Science Fiction. Cold Ends: A Brush with Death

Cold Ends:

A Brush with Death

By Lee Austin

Andy Miller, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons
Art by Andy Miller

The Captain screamed, and her scream was lost to the silence of a vacuum. The void was a horrible shock. Then tether desperately dragged her back, and her lungs painfully at the air now filling her spacesuit helmet. 

“She’ll live.” A voice above her. “But this was sabotage.”

Two days later, Captain Cade breathed gingerly while resting in sickbay. She wanted to get up, but everything hurt. Of her five fellow crew members, who would want to kill her?

Doc had told Cade that Danny had rushed to drag her back into the airlock. Danny was a stocky giant who barreled into things and grinned cheerfully whenever he was happy, which was often. Not a killer. No motives for murder came to mind. Not that the rest of the crew were better suspects.

Doc could have killed her anytime in the twelve years they had worked together. They’d had plenty of arguments in that time, during which he generally attempted to summarize a dozen articles that supported his point. Born researcher. They annoyed each other, but were good friends regardless. Come to think of it, no one really had a motive. 

The Doc wandered back through to check on her, and Kesa, the pilot and first officer, popped her head in as well.

“Oh good, you’re awake.” Kesa said with concern.

Cade smiled at her and raised her head, then winced, and resolved not to move again. Kesa was next in line for captaincy, but this was Cade’s last run before retirement, so she did not have anything to gain by her death. Also, the Doc had said Kesa’s movements had been accounted for by both the internal cameras and computer logs. She was on the bridge. No opportunity.

“How are you feeling?” Asked the Doc.

“I’ve been better.” Cade responded, trying not to move too much.

“If you’re feeling up to it, we’d like to have a meeting.” Kesa said.

“May as well, I’m not going anywhere.” Cade responded.

Kesa took a breath and explained, “So we’ve been looking into what happened, and it looks like your air line was cut between the time Danny and Doc were checking your attachments, and before you went into the airlock.”

“I was with Danny the whole time. I helped him check his suit once we were done with yours.” The Doc added seriously.

“I don’t think either of you would kill me.” Cade responded. “I trust Danny too.”

“If you count us out,” Kesa stated, “the only two left are the botanist, who was confirmed to be asleep then,  and the entomologist, who was on camera staring at his experiment the whole time. The trouble is the cameras. We have a black box system that saves all the videos and instrument data in real time. Doc hit the alarm when Danny was pulling you in, which triggered it to eject a copy file, and lockdown the main alarm.”

“Yes?” Asked the Captain. That was what it was supposed to do.

“The copy clears everyone except the Doc, but” Kesa hesitated “it looks legit, but I think it’s been cut. There’s a bit where it’s a little jellied, like an AI was smoothing it over.”

“It looks fine to me.” Doc shrugged.

“Is there any way this could have been an accident?” Asked Cade quietly.

Kesa shook her head.

“No. The line was cut.”

“Any chance there could be a stowaway?” Cade asked, knowing it was unlikely.

“No.” Kesa responded. “A seventh person would use more life support then is currently being drawn.”

“Kesa, please bring everyone in here. We need to get this sorted out without it turning into a witch hunt. And Kesa? How long until we reach Turtle Station?”

“78 hours.”

Captain Cade sighed. If she counted out her friends, that left the two new crew members. Cade didn’t know either of them well. This was their first trip, and they kept to themselves a lot. The botanist was Gilad. He had signed on for a five year tour to save up enough to buy some land on his homeworld, so he could grow more plants. Cade allowed some of the overflow from his workstation to grace the mess hall, and well, it was slowly taking over the ship. Cade was ignoring this for the moment, as it kept him occupied between assignments, and Gilad’s plan involved trading a good bit of the mess for some interesting dirt at the next station.

The entomologist, Joncas, on the other hand, was definitely weird. He didn’t talk much, and when he did, he tended to ramble, and somehow always wound up on the topic of venomous spiders. He had been permanently excused from dinners for eating live cockroaches. Joncas was fine on work assignment, he just preferred to be left alone. They were, in fact, dropping him off at a very isolated cylinder where he would live almost entirely alone.

So Danny and the doctor had an opportunity. The whereabouts of Kesa, Gilad, and Joncas were accounted for. No one had a clear motive. Assuming the logs could be tampered with (which would basically take an admiral-level override once it had been locked down, or equivalent hacking skills), then it would have happened after she checked her spacesuit, and before she left the ship. She furrowed her brow. She had fully checked her suit immediately prior to putting it on. It had been fine. The doctor helped her with a few of the attachments, then left. Danny also suited up to follow her out. They left her alone for about five minutes while she was getting into the suit. Anyone could have come in once the bulky thing narrowed her field of vision, assuming the culprit stayed behind her, and was very, very quiet. Possible, but unlikely. Kesa was out — in a tricky gravity, and she wouldn’t leave her station with an extravehicular activity in progress. Even if she ran, it would take about seven minutes to make it there and back without bumping into anyone. So it would be extremely difficult, with a high risk of getting caught. The biologist was out. He was farther away then Kesa, and-

The entomologist, Joncas,  came into the sick bay.

“Feeling better?” He asked awkwardly.

The captain nodded, and winced with pain. Doc came in to help her adjust the bed so she was sitting up. The rest of the crew came in and awkwardly perched or stood against the wall.

“Well,” Said Danny. “The air line was cut, I know I didn’t do it. That leaves you Doc, but neither Captain Cade nor Kesa think it was you, and frankly I thought we were all good friends by now. So, that leaves you two newbies, but you were too far away. So I reckon one of you taped a knife to one of those little drones.” The large man was angrily eyeing Gilad, who was shifting between his feet, holding a plant with a “get well soon” stuck among the foliage as if it possibly shield him from the large, angry engineer.

“Danny!” Called the Captain. “Did you find any evidence of a knife-wielding drone?”

“Not yet Captain. But I will.”

“I’d no part in this, Captain.” Gilad said angrily. “I’ll cooperate with any official investigation to clear my name, but I want someone impartial investigating.”

“Same.” Joncas. “We weren’t even there. Also, I don’t know why it was decided to leave you alone with the Doc, since he’s the prime suspect.”

Kesa interjected “We don’t have anyone else onboard who could keep Cade alive, and none of us are good enough at medical to stop Doc if used the wrong drug, or the wrong dose.”

“You don’t suspect him, though.” Pointed out Joncas. “You’re trusting friendship over opportunity.”

“Why were you targeted, specifically?” Gilad asked the Captain. “Could anyone else be in danger?” There was silence at this. “Could we pair up or something to stay safe?”

“If we stay in pairs, someone is always alone with a would-be murderer.” Pointed out Kesa. “We’d need to stay in groups of three.”

“Wouldn’t work.” Joncas stated. “All you’d need to do is stab the target and blame it on the witness.” He thought for a moment and added “Or stab anyone in another group covertly, and boom, off the suspect list.” The crew stared at him. “Captain, do you have a reason for this meeting? I have work to do.”

“I’d rather have everything out in the open than deal with any private witch hunts.” The Captain pointedly looked at Danny, who crossed his arms and looked away. “We also need a way to keep everyone safe for the next three days, then we can have someone impartial from Turtle Station investigate and pull the black box. Does anyone have any evidence-backed theories?” The crew looked at each other and shuffled quietly.

“Why don’t we each grab some extra food, and lock ourselves into our own space?” Suggested Gilad. “I’d feel safer that way.”

“Works for me.” Said Kesa. “I can stay on the bridge. Everyone should take an emergency air tank, too. Captain, you’d still need Doc? I could stay with you for safety, and have Danny man the bridge.”

“No. I’ll have Danny in down with the engines, and Doc here. I’ll be okay, and we’d be the only ones together. The four of you should go together to get the supplies.” Everyone nodded except Joncas, who looked alarmed.

“No, wait, this won’t work.”

“Why not?” Asked Kesa.

“Because... “ Joncas hesitated, struggling to find the right words. “You’d be alone with the doctor.”

“I’ve known Doc for twenty years.” The Captain protested.


“So, I trust him.”

“What if there’s an emergency, like the ship we pass in about twelve hours?” Joncas persisted.

“It’s on a different course.” Kesa stated. “And if you’re worried about piracy, we’d barricade ourselves anyway and let insurance deal with it.”

“What if the killer gets out and comes after us one by one?” Joncas asked.

“Joncas, I will show you how to seal and lock a door. You will be fine. Let’s go.” Kesa said firmly.

“I...” Joncas was looking panicked.

“What’s with you anyhow?” Asked Danny. ‘You like to be alone.”

“Hey look, I don’t know how to say this, but, well.” He paused with annoyance. “Look, it’s just a job, alright? A very lucrative client, with many, easy high-paying jobs. But also a very careful client, if you catch my drift.”

“You are drifting alright.” Stated Danny. “Make your point.”

“There is a significant chance that the ship we pass in twelve hours will have orders to kill us if no message reporting the Captain’s death is sent out in the three hours.” Gilad and Kesa stepped away from Joncas, and Danny straightened up menacingly.

“Just a job.” Joncas raised his arms in a peaceful gesture. “Just a job. Here you’d have a quick death, the doc would take the fall, and I would have a nice payout. Now you are all loose ends, if you follow my meaning, and I’m concerned that any back-up plan may include that very well armed ship which will pass close in about twelve hours. So new plan, join me, and make all our retirements a little earlier and less permanent.”

“Joncas, you tried to kill me?” Asked the Captain.

“Yes. So we send the message, and make it to the station. I have a way out from there. Get me that far, and I’ll take you as far as” Joncas hesitated, figuring in his head “New Kansas. For a price of course.”

“You tried to kill me, you’re just telling us this, and you want us to pay you to take us someplace else?”

“To take you there alive. The alive part is difficult. That is why I ask for money. A lot of money, since you don’t need money if you’re dead, which you will be without my services.” Joncas explained. “And since I’ve botched the job, the Frontier Company probably wants me dead too. No witnesses.”

“Why should we believe you?” Asked Kesa.

“Just call up any of your old pals from retirement tier three or higher. They’ll know.” Joncas said, looking at the doctor. The rest of the crew also looked towards him. Doc could have retired years ago.

“Money attracts problems.” The doctor shrugged. “There’s a high rate of kidnappings and weird accidents and so forth. A few of my old buddies are okay. A bunch are not.”

“Is that why you haven’t retired?” Asked Kesa.

“I’m happy here. I have time for my research. I travel everywhere, and I don’t have to deal with sick people very often.” Doc explained casually.

“Excuse me! Ship of death. Eleven hours. Act now, plan later.” Joncas interrupted.

“Joncas, I’m not going to hire you to keep us safe.”

“No worries. Scratch that. Many worries. Just send out the message that Cade is dead, and we’ll part ways at Turtle.”

“Should I arrest him now, and find a spot to hold him for a while?” Kesa asked. The Captain looked thoughtful, and Kesa added “We’re not really entertaining this lunatic are we?”

“I’ll take responsibility. If there’s a chance our lives are at risk, then I want to hear ALL of the options.” The captain decided. “Can you prove that we will be in danger if we do not send out that message?”

“Not directly. I can prove I tried to kill you. I used a sharp, razor thin wire on a high-speed motor to cut the air tube from the inside.” Joncas looked dejected “and it’s probably floating who knows where by now. I have knife skills. I understand poisons.” No one looked convinced. “And the real Joncas is stuffed into my cold storage locker.”

Passport processing times

Passport processing times

        I recently went to get a passport (and by recently, I mean June, and it’s November already). I was warned, of course, that it would take eighteen weeks when I had my passport appointment, but it’s not like I’m in a rush to go anywhere. So, standard processing, and it just showed up in the mail last week. This seems like a long time to wait.

Mkt3000 dot vim, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

        Standard passport processing is currently eight to eleven weeks, according to the U.S. Government (United States, 2021). This is 56 to 77 days, if you were wondering. This seems like a very long time. Is this normal?

        I looked at other countries. To sort through the myriad options, I assumed the applicant is an adult, who does not live conveniently close to the central passport office, and is applying from within his or her own country, to obtain a non-rushed first-time passport. I also assumed this adult had made it to the point of the passport appointment with all the appropriate paperwork (and alarmingly, bribes). From there I counted the outer range of time, based on when you could pick it up or when the issuing authority stopped counting. This is an issue, as some countries allow you to pick it up, some mail it, some count the mailing time in their processing estimates, and some have decided the postal wait is a separate issue.

To sum that up, this is how long you may wait for a passport after your appointment:

Albania’s standard first-time adult passport can be had within 15 days (eAleat, 2021).
Angola, 30 days (Jornal de Angola, 2019).
Antigua and Barbuda, 21 days (Antigua and Barbuta, 2015).
Argentina, 15 days (Argentinia, n.d.).
Australia, 21 days (Australia, n.d.).
Austria, 5 days (Austria, 2020).
Bahamas, 35 days (Bahamas, 2020).
Brazil, 10 days (Brasil, 2021).
Canada, 20 days (Canada, 2021).
Hong Kong, 10 days, plus a long list of possible delaying factors (Hong Kong, 2021).
Indonesia, 7 days (Indonesia, 2019).
Taiwan, 4 days (Taiwan, 2021).
United States, 77 days (United States, 2021).

        The larger countries of India and China have broken their passport duties down, so each state, region, or territory handles issuing passports for the people who live there. I wondered if the number of people handled by each issuing agency made a difference. So I checked Indonesia, and they advertise a seven day processing time on a main website for the whole country (Indonesia, 2019). It's possible to be efficient for a large population, it's just not happening in the United States.

        For my list, I was going to get all the countries, but it turned out to be extremely time-consuming. Often the issuing body does not post how long it takes to get a passport, as in the case of Greece. Still, Greece advertises rush passports to its citizens within a single day, which indicates pretty decent efficiency. 

“Généralement beaucoup d'attente”

        To illustrate the problems gathering data, I present France. Their official time estimate is “Généralement beaucoup d'attente,” which means “usually a lot of waiting” per google translate (France, 2021). They also have this graph to explain how their wait times vary over the course of the year.

        It looks like the French passport office has the fastest turn-around in the fall. It is still unclear how long you will wait.        

        I’d like to track it all down the rest of it and run some statistics, but this was a spare time project. I’ve included everything I’ve found so far. (If this sparks someone's interest let me know, and I’ll track down some more numbers).

        What seems pretty obvious so far is that waiting up to 11 weeks for a passport to be processed is not normal. In fact, any Department of Motor Vehicles could probably do better, even if staffed solely with sloths, it's that bad. At this point, the U.S. Federal Government appears to be among the worst in the world for efficient passport processing. This wait for passports is unreasonable and unnecessary. The U.S. Federal Government has shown they are unable to manage passport processing with any degree of competence.  I recommend that the process be turned over to the States. If you have other ideas for how to fix this, I’d be interested in hearing them.

        In the meantime, the contact information for your U.S. Senator can be found here, and your U.S. Representative here.


Antigua and Barbuta. (2015). Passports. Immigration Department.

Argentinia. (n.d.). Tramitar el Pasaporte regular. Ministerio del Interior.

Australia. (n.d.). How long to get a passport. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Austria. (2020, January 29). Reisedokumente. Bundersminterium FÜR Inneres.

Bahamas. (2020). Applying for a passport. Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Brasil. (2021, October 12). Obter Passaporte. Viagens e Turismo.

Canada. (2021, April 29). Services for Canadians in Canada. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada service standards.

eAleat. (2021). Pasaportë biometrike. eAleat Identity Services.

France. (2021). Rendez-vous en mairie pour un passeport. France.

Hong Kong. (2021, May 31). Application for HKSAR Passport. Immigration Department.

Indonesia. (2019, January 7). Membuat Paspor Biasa Secara Online. Portal Informasi Indonesia.

Jornal de Angola. (2019, Feburary 20). Tempo de emissão de passaporte cai para 15 dias. Jornal de Angola.

Taiwan. (2021, February 22). Method I of applying for first passport in Taiwan. Bureau of Consular Affairs.

United States. (2021, October 29). Passports. U.S. Department of State.

Review: I Can Only Draw Worms

        I Can Only Draw Worms by Will Mabbitt lives up to his initial claim that he can only draw worms. The art is terrible. The entire book is composed of pictures of worms that look like they've been drawn with a black marker and two highlighters. It's also terribly clever and hilarious. I was laughing. What I Can Only Draw Worms lacks in pictures, it makes up for in jokes. The premise is a basic counting book, and the worms go and have adventures and are confused with each other because they look so much alike. No matter what adventure the worms have, we only see the worms. Because Mabbitt can only draw worms, apparently. And half worms. Poor worm eight, and poor worm eight and a half. You are not two worms. Sad but funny. So funny.

        I Can Only Draw Worms is encouraging, because it shows you don't have to be a great artist to create enjoyable art. Mabbitt is engaging and comedic, and plays to those strengths.

Five stars!

Review: Every Llama Needs a Scarf

        Every Llama Needs a Scarf by Tunisia Williams is a hilariously well-put together book. It is not, in fact, about llamas. Rather, it is a collection of animals wearing accessories while out and about having fun. I especially like the sloth, and I would like to know where he’s going, and why his journey is taking so long. Every Llama Needs a Scarf is funny, it's improbable, and it made me laugh. Very entertaining.

        The art is very good. The animals are easily identifiable, and well proportioned. Jessica Roberts has paid attention to shading and details like fur texture and background objects as well. It looks like it has been drawn with markers, and the strokes have been left unblended to arrange a textured look with lots of character.
It’s a good book, one I wouldn’t mind reading again.

Five stars!
*I was given an advance review ebook by the author.

Review: What is that? Said the Cat


        "What Is THAT?" Said the Cat by Grace Maccarone is a level one scholastic reader. Maccarone uses rhyming sight words to create an intriguing story. There is a large wood box that says "DO NOT OPEN." Naturally, all the animals want to know what is inside. But how can they open it?

        Jeffrey Scherer has done a great job with simple illustrations, which show an ever-growing crowd of curious animals. The pictures stay simple, but there are little details like the fox hanging out with some juice and a straw that add depth to the story. And when they finally open the box, Scherer does a good job with all their reactions to what’s inside.

Five stars!

Review: Sheep Dog and Sheep Sheep

        Sheep Dog and Sheep Sheep by Eric Barclay is a story about a happy sheep who spends her days dancing and being helpful, and the responsible, patient sheep dog who keeps watch over her. Their personalities are very real and consistent. Sheep chatters away, and Sheep Dog listens. Sheep has lots of dances to dance and things to find, and Sheep Dog follows along quietly, keeping her safe. There are a lot of dangers out there for a little sheep who closes her eyes when she dances. I love how Sheep Dog is just quietly moving predators along like a bodyguard, and doesn't interfere with Sheep's actions. The Sheep just goes where she wants to go and she is safe because Sheep Dog is there.

        Barclay did his own illustrations for the book, and they enliven the story quite nicely. The story takes place on an interesting landscape, with rolling hills and bluffs leading to a river. There is a nice mix of meadows, trees, and buildings, which have been redrawn for each scene. The landscape and buildings are also consistent through angle changes, which looks difficult. The animals show a lot of emotion, and Sheep's dances are just adorable.

        This book is very relatable for little ones who like to dance and wear bows in their hair. This will appeal to young picture book aficionados.

Five stars!

Review: Nighttime Ninja

        Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta is a unique approach to a bedtime story. It starts with a ninja carefully climbing over the rooftops to reach his mission objective. This is a very short story, and it is more fun if you don't know the ending the first time reading it, so I'll leave it at that. It is very child-appropriate.

        The art by Ed Young is composed of paper cutouts. I like it, it's different. The contrasting textures work well with the ninja coming in over the house. The book uses dark shadows, which create a bit of an ominous tone at first, but it's a nice moonlit night, and not scary. This will appeal to young readers.

Five stars!

Review: Kenny & the Book of Beasts


        Kenny and the Book of Beasts by Tony DiTerlizzi is the wonderful, charming sequel to Kenny and the Dragon (reviewed here). The sequel would make sense if read alone, but both books are absolutely excellent. I believe this one is better because the characters are deeper. 

        In the opening pages, we find that Kenny has graduated from being the only child, with the addition of a dozen delightful tiny bunnies. They are an adorable handful, and keep Kenny’s parents busy. Between the new litter, and Kenny’s friends being busy with their own life plans, Kenny feels lonely. This is even harder when his best friend Grahame gets the chance to catch up with his long-lost old friend. DiTerlizzi did an excellent job with the details. The adorable dozen are never in danger, and Kenny’s parents take time to check on him when he’s feeling down. Excellent plot.

        This story is really well-timed, as so many of us have had to reduce socializing lately. Also, plenty of adventure and action. I was really looking forward to this book, and I was not disappointed.

        The art is lovely. DiTerlizzi has done an exceptional job with his drawings. Each one is as interesting and detailed as his covers. And the sheep are back! I love the sheep!

Five stars!

Review of Sule: The Proverb Detective. The Case of the Tied-up Lion

        Sule: The Proverb Detective. The Case of the Tied-up Lion by Rene Rawls is a story about a detective helping his friend Fara. Fara is overwhelmed with preparations for a party later that day, when she bumps into Sule. Sule tells her the old proverb “When spiders unite, they can tie up a lion.” and takes off with her list. Thus begins a search and find as Fara attempts to find Sule and her friends in the marketplace. It's a delightful and engrossing tale of friendship.

        The use of a detective to weave in hidden object puzzles is a clever premise, and it is very entertaining. The Case of the Tied-up Lion is filled with a variety of hidden object puzzles. The readers look for spiders, people, and objects on different pages.

        The illustrations by Brittnie Brotzman are two-dimensional cartoons, and the scenes are very detail intensive. The color choices are well-done, with soft natural colors muting the bold clothes and wares of the vendors. The hidden object puzzles are good, challenging, but not too difficult for a younger audience.

        Sule: The Proverb Detective is a series that includes two short animated episodes. One of these, Sule and the Case of the Tiny Sparks, is currently available on YouTube.

Five stars!

*I was given an advance review ebook by the author.

Inkscape Tutorial: Bonsai Elm

Bonsai Elm Tutorial
This is for beginning Inkscape users. The pot is mostly manipulating shapes, while the tree requires drawing with a mouse. You need to know how to create circles, drag lines around, and follow keyboard shortcuts. The goal of this tutorial is be able to draw bonsai, so it goes through a lot of steps quickly. There are some very thorough tutorials listed at the bottom that cover each tool in depth. If you just want the Bonsai Elm svg file to download, go here.

Set up

I have the basic page with A4/letter size paper. No grids, and page visible, which can be adjusted in document properties (Shift+Ctrl+D). I found the number of buttons and controls a bit overwhelming when I was starting, so I have tried to break it down. This tutorial only needs three toolbars visible. I like keyboard shortcuts. The Commands Bar (Or the Edit menu) also accesses the duplicate command.
ViewShow/Hide → Select: Snap Controls Bar, Tool Controls Bar, and Toolbox.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Part One: Draw a pot.

Pot lip

Use the circle (F5) to create an oval. Bonsai pots are wide and shallow.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
The circle fill (Shift+Ctrl+F) is RGBA color code c0632cff, and the stroke paint is set to black, RGBA color code 000000ff.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Select the oval and duplicate it (Ctrl+D). Move the duplicate oval down by dragging it, using the down arrow on your keyboard, or using the transform dock (Shift+Ctrl+M) to move it down vertically.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select (F1) the duplicate oval on the bottom and change it from an object to a path (Shift+Ctrl+C).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select the duplicate oval and select edit path by Nodes (F2). You should see nodes along the oval. Add one node on the upper half of the bottom oval by double clicking along line.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Enable snapping for the quadrant points of eclipses.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Use the edit path by nodes tool (F2) to snap the two nodes on the top of the oval to far edges of the oval above it.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Use the straight line button on the node toolbar to straighten the top and sides.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Object → Lower (Page down).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Pot body

Select the piece you just lowered and duplicate it (Ctrl+D). Move the duplicate down by dragging it, using the down arrow, or using the transform dock (Shift+Ctrl+M) to move it down vertically.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select the new piece and use Transform (Shift+Ctrl+M) Scale to reduce the size, or adjust the size with the corner arrow (this is easier if the ratio of the piece is locked).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Enable snapping to cusp nodes.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Use the edit path by nodes tool (F2) to snap the two nodes on the top of the new piece to the edges of piece above it.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select the new piece and use Transform (Shift+Ctrl+M) Scale to reduce the size, or adjust the size with the corner arrow.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Object  → Lower (Page down).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Dirt: Duplicate (Ctrl+D) the original top oval. Select the new piece and use Transform (Shift+Ctrl+M) Scale to reduce the size, or adjust the size with the corner arrow.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Drag the dirt down, snapping quadrant point to quadrant point with the original oval.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Reduce the height of the dirt oval using the top arrow from the selector tool (F1).
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Final coloring (Shift+Ctrl+F).
Dirt: RGBA 4b2711ff
Pot lip: RGBA d2733bff
Pot body: RGBA c0632cff
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select all (Ctrl+A). Group (Ctrl+G). Adjust the stroke paint (Shift+Ctrl+F) to no paint to remove the lines. This can also be accomplished by setting the stroke width to zero.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Part two: Draw an elm tree.

Tree Trunk

Use the Bezeir tool (Ctrl+F6) to draw a tree trunk. It is also possible to use the freehand drawing tool for this, but that will generate a lot of nodes. The menu PathSimplify (Ctrl+L) will help if you choose this route, but the more nodes there are, the slower Inkscape will run. This tutorial can help with slow loading or crashing issues.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

A basic polygon or rectangle is all that is really needed for a tree trunk. The leaves are going to cover the branches. I prefer to have branches, because it looks nice to have them peeking out from between the leaves here and there. Bonsai should have thick, interesting trunks.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
I used the Bezeir tool (Ctrl+F6) in Regular Mode to create the drawings above. I'm keeping the more complicated drawing (Select the object or path and press Backspace to delete it), and using the edit path by Nodes tool (F2) to smooth it out and make it more interesting and tree-like. It is helpful to toggle the snaps off (%). 
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
No step-by-step for the Node editing because there isn't a wrong way to do this, as long as the end result vaugely resembles a tree. Roy Torley did a very thorough tutorial on the Pen/Bezeir and Node tools. The branches are optional, and will be covered by leaves.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Using the paint menu (Shift+Ctrl+F) set the stroke paint to no paint to remove the lines, and set the paint fill for the tree to RGBA 5c3015ff.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Tree Leaves

Elm tree leaves, by MPF, CC BY-SA 3.0
Elm tree leaves, by MPF, CC BY-SA 3.0
Use the Bezeir tool (Ctrl+F6) to make a triangle or pentagon, and the edit path by Nodes tool (F2) to pull it into an elm leaf shape. Notice one side of the leaf is a little bigger then the other. Repeat these steps to create three to five unique leaves. No step-by-step because this is artistic license. Another option is to draw a circle or oval (F5), call it good, and proceed.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Optionally, duplicate (Ctrl+D) the leaves and flatten on the top edge with the edit Nodes tool (F5) to create half leaves.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Choose the best leaves, and move and rotate them to form a nice bunch. Click on an already selected (F1) object or path to turn it, or use the move buttons, or the Transform (Shift+Ctrl+M) Dock
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select all object on the page (Ctrl+A) and hit the lock button so nothing is warped as it is moved around.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Select just the leaves. Group them together (Ctrl+G). Using the paint menu (Shift+Ctrl+F) set stroke paint to no paint to remove the lines, and set the paint fill for the leaves to RGBA 3b5a15ff.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Adjust the sizes of all the objects until they look correct, and assemble the bonsai. Select and transform objects: F1. Transform dock: Shift+Ctrl+M. To raise or lower object use menu: ObjectLower (Page down) or ObjectRaise (Page up). Flip vertically: v, flip horizontally: h
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Duplicate (Ctrl+D) the group (Ctrl+G) of leaves. Move the duplicate copy to another spot and adjust the rotation if needed. Repeat this until the tree has at a blanket of leaves.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Duplicate (Ctrl+D) a set of leaves and set the paint fill to RGBA 466b19ff, which is a lighter green. Add another blanket of leaves in the new color.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial
Duplicate (Ctrl+D) a set of leaves and set the paint fill to RGBA 54811eff. Add another blanket of leaves in the new color. The layers of different color leaves create depth.
Bonsai Elm Tutorial

Helpful Inkscape keyboard shortcuts: 

  • Bezeir tool: Ctrl+F6
  • Delete: Select unlucky object or path, Backspace
  • Document properties: Shift+Ctrl+D
  • Duplicate: Ctrl+D
  • Edit path by nodes: F2
  • Flip horizontally: select+h
  • Flip vertically: select+v
  • Create circles, ellipses, and arcs : F5
  • Fill and Stroke: Shift+Ctrl+F
  • Group: Ctrl+G
  • Lower object: Page down
  • Object becomes a path: Shift+Ctrl+C
  • Raise object: Page up
  • Save: Ctrl+S
  • Select and transform objects: F1
  • Snaps on/off: %
  • Transform: Shift+Ctrl+M
  • Undo: Ctrl+Z
  • Ungroup: Ctrl+Shift+G
  • Zoom in: +
  • Zoom out: -
  • Zoom to drawing: 4
  • Zoom to page: 5
I'm running Inkscape 0.92.4 on Chromebook's Linux Beta. 

For more information on bonsai check out Peter Chan’s youtube channel, Herons Bonsai.  [Warning: This is one of those fascinating internet rabbit holes that can contribute to overaccumulation of tiny trees.]

Official Inkscape tutorials are here.
The Official Inkscape Beginner's Guide is here.
Roy Torley created some very comprehensive tutorials here.