Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 27

“Good,” Cannon said. The wall clock chimed the first few bars of the Internationale. It read eight o’clock. Cannon turned his watch back two hours as the captain announced breakfast. “We make Hawaii tonight.”

“Aye cuttin’ it close,” Iseabail observed.

“Clean up and get dressed.” Cannon flipped through the timetable on the nightstand. “If we don’t have the idol by tomorrow night, all of this is for nothing.”

“Nae yer best speech ever,” Iseabail said. “Ye’d best take yon folio an’ see if ye can run intae our cap’n. It’d nae do tae miss dinner.”

“Most assuredly, Mrs. Smith,” Cannon said, putting on the accent again.

“Ach, I thought maybe ye were done wi’ that,” Iseabail grumbled. “I’ll be along.”


Iseabail retreated to the washroom. Cannon tied his tie, put on his hat, and headed out into the corridor with the folio under his arm. He joined the flow of passengers headed for the dining room.

Most of them spread out, looking for tables with a modicum of privacy. Cannon stayed close to the balcony, keeping an eye on the new arrivals. The captain came through the doorway, along with a dozen stewards. While the captain doffed his cap and made his way for his table, the stewards moved to form a wall as they’d done the first night, to keep the rabble out.

Rabble though he was, Cannon did not intend to be stymied this time. He rose, threaded his way through the crowd of passengers coming down the stairs, and slipped past the row of stewards before they altogether realized what was happening.

The captain blinked at him as he sat down at the table. “Just a moment of your time, Captain Rokossovsky,” Cannon said. He became aware of a pair of the burliest stewards looming over his shoulders.

The captain held up his hand, and the stewards became incrementally less menacing. “Yes, comrade passenger?” He had a warm voice, with less of an accent than Cannon expected.

“I wondered, sir, if I might present you with a gift.” Cannon laid the folio on the table and pushed it toward the captain.

The captain raised his eyebrows doubtfully, an expression which fit with the lines of his careworn face. Pushing his hat aside, he opened the folio and read a few lines. His eyes widened. Quickly but reverently, he turned to the last page. He looked up and met Cannon’s eyes. “This is real?”

Cannon nodded. “I am assured it is.”

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Missed update update

I was busy building a game over the weekend, and didn’t get much writing in. There will be news on that soon, somewhere.

Also, I’m deep in getting Lost City of Pitu out the door, and that’s approaching hair-on-fire status regarding timing. Also, I went to the gym today and I am quite tired.

Fear not, though. I do have something written; it’s just too short to post today. We should be back to our regularly scheduled antics for Friday.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 26

Cannon woke a few hours later to the sound of the shower running and the distinct feel of a damp chill to the air. The door to the washroom was open. He stood next to it, looking away, and coughed meaningfully.

“Och, I’m decent,” Iseabail said.

“Good morning,” Cannon said, turning around to face her. “How—” The tureen, lid on, sat in the bottom of the shower stall, drenched by the cold water spewing from the head. Iseabail, her usual untamed curls matted against her head, stood by with a two-foot stick. To Cannon’s eye, she had a bit of the drowned rat’s aspect to her.

His face must have said it all. Iseabail immediately launched into an explanation. “Well, y’see, yon reaction is exothermic, aye? If I dinnae keep yon mix cool, th’ chloroform aye boils off before it’s done.”

“That would be bad.”

“I wasna finished. It also makes phosgene.”

Cannon blinked. “The gas?”


“That would be worse.”

Iseabail nodded. “I dinnae have an ice bath, or a bath at all, so.” She waved at the shower. “Improvisin’.”

“Why are you all wet?”

“It’ll nae work if I dinnae stir.”

Cannon looked doubtful, but he was no chemist, and Iseabail was usually a pretty poor liar. “Well, is it done?”

“Five minutes.”

“Good. We don’t want to miss breakfast. I hope to see the captain there.”


Cannon retreated to the cabin to dress for the day. After a few minutes, the water shut off. With his tie draped around his neck, he investigated.

Iseabail hauled the tureen out of the shower and removed the lid. Cannon leaned in to look. Iseabail smacked him on the arm. “Ye tryin’ ta knock yerself ou’?”

Cannon held up his hands in apology, and looked into the tureen over Iseabail’s shoulder. In the bottom of the tureen was what looked like a small bubble. “Is that it?”

“Aye, tha’s it. We need tae ge’ rid of the water left over.” Iseabail took the tureen in hand and carefully poured the byproducts down the shower drain. At the same time, she added, “If this were me lab, I’d want tae distill it. It’ll nae be very pure.”

“Will it knock Volkov out?”

Iseabail nodded. “Aye, or kill him. If it’s nae pure enough, it’s poison.”

Cannon weighed this. “He’s a big fellow. He’ll live.”

Pointedly keeping her thoughts to herself, Iseabail set the tureen down, then took the bottle the acetone had come in. Carefully filling it, avoiding the little bubble of chloroform, she filled the bottle with water and dumped it. Another four bottlefuls left her with chloroform and a bit of water, which she carefully poured from the tureen into the bottle. Finally, she screwed on its cap and held it up. The liquid inside was slightly cloudy. She shook it back and forth. “Done.”

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 25

With any luck, when the Russians came to, they’d jump to the obvious conclusion. The last thing Cannon needed was the crew nosing around his cabin.

He passed a few more compartments, then took a turn down a side catwalk and finally came to the cleaner’s closet. Inside, he quickly found what he needed: two glass jugs of bleach, and a small bottle of acetone. He had a pocket sized just so for the acetone. The jugs, on the other hand, were too hefty. Taking one in each hand, he peeked out of the closet. He saw no Soviets in evidence.

He stepped out onto the side catwalk, looking aft, then forward. The Russians would, in all likelihood, still be out cold if he went that way, but there were too many of them around the bunkrooms for his comfort. He could hardly go diving out of the way, either, carrying Iseabail’s materials.

Forward was little better, given that he knew there were Russians awake in that direction. Then again, he would have a head start on them, and he doubted very much the midnight bridge watch could spare more than a man or two to chase him down.

He preferred those odds. Forward it was. He had only a dozen or two yards to the base of the companionway up to the main deck. It cast shadows in red on the overhead, illuminated by the night lights from the gondola below. Cannon tiptoed up the steps as quickly as he could. He heard voices from the bridge and froze. Nobody called out in alarm. A moment or two later, he was through the hatch, and back in the world of hallways and doors.

Without incident, he made it back to his cabin. Iseabail was waiting for him.

“Good tae see ye didna ge’ caught,” she said.”

Cannon nodded. “Closer than I would have liked,” he replied, setting down the bleach and producing the acetone from his pocket.

“Ach, ace,” she said approvingly. “Haul ’em intae yon washroom.”

Cannon did so. On the floor of the shower was an enormous tureen, five gallons at least. “Where in the world did you find that?”

“I didna find anythin’. I bribed yon steward to le’ me borrow it for the nigh’.”

Cannon raised an eyebrow and lifted one of the jugs higher. “Couldn’t we have bribed him to bring us these?”

“Didna want tae make him suspicious,” Iseabail said.

“What does he think we needed the container for?”

Iseabail shrugged. “I tol’ him tae use his imagination, an’ that we’d have it for him early in the mornin’.”

Cannon set the jugs down. “You’d better get to mixing, then. I’m going to get some shuteye.”

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Commentary, The Panamanian Idol No. 25

So concludes that pleasant interlude with Sif & Co. We’ll be back at some unspecified later date. For now, we return you to the exploits of Nathaniel Cannon.

Updates may be spotty over the next month or two—I’m finally getting down to editing The Lost City of Pitu for publication, and writing a few vignettes to pad it out.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 8

Later on, after they had eaten their fill and the fire at the end of the lodge’s great hall had burned down to embers, Falthejn cleared his throat. “I am afraid I will be leaving den Holm tomorrow. Urgent matters relating to the war require my attention.”

“No!” Sif said, nearly jumping out of her chair.

Falthejn smiled. “I do wish I could stay.”

“How am I supposed to know what I’m doing?” pleaded Sif.

“You’ll meet your master at the guild tomorrow. Ansgar Leifsson is is his name.” Falthejn leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his chin. “I’ve met him once or twice, and know him by reputation. He’s a fine teacher.”

Alfhilde put in, “And your family is always here to help where we can.”

Sif sat back down, quiet for a few beats. She bit at her lip, then said to Falthejn, “You’ll visit?”

“Of course. I won’t be gone forever.”

The girl nodded to herself, then looked to Alfhilde. “I’ll probably visit a lot.”

“Nothing would make me gladder.” Alfhilde patted Sif’s hand. “You’re family now, remember.”

Sif nodded, smiling brightly. “It’s still a little hard to believe.”

“Believe it,” Falthejn said, rising. “Alfhilde, Hrothgar—it has been a pleasure. I am happy to see you well. You always have a friend in me. Please, let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you. Farewell for now.” The two of them said their farewells, then Falthejn added, “Would you walk me to the door, Sif? I have a word or two for you.”

“Sure,” Sif said, tagging along.

Falthejn took his cloak from the rack by the door and turned to her, speaking quietly. “The guild will tell you that it’s the only family you need—that’s just their way. I urge you to ignore them, and to remember what you have here.”

Sif tilted her head. “Why would I forget?”

“They can be very persuasive,” Falthejn replied. “If I thought you were entirely safe, I wouldn’t have to warn you, now, would I?” Sif shrugged, conceding the point. “Finally, if you have need of me, leave a letter with the lodgekeeper at Yngvar’s, across the bridge out the High Quarter’s south gate.”

Sif raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t his name Yngvar?”

Falthejn grinned. “Ask him about it. The winters here are long and cold. A good tale told across the fire at Yngvar’s helps to pass the time until the sun returns in warmth and happiness. As to your letters, I may not be able to come in person, but I’ll reply as soon as I know you’ve tried to get in touch.”

Sif frowned thoughtfully. “Does that mean before I leave the letter?”

“If it’s important enough.” Falthejn looked her up and down. Their first meeting was etched into his memory, and the girl then—dirty, scared, alone—bore little resemblance to the girl now. In the two weeks since their arrival in den Holm, the everpresent worry had gone out of her face, and a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. He smiled nearly ear-to-ear. “Would you believe we only met a month ago?” She joined him in marveling for a moment, then he continued. “You’ve come a long way in that time, Sif Hrothgarsdottir, and there’s no telling how high you might soar. I can’t wait to see.”

Sif blinked back tears, then threw her arms around Falthejn.

Honestly surprised, it took him a moment to hug back. He patted her on the back. After a good while, she pulled away. He put a hand on her shoulder. “Twelve watch over you, Sif. We’ll see each other soon. Of that I have no doubt.”

Wiping beneath her eyes, Sif fixed him with a mock glare. “You’d better make good on that.”

Falthejn smiled. “You have my word.”

The door closed behind him, and he was gone.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 7

Sif’s next week passed in a blur. Under Falthejn’s comforting guidance, she signed a contract with the guild and received her aspirant’s allowance—ten crowns, more money than all the rest she’d ever seen put together. Much of it vanished over the next few days, as she hired a tailor to provide her with ceremonial luftsmagiker’s robes plus a few sets of more practical clothing, paid the lodgekeeper for her parents’ stay, and bought a patch of bare ground where they might build a house in the district called the Riverfront, outside the High Quarter’s west gate.

One evening late in the week, Falthejn returned with Sif to the lodge where Alfhilde and Hrothgar were staying. They enjoyed a meal together, full of warmth as the first flurries of winter fell outside. Toward the end, Sif presented Hrothgar with the deed to their land.

Alfhilde’s eyes welled up. “You didn’t have to do that!”

“You gave me a home,” Sif said. “The least I can do is give you a house.”

Hrothgar laughed heartily and clapped her on the shoulder. “You’ve done more than that, daughter. You’ve given us a head start—a foundation.” The weight of it settled on his shoulders. “There will be others who follow the path we walked to get here, and they will be less fortunate. Now we will be able to help them. Thank you.”

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Many Words 2016 In Review

Well, it’s January, 2017, and 2016 has proven to be a banner year for us here at Many Words Press. Let’s take a look back.

Moved to
The old domain,, was clunkier, and the fancy new .press top-level domain describes our purpose here much more accurately.

Brought in some new writing talent
In March, parvusimperator began contributing to the Soapbox on a regular basis. By June, he had taken over day-to-day operations there. Now, barring special, breaking news, I submit posts for the Soapbox and he approves and schedules them, rather than the other way around. Under his direction, the Soapbox has grown immensely, to the point that it is now the most popular Many Words Press property by a significant margin, averaging about a thousand unique visitors per month. (To my sometimes chagrin, the fiction part of the site doesn’t do nearly as well.) 2016 was a huge growth year, and looking at the trend in the stats, 2017 seems likely to be even better.

Here at Many Words Main, I brought Nasa on board to do Old English translations. The Cura Pastoralis preface has been popular so far, and has brought a measure of organic search traffic which the fiction on its own has not. Although Cædmon’s Hymn has not brought in the same numbers, it’s still relatively popular as standalone posts go. I look forward to seeing more Old English in 2017.

Published a story
This is your reminder to hit the Books link, either at the top of the page or in the sidebar to the right. We Sail Off To War released last June, and although it’s hardly been a best-seller, it’s been great actually making some revenue on writing for once.

Finished three stories
The Long Retreat, which wrapped up at the end of summer, is the one you saw, but I also finished two short stories for magazine submissions: Spaghetti Code, which has been rejected from such titans of the industry as F&SF, Clarkesworld, and Shimmer, and is currently pending rejection from Asimov’s; and The Sword and the Spear, which is currently cooling off for a few weeks since it failed to get into the anthology I wrote it for. Whether or not they end up in a magazine, they’ll eventually end up in a Many Words anthology e-book.

In one of my larger achievements of the year, I started and nearly finished a hnefatafl engine. Hnefatafl is an Old Norse board game, but rather than spill ink here, I’ll direct you to the ink I’ve already spilled.

Engines—that is, programs which implement the rules of a board game, along with support for other ancillary features like puzzles, replays, and timing—are common for more popular board games like chess and go, but I’m proud to say that OpenTafl is the first more or less complete solution for the tafl family of games.

In keeping with the theme of firsts, tomorrow, OpenTafl and J.A.R.L, another tafl AI, will play for the title of 2016 OpenTafl Computer Tafl Open champion. To my knowledge, this is the first organized competition between computer tafl players. I had hoped to have more entrants, but it was not to be. Hopefully, 2017 will prove a little more fruitful.

Random Carrier Battles
In other coding project news, I’ve announced Random Carrier Battles, a World War 2 wargame with a robust design system. The end goal is to allow nearly-entirely-random carrier battles, automatically generated, with random enemy fleets facing off against player fleets. Stay tuned for more.

That’s about that. It was a productive 2016, and 2017 is looking to be just the same.

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