I suspected as much when I heard the distinctive bark of your sidearm.”

All criminals duly dispatched, Trigger returned to his office. Once seated, he looked at the shoes, then noticed that there was a slight rattling from the left shoe, as he moved them around. He drew his knife, pried the sole off and saw that hidden inside the thick bottom of the shoe, a memcrystal was hidden. Clearly, the whole shoe-stealing was because of secrets smuggled off Mars in the shipment.

Later in the evening, Trigger went in search of the lair of the evil-doers. As they were not the most intelligent of criminals, as evidenced by then plying their wrong-doing trade in Fort Corallium, it was not very hard.

The following morning, Sheriff Snowflake met up with Miss Hoyter.

“Dear Coraline, I found the lair of the robbers, but I am compelled to inform you that they did, in the most heinous way possible, de-platform you.”

Trigger Snowflake, Lawman

By Ingvar: The Sun was high in the sky, a small brilliant speck visible through the crystalline dome of Fort Corallium. Trigger walked down Main Street, gracefully lifting his wide-brimmed hat to the people greeting him. He’d been the local law for three years now, and Fort Corallium had seen a steep drop in crime under his service.

Up ahead was the Coffee Emporium, one of the more luxurious establishments in the dome. He quickly checked that his badge was displayed on his broad chest, and that he had indeed holstered his laser revolver. It did not do to offend Miss Hoyter, the owner of the Emporium. Stopping briefly just outside the door, he brushed some specks of dust off his right sleeve, then entered.

“Sheriff Snowflake! What a pleasant surprise. What would you like?” said Miss Hoyter.

“It being payday and all, Miss Hoyter, I think I will indulge in a cup of your finest Colombian coffee,” answered Trigger, “It’s been several weeks since the last. But, the bounty for Frayed John came in, and it’s coming to the end of the month, and I feel like luxury.”

“Very good, Sheriff. Would you like something to eat with your coffee, as well?”

“I think I would actually like to start with a glass of fruit juice and a grilled synthecheese sandwich, with the coffee to follow, maybe with a vanilla Danish, if they are fresh.”

“Ever so, Sheriff. We always make Danishes in the morning. They may no longer be warm from the oven, but they should still be delightfully crisp.”

Trigger walked to one of the booths and sat down, making sure he had room to draw his weapon and a good sight line to the door. It was unlikely he would need that, with everyone knowing that causing a ruckus at the Emporium would result in Miss Hoyter issuing a lifetime ban from the establishment and she was the only place in town that imported coffee all the way from Earth. The beans from the hydroponics factory were vastly inferior in taste and you might as well simply steep roasted dandelion roots, for all Trigger cared.

As he savoured the last bite of his grilled synthecheese, Miss Hoyter came over with a cup on a silver platter.

“Here, Sheriff, freshly ground Colombian filter coffee, no milk, one brown sugar on the side, as you like it. We had a single strawberry Danish left, so I thought that it would make a suitable gift for Fort Corallium’s handsomest lawman.”

Trigger smiled at the compliment. He’d been good for Fort Corallium and the settlement agreed with him. Mostly quiet, these days. The ice miners had quickly grasped that Trigger was no push-over and would not condone any fisticuffs out on the streets. The only place in town that fighting still occurred in public was at Slim’s Alco-Hole, an establishment serving intoxicating liquor, for consumption on the premises. But, as its clientele was mostly the rougher elements of the community, and the fights very seldom spilled out from the main room onto the street, it was really only necessary to ensure that the medics were alerted. Once every few weeks, one miner or another would go too far and Trigger would need to step in and enforce the peace.

Looking at his plates, Trigger decided that as delicious as the vanilla Danish was, he would alas have to leave the last bite uneaten, it simply would be too much. He grabbed his cup and savoured the last mouthful of deliciously bitter coffee, as it slid down his throat.

“Miss Hoyter, I thank you. The coffee was delicious, as always. Please give my compliments to your pastry chef, by the way the vanilla and strawberry were most excellent.”

“Thank you, Sheriff. I do in fact bake the Danishes myself.” Replied Miss Hoyter, blushing slightly. “I am delighted that you enjoyed your little break. Can I tempt you to stay a while longer? I have some Viennese pastries I have been experiencing with. The air mixture is not quite right, so I have had to –”

“Alas, Miss Hoyter, I have had as much leisure as I can allow myself. Maybe tomorrow?”

Miss Hoyter nodded in agreement, “See you tomorrow, then, Sheriff.”

Trigger folded the napkin and placed it beside his cup, before standing up. As he made his way back out onto Main Street, he quietly mused to himself that Miss Hoyter would make an excellent spouse for a lucky man, one of these days.

Trigger had reached the shuttle port end of Main Street and turned around, when his radio made a sudden noise. He unhooked the unit from his belt and pressed the transmit button. “Sheriff Snowflake, what’s up, over?”

“Sorry Boss, the silent alarm from Lilyberg’s Jewelry just went off. Thought you should know. They’ve been pretty good at not doing falsies and, well, maybe it’s nothing and maybe there’s a problem, over.”

“No worries, Deputy Canner, I will proceed apace, I am a mere two blocks from Lilyberg’s. Sheriff Snowflake, out.”

He picked up the pace, it would not do to slack when the possible safety of the dome’s jewelry street was in possible jeopardy. Why, if he ever decided that the slow and gentle flirtation with Miss Hoyter should give way to a more serious pursuit, Lilyberg’s is where he would purchase the diamond ring.

He looked through the wide-open entrance of Lilyberg’s Jewelry and saw that nefarious deeds were indeed in progress. A swarthy, heavy-set man, probably a newcomer, since Trigger did not recognise him, was threatening Joseph Lilyberg, the proprietor of the shop, with a long knife.

Trigger unholstered his laser revolver and spoke in his stentorian lawman voice, “Please surrender your weapon, you are under arrest for armed robbery and illegal threats.”

The swarthy man turned his head and saw Trigger. A slight flinch, bringing the point of the knife a fraction closer to Joseph Lilyberg’s trembling throat. “Ah, the Sheriff. One step closer and I will ram my knife through the spineless neck of the goldsmith. All I want is every necklace and bracelet under the counter then I will be out of here, nobody gets hurt. How about that, Sheriff?”

Trigger quickly calculated angles and risk. It would be safe, but not for a lesser shot than him. “As I said, surrender your weapon, you’re under arrest.’

Before the swarthy man could more than tense his arm, in preparation for plunging the wicked blade through Mr Lilyberg’s shaking throat, Trigger fired his revolver, hitting the large knife right on the ricasso, snapping the blade and the laser beam reflecting up into the face of the villain, temporarily blinding him. A few quick steps later, Trigger whipped out a pair of hand-cuffs and locked the swarthy man’s hands behind his back. Holding firmly on to the cuff chain, Trigger walked the man out, while he grabbed for his radio. “Deputy Canner, please open holding cell Two, I am bringing in a perp, fool tried to rob Lilyberg’s.”

The following morning, Trigger Snowflake woke from a night of restful sleep. Standing by the basin in front of his shaving mirror, he cast a quick, admiring glance at his reflection. He was a good-looking man, firm of muscle, but not so thick with it that he would be slowed down. Add to this, a chiseled chin, sharp cheekbones and slightly dark-blond curly hair, cropped close to his head. He finished his morning shave, then put the straight razor away. He much preferred the old-fashioned way, rather than simply slathering his face in depilatory cream. Using a straight razor took skill, discipline, and no small amount of confidence.

Once dressed, he walked across the street to the Sheriff’s office. The swarthy perp from yesterday was turning and tossing in Cell Two, obviously not having had a restful night, contemplating his wickedness. Trigger sat down in his chair, poured a glass of chilled fruit juice, then leaned back and placed his feet on the edge of the desk. Later in the day, the Circuit Judge would be arriving at the shuttleport, hopefully taking the perp away to one of the penal asteroids, there to spend the rest of his life refining minerals.

Trigger took another sip of juice, when the front door was flung open and a kid came running in.

“Sheriff! Sheriff! They’ve taken Miss Hoyter hostage! Sheriff! Please come at once!”

It was Ben, one of the few kids in town, most miners preferring to not bring their family and rather take short-term contracts. But Ben’s father, Ezekiel, was a widower and had rightly decided that a life without a good paternal figure would lead the young boy astray, into crime or possibly even sodomy. So, Ezekiel had brought Ben with him, even if taking family meant agreeing to a minimum two-year contract, as opposed to the normal six months.

“Ah, young Ben, what is this about a hostage situation?”

“It’s at the Emporium, Sheriff! Armed men came in, held Miss Hoyter at gun-point and now they’ve tied her up! Come, quick, Sheriff, you must save her, please?”

Trigger nodded, “Certainly, it is my duty as the local representative of The Law. It would just encourage scum like that to not do my very best.”

Expecting serious trouble, Trigger strapped his double-holster gun belt on. Two laser revolvers would make short work of these miscreants. He left the Sheriff’s Office and headed up Main Street towards the Coffee Emporium, to more and more increasing cheers as he got closer. Obviously people were aware of what was happening and looking forward to him sorting the whole thing out.

Not long before the doors to the Coffee Emporium, he stopped and double-checked that he had loaded both revolvers with fresh laser cartridges and had the holsters loosely strapped to his legs. Satisfied that everything was in order, he placed himself next to the door, back to the wall and shouted.

“This is Sheriff Trigger Snowflake. You are all under arrest. Drop your weapons on the ground and exit this establishment peacefully.”

A gruff voice was heard from the inside. “You are holding one of my men in your cells. I have three hostages, including the owner of the café. If you can guarantee us safe passage to the shuttle port, a fully fueled shuttle and the release of my man, I will let them live. If my demands have not been met in fifteen minutes, I will start to kill the hostages, one every fifteen minutes, until such a time as my demands have been met.”

Trigger risked a quick glance through the door. It would expose his head, but only for the fraction of a second required to get that crucial view of the room. He pulled his head back to safety, just as a laser blast went through where his forehead had just been. They were quick, maybe even a match for Trigger’s enhanced reflexes. Thanks to his photographic memory, he could analyse the scene. There were five scumbags, three armed with laser revolvers, one with a laser carbine and one with a knife very similar to the one yesterday’s scum had wielded. At a guess, the man with the carbine was the leader, he certainly was the largest and in the centre of the group. Sitting on the floor, expertly bound up, was Miss Hoyter, as well as Mr. and Mrs. George Elphinstone, Margaret by name. They were somewhat the line of fire, especially since the miscreants could not be trusted to hold their fire until their weapons were fully raised. Trigger had certainly heard of hostages being shot in exactly that way, over in Beryllium Valley, only a few months ago. That would not happen on his shift.

“I have a counter-proposal. Come out on Main Street, and we’ll have an honest duel, one by one. There are five of you, so you will get five chances to kill me. If you do get me, I can guarantee that the kind people of this town will let you depart in my own personal shuttle.”

It was not, strictly speaking, a lie. Standard procedure was to tempt hostage-takers into leaving the hostages safely behind, before engaging, if at all possible. They were unlikely to want to drag the bound people along, lazy criminals would never exert themselves needlessly.

“Tell me, Sheriff, what guarantees do we actually have that what you say is true?”

Trigger quickly checked his pockets. He did, thankfully, have the activation card for the sheriff shuttle in his back pocket.

“I will throw the activation card to my shuttle through the door. You can check it yourself. It’s a Chrysler Motors Potomac-class shuttle.”

He threw the card, being careful to not get it to land too close to the leader, since that might be a bit suspicious. He could hear quiet steps, then it was silent for almost a minute.

“OK, we’re coming out. Standard duelling code, revolvers only, draw only after a dropped handkerchief lands. One of us at a time, we decide on the order. Is that acceptable?”

“Fine by me. I will cross to the other side of the street and find someone to act as our officiator.”

Trigger nodded to Joseph Lilyberg, who had just stepped out of his store. “Mr Lilyberg, Joseph, a quick word, if I may?”

“Eh, yes, certainly Sheriff, what can I do for you?”

“Could you please take my handkerchief, here, and officiate in a series of duels? If I should happen to pass on, please allow any still-living criminal free passage to the shuttle port.”

Of course Trigger had no intention to play by the rules, that would only apply for an honourable duel and his challengers were all villainous scum, but the current stratagem would certainly work to lure them our onto the street.

Not long after, the five criminals exited the Coffee Emporium, discussing quietly among themselves who would be the first to face him. Trigger slowly walked to the centre of Main Street, continuously facing them.

“Who, then, will be the first of you facing me? I have secured an officiator, standing against the wall between us. I believe we are at the regulation 19 yards, but if you gentlemen prefer, we can have that established for sure.”

The leader shrugged, “This looks fine to me. Charlie will face you first, then Thor, Tony, Esbiorn and finally myself, should that be necessary. I don’t believe that to be the case, we are all skilled shots and quick to draw.”

Facing each other down the length of Main Street, Charlie and Trigger squared off, right hands gently hooked near he grips of their laser revolvers. After a few tense seconds, Mr Lilyberg dropped the handkerchief, both men paying very close attention to the falling piece of fabric. Just before it was about to touch the ground, Trigger drew not only his right-side revolver but also the one on his left and fired five rapid shots, each shot hitting solidly in the forehead of the five criminals.

“Sorry, my fellow Fort Corallium citizens. I had to give these scum an illusion of fairness, to avoid collateral damage. If someone could call the undertaker to bring the bodies to the shuttle port, I shall release the hostages.”

Later that evening, there was a knock on the door at the Sheriff’s Office. Trigger walked to the door and pulled it open.

“Ah, Miss Hoyter, how can I help you?”

“Well, dear Sheriff, it would be amiss of me not thanking you thoroughly for your remarkable assistance this morning.  I have brought a pot of coffee, a few Danishes and some Viennese pastries. After that, I hope we shall both of us find ourselves in a better frame of mind.”

“By all means, Miss Hoyter, you are welcome into my office at any time and it would be a delight to share a cup with such a remarkable lady.”

Trigger’s thoughts went to the diamond ring in the top drawer, this would be the best possible moment to propose marriage and the custom was that once a proposal was accepted, no chaperone would be needed.

“Miss Hoyter, Coraline, I have tried to find the best moment to ask you this.” He kneeled in front of her, “Would you marry me?”