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Friday, September 30, 2016

Star-Sent Knaves 5 (Intermediate-Advanced)



II         
Dan gaped at a head the size of a beachball, mounted on a torso like a hundred-gallon bag of water. Two large brown eyes blinked at him from points eight inches apart. Immense hands with too many fingers unfolded and reached to open a brown paper carton, dip in, then toss three peanuts, deliberately, one by one, into a gaping mouth that opened just above the brown eyes.
"Who're you?" a bass voice demanded from somewhere near the floor.
"I'm ... I'm ... Dan Slane ... your honor."
"What happened to Manny and Fiorello?"
"They--I--There was this cop. Kelly--"
"Oh-oh." The brown eyes blinked deliberately. The many-fingered hands closed the peanut carton and tucked it into a drawer.
"Well, it was a sweet racket while it lasted," the basso voice said. "A pity to terminate so happy an enterprise. Still...." A noise like an amplified Bronx cheer issued from the wide mouth.
"How ... what...?"
"The carrier returns here automatically when the charge drops below a critical value," the voice said. "A necessary measure to discourage big ideas on the part of wisenheimers in my employ. May I ask how you happen to be aboard the carrier, by the way?"
"I just wanted--I mean, after I figured out--that is, the police ... I went for help," Dan finished lamely.
"Help? Out of the picture,  unfortunately. One must maintain one's anonymity, you'll appreciate. My operation here is under wraps at present. Ah, I don't suppose you brought any paintings?"
Dan shook his head. He was staring at the posters. His eyes, accustoming themselves to the gloom of the office, could now make out the vividly drawn outline of a creature resembling an alligator-headed giraffe rearing up above scarlet foliage. The next poster showed a face similar to the beachball behind the desk, with red circles painted around the eyes. The next was a view of a yellow volcano spouting fire into a black sky.
"Too bad." The words seemed to come from under the desk. Dan squinted, caught a glimpse of coiled purplish tentacles. He gulped and looked up to catch a brown eye upon him. Only one. The other seemed to be busily at work studying the ceiling.
"I hope," the voice said, "that you ain't harboring no reactionary racial prejudices."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Star-Sent Knaves (Intermediate-Advanced level)



       *       *       *       *       *
Dan took a deep breath and tried another lever. The cage rose gently, in eerie silence. It reached the ceiling and kept going. Dan gritted his teeth as an eight-inch band of luminescence passed down the cage.
Then he was emerging into a spacious kitchen. A blue-haloed1 cook waddled2 to a luminous refrigerator, caught sight of Dan rising slowly from the floor, stumbled back, mouth open. The cage rose, penetrated a second ceiling. Dan looked around at a carpeted hall.
Cautiously he neutralized the control lever. The cage came to rest an inch above the floor. As far as Dan could tell, he hadn’t traveled so much as a minute into the past or future.
He looked over the controls. There should be one labeled “Forward” and another labeled “Back”, but all the levers were plain, unadorned3 black. They looked, Dan decided, like ordinary circuit-breaker type knife-switches. In fact, the whole apparatus had the appearance of something thrown together hastily from common materials. Still, it worked. So far he had only found the controls for maneuvering in the usual three dimensions, but the time switch was bound to be here somewhere….
Dan looked up at a movement at the far end of the hall.
A girl’s head and shoulders appeared, coming up a spiral staircase. In another second she would see him, and give the alarm—and Dan needed a few moments of peace and quiet in which to figure out the controls.
He moved a lever. The cage drifted smoothly sideways, sliced through the wall with a flurry4 of vivid blue light. Dan pushed the lever back. He was in a bedroom now, a wide chamber with flouncy5 curtains, a four-poster under a flowered canopy, a dressing table—
The door opened and the girl stepped into the room. She was young. Not over eighteen, Dan thought—as nearly as he could tell with the blue light playing around her face. She had long hair tied with a ribbon, and long legs, neatly curved. She wore shorts and carried a tennis racquet in her left hand and an apple in her right. Her back to Dan and the cage, she tossed the racquet on a table, took a bite of the apple, and began briskly unbuttoning her shirt.
Dan tried moving a lever. The cage edged toward the girl. Another; he rose gently. The girl tossed the shirt onto a chair and undid the zipper down the side of the shorts. Another lever; the cage shot toward the outer wall as the girl reached behind her back….
Dan blinked at the flash of blue and looked down. He was hovering twenty feet above a clipped lawn.
He looked at the levers. Wasn’t it the first one in line that moved the cage ahead? He tried it, shot forward ten feet. Below, a man stepped out on the terrace, lit a cigarette, paused, started to turn his face up—
Dan jabbed6 at a lever. The cage shot back through the wall. He was in a plain room with a depression in the floor, a wide window with a planter filled with glowing blue plants—
The door opened. Even blue, the girl looked graceful as a deer as she took a last bite of the apple and stepped into the ten-foot-square sunken tub. Dan held his breath. The girl tossed the apple core aside, seemed to suddenly become aware of eyes on her, whirled—
With a sudden lurch7 that threw Dan against the steel bars, the cage shot through the wall into the open air and hurtled off with an acceleration that kept him pinned, helpless. He groped for the controls, hauled at a lever. There was no change. The cage rushed on, rising higher. In the distance, Dan saw the skyline of a town, approaching with frightful speed. A tall office building reared up fifteen stories high. He was headed dead for it—
He covered his ears, braced himself—
With an abruptness that flung him against the opposite side of the cage, the machine braked, shot through the wall and slammed to a stop.
Dan sank to the floor of the cage, breathing hard. There was a loud click! And the glow faded.
With a lunge8, Dan scrambled out of the cage. He stood looking around at a simple brown-painted office, dimly lit by sunlight filtered through elaborate venetian blinds. There were posters on the wall, a potted plant by the door, a heap of framed paintings beside it, and at the far side of the room a desk. And behind the desk—Something.
NOTES:
1.     blue-haloed  Can you guess the meaning of this word from the context?
2.     waddle  to walk with short steps that make your body move from side to side like a duck’s body does when it walks
3.     adorn  decorate something –adorned(adj.) –unadorned(negative adj.)
4.     flurry  a short period of activity or emotion
5.     flounce  a wide piece of cloth that is formed into folds and fastened for decoration to the edge of something such as a piece of clothing or a curtain –flouncy (adj.)
6.     jab (at)  to push something with a sudden straight movement, usually with your finger, your elbow, or a narrow object
7.     lurch  sudden uncontrolled movement
8.     lunge  a sudden strong movement to catch or hit something or someone

Star-Sent Knaves (Part 4) (Intermediate-Advanced level)



       *       *       *       *       *
Dan looked about wildly. The voice seemed to be issuing from a speaker.
It appeared Kelly hedged1 his bets.
"Mr. Kelly, I can explain everything!" Dan called. He turned back to Fiorello. "Listen, I figured out--"
"Pretty clever!" Kelly's voice barked. "Inside job. But it takes more than the likes of you to out-fox an old-timer like Eddie Kelly."
"Perhaps you were right, Manny," Fiorello said. "Complications are arising. We'd best depart with all deliberate haste." He edged toward the cage.
"What about this ginzo2?" Manny jerked a thumb toward Dan. "He's on to us."
"Can't be helped."
"Look--I want to go with you!" Dan shouted.
"I'll bet you do!" Kelly's voice roared. "One more minute and I'll have the door open and collar3 the lot of you! Came up through a tunnel, did you?"
"You can't go, my dear fellow," Fiorello said. "Room for two, no more."
Dan whirled to the cot4, grabbed up the pistol Kelly had supplied. He aimed it at Manny. "You stay here, Manny! I'm going with Fiorello in the time machine."
"Are you nuts?" Manny demanded.
"I'm flattered, dear boy," Fiorello said, "but--"
"Let's get moving. Kelly will have that lock open in a minute."
"You can't leave me here!" Manny spluttered5, watching Dan crowd into the cage beside Fiorello.
"We'll send for you," Dan said. "Let's go, Fiorello."
The balding man snatched suddenly for the gun. Dan wrestled with him.
The pistol fell, bounced on the floor of the cage, skidded into the far corner of the vault. Manny charged, reaching for Dan as he twisted aside; Fiorello's elbow caught him in the mouth. Manny staggered back into the arms of Kelly, bursting red-faced into the vault.
"Manny!" Fiorello released his grip on Dan, lunged to aid his companion. Kelly passed Manny to one of three cops crowding in on his heels. Dan clung to the framework as Fiorello grappled with Kelly. A cop pushed past them, spotted Dan, moved in briskly for the pinch. Dan grabbed a lever at random and pulled.
Sudden silence fell as the walls of the room glowed blue. A spectral Kelly capered before the cage, fluorescing in the blue-violet. Dan swallowed hard and nudged a second lever. The cage sank like an elevator into the floor, vivid blue washing up its sides.
Hastily he reversed the control. Operating a time machine was tricky business. One little slip, and the Slane molecules would be squeezing in among brick and mortar particles....
But this was no time to be cautious. Things hadn't turned out just the way he'd planned, but after all, this was what he'd wanted--in a way.
The time machine was his to command. And if he gave up now and crawled back into the vault, Kelly would gather him in and pin every art theft of the past decade on him.
It couldn't be too hard. He'd take it slowly, figure out the controls....
NOTES:
1.     hedge   to avoid answering a question or making a decision in a definite or direct way
2.     ginzo   offensive term for a person of Italian descent
3.     collar  arrest
4.     cot  camp bed
5.     splutter  to make noises with your mouth because you suddenly cannot breathe or swallow normally
6.      

Monday, September 26, 2016

Star -Sent Knaves (Intermediate-Advanced)



*       *       *       *       *
Eight hours, three sandwiches and six beers later, Dan roused suddenly from a light doze and sat up on the cot1. Between him and the crowded shelving, a palely luminous framework was materializing in mid-air.
The apparition was an open-work cage--about the size and shape of an out-house minus the sheathing2, Dan estimated breathlessly. Two figures were visible within the structure, sitting stiffly in contoured chairs. They glowed, if anything, more brightly than the framework.
A faint sound cut into the stillness--a descending whine. The cage moved jerkily3, settling toward the floor. Long blue sparks jumped, crackling4, to span the closing gap; with a grate of metal, the cage settled against the floor. The spectral men reached for ghostly switches....
The glow died.
Dan was aware of his heart thumping painfully under his ribs. His mouth was dry. This was the moment he'd been planning for, but now that it was here--
Never mind. He took a deep breath, ran over the speeches he had prepared for the occasion:
Greeting, visitors from the Future....
Hopelessly corny5. What about: Welcome to the Twentieth Century....
No good; it lacked spontaneity. The men were rising, their backs to Dan, stepping out of the skeletal frame. In the dim light it now looked like nothing more than a rough frame built of steel pipe, with a cluster of levers in a console before the two seats. And the thieves looked ordinary enough: Two men in gray coveralls, one slender6 and balding, the other shorter and round-faced. Neither of them noticed Dan, sitting rigid on the cot1. The thin man placed a lantern on the table, twiddled a knob7. A warm light sprang up. The visitors looked at the stacked shelves.
"Looks like the old boy's been doing all right," the shorter man said.
"Fathead's gonna be pleased."
"A very gratifying consignment," his companion said. "However, we'd best hurry, Manny. How much time have we left on this charge?"
"Plenty. Fifteen minutes anyway."
The thin man opened a package, glanced at a painting.
"Ah, magnificent. Almost the equal of Picasso in his puce8 period."
Manny shuffled through the other pictures in the stack.               
"Like always," he grumbled. "No nood dames. I like nood dames10."
"Look at this, Manny! The textures alone--"
Manny looked. "Yeah, nice use of values," he conceded. "But I still prefer nood dames10, Fiorello."
"And this!" Fiorello lifted the next painting. "Look at that gay play of rich browns!"
"I seen richer browns on Thirty-third Street," Manny said. "They was popular with the sparrows10."
"Manny, sometimes I think your aspirations--"
"Whatta ya talkin? I use a roll-on." Manny, turning to place a painting in the cage, stopped dead as he caught sight of Dan. The painting clattered9 to the floor. Dan stood, cleared his throat. "Uh...."
"Oh-oh," Manny said. "A double-cross."
"I've--ah--been expecting you gentlemen," Dan said. "I--"
"I told you we couldn't trust no guy with nine fingers on each hand," Manny whispered hoarsely. He moved toward the cage. "Let's blow, Fiorello."
"Wait a minute," Dan said. "Before you do anything hasty--"
"Don't start nothing, Buster," Manny said cautiously. "We're plenty tough guys when aroused."
"I want to talk to you," Dan insisted. "You see, these paintings--"
"Paintings? Look, it was all a mistake. Like, we figured this was the gent's room--"
"Never mind, Manny," Fiorello cut in. "It appears there's been a leak."
Dan shook his head. "No leak. I simply deduced--"
"Look, Fiorello," Manny said. "You chin if you want to; I'm doing a fast fade."
"Don't act hastily, Manny. You know where you'll end."
"Wait a minute!" Dan shouted. "I'd like to make a deal with you fellows."
"Ah-hah!" Kelly's voice blared from somewhere. "I knew it! Slane, you crook!"
Notes:
1.     cot a camp bed (American)
2.     sheathing   a hard substance that covers and protects something
3.     jerky  a jerky movement consists of several separate short movements –jerkily (adv)
4.     crackling  the sound that something makes when it crackles
5.     corny  corny stories, jokes, songs etc have been used so much that they seem silly
6.     slender  tall or long and thin in an attractive way
7.     twiddle a knob  to twist or turn a door handle  in a bored or nervous way
8.     puce  something that is puce has a colour between dark brown or dark red and purple
9.     clatter if a hard object clatters, or if you clatter it, it makes several loud short noises as it hits against another hard object or surface
10.                        Wrong grammar! Can you correct the sentences? Please write your answers in comments below.