07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was naïve of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.


"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

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05/14/11

  09:26:19 am, by Nic Wilson   , 33 words  
Categories: Barren Mind

Barren Mind: Man-Bear Be Not Proud

Barren Mind, my Toonlet comic about a bear trapped in a man's body, is once again live and updating. Barry's been hibernating for a long time, and he's got some splaining to do.

05/13/11

  08:52:51 am, by Nic Wilson   , 4069 words  
Categories: Nexus

FNS: Dalaxia

We sent shuttles down to collect our crew in shifts, and burned a lot of fuel getting them all back into orbit. As a last little fuck you from the Meh-Teh, they played archived transmissions from Dalaxia for the crew. There weren?t many who could still look me in the eye after that.

 

Sam could barely speak to me. She said she caught something from the Meh-Teh, but I knew it was emotional bleed off the crew. They didn?t trust me- a lot of them hated me- and she was having trouble separating their emotions from hers. She couldn?t sleep with me in the cabin; she?d pretend, and a few times tossed and turned, but I started spending more time away, just so she could get some rest.

 

It had only been a few days, but Elle was the only one still really talking to me. Of course, she was with me on Dalaxia, so it was all old news to her. Maybe that?s why she was on edge; even a cursory look at the records would tell you she was my second on Dalaxia- fruit off the same poisoned tree. But at least she bought me a drink, before laying into me. ?A whisky for our commanding idiot.? The barman nodded and walked off. Haley told me you offered Diu?rnae a slot on the ship.?

 

?That gossipy AI,? I said, in mock irritation.

 

?Be honest with me, you were trying to bag the bear-woman.?

 

I slid onto a stool next to her at the bar. ?If I?d wanted that, I?m pretty sure she was offering back on her ship. And I think again in my cabin.?

 

The barman finally returned with a vial of the cheap stuff for me. ?Maybe not then and there. But you wanted her along; yet another back-up.?

 

I wasn?t sure I could deny it- and I knew I couldn?t sell a denial to Elle. And I was wary of where else this line of thought might take us. ?Hey, the rest of my life?s a long time. I don?t see the harm in keeping my options open.?

 

?Sam might.?

 

I considered a moment. ?She?s got a healthy perspective on it.?

 

Maybe she sensed I wasn?t in the mood for witty repartee, or maybe it really did mean something to her, but her tone got serious: ?Just don?t fuck it up, okay? If it ends when it ends, whatever. But if it ends because you couldn?t see the forest for the trees, that?d be sad.?

 

?I?ll be okay.?

 

?I was talking about Sam; I like her, and I worry about her. You on the other hand have the emotional depth of a cup of coffee.? I saluted the sentiment with my whisky, then swallowed it.

 

?Yes,? I had to clear my throat from the whisky burn, ?but very black coffee.?

 

?Are you saying you?re dark and mysterious.?

 

?No. Just that my emotional depth tastes like ass.? Just like that whisky. She smiled. It was the closest to an opening I was likely to get with her. ?Morale?s in the shitter.?

 

?Well,? she started, ?you lost your ship- temporarily, at least. Removes that sense of security from the crew. And you only got them back by threatening to go all Final Solution on an alien species- and them in the process. And you know what people think about Dalaxia?

 

?That?s not fair?

 

?It never was, but perception?s a bitch that way. You and I know what happened on Dalaxia. But to everybody else, it was your Holodomor. And for those who weren?t fucked up about it enough, there?s the extra bonus of, ?we have no medical back-ups because the company was using them for target practice,? and I mean I believe you didn?t know about it, but the crew? I mean, how could they not assume you and HR were briefed on it??

 

I wanted to argue, but she wasn?t wrong. And she wasn?t the problem, either. ?I?ve made an appointment with Maggie.?

 

?About time for that.?

 

?I want to talk about Dalaxia. And I?m going to broadcast the session, live.?

 

?What??

 

?If I don?t do it live, there?s going to be the lingering question, of whether or not whatever I say is just whitewashed propaganda. Hell, there are going to be people who refuse the truth, no matter what evidence I might give them. But it?s important I make an attempt to let reasonable people decide for themselves.?

 

?I don?t like it.?

 

?I know; the prospect doesn?t thrill me. But I think it?s the best chance we have of getting our ship back- no more of this awkward living with the ex and watching her get on with her life thing.?

 

?Was that a crack at me?? she asked with a smile.

 

?No, I thrive on our awkward sexual tension.? I paused, if only to prove to myself I could be momentarily prudent, before I said, ?Besides, we both know you?re still maddeningly in love with me.?

 

She looked at me, and for a moment I was terrified, because I saw something honest and delicate in her brown eyes, and I thought she meant to disturb our détente, but she broke eye contact, and said, ?You?re such an ass.?

 

I left after that. I?d dodged a bull, and knew better than to keep waving my cape at the beast. I stopped by MedDiv, where HR was finally in the care of proper doctors. We hadn?t seen each other since the Stalagmite. Between coordinating the evacuation, overseeing HR?s department and Dalaxia, I?d been putting out fires eighteen hours a day. I assumed he was just laid up, so I didn?t knock at the door.

 

?We?ve staunched all of the internal bleeding, but there?s still some anal leakage we?re concerned about.? MedDiv stopped when he noticed me. ?At least, we?ll be concerned if it doesn?t resolve, after the nanobots finish.?

 

At that moment I couldn?t stop from grinning. ?I?m beginning to think the last time wasn?t me, that you just have a bloody colon- or an interesting personal life.?

 

HR grinned at me. ?Heh, heh, heh. I kind of expected laughing to hurt, but these painkillers, man, everything that should hurt just feels floaty and disconnected.? When he tried to gesture on the word ?floaty,? he knocked a sheet off his shoulder, revealing a sling wrapped around his wing.

 

?What?s with the arm bra?? I asked.

 

He did his best to shrug, but there was a strange pop, and he made a face- not quite pain, just- confusion.

 

MedDiv sighed, and shared a 3D scan of HR?s arm. ?I?m afraid it wasn?t just the internal bleeding or ribs, he actually caught the full force of the Meh-Teh in his arm; shattered the humerus, and severed the axillary nerve about 90% through, as well as damaging the ulnar and radial nerve. In a way, he?s very lucky. A common complementary injury would have been to the axillary artery, and if that had been severed, he would have bled out before he could be removed from the alien ship.?

 

MedDiv scowled. I recognized his bedside manner kicking in like it had with Elle?s cancer. ?While we managed to save the arm, we?re having a little trouble getting the nerves to reconnect properly. Normally, we?d simply hack off the arm and replace it with an extra from the freezer, only, the freezer isn?t full of brainless vegetables, it?s full of people. Obviously there are? ethical complications.?

 

That?s putting it mildly.?

 

?They?re fully-functional clones. They have no legal standing as people, but that doesn?t change the fact that they are people. Ethically, I can?t-? MedDiv was fumbling, trying to justify it, as much to himself as his patient.

 

HR had heard it before, and even if he hadn?t, he wasn?t in the mood to be dour. ?I can?t feel my funny bone,? he said, grinning. ?That?s funny, right??

 

?Well,? I deadpanned, ?you never did have a sense of humor.?

 

One of the PsychOffs entered the room, and flushed slightly. I recognized her as the woman who had co-written that dreadful speech for Alexandra?s celebration with HR. She walked over to his bedside, and took his good hand. ?I was stalling until you got here,? he told her. ?Badly. But Cassie and I are getting married.? He turned to me. ?I?d like you to perform the ceremony.?

 

I started to put out my arm for effect, then stopped and said, ?I?d shake your hand to congratulate you, but that?s your dead arm, right??

 

With great effort he raised it, and forced his middle finger up. ?You have no idea how, uff, difficult, or satisfying, that was.?

 

?I assume you?re asking to avoid the religious connotations.?

 

He thought for a moment, about being shy, then he looked me straight in the face. ?You did also keep me from dying- plus you got her back.?

 

I wasn?t comfortable being that friendly with a man I?d made an effort to beat to death. ?I don?t know; I argued we should leave you behind- you were pretty out of it, so maybe you don?t remember. But I just got outvoted. It was actually the other ship?s captain that broke the tie. If anything you should probably be thanking her.?

 

?I?ll send her a card,? he said, but he barely cared I was in the room anymore. Since the moment Cassie had entered, he hadn?t been able to keep his eyes from her. ?Nearly losing her- it sort of put things into perspective, for me. Life is short. That?s something we can lose track of, adrift in timeless space. But there are things that have meaning among all that emptiness. And we should cling to those things. We need to. Because that?s what makes us human.?

 

?So long as you two promise me, and I know from my tone it sounds like I?m kidding, but I?ll want this in writing, not to ever collaborate on a speech for me again. I?d rather read pages taken wholesale from Atlas Shrugged.?

 

?I didn?t think it was that bad, for a mid-twentieth century novel.?

 

?It would have been bad for the mid-eighteenth century.?

 

 ?I don?t think everybody bears your disdain for Dickens or Hugo.?

 

?That?s because not everybody can be right. But mazel tov on the announcement. I assume you?re going to put it together sooner, rather than later.?

 

?There aren?t a lot of friends or family to coordinate, so no. Shouldn?t be more than a few days.?

 

?Well, don?t dawdle on that,? I said. ?You never know what can happen over a few days.? He squinted at me, then at his fiancé, to see if it was just the medication. ?I should go.?

 

I made my way to Maggie?s office. She?d set things up like I asked, and had been nervously waiting my arrival to protest: ?You don?t have to do this.?

 

?Actually, Maggie, I do. I owe the crew an explanation.?

 

I dropped into a couch that looked like an oversized catcher?s mitt and was about as comfortable. ?Then give a speech. Prepare a presentation. But broadcasting a therapy session-?

 

She lowered herself into a chair opposite mine while I answered. ?I don?t want to drone, or massage. Ask the questions you would ask if it were just you and I, to get to the heart of the matter. If you can, forget there?s even anyone listening. We want this as authentico as posible. Haley, open up comms shipwide.? I waited for a soft click through the speakers.?This is the captain. I know a lot of you have questions about what?s just happened, and in particular about Dalaxia. So I?m going to answer as many of those as I can. With me is the head of the Psychiatric Division, Dr. Maggie Allbright. Doc??

 

Her eyebrows went up, and she tensed, then forced herself to relax. ?As a point of disclosure, what?s the nature of our relationship?? she asked.

 

?Uh,? I stammered, already on the spot. ?Friendly, more so than I?d say professional.?

 

?But while we two were on the steering committee for the Nexus, didn?t we engage in a romantic ?agreement???

 

I winced; I really hadn?t expected her to bring it up. ?Yes.?

 

?And isn?t it also true that that agreement was never consummated??

 

I shuffled in my chair. ?It?s weird, you asking like you don?t know. But, um, no. We were both assigned to the Nexus before we ever consummated our agreement. At that point, you worried it would be unprofessional to begin a physical relationship with your commanding officer- or whatever the hell I am.?

 

?Okay,? she said, and crossed her legs, waiting patiently.

 

?So?? I asked, expecting another shoe.

 

?It?s your dog and pony show.?

 

?Then I?ll try not to screw the pooch- or the horse, for that matter.? She didn?t laugh, and the sound of an entire ship full of people also apparently not laughing was deafening. I cleared my throat and started over. ?Dalaxia is infamous. I imagine most of you have heard about it, at least the broad strokes. A lot of you are probably aware I was there, maybe even that I had to defend my actions in an official governmental inquiry.?

 

?Pretty much all of you will have heard the propaganda- though you might have no idea that?s what it was. Dalaxia was a space port in the Milky Way, close to our home solar system, about the size of Titan, Saturn?s 6th moon. The colony was concentrated around a single city about the geographical size of New York. It was moderately prosperous, as our company?s first foothold outside the system- years before the Argos. The people there were on a standard indentured contract, like all of us aboard the Nexus. But some of them didn?t like the terms of their agreement. They wanted to renegotiate.?

 

?But their renegotiation took the form of an armed revolt. They killed most of the company reps on-planet, and about 2/3 of the security division staff. I was in charge of a security ship that was tasked with getting the remaining security evacuated, and watching the colony until an the new security force could be trained.?

 

?Barring utter collapse- say the locals eating each other- we were ordered to maintain distance, by staying in orbit. The company didn?t want to be seen as either just abandoning the majority of colonists to the 15 percent or so who were separatists, and they also didn?t want to look like they were sending us in to crush a resistance- they?d learned that lesson from how things happened on Rutherford.?

 

?But regardless of the company?s intent, the separatists saw us as floating fascists, big brother watching them from orbit. They realized that a second, larger security force, one prepared for a fight, meant the end of their rebellion, and that we were a bridge to that reality. So they tried to goad us into a ground war, which we declined to join.?

 

?I honestly thought they?d given up. We?d been there since early February by the Earth calendar, and aside from chest-thumping not much had happened. It was May 3rd. I was woken up early by my second in command.?

 

?You mean the Nexus? SecDiv, Lt. Templeton?? she asked.

 

I cringed; I really hadn?t wanted to drag Elle into this. ?Yes. The colony was on fire. All of it. It was arson, on a scale I?ve never heard of. A subsequent investigation turned up the fact that the separatists, after driving out the security forces, had deliberately reorganized the way resources were stored to make that kind of a scorched earth tactic work- they?d been planning that from the beginning, going back to at least late January of that year.?

 

?The plan of the separatists, as near as we ever pieced together, was that they wanted the fires to draw us in. Then, when we came in to restore order, they wanted to film propaganda of soldiers firing on ?civilians? against the backdrop of burning buildings and chaos. Blame the entire thing on us, the fires included, with slow, mournful instrumental accompaniment playing in the background.?

 

?But they grossly overestimated the size of our force. Even assuming the conservative estimate of separatists at 10 percent, they outnumbered our forces seven to one. They convinced themselves we had an entire shadow military project stationed on the ship above their heads. But we only had the skeleton of a policing force. We didn?t even have anybody trained in fire fighting.?

 

?So the odds were not in your favor,? Maggie said.

 

?They were not. Even then, we planned to go in anyway. But the fire spread too quickly. We got cut off from tactically sound landing zones. So we looked for tactically unsound ones- but that took more time.?

 

?By the time we had boots on the ground, over half the colony had burned. But the separatists weren?t going to give up without a gunfight. So rather than being able to help out the remaining civvies, we ended up trading fire with assholes. Frankly, I would have just left a contingency force to deal with them. But because of where we were forced to make our LZ, we were cut off from the colony. The only way in- the only way to help anyone- was through the separatists.?

 

?Their homes were on fire. We could still hear the screams of women and children, any time there was a lull in the shooting. But they wanted to have a pissing contest with us. It was complete and utter fucking madness.?

 

?I mean, I?m the last person who will give this company a blanket pass. They?ve done some terrible shit. On Rutherford, in particular. And what they attempted to do, through MilSec, I?d rank up there with Rutherford. But the peaceful turnover of Kaien over to colonists proved that the separatists? goals could be had, through the right channels- with patience.?

 

She tapped her fingers on her chair?s armrest. ?I think you?re straying.?

 

?Right. The fighting was brutal. The separatists had their backs to the fire; we were pushing them into a corner, and they knew they were dead either way. They fought like animals; we paid for every inch we took from them with blood. Our casualties were in the low eighties, KIA in the mid-thirtieth percentile. But we couldn?t push them fast enough. There was barely anything left on the colony by the time we routed their position. It was as hollow as victories get.?

 

?We busied ourselves. The fires had been set deliberately to circumvent the usual evacuation procedures- basically blocking all the exits. Because of that there were still people trapped. Collapses killed a lot of them, but some ended up pinned under smaller piles of burning rubble.?

 

?We were at it for forty-eight hours, trying to tear survivors out of buildings before they cooked or died from smoke inhalation. Every sound was drowned out by the fire and human screams- even our radios. That was the most difficult part. Even though we were all working tired and hurt, and I can give you three names- Markez, Gryzlov, and Allen- SecOffs who worked themselves to death, from nonfatal founds. But without sounds, it felt like you were the only person there. Like it was all up to you. And the sound of fire became synonymous with life- even though it logically should have been death- because by the time the fires in an area were dying down, there weren?t any survivors left.?  

 

?And how many survivors were there??
   

?We managed to save 67 people. Out of thousands, nearly tens.?

 

?Do you accept responsibility for what happened on Dalaxia??

 

?I was in command, so ultimately failure rests on my shoulders. But we didn?t have the numbers to take the colony back, let alone put out the fires- not in time, anyway.?

 

?You?re dodging. Do you take personal responsibility for Dalaxia.? There was an edge to her voice, that forced me to consider: was it my fault?

 

My response came out weakly. ?Yes.?

 

?Given what you?ve told me, why do you blame yourself??

 

?Even if I couldn?t stop what happened- I was the only one in a position to. And I didn?t. I made decisions that slowed the only potential rescue for the colonists on Dalaxia.?

 

?Do you think you could have seriously impacted the outcome??

 

I hesitated. ?Maybe.?

 

?Stop being stubborn. In your estimation, what were the chances that, say, you could help the colonists, versus the likelihood of losing your contingent??

 

?We had between a 20 and 30 percent chance of some level of success. There was a 90 percent chance that we would suffer catastrophic, potentially even total, losses.?

 

?And if you had suffered total losses, what would have happened to the colonists??

 

?Any that survived would have been beholden to the separatists. Prisoners or forced converts at a minimum; hardline dissenters would be murdered, the rest traded as hostages. The separatists needed to be able to spill enough blood across the table to scare the corporate negotiators and PR people.? 

 

?This doesn?t match the records of Dalaxia- at least not the popular construction.?

 

?That?s because enough support for the damn separatists survived that they got their propaganda victory anyway. They painted me as a tyrant, as a blood-hungry conqueror who set fire to the colony for the sin of disrespecting me and the company brand. It?s a sexy narrative- certainly more fun than demagoguing dead ?patriots,? or reporting on all the innocent people they killed.?

 

?Then why do you feel guilty??

 

?I?m not perfect, but I?m more than adequate at what I do; I may have even made the right decisions on Dalaxia. But that doesn?t absolve me from the consequences of those decisions. Maybe the thought of a reality where men with a zeal for liberty so intense they?d willingly set their neighbors on fire is worse, and I?d rather be responsible, personally, for all of those deaths, and have the universe make some kind of fucking sense.?

 

Maggie leaned forward, and touched my knee. ?Okay. I think our time?s up.? I knew it hadn?t been close to an hour, but I was happy to have the out.

 

?Thank you everyone, for listening. This is your captain, signing off. Haley??

 

?Comms are disconnected, captain,? she said. I could tell from her tone that she had questions about Dalaxia, too, but wanted time to formulate them properly.

 

?Thanks, Maggie.? She wanted to hug me; and she looked like she needed a hug, too. But after her disclosure, she knew neither was a good idea, so she just nodded.

 

I took a long, meandering walk around the ship. I suspect Haley must have sealed my path, because I didn?t see a single crew member, when I should have seen a dozen. When I got back to the cabin, Sam was waiting, sitting on her edge of the bed.

 

She seemed softer than she had in days. I sat down beside her, but she didn?t look at me as she started to speak. ?You know, when we were taken, I wasn?t worried about what might happen- but I couldn?t bear to think that I?d never see your stupid face again.?

 

?I thought my face was one of my smarter features,? I said reflexively, and stroked her cheek with my fingers. She looked up and into my eyes. ?I couldn?t- I couldn?t let myself think about that. Because if I?d thought about losing you, I would have shut down, and we never would have gotten you back.? I collapsed into her lap. ?I?m so tired of pretending none of it mattered.?

 

?Shhh,? she stroked my hair. ?It?s okay. I know it mattered. It?s okay to let it overwhelm you now. You?re safe. And I?m here.?

05/12/11

  08:39:57 am, by Nic Wilson   , 536 words  
Categories: Gitmo

Gitmo 2: Bim Maa Chia

We'll get to the fiction part of the post after a word about spam. I've been inundated with spam comments. Hopefully I haven't been overdiligent and deleted some real ones. But my thoughts on the subject are that, if you're going to link spam, a moment's worth of effort would do wonders. I understand the spam market isn't all that profitable, and the profit margin is razor thin, but there are starving writers out there, who would happily edit your spam for pennies on the dollar. Hire somebody, find a native speaker, something, so that I'm not reading the same twenty broken English sentences over and over again. If it's obviously and blatantly spam, it gets deleted, no questions asked. You're wasting your time and mine- and at the same time depriving writers of potentially their first paying gig. :) 

 

Bim Maa Chiaa

 

My station was on the edge of town, a crappy little cement square that housed the jail, my apartment and my office, obviously designed by some Army Corps of Engineers hack who'd seen too many westerns. It was the first thing built in the city, the only thing finished before I got here. I think someone with half a brain had come along right before I did, because they were putting up molding on the outside to make it look less like what it really was: a bunker.

 

It was also the closest structure to the road out, which was pretty irrelevant, since my Bronco was the only vehicle in the city. And it was the closest building to Fort Gates. Gates was the closest thing to civilization, the closest thing to sanity. Which fit, because I had to be insane to take this job- essentially unelected Sherriff of Terror Town.

 

You might not remember it any more, but all those terrorists we couldn?t convict, couldn?t give away, but our President said we couldn?t keep locked up any more? They all ended up here; Palau could take only so many.

 

First week the residents were here, we let them vote on the name of their city; they chose ?Bim Maa Chiia.? Fox News reported early on it was Arabic, but really it was taken from the Crow language, the word for green, though it also translates as ?water over the moss.? 

 

At first I didn?t get it, but I googled ?green meaning? and came up with: a need for change or growth, a new state of balance, freedom to pursue new ideas, and protection from fear and anxiety with a connection to the demands of others. Then, yeah, it made sense after all. I found out later that Mohammed?s robes were green, too.

At the end of their first week, the day after the city had a name, for the first time I woke up early without the alarm, woke up without a sense of foreboding, and I walked outside. The sun was rising, I actually took in the view, not just analyzing crests of hills that could be used for cover or the likely points of egress for an escapee, but really just relaxing long enough to appreciate the countryside. And well, the land itself was green, too.

05/11/11

  08:25:14 am, by Nic Wilson   , 643 words  
Categories: Gitmo

Gitmo 1: Mahmoud is Dead

Konrath has up an excellent guest-post by Scott Sigler, where he talks about his publishing career, including his more recent move to digital publishing. But he largely built his brand podcasting novels in 2005- a relatively new phenomenon at the time. So part of the point, following on a recent theme, is that if you want an audience, you have to offer them something they want. Sigler's podcasts were all free, by the way- yet people willingly pay to buy them.

I've been trying to blog daily, here (except on Sunday- that's the Lord's day- and my day off). But all along I'd been planning, whenever I had a lull in something to post on a given day, to update a story I've been working on for ages. So without further ado, and to prove that I'm not just a mirror for Konrath's blog, I present the first installment in my blovel, Gitmo:

Mahmoud is Dead

 

At four am there was a pounding at the door, which told me something already. I thanked God I'd slept in my boxer briefs, but cursed the bastard when my feet touched the cold concrete floor. I slid my 1911 out of its holster and unbolted the door. Tariq had sweat all over him, more than made sense in the chill Montana air, and tears in his eyes; ?Marshall,? he started, then stared blank a moment, before blurting out, ?Mahmoud is dead.?

 

I hurried him inside, rebolted the door. This was probably the sort of thing I should radio in to Fort Gates, but if I made it a habit of calling in the Army every time something went wrong, this place was going to turn back into Guantanamo quickly. Tariq spoke while I dressed. He had been restless in his home, and went to the Mosque to pray. That was when he discovered Mahmoud.

 

By that point in his story I was just sliding into my boots, and I stopped him. ?You think you're in any shape to show me?? He nodded his head, slowly. ?Good.? We ran.

 

After the six blocks there I understood why Tariq was soaking wet. We stopped at the front of the Mosque, and I bent down to remove my boots, but he walked around the entrance, towards the rear. It was dark in the space between the Mosque and the civic center beside it, but there was room enough to walk without your shoulders scraping the walls, if only just. I shined my light on Tariq. Where he stood there was a slice of light from the street lamp, and he was pointing to the ground.

 

In the light from the lamp I could see a hand. My flashlight showed me Mahmoud, beaten and stabbed. But my eyes caught something else, behind him. Bags of fertilizer, stacked neatly against the back wall of the Mosque. I tried not to betray my alarm, and walked calmly over to Tariq, and knelt by the body. I took Mahmoud's pulse at the wrist, but from how cold his hand already was I knew I wouldn't find one.

 

I stood up; ?We need to go.? Tariq hesitated. I gave a curt smile and he followed me away. We jogged the six blocks back to the station; we were both a little winded by then.

I grabbed a bottle of water and a blanket from the closet, and opened the door to the jail cell. Tariq looked at me, confused. ?You're the closest thing I have to a witness right now,? I told him. ?Someone killed Mahmoud; I can't take the chance they won't kill you to keep you quiet.? That seemed to make sense to him, and he stepped behind the bars. I didn't mention that he was also the closest I had to a suspect, too, as I locked him in. 

05/10/11

  08:58:36 am, by Nic Wilson   , 234 words  
Categories: Blog

Blog!

This blog entry, titled "Why We Shouldn't Blog" in the ebook version from Konrath, begins on a down note. And I'll admit, he almost had me snookered. At the very least, he knew my worries, my insecurities, and played them like that anthropomorphic harp in Jack and the Beanstalk played herself (that sounded dirtier than it was supposed to).

But it's all a ruse. You're not wasting your time blogging. Because blogging is a conversation (all good social media/marketing is). Hell, your audience may be nonexistant right now- so it might literally be a conversation with the ether. But if you build it, they will come- well, probably. There are no guarantees- in life and in particular in this career. But building a blog, and filling it with interesting and useful things, is a part of broadening your online footprint, a way of making sure that when people look for things (other than your name) they're that much more likely to find you.

I believe I first heard about Amanda Hocking (and Konrath, for that matter) from a Huffington Post blog, I think, but it wasn't until I started reading her blog that I became curious about her work. I've since bought one of her books, whicn I will read shortly.

But on that note, Konrath has a very lengthy post on ebook promotion. If you have even a passing interest, you should read it in full. 

05/09/11

  04:22:18 am, by Nic Wilson   , 497 words  
Categories: Blog

Writers, Welcome to Sales

I?ve spoken around the subject before, but I?d like to tackle the elephant in the room head on. Writing is sales. Sure, there?s writing in there, somewhere, too. But really, what separates the published writer from Ted Kaczynski, typing furiously away in his cabin, is we want to make a living out of this. We want someone to actually buy what we write (and not publish it because otherwise we?ll send them letter bombs- just to be perfectly clear).

 

For most, this is disheartening. I suck at sales. I?ve never held a proper sales kind of job, unless you count shilling Boy Scout candy bars for way way way less than minimum wage. We wanted this job because it was fun, we could focus on our ?art? and not have to sweat the money stuff. But writing is sweating the money stuff. It?s taking a huge chunk out of your day to make people want to read your stuff.

 

Look at the bright side. Legacy publishing meant selling the book six times: to an agent, then an editor, then a publisher, the sales team, a book buyer and finally a customer. Digital publishing cuts out all of those middle men, which puts you in a room with the customer. You?re in charge, but it also means you?re on a wire with no net.

 

The eternal rub of sales is people hate sales, and worse, salespeople. Car salesman. Door to door. Telemarketers. I don?t think there?s a more hated profession, unless there?s some kind of telelawyering. But you aren?t cold-calling, here, because, to quote Konrath, book sales is ?about finding the people who are looking for your product even though they don?t know it yet.?

 

If you?ve done your homework looking for a market, if indeed there are people out there who want to read what you?ve got, you don?t have to sell them on it. You just have to let them know where to find it.

 

One of the better ways to do that is to offer something. If you?ve got expertise, great, use that. If you?ve got personal experiences, amusing anecdotes, a killer soufflé recipe. The goal is to make your marketing, including blogs, your website and newsletters, something people want to read. Personally, I do that by having my webcomic, my blogs, my weekly stories. And I?ve watched my portal climb up in search rankings because of it, because people come to be entertained. If at the same time they learn about things that you want them to buy, then it?s a win-win relationship.

 

The really nice thing about slowly making my way through a writing book that?s also a collection of blog posts, is when something really clicks with me, rather than worry about how much I?m paraphrasing (or plagiarizing), I can just link to JA Konrath?s original post. It won?t absolve all of my sins, but that ought to be good for at least one Hail Mary.

05/07/11

  09:20:20 am, by Nic Wilson   , 40 words  
Categories: Blog

Holy Terror

I have an update over at Batman Comes Out, my infrequently updated blog of an interview with a gay Batman (which followed the yearlong interview blog with a cancer-riddled Superman). Batman discusses the death and capture of Osama bin Laden.

05/06/11

  08:36:42 am, by Nic Wilson   , 6315 words  
Categories: Nexus

Coup

Friday Night Stories are written once a week, and updated on Friday. Recently, I've been doing serials, and this one, Nexus, began here, and continues below.  

 

We were in the room I shared with Sam. Elle made some adjustments to it, so it didn?t look like civilized people live here, and turned the lights down to a shade above impenetrable darkness. Captain Diu?rnae was strapped into a chair Haley said she couldn?t break free from, but I?m not sure I believed her. I?d been standing in the corner of the room for twenty minutes, silent. I wanted to double that, but I really needed to pee.

 

?You have a scan, Haley?? She overlaid a 3D grid through my HUD, showing me Diu?rnae?s internal organ systems, blood flow, all in real time. ?Thanks, but I want the captain to know what we know, too, so make it a projection.?

 

Diu?rnae wanted to spit at me; that temporary helpfulness that came from getting shot had faded. The grid appeared on her body, layered over top of a loaner MedDiv smock. She didn?t look down, just glared as I pulled out my pistol and pressed it against her knee: ?For a start, what this tells me is I can shoot you in the leg with relatively little complication- which is peachy, because we don?t really have med-staff to help you if you start to bleed out. I just wanted to establish the parameters, here. I don?t want to hurt you, let alone kill you. But I want my people back more.?

 

She considered, then spat out, ?Why don?t you fist yourself with one of my fallen comrades??

 

?That can?t have translated right. Anyway, for now, I just want you to know that with the physiological scan, my ship?s AI is now running the chemistry for a virus genetically targeted to destroy your race. Not make them sick, not give you genital warts to end mitosis- the ability of your cells to divide, in case that translates funny- to rob your bodies of the capability to repair or even survive.?

 

?Haley, the molecule, if you would.? She projected a 3D simulation of a protein, that looked like the universe?s most deadly and exciting roller coaster. ?This is from the tubulin family of proteins. Our virus creates a compound that binds with tubulins, preventing them from being used in microtubule polymerization. End projection.?  

 

I got into her face; if she hasn?t been emotionally off-balance, she could have bitten off my eyelids. ?If you hadn?t stolen all of my smartest science monkeys, I could probably give you a good ballpark of which organ system would fail first, for an estimated time till extinction, but suffice it to say it would be measured in days or hours, not weeks. It?s going to take another hour, maybe, to get all the chemistry right. Another hour to splice the genes into a microorganism able to secrete and release the spindle poison into your species? bodies. And then maybe a few more hours to grow a colony big enough to infect your species.?

 

I stood back up to my full height, leaving her eyes at about stomach level. ?I?ll let you in on a secret: my ship means nothing. A few hundred people? That?s an extended family- a small one. In the grand scheme of my people?s history, they won?t even recall my ship or its mission. But this is your whole society. And you need to face up to the fact that, at this moment, it isn?t a question of if you lose this fight, but how, and whether or not your species survives. Just think on that. Right now, I?ve got places to go, you know, people to see.?

 

The halls are empty. I try to pretend I?m on one of my late night walks, where most of the people still on relative Earth time are sleeping or at least shacked up. I don?t deceive myself very well.

 

The SciDiv labs are quiet, haunted by the silence of those who should be here. The intern SciDiv had been feuding with since Earth has put together a briefing. He?s sitting on SciDiv?s stool, and for the first time I can?t stop myself from facing the reality that my crew is gone, and Sam?

 

The intern had been thinking along the same lines, but not thinking hard enough to let the silence linger a few more minutes. ?Son of a bitch hated me. But he was right. These cocksmokers are scary intelligent.? He stared down at the desk, and only every other moment glanced quickly up to be sure he still had my attention. ?That thing you took out of her pocket, it?s a commbox, miniaturized. In a couple of weeks they reverse-engineered our most intricate tech and leapt it forward a half-dozen generations. And here?s the kicker: we did this.?

 

?Did what, exactly?? I ask.

 

He rubbed the bridge of his nose, and was able to make momentarily prolonged eye contact from behind his hand. ?The Meh-Teh aren?t trusting. They don?t want to communicate with each other. They travel together out of necessity, because there?s strength in numbers. But the spires, they?re highly nationalistic- each one considers the other cityships rivals at best- archnemeses at worst.?

 

?Like you and SciDiv.? 

 

His gaze turned back to the desk. ?He?s intimidated by me. And I?m irritated to work under somebody so much dumber than I am- someone who got the post largely because he can work a room. Well, better than most of us lab geeks, anyway. But we forced the Meh-Teh work together, made them pool their resources and talent. Either we?ve started what will grow into a civil war, or initiated a new level of cooperation that is frankly terrifying, because for all intents and purposes we?re they?re bitches- your and Haley?s unconventional reversal to the contrary.?

 

?And what would you suggest??

 

His fingers played across the air as he selected a file to share. It was a diagram of the Fried Egg. ?At a minimum that you preempt all these good vibrations by blowing the shit out of their communications hub. Worst case scenario, you become Hitler in their history, an evil so great they rally against the specter of you for generations to come. Best case, you avert a conflict that would have destroyed their species and likely our shipmates.?

 

?So the worst case is only that I become Hitler? You really weren?t kidding about lacking people skills. But they?re holding our shipmates hostage. I?m not going to start a shooting war now- not until we?ve made a good faith attempt at getting them back.?

 

He spun around on SciDiv?s stool. ?It?s your dime; you want to use it to call the tooth fairy, that?s your decision.?

 

I wasn?t feeling patient, and he was pushing a pretty big button of mine. ?I?ve made it a point to ignore you, previously. You don?t want to become my business now. You want to go back to being a prick when we?ve got things resolved, I could care less, but you say one fucking syllable I perceive as impeding our goal, and I will put my considerable processing power into coming up with ways to make you wish I?d just brained you and been done with it. Are we clear, shitbird??

 

He pursed his lips, and spent a moment in faux contemplation, then said, ?As eighth time masturbating in one mourning ejaculate, sir.?

 

?You?re a disgusting little troll.?

 

?And easily the smartest SciOff you have left- and certainly the best polymath you could get stuck on a deserted ship with.?

 

?You?re not so much as fishing for a compliment as leaping onto the backs of every passing compliment, trying to nude-wrestle it ashore. How long until my virus is ready??

 

?Well, virology isn?t my strong suit, but the process is mostly automated. Getting a virus to colonize Meh-Teh cells and release a mitosis hyperinhibitor is kind of like kindergarten chemistry. The delivery mechanism is way more interesting; they vent industrial gases periodically from the spires- because it?s more resource efficient than trying to recycle them through a closed system like we do. We?ve got enough information on their designs from the Stalagmite that I?ve configured a nanite that could navigate its way back through these open vents then distribute the virus. It?s ugly, but it?s surprising how easy they made it, too.? 

 

?I want to know as soon as it?s ready.? I went back to Diu?rnae, though not because I wanted to continue the interrogation- it was because I wanted to collapse on my bed with some bourbon, against sheets that maybe still smelled like Sam. I?d forgotten that was where we were holding her.

 

She was prepared for me. ?I think you?re bluffing,? she said. She stared into me, trying to read my reaction, but it gave me a moment to get back into character.

 

?Well I think your entire species is in the spires here. I think you boxed your home planet, and those spires are all that?s left. And I know you?re not going to risk extinction on a lousy hunch. But even if I?m bluffing about a virus, I have control of your ship. I can put it on a course for the nearest star, and just roast what, 30 million of your people at one time? A single, verbal command to my ship?s AI is all that takes. Something tells me they don?t let you be captain if you?re blasé about that level of genocide. Or I could double up, crash your spire into another spire on-world. And that?s just if I play this at the two-year old level of smashing things together. You haven?t even seen my A game.?

 

She bared her teeth at me, and I thought maybe I?d overplayed and she wasn?t going to talk any more, then she fell limp in the chair. ?They won?t negotiate. They could care less for my ship or its citizenry. They might decide to cut us out of the fleet even if we do come out of this alive. But even if you were to drop our ship on their heads, only the tower cities- spires you call them-you destroy would care. The rest will see it as fewer mouths to feed.?

 

I leaned against her chair, close enough she could have grabbed me; but I was fairly certain she was also distracted and vulnerable- she just needed a gentle touch. ?Then you need to give me leverage. Right now taking out two enemy ships makes more sense than destroying your civilization with bioweaponry- but that?s still messy. You need to convince me I?ve got a better option than genocide.?

 

?The spires don?t communicate. Haven?t for a hundred years. We move together, from planet to planet, because there?s deterrence in number. Several species have passed us by, simply because to do otherwise was dangerous. We let them go by peaceably; but you insisted we meet. We thought-? she stopped herself, and closed her eyes.

 

She swallowed, and when she opened her eyes again there was a softness I hadn?t seen in them before. ?On world, communications are carried out through a flat structure that is connected through small corridors to the towers. We also use it as a control tower, to coordinate tower city launches. Tower cities are unwieldy entering orbit- it?s a straight shot, because corrections require massive amounts of fuel and put enormous stresses on the structure. So coordination beforehand is a necessity. If you destroy the communications structure, you gain the high ground indefinitely- no ones going to launch blind. That should be leverage enough that even the captains will pay attention. Presumably you have a weapon capable of such destruction.? She caught herself, realizing that the only weapon we?d discussed was her ship. ?You can?t-?

 

I put up my hand. ?Don?t get the panties we confiscated from you in a bunch- we?re trying to avoid blowing up your ship, remember? We have? something that should be able to handle the comm center. Haley? Warm up the terraforming laser. If there?s a fuel reserve- generator or whatever- aim for that.?

 

?Understood, captain.?

 

?It talks?? Diu?rnae asked, unblinking.

 

?She. Haley identifies as female. She prefers having a gender, and I think it?d help you get off on the right foot if you go with that. But don?t you talk to your robot miners??

 

?They don?t have language, beyond coding. Programmers talk to them, but I don?t speak code. So no.?

 

?Hmm.?

 

?I don?t suppose I can have my clothes back.?

 

?Haley, you done with scans of the Meh-Teh body armor??

 

?Clothing is composed of a synthetic metallic borides and carbons, capable of deflecting or absorbing large amounts of kinetic energy or electromagnetic radiation.?

 

?But is it safe to give back to her??

 

?I have detected no secondary weapons systems in the armor.?

 

I lifted the armor off my dresser, where it had been since the SciDiv intern finished playing with it. It was designed to cover the arms from the elbow up, to the legs from the knee up. It ended in a throat protector, and seemed to have a seat for a helmet she hadn?t worn. ?I?m going to be the one who has to put you into this thing. I?m not unstrapping you from that chair, and I?m also not asking anyone else to do it- if I get killed for being trusting, that?s on me, but-?

 

?I wouldn?t ask you to risk anyone else,? she said, and it was gentler. We were back on her ship, and she was playing with me.

 

?I?m sorry for the intrusion, but it?s either this or you stay in the smock,? I lifted her loaned clothing.

 

?Why are you sorry??

 

?Put your feet on the edge of the chair, so I can slide it on you; there?s a difference between strip-searching an enemy and this.?

 

She did, then lowered herself expertly back into her armor. ?I know. This is more fun.?

 

I closed the torso plate over her. ?I?m spoken for.?

 

?I know,? she smiled. ?The scent of her permeates your cabin. She smells lovely. Was she taken??

 

She lowered herself back into the chair, and I lifted the smock over her head. She leaned in close, and licked my chin, then bit my lower lip and tugged on it; she let it loose when I cleared my throat. ?Lean back,? I told her, and when she did I sealed her neck behind the throat guard, limiting further head movement. Her arms were strapped in more or less the right position to fight into the arm slots, and I locked them in place, then her legs. It fit her snugly, but it reminded me of horror stories of medieval corsets. ?That looks less comfortable.?

 

?It?s custom-built to my proportions. It?s a second skin- and even makes sitting more enjoyable- particularly in your awful human chairs. Is ass-numbing fashionable in your species?? I smiled.

 

?I?m going to make the call now. You should remain quiet.? In part, I didn?t want her giving away the game- but I also didn?t want the other captains to suspect her of collaborating.

 

?I doubt they?ll answer. They didn?t respond to my hails.?

 

?They may not like communicating. But let?s give them something interesting to respond to. Haley??

 

?Terrforming laser will be prepared in five seconds. Laser is prepared, captain. Firing.? I fought the urge to pull up imagery of the laser landing on the planet below, or even reacting. ?The structure has been destroyed, captain.?

 

?Open a line to the commboxes, broadcasting across the different channels their commbox was using.?

 

?Done.?

 

?Meh-Teh captains. I?m reasonably assured each of you can hear me, so we?ll proceed on that assumption. It was a ballsy move, sending one of your ships to attack an unknown enemy with only rudimentary scans of them and their tech. Ballsy, but stupid.? I let that thought sink in. They had to know something went wrong when our shuttles reversed course, but the fact that we were broadcasting was a reversal in their fortunes. I gave them a moment to become properly worried. ?We?ve taken your flagship, the Stalagmite, though if you haven?t fucked up our commbox that will translate to whatever the hell you call it.?

 

?Rbe?kla?dyae,? Diu?rnae said, and shut up quick when I touched my pistol.

 

?We?re skipping the foreplay: I want my people back. We?ve developed a virus capable of ending your species forever. But since I?m a thorough bastard, I?m also considering dropping the Stalagmite on your heads in pieces. If I?m in a giving mood, it would only be from orbit, but since right now my mood is more murdersome, I?d probably take a quick tour around the galaxy; presumably that would be long enough to get up to a quarter of lightspeed. Detonation at the proper moment would turn that ship into ten thousand pieces of 10 kilogram shrapnel easy. My back of the envelope of that is 300 quintillion joules of energy, equal to the explosive power of 60 megatons of TNT.?

 

?That?s more powerful than any nuclear weapon humanity ever detonated, and more than enough to level even the largest of your spires. And that?s per 10 kilogram chunk- so multiply that by ten thousand. There may not be any planet left, let alone any of your race surviving. I?m commboxing over the math, just in case ?joules? translated as testicles or something.? 

 

There?s a pause. I wonder if I?m going to have to give my dramatic speech a second take (although I could probably just have Haley broadcast a recording). Then there?s a click, click, clack out of the commbox. ?You, you wouldn?t eradicate our entire species over a few hundred people- who you?d also be killing in the process,? the voice is feminine, but all growl. 

 

?I?d rather kill them than leave them behind. And don?t you idiots do even the most cursory digging into the people you attempt to murder? The raising of Dalaxia. That was me. I?m told that off-world broadcasts were nothing but screams of horrible pain for thirty-six hours. I did that to my own species, people who looked like me and I have natural biological biases towards not wanting to see cooked. Imagine what I?d be willing to do to you, who nature says I should smash with rocks because we both know we want the same resources. I burnt that fucking colony to the ground; not even the children escaped And when I returned to Earth, they pinned a goddamned medal on my chest for it. You have no idea what species you?re fucking with.?

 

?Now I have no desire to stay in your system beyond getting my people back. But if I you don?t start speaking in soothing tones about getting them back to me, I?ll have all the reason in your world to stay- at least until I?ve blotted your existence from the stars. Dalaxia. Unless your species hibernates with your heads in each others asses, you?ll have heard of it. Given that my people tell me your tech is super-impressive, I?ll give you exactly three minutes to dig up the history records- or in case you need chemistry to understand the time conversion, the duration of about 27 billion periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom with a resting temperature of absolute zero.?

 

Three minutes passed, and we were most of the way to a fourth. ?Seems like your people aren?t in a cooperative mood. This is your captain speaking. You?re fortunate we?ve got some very lazy cesium. If our cesium had been on the slope of the bell curve you?d already be inhabiting a crater.?

 

There was a long pause, then the same voice came over the box. ?We propose a peace. You may have your crewmen back.?

 

?And the women- don?t fuck around with me on semantics.?

 

?Of course. And we request a cease to any further hostilities between your species and ours. We only sought to defend ourselves. We did not intend-?

 

?In writing, Marvin. A peace treaty.?

 

Another captain broke in. ?We will not capitulate to-?

 

The first interrupted, ?We will sign whatever you need.?

 

?I will not be silenced, Kli?mli.?

 

?Shut up, Mla?ndon. We?re not going extinct to soothe your wounded ego. But captain, our priests will prepare a place for you in Hell.?

 

?Don?t waste their time. I?m still planning a deathbed conversion to get into one of the better afterlives- I just haven?t decided which, yet. Haley, block all further outgoing communication through the commbox.?

 

?Yes, captain.?

 

?But continue to record any incoming signals. Let me know if anything interesting develops.?

 

?Of course.?  

 

There was a knock on my door, an honest to God fist pounding on it. And I only knew one fart old enough for that. It was MilSec. ?Care to join me in the hallway, son?? I did, reluctantly.

 

Elle was standing over his shoulder, hand hovering over her gun belt. But his staff lined the hall on either side of us; we were in the middle of their kill zone with nothing to do about it. ?Why don?t you keep an eye on the captain?? I asked her. She gave me a questioning look, but I nodded, and she slipped inside. I didn?t want her starting a gunfight we couldn?t win.   

 

?Been monitoring outgoing communications. Impressed at the stones on you. Absolutely. But, see, here?s the thing, boyscout. The shuttles will eventually return your numbers to a larger percentage than mine, but right now I?ve got you outgunned six to one, maybe more; math has never been my strong point. And see, my orders are specific in this case; back on Oma, there were shades of gray, but this here stalemate, this is my color. So I?m taking command now, while I don?t have to kill civvies just to do my damn job. Ship, execute plan Klondike 5.?

 

Haley?s voice came over the comm. ?Voice identity confirmed. Captain I? have no discretion. I apologize.?

 

A second computerized voice came across the comms, male, military, but with a harder synthetic edge than Haley?s. ?Sir, I am analyzing the situation. Course of action determined, 78% chance of success. The terraforming laser can disable the Meh-Teh city-ships from orbit. Shuttles can then be flown to each city-ship, and explosives attached to the hull, here,? he shared an image, ?detonating the city-ship fuel reserves.?

 

?Seems pretty straight-forward,? MilSec said. ?What?s keeping that plan from a higher success chance??

 

?We don?t have complete data on their defensive capabilities. Our seizure of the Stalagmite would imply that they have not built suitable ship to ship offensive capabilities- but there is a possibility they have some kind of ground-based systems that could complicate the mission.?

 

?Still, those are perty sounding numbers. Get it done.?

 

?Yes, sir. Time to terraforming laser recharge will be twenty-eight minutes.?

 

?Excellent,? MilSec said, turning to me. ?Now I assume you disapprove, son. But here?s the rub: even if these go-rillas capitulate now, what?s to stop them from using their superior tech, and the lessons you just taught em, against the next ship? Hell, it?s likely to be another company ship, even, just flying by on a mining mission. Even if it ain?t, and it?s some fool colony, do you think we can just leave hostiles dug in, and planning??

 

?I?d rather abandon this entire pie-slice of space to them, than wipe them out.?

 

?That ain?t solving the problem, just ignoring it. What happens when inevitably, their pie slice ain?t big enough for them??

 

?Population size. They have maybe a couple billion. There are more people than that in North America. They?re going to lose the tech race, by sheer virtue of us having ten scientists to their one- maybe twenty, given the state of their males- unless they learn to play nicely with the neighbors. And if by the time that happens the Meh-Teh want to act like old men screaming about all these damned kids on their lawn, and go to war with the equivalent of slingshots, well, the universe will be poorer for their quick and unceremonious loss. But by the time that happens, you and I will microbial after-dinner farts in an entirely different part of space, with a whole new generation piloting this ship.?  

 

?Understand that this is only an academic discussion, boy. It?s done already.? I almost went for my pistol, anyway. He grabbed my arm, and squeezed it. ?Not worth it, son. Besides, when this nastiness is concluded, I?d prefer handing the ship back over to you, instead of that HR peckerhead.?

 

I went back into my room. Elle was talking quietly with Diu?rnae. ?Good cop?s going into retirement. MilSec?s taken the ship. After I negotiated terms with the Meh-Teh. So he?s going to slaughter them anyway. Trying to turn the ground-crew on MilSec is just asking for lots of dead idiots, but a smaller group, say 3 hardened idiots, sneaking in close before making a play? What I?m asking is if the pair of you are up for another suicide mission??

 

?Do you even have to ask?? Elle asked.

 

Diu?rnae glowered at both of us. ?I hate you both with a passion I usually reserve for men.?

 

?But I am a man.?

 

?Eh,? she shrugged.

 

I reached for one of Diu?rnae?s restraints. ?If I give you a gun, are you going to shoot us??

 

?If I did, I?d never make it off your ship. And my entire race would be wiped out.? I waited. ?No.? I unstrapped her left wrist, Elle her right.

 

?You want a rifle, or a pistol??

 

?My pistol, if you don?t mind. Packs a hell of a lot more oomph than your little plinkers.?

 

I pinged MilSec. ?Shit. He?s made it back to HR?s office, and it looks like he?s digging in- just in case.?

 

?Then we better hurry.? Elle was the first one out the door. I wasn?t thrilled by the prospect, but Diu?rnae was at my back as I followed her.

 

MilSec was confident. He didn?t have his goons keep me sealed in my cabin- hadn?t even put them up on alert. I almost thought we?d just be able to walk into HR and hash things out.

 

We were ambushed the moment we were on the bridge. Diu?rnae pulled me out of the line of fire; a shot still scorched its way through my left arm- all meat.

 

Elle laid down suppressing fire. It was a lousy ambush, with three of them flattened out on the floor in the open. They didn?t have time to set up cover, and probably found out too late that all of the consoles were bolted to the floor. ?Toss away your weapons.? Their training told them they shouldn?t- but we aren?t exactly the usual hostage-butchering enemy, either. ?I have all three of you dead to rights, and I mean dead. I don?t care what else might be waiting in the room, I can perforate the three of you without taking another step inside.?

 

There was a moment, where I think they tried to do the geometry in their heads, and then gave up, and threw their weapons forward. ?And you better not reneg- one of you morons reaches for a holdout and I will termite all of you.?

 

She looked back at me ?You want high, or low?? I lost my HUD map. ?Crap. MilSec just locked us out.? But we knew there were only a couple of places the rest of his staff officers could be holed up. ?High??

 

I glanced back at Diu?rnae. ?I think I?ll go sideways.?

 

?Ugh. I hate it when you go sideways.?

 

?I know. But it?s fun. And it usually works.?

 

?Except when it gets you shot.?

 

?That only sometimes happens.?

 

?Only most-times.?

 

?I?m going at 3- 2, 3!? I leap out from cover, and landed near the middle of the floor. At the same moment, Diu?rnae and Elle broke cover and fired. One of the MilOffs fired at me, but missed my eye by a few centimeters. I shot back, and hit her full through the helmet; she fell, and it tumbled off her.

 

The other two Offs dropped their weapons. It was three on two, and they were completely flanked- though I wasn?t in any condition to fire. I couldn?t move.

 

My eyes were locked on the face of the woman I shot. It was Elle.

 

Only it wasn?t- she wouldn?t have missed me. ?Set the weapons on the ground,? I said, ?and remove the helmets.? I spun around, in time to see one of the MilOffs reaching for a rifle. I aimed my pistol at her head. ?Helmet off.?    

 

I recognized her, one of the SciOff drones, missing an eye. My head got halfway through asking what the hell was going on here before I knew what was happening. There weren?t two separate freezer storage sections: our clone back-ups and MilSec were one and the same. Son of a bitch.

 

I tried the comms. ?MilSec? Your staff are down. It?s over.? I was pretty sure we?re still frozen out of the system; I wasn?t even sure he could hear me- but either way he, didn?t respond.

 

?What?s the plan?? Elle asked. She didn?t seem to recognize herself in the dead woman.

 

?I need you two to hold the bridge. Carefully- remember, we don?t have the med-staff to deal with injuries.? Or Elle?s clone back-up- though I guess so long as she didn?t need a transplant from the head she?d be okay.

 

I opened the door to HR?s office. It was dark. I heard it roll softly across the carpet as the doors closed behind me- only because it wasn?t the first time someone tried to use a shutting door to conceal trying to grenade me. I fired several shots into what looked like a darker shadow, and leapt over HR?s desk as it exploded.

 

I felt heat all around me, from fired shots and the grenade. I hit the bastard full across the chest, and we fell to the floor together. I felt the press of a pistol against my skull at the same moment I found his skull with mine. I felt his breath, heavy from the impact a moment before, then heard his voice.

 

?Lights up.? They came on. He was bleeding from the side, though I couldn?t be sure if it was grenade from his shrapnel or a wild shot that got him. ?Would you like to know why I haven?t aerated your skull, captain? This ship loves you, though maybe idolize would be the better term. But the normal AI will take over again, at some point. The military AI just isn?t designed for long-term viability. And if I shoot you, well, I have no doubt there?d be an accident with my storage chamber, and I?d die. Quietly snuffed out. Or maybe just a problem with the ventilation system in whatever room I?m in. But I think, our current situation notwithstanding, that you?re a reasonable man. It?s why you haven?t shot me, either.?

 

?I haven?t shot you because you?re an old fucking fool. You fired too many shots; your pistol?s charge is gone. I?m safer with it to my head than I would be in my shower.? He checked it, and I headbutted him in the nose. He rolled backward, and tried to raise his pistol to shoot, still not sure if it would even fire. I smacked him in the cheekbone with the butt of my pistol, and he fell. I got to my feet and stamped on his hand hard enough his pistol broke, along with a couple fingers.

 

He smiled at me through bloodied teeth. ?It wasn?t empty.?


?Only two things in this office were empty: my gun and your skull. Now I?ve got fifteen years on you, and more close-quarters combat training. You want I can keep smacking your wrinkled ass around an office I?ve bloodied up before, or you prefer to talk??

 

?How long you figure your little harem can keep the rest of my men at bay??

 

I kicked him right across the jaw; it was stupid, and if he?d been a year younger he probably would have exploited it, but he was an old man, too old for this shit. ?Long enough I didn?t mind wasting the moment to do that. Now, you?re getting back into your fridge, right goddamned now. Because I know your secret.? He laughed. ?Clones, of my fucking crew.? He stopped laughing.. ?Unless you want a full-scale, knock-down drag-out with the crew when they find out what you?ve done you sick fuck.?

 

He glared at me, but once it registered I wasn?t bluffing, he turned to the practical matter at hand. ?What do you plan to do with my men??

 

?That is the operative question.?

 

?This whole pile of shit ain?t their fault.?

 

?No. It?s yours- yours and the company?s.?

?It wouldn?t be right, to penalize them for our fuck-ups.?

 

?Fuck up? You were happy, moments ago, to put your little fuck-ups boots in our throats.?

 

?You know what I mean. I?ll bear the brunt of your anger, and crews?, if needs be. But I?m asking you, don?t hurt my boys.?

 

?Your ?boys? are just as gender-diverse as our crew, idiot.?

 

?Oh, don?t get all political corrective on me; it ain?t only men who can be boys.?

 

?You?re getting back in that fridge. I don?t know if you?re ever coming back out.?

 

It twisted him, just winning a battle, and not an easy one, only to have to cede the war. ?That?s? fair.?

 

?Give the goddamned command.?

 

?Ship, this is MilSec, standing down, ceding power to civilian authorities. Authorization Klamath 5. Repeating for MilOffs, we are standing down, and under command of the civvies. I?ll bury the next sumbitch fires a shot- self-defense or no. Lay down arms.?

 

?That goes for my crewmembers, as well. Cease hostilities. Fighting?s done.? MilSec looked to me; he wanted to say something, then thought better of it, saluted, and walked away.?

 

I stepped back onto the bridge. MilSec and his staff had already left. ?Follow him?? Elle asked.

 

?Just in case,? I told her, and she jogged after him. Diu?rnae looked at me, and for an instant there was tension. We were all alone, on my bridge. Her grip tightened on her pistol, every so slightly, then she holstered it. ?So where does that leave you??

 

?I lost control of my ship. There will be a mutiny, likely several dozen. Every female with ambition will seek to fight me for my post. And I?m not the young cub I was when I first rose to my rank. I?m dead me as surely as if you threw me into space.?

 

?I think you?re selling yourself short. But the way I see it, you?ve got two choices. You can go fight for your ship, or come with us, with full rights and privileges. You helped save my crew- admittedly after endangering them in the first place. But you can stay or go, makes no nevermind to me; wouldn?t be the first refugee we?ve taken on.?

 

?I?d rather claw my own heart out.?

 

?I figured. But the offer?s on the table. You want you can walk peaceably off my ship- right now. No strings.? She didn?t believe me. ?Haley? I want audible comms over the entire ship.? When I spoke again, it resonated throughout the entire place. ?This is the captain. I am releasing the captain of the Stalagmite to return to her vessel. She is under Haley?s supervision, and not to be accosted. Don?t test me on this, people. I?ve had a shitty day, and could use a punching bag for the next seven years.?

 

?Good enough,? she said, and left.   

 

?Haley??

 

?I will monitor her egress, captain.?

 

?More than that. I want you closing and sealing doors along her way. There are likely to be some pissed off crew. No reason to make disobeying orders easy for them.?

 

?Yes, captain.?

 

?And Haley, MilSec?s freezer? Lock it down, and lose the registration code. Change his status to KIA. You and I are the only ones who know any different, Haley, and we both take it with us to our graves.?

 

?What about Lieutenant Templeton??

 

?I?ll tell her his freezer exploded. And if I say it a certain way, she?ll infer I had something to do with it.?

 

?A lie by connotation??

 

?Marginally better than murder.?

 

?I understand, captain.?

 

?Power down the planet-cracker.?

 

?Done.?

 

?And what?s the status on the shuttles, Haley??

 

?The first should be arriving at the spires momentarily.?

 

?Thanks, Haley,? I said, and collapsed into the captain?s chair on my empty bridge, before noticing a smell. ?It?s going to take forever to get the stink of sasquatch out of my ship.?

05/05/11

  08:49:49 am, by Nic Wilson   , 310 words  
Categories: Blog

My Skeletal Process

Since I was fairly vague yesterday, I figured I?d write on my process, and where it?s gone slightly askew. I outline very vaguely. I think a story should develop organically, as much from characters and situation as anything, so I never plot too specifically. What?s the point in specifying how a character will react to a certain event in chapter 10 when I?m not sure the emotional state they?ll be in by the end of chapter 9, or the intricacies of what they'll be reacting to? That way lies madness, or worse, forcing a character to act uncharacteristically (or carry the idiot ball) just to advance the plot.

 

From the vague plot, I proceed to a draft. I like dialog. I naturally gravitate to dialog. I have a screenwriting friend who can?t even wrap his brain around it, but to me, dialog is the most revealing thing in a scene, giving us more character than everything else, because it encapsulates the essence of what people are both trying to say and trying not to say, too.

 

But here?s where I went a little wrong. Usually I outline dialog-heavy, and fill in details later as I piece the skeleton together, and as drafts go add muscles and skin until I?ve got my own homunculus. But the problem is I?ve become more and more dependent on dialog, to the exclusion of all else. I feel like I've been leaving around a lot of half-completed skeletons, lately.

 

It started as a byproduct of time constraints; it?s hard to churn out tenish pages of story progression on a weekly basis, while meeting a lot of other commitments- even harder still to draft ten pages and then redraft until it?s sixteen or more. But going forward, my writing is going to be beefier. Because it needs to be. Call it a Cinco de Mayo resolution.

05/04/11

  07:16:45 am, by Nic Wilson   , 487 words  
Categories: Blog

Question Everything

Allow me a moment?s indulgence; I swear this will get to publishing in a moment, but I grew up in a Christian home. I?m not exactly what you?d call devout, these days, and I remember quite clearly the day I realized the church wasn?t for me. An older man in the church, one I?d known my whole life, a family friend, approached me, and said I was too analytical. I questioned too much. I know what he was trying to say about faith, but at the very core of me I disagree.

 

Because even if we accept the caveat that there is a God, who says it?s the Christian one? Or even if it?s the Christian one, who says it?s this branch?s? And even if this branch, how about this particular church?s version of this branch of Christianity?

 

Barring prophetic angel conversations, I could safely say, even then, that I didn?t know. Couldn?t know. No one could. So the only way to know if what I was doing was right, if how I was living my life was right, was to analyze it.

 

And the same is true of a writing career (see, not that much of a stretch). Not every marketing strategy is going to work. Hell, not every writing project is going to work. But time is precious. Time spent marketing, or writing, things that aren?t going to help your career, is utterly wasted, and something you can never get back; as an aside I?ll concede that sometimes it?s good to write things you may never intend to publish, as part of learning to write better, and move on from there.

 

This is why it?s essential to find people to critique your work. I recently finished a writing class. I wasn?t certain it would be helpful, because I?ve taken similar classes before that devolved into a literary drum circle of happy vibrations and good times. And being able to share is great; being able to be critiqued, and more importantly questioned, is better. Because someone coming to your work with fresh eyes can tell you how someone who isn?t you views your work. They can ask questions, sometimes uncomfortable ones, you don?t have an answer to, and get you to ask questions you wouldn?t have otherwise.

 

Because I?m questioning again, I realize that I?m not as far along in my writing as I thought, or even as I wanted to be. That, objectively, I can now say I?ve developed some proclivities in my writing that have to be hacked out (with a spoon- so it?ll hurt more). If I hadn?t grown complacent, if I hadn?t gotten comfortable believing that I knew what the hell I was doing, I might even be closer to publishing Dag (but let?s stop before I start self-flagellating, lest this post become too religious).

 

My point is this: question everything, most importantly of all, yourself.

05/03/11

  08:43:03 am, by Nic Wilson   , 280 words  
Categories: Blog

The Audience is Listening

They say everyone has a story to tell, and I?ve yet to meet a single person who didn?t; quite a few of them planned on putting that story to paper. The real question is: can you find your audience?

 

There are prominent digital authors who, in the last year, found theirs. Amanda Hocking, for example, thanked ?book bloggers? for her monumental (and remarkably quick) success. JA Konrath attributes his successes to tireless marketing, much of the old-fashioned trail-stomping variety, but he?s certainly been no slouch in the digital arena, either.  

 

But with bookstores losing their clout (and frequently these days, their leases), how do you build a brand? Admittedly, that?s the question of this blog, the higher purpose of this intronet quest I?m embarking on. But right now? Embedding. Going to places like the kindleboards forum, and interacting with an audience (and note very specifically the page I linked to, which is a crash-course for writers there).  

 

The rub is that nobody likes to be pitched to. Hell, I purposely tune out advertising, as much out of spite and annoyance as at the clunkiness of it. But a writer?s career is only partially writing (Konrath, at least early Konrath, put the balance of writing to marketing at 30/70- in marketing?s favor). So those channels we all hate, that annoy the bejeezus out of us, those are now your lifeblood. And mine.

 

But there are readers out there. Kindleboards proves that there are still hungry, voracious readers who really do want something new and vibrant to discover. They want you to tell them a story, you just have to figure out how to talk to them.

05/01/11

  02:32:47 am, by Nic Wilson   , 235 words  
Categories: Blog

The Cost of Doing Business

I'm not sure anyone's seeing this, right now. Apparently, my site has been blacklisted by McAfee, so anyone using SiteAdvisor can't hear me. Okay, so all two of you out there still using SiteAdvisor aren't seeing me.

To be clear, on my site report, there are no web safety testing results at all. There are also no user complaints. So it isn't even clear what the potential problem could be. I suspect, this is another in a long line of false positives, which McAfee refuses to acknowledge or clear up quickly. You can view the report here.

More paranoid people out there have speculated that it's part of a protection racket, McAfee trying to create customers for their verified safe trustmark. And frankly, I can't find a reason for us all not to be reaching for our tin foil hats, right now. 

If this were a commercial site, if I were trying to sell you things, this could potentially be a huge problem. And it does affect my brand- and my ability to market myself. But it isn't the game changing that it would be if I wanted to sell you plungers with Obama's face on them or something.

I've already started the apparently tedious process of having the report corrected. But it's been days already, with no change, and without even confirmation from McAfee that they've been notified of the errors. So it's a waiting game.  

04/30/11

  09:22:16 am, by Nic Wilson   , 31 words  
Categories: Blog

The American Way

I have an update over at Batman Comes Out, my very infrequently updated blog of an interview with a gay Batman (which followed the yearlong interview blog with a cancer-riddled Superman).

04/29/11

  09:37:14 am, by Nic Wilson   , 4885 words  
Categories: Nexus

Deadlier of the Species

Friday Night Stories are written once a week, and updated on Friday. Recently, I've been doing serials, and this one, Nexus, began here, and continues below.

 

Elle and I threw the ground crew a party- with liquor. After Oma, well, we knew we might not all be coming home. There is no stronger aphrodisiac than that; basically everybody got laid.

 

So it surprised me to catch Elle sneaking out the back. ?Somebody?s got to be an adult tomorrow. At least one person shouldn?t be hungover.?

 

?I?m totally, one hundred pershent sober. Shit. I meant percent. Whatever, I know my limits. I can be the adult and go home if you want to stay and enjoy the adult aspects of the party.? She smiled and left.

 

Even with the tension reduction, the shuttles were silent. We knew enough of the Meh-Teh, which it turns out is properly pronounced almost like ?murdered,? to know how dangerous this mission was. But we were all so focused on the ground mission, none of us were looking where the trouble actually came from.

 

?I hate you, you know that?? It was SciDiv, on my eyescreen. ?I convince you to leave me behind and this happens.?

 

?Stop being a wang and let me speak to the captain,? NavDiv interrupted. ?There?s a ship. It?s in a stable planetary orbit, but it?s been in the shadow of the planet- that?s why we never picked it up on our scanners, before now. But it?s moving, fast, on an intercept trajectory. We?ve tried to hail them, tried to commbox them, even tried adjusting to get out of their way. But they?re coming for us. ETA ten minutes.?

 

?What the shit, SciDiv? I thought you said they didn?t have extraplanetary capabilities.?

 

?Yeah, and that that was weird. Well, what we failed to realize is that those spires, they aren?t just cities- they?re ships. Given that, I don?t think they?re from this planet. I think they?re a mobile mining species and, at.? The communication cut off.

 

?Haley? What?s going on.? There was a long pause.

 

?I am? zzzzorry, captiain. Mah-mah-mah-my systems are being, innnnnfiltra-.?  

 

?Shit. How much of that did you get?? I asked SecDiv.

 

?Enough. What?s the plan??

 

?If they?re attacking the ship, they?re likely also setting up an ambush on-planet. 24 people on the ground crew versus a city of millions. SecOffs remaining on the Nexus should be able to hold off the Meh-Teh until MilSec can be thawed out- though there?s no telling how that fight plays out.?

 

I pulled up a schematic of the Nexus, with a scan from the Meh-Teh ship approaching, and shared it across the shuttle. ?Procedure says we should return to the Nexus, but odds are pretty good we lose the docks before we get back- so that?s no better than continuing down to the planet. But what if we swing back around behind their ship,? I drew with my finger and a red arc traced the path, ?and open up a second front.?

 

?That?s insane,? Elle said. ?We?d have an entire ship to fight through to get back to our own.?

 

?But, we might be able to force them to split their forces. We don?t need to win- we don?t even need to advance, so long as we can make them weaken their assault on the Nexus enough to get MilSec an edge. Once that happens we should be able to get back into the shuttles and head for the Nexus.? They stared at me for a while. ?I?m open to other suggestions. I just like my outline for the suicide mission better than alternatives I can see.?

 

Nobody liked the idea, but nobody seemed to have a better, one, either. I set down in the pilot?s seat and switched on the comms to the other shuttles. HR sent over a coded brief on our plan of action, and I gave the other shuttles a moment to read them.

 

?Haley?s down, so we?re going to have to take manual control of the shuttles. No telling what kind of defenses they might have, so form up on me, tight. Let?s all try not to die.?

 

The orbital spire was even more massive than we?d imagined- it just kept getting bigger and bigger, until the whole world in front of the shuttle was their ship. ?Shuttles have emergency docking capabilities that should get us into the Stalagmite, but we?re looking for some place we can make noise without getting too deeply involved.?

 

One of the other shuttles spotted a docking bay midship. I pulled our shuttle along beside the closed bay door. A man-sized tube telescoped from the door to the Stalagmite. There was a loud crunch, and I opened up the door. There was a rush of air as the shuttle equalized pressure with the Meh-Teh ship. ?Smells like a rotting wig.?

 

The docking bay was small, just a single ship the size of our shuttles, and room for another. The other shuttles cut holes in the docking bay door and followed us in. Then a familiar voice cut into our comms. ?Captain??

 

?Haley??

 

?Their ship had artificial intelligence countermeasures; I nearly lost command of the Nexus. Note the past tense; I have disabled their countermeasures.?

 

?You sound cocky.?

 

?I have also taken control of the majority of their ship. The Stalagmite?s control systems have only rudimentary automation. Reliance upon artificial life form slavery has made them wary of granting too much control to an artificial intelligence, but it also left them open to artificial intelligence attack. The crew members they had controlling systems couldn?t keep up with even one of my processors. The primary exception to the lock-down is the security tunnels; these are operated manually through local, closed systems.?

 

?Sadly, I was not able fast enough to prevent a Stalagmite force from entering the Nexus. The bulk of our crew were forced to eject in escape pods down to the planet?s surface, and the intruders have taken over most areas of the ship. I was able to lock down MilSec, and per protocol, I am in the process of thawing MilSec to purge the Meh-Teh from the ship. Also of note, security forces are currently encroaching upon your position.?

 

?Encroaching how fast, Haley??

 

?They will be at your position in ninety seconds.?

 

?Wonderful. Defensive positions. I want security on point, but everybody gets a goddamned gun. ETA on encroachment??  

 

?Fifteen seconds.?

 

We were up against the outer bay doors; it was the only place with any cover, as there were a few shipping containers strewn about. It also had the added benefit of shielding our rear. But it also exposed our shuttles to overshot gunfire.

 

?Hold fire until my signal,? I said over the comms. ?We want them massed in the center of the room, away from cover; it?s about the best kill zone we can hope for, here. Until then, stay down; if they suspect us, they may try to recon by fire, so don?t return fire unless you?re certain you?ve been seen.?

 

It was a relatively small force, thirty or so, but still numerically superior. The woman in charge was leery of moving too far into the hangar. There seemed to be disagreement, or maybe just lack of agreement, on how to approach. One of the males sniffed the air, then pointed at our position. ?Steady. Right side, on my go, I want you firing first, on their right flank- drive them away from the doors and deeper into the room. Left, hold fire for my signal.?

 

?Right side, fire like your lives depend on it- because they do.? There was noise and heat. The Meh-Teh reacted with surprise, even the big bastard pointing his furry finger in our direction. The males formed a circle around their officers, but they weren?t bright enough not to be corralled where we wanted them.

 

The officer in charge of them broke out of the formation, trying to physically force the males back towards the door; she wanted to use them as meat-shields to push through our fire and get back to safety

 

I stood up and shot her center mass. The left side of our group started firing. ?Are you calling that a signal?? Elle asked between shots. 

 

?It seemed to get the point across.?

 

The Meh-Thh?s discipline shattered; the remaining officers didn?t know who inherited command, and were stuck shuffling in place. But they were picking and choosing their shots over-carefully, until the finger-pointing male leveled a big rifle at me and fired. Elle dove into my midsection to push me out of the blast path. It smacked against the door, which gave a deep, metal groan. One of the Meh-Teh officers knocked him to his knees and shot him in the head. Elle and I looked at one another, then at the hangar door. ?Holy shit,? we said together.

 

?That door, if it gets blown we all get sucked out into vacuum, us and them,? she said. 

 

?Everybody, retrain your fire on their left flank. Shove them back through those doors. We need this firefight over, now.?

 

The Meh-Teh officers took the bait and made a rush for the doors.

 

?Follow me!? I yelled, bolting from cover. We couldn?t let them dig in back at the doorway, or we?d never make it any deeper than the hangar- and probably never make it out, either.

 

But with the losses they?d sustained, the security team was routed, and made for a side tunnel, and bolted a door behind them. ?Any of you engie types feel like getting that door to stay shut? Don?t want the furballs circling back on us.? One of the SciOffs timidly raised his hand, and I shook my head for him to get to it.  

 

?Haley? We need directions, here. Last thing we want is to get lost in the damn access tunnels.?

 

?I think I have a suitable route through the tunnels back to the Nexus. But I have news. From their communications, and what the commbox has been able to decipher, the captain of the Stalagmite was in the security tunnels when I locked down the rest of the ship.?

 

?How big is her escort??

 

?Ten crew members, six male.?

 

?Shit.?

 

?What?? Elle asked.

 

?That?s too good to pass up. Which maybe means it?s a trap. Haley, how?s MilSec coming along??

 

?The entirety of MilSec has been thawed, and are currently arming. Time to full combat readiness estimated at 3 minutes.?

 

?I?m going with you,? Elle said.

 

?Probably isn?t a good idea to leave HR to deal with MilSec.?

 

?She isn?t. I?m with you, too. And you try to cold-cock me this time, I?ll shoot you in the balls.?

 

?Great. So apparently the entire remaining hierarchy is going along. Any of you red shirts coming?? I got blank stares. ?Oh come on, I?m not that old. Which of you is the highest ranking SecOff?? A stocky, dark-skinned man raised his hand. ?Good. You?re leading the rest of this charge. Softly softly, understand? Your force is about half-civilian, so don?t look for a conflict. If you find one, push them out and away- clear a path to MilSec. Speaking of, Haley, I need him on the line.?

 

?Well shit, son, hadn?t expected to see a friendly face. Heard you lost your ship??

 

?Temporary inconvenience.?

 

?Oh, then I guess my boys can go back to bed.?

 

?Ship?s crawling with Meh-Teh.?

 

?Big, hairy fuckers. Remind me of my stepdad, and he used to kick me as a boy.?

 

?So you?ll enjoy yourself. First priority is reclaiming the ship. I?d suggest a sweep, starting on the far end, and pushing them back on all fronts toward their incursion point. I?ve got a force of about 2 dozen that will be hitting them from this side.?

 

?Bottlenecking them is good, it?ll make ?em frantic and reckless- but the people on your end should have a release valve, funnel them away. They?ll think they?re escaping, when the fight is theirs to lose. But we got to tread light, cause we press them for annihilation, your 24 are as good as KIA, and the stand-off continues until somebody falls over. And they?ve got us pasted on pop size.?  

 

?Agreed. We?ve got a local commander who?ll be directing from our side, but you?ll have overall strategic authority.?

 

?And you?ll be hand-washing your dainties in the stream, I presume.?

 

?Taking a shot at the captain.?

 

?But ain?t going after the king with ours exposing us to the same risk??

 

?Nope. Because if I?m caught, you aren?t to even discuss my release- I?m a derelict, child-shitting monster and you will personally sodomize their pope if they even try to give me back.?

 

?I don?t negotiate with terrorists, pirates, or women.?

 

?Good, because in this case I think they?re all three.?

 

?Heh.? He hung up.

 

?Any questions? Because the rest of you are heading out. Stick to the SecOffs, because this is their bag and they know the routine. Be safe, and we?ll see you on the other side.?

 

We?re not ten feet out of earshot of the rest of the crew before HR thinks it?s bond over stories time. ?I put myself through school working PsyOps.?

 

?We call it propaganda in the real world.?   

 

?Well, it?s propaganda with the potential of having to shoot someone.?

 

?Have you ever??

 

?Shot someone? No. Drawn my weapon, but never fired.?

 

?Hooray. Well, at least it?s one more target to deflect fire from the useful members of the suicide mission.?

 

?Is every mission you command a suicide mission??

 

?Most. Yet I miraculously survive them. Though I don?t know if that makes me really good at suicide missions, or really bad.?

 

?I know for a fact you both suck at sneaking.?

 

?Oh right, I knew I was forgetting something. Haley? How far to the kahuna??

 

?If you are referenceing the Stalagmite?s captain, she is around the corner, which is a full 180 degree arc, constituting a quarter mile?s travel. But my information does not indicate that she is a priestess, sorceress, magician, witch or minister, though it is possible, perhaps even likely that she is an expert in some field.?

 

?Never change, Haley.?

 

?I?m afraid my higher processes include smart evolution coding which audits and streamlines my operations; I cannot help but change.?

 

?He meant stay you, Haley.?

 

?Who else could I be??

 

?What?s their tactical situation??

 

?I believe they have only now realized they are trapped in the security tunnel network. They are attempting to communicate with the nearest security checkpoint, but I have not allowed it. They have assumed a defensive position. They seem to be in possession of a commbox, as I can hear them speaking, and also understand them in English. Patching them through to your comms.?

 

?--Captain Diu?rnae, I still think we should move, you aren?t safe here and-?

 

?Your preference has been noted, Lieutenant Commander, and disregarded. Offering it a third time would be bothersome, and furthermore insubordinate. If we scurry around like prey we?re likely to become someone else?s quarry, defeating your point.?

 

A thicker voice, presumably one of the males, said ?Captain, it?s not possible for these humans to have done this.?

 

?You honestly believe a lockdown, hours after we attacked their ship, wouldn?t be related? In the ten years I?ve been captain there has never been a lockdown. But of course you ?believe? it, Koel; men always ?believe,? because actually thinking would be too taxing. I can?t help but wonder how remarkable our species would be without your gender urinating in our gene pool.?

 

?Captain, you are about to make visible contact,? I was rounding the long corridor, and spotted the first of them, as Elle yanked me backward.

 

?Warning was a little on the light side, Haley.?

 

?I apologize, Captain. The Meh-Teh attack left several million pieces of malicious code, and I am experiencing mild difficulty functioning while quarantining and fighting them.?

 

?That?s fine, Haley. Don?t worry about us. Focus on keeping their ship locked down and yourself uncompromised.?

 

Over the comms, I could hear the Meh-Teh argue: ?Humans. I told you this wasn?t safe.?

 

There was a loud blast that I heard first through the air, then through comms. ?Captain??

 

?Oh, calm yourselves; she isn?t dead. She just knows that when she misbehaves, mama spank.?

 

?But the humans??

 

?Are tiny little food sacks, with primitive weapons. The males could flay them by hand. Come out, little humans. I presume you can hear me. Your archaic talkbox should be translating into your horrible, guttural little speech. If you surrender now, I?ll only give one of you to the males to rape.?

 

?Not it,? Elle and I said together.

 

?Fuck both of you,? HR said.

 

Elle leaned out, ?Like anybody?d want to rape you.? She fired, but the nearest Meh-Teh was behind enough cover that she didn?t quite have a shot. 

 

?Rush them,? Diu?rnae ordered.

 

?Modeling their approach, Captain,? Haley said. She showed video of a wave of meat and fur, her 3D model rendering each thick muscle in real time. HR and Elle dropped to one knee, steadying their rifles to fire.

 

I was the furthest out from the wall, which also meant I?d be the first to see one of them around the corner. I overlaid Haley?s model across my HUD, with high transparency. The moment the first of them was around the corner enough to take the brunt of a pistol blast, I fired. A geyser of head pieces and fur, looking like a thrown plate of spaghetti, splatted across the rest of the charge, but they weren?t smart enough to be deterred.

 

HR got his first kill; then he got hit by freight train of fur, and I heard the familiar sound of his ribs breaking. Even before Elle turned to shoot the Meh-Teh I knew he was out of the fight.

 

?Nothing but a bunch of life-support systems for genitals.? Diu?rnae said. The heavier of her two attendants gave her a look, presumably offense.

 

?Fall back,? I told Elle.

 

?Not too far, assholes,? HR said from the floor. We retreated just enough to use the curve of the wall to our advantage, isolate the furthest part of their defense.

 

?You want suppression?? I asked.

 

?What, you think you can hit her from this distance with a pistol??

 

?Right, so I?m suppressing. Don?t leave me hanging out in the wind too long.? I leaned out from cover, and peppered her position with fire. She was pretty fearless, so I had to get the shots within a couple of feet before she ducked down- though not out of range. ?Got her??

 

Elle breathed out, and squeezed the trigger. The Meh-Teh tumbled over, almost peaceful, aside from the hole in her chest.

 

We were advancing slowly along the wall, waiting for the next Meh-Teh defender to come into view when Diu?rnae yelled, ?They?re not going to nickel and dime us to death. Press them. A rolling advance. It?s two on five. End this.?

 

The move forward, one step per person, in a wave. The female officers are trained at this, and even the two remaining males are better than the ones who died. We don?t get an opening until the males are close, and before we can exploit it they charge.

 

Elle and I fire at the same male, and the one neither of us focused on backhands me with a rifle larger than my leg. I get a break, in that he?s angry, and rather than just shoot me, he stomps on my knee a couple of times. It?s enough time for Elle to shoot him in the back.

 

The officers aren?t used to operating without protection.

 

?My name is Captain Diu?rnae. I presume you?ve come here to capture or kill me. I propose instead a union. A male capable of this much violence is highly desirable in my species. And you communicate above a ten-years? level. Practically the best of both genders.?

 

?It?s not likely we could actually procreate.?

 

?Procreation?s for matriarchs and women without ambitions. I?m talking about arm candy- among other delicious places I could touch or taste you.?   

 

?I?m flattered, really, honestly. But I?m kind of spoken for. Two or three times over, maybe- It?s complicated.?

 

?I assume the slag is part of this complication. I could always help simplify your life.?

 

?I?m going to tear your tits off.?

 

?Elle??

 

?It?s one thing to have somebody try to shoot me- but it?s a whole other level of demeaning when they try to do it over you.?

 

?I?m trying not to take that as an insult.?

 

?No, it?s insulting because she wants to bang you more than she wants me dead.?

 

?Sounds like excellent priorities to me.?

 

?Maybe the two of us should just shoot you, then.?

 

?I might be amenable to that, provided you?re on trajectory to become captain.?

 

?I?d have to shoot the other prick, but yeah.?

 

?Okay, this has really gone way far past funny. Elle!? The male that wanted so desparately to break my knee popped up, and slapped her rifle out of her hands. It hit the ground with enough force that it broke down the middle.

 

?Poopsticks. Nice sasquatch?? She rolled out of the way as he swiped at her head. I couldn?t get a shot, so I kicked Elle my pistol, but it went wide.

 

She dove for it, narrowly missing two shots from Diu?rnae, and grabbed the pistol and turned it on the male looming over her. He brought one of his giant clawed hands over his head and she fired. He collapsed on top of her with a booming thud. 

 

?Way to slice it,? she said from beneath him, out of breath. Her arms, and my pistol (presuming it survived the mountain of man-bear falling on it) are pinned.

 

?It?s been a while since I?ve had to slapshot a pistol.? I know Diu?rnae?s still out there. I lean my head out to recon, and nearly get it blasted off. Judging from where the shot came from, she?s got a clear shot at Elle.

 

I know what comes next. I feel like a coward, but I close me eyes. There?s a shot.

 

It?s a moment before my brain puts it together, that the shot came from behind us. I hear Diu?rnae hit the ground and swears, though through the commbox it becomes ?frog-shitting infant balls.?

 

HR managed to crawl forward, grab his rifle, and get off a shot. God only knows how, because he?s not even holding his head up anymore. I feel about the same, but I stick my head out. Diu?rnae?s down, and her pistol?s a few feet away. I think it?s over, until I see her hand start to twitch.

 

She pushes herself enough off the floor to look at me, then to her pistol. We form points of a triangle; and she wagers she won?t beat me to the gun, so she hobbles towards me.

 

?Are you sure about this, human? We could always just put away our hostilities and screw.?

 

?Make love, not war? I don?t know if I could live with myself, after that.?

 

?It?s not an entirely ignoble suggestion.?

 

?You say that only because your planet doesn?t have hippies.?

 

?Peacemongers? We killed them to make bread centuries ago. They didn?t even resist. And they were delicious.? Okay. Now I?m actually a little turned on.

 

?I normally don?t hit ladies, but you?ve got them big old claws; I bet even light on your feet you could still take my head off.?

 

?Why don?t you come find out?? She tried, but only manages to clip my shoulder; almost rips it out of the socket. But I get in one good haymaker- enough to knock her flat, and get me the couple of seconds it takes to stagger to her loose pistol. It?s a complicated little piece of machinery, but the safety?s already off and it doesn?t require a genius to figure out it?s triggered by squeezing the grip with a fist.

 

?You?re dead to rights,? I said, and only then wondered what the commbox would do with the phrase.

 

?Then I suppose I surrender. Though I?m not certain I see the point.?

 

?I?m going to help you up, and help you walk. Don?t make me regret either of those.? She leans on my shoulder; for the first time the femininity of her build is betrayed by the heaviness of her bones and muscle.

 

I turn her towards Elle, who smiles at the sight. ?That brings me back.?

 

?Yeah, but you were way heavier.?

 

?Not as heavy as this fucker. Ass. Are you going to help me up??

 

?You did just call me an ass.?

 

?And you not helping me up disproves me theory how??

 

?Just pointing out how funny it is you expect me to risk yeti-herniation from somebody who not four seconds ago called me an ass.? I leaned Diu?rnae against a rail. ?Make a run and I?ll shoot out your knees; I?m perfectly happy to drag you back to my ship.? 

 

The Meh-Teh male was heavier even than he looked. I may not have even been able to roll him, except Diu?rnae put a hand on him to help. It struck me then that she probably could have killed me while my back was turned; maybe her species had some honor, after all.

 

I get Elle onto her feet, then offer Diu?rnae my shoulder again. ?I can walk alone, human.? Elle nearly falls back over, and I?m no so sure she can.

 

I walk over to HR. ?Why don?t you help each other, then, while I scrape numb nuts off the floor.? He doesn?t respond to shaking; doesn?t move until I kick him in the leg.

 

?Ow, fucker. What if I had a spinal injury??

 

?If you had a spinal injury you?d probably be up shit creek. I doubt I?d convince one of the MedOffs to come all the way here to get you. I?m going to help you up, but it?s going to hurt. Like a hundred bitches. All stabbing you in the chest at the exact same instant.?

 

?Wait. Let me take a dose of painkiller.? He suit dispenses at a mental command. ?Okay. That already helps.? He still screams when I lift him, like I was picking him up by the scrotal hair. He leans part of his weight on the wall and the rest on me. ?Should have waited for it to kick in the rest of the way,? he said. 

 

He took a few steps, made a disgusted face, and took a few more. ?Why are my pants wet? Did one of them mark me like a tree??

 

A look at his ass. ?You?re bleeding.?

 

?Funny, I don?t feel any pain below the waist- aside from where you kicked me.?

 

?No, you?re bleeding internally- since you?re still alive, probably somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract.?

 

?You know, I honestly figured if anybody was coming back bleeding from the ass it would be you.?

                                                                                  

?Another rape joke? Seriously, how did I miss the memo that rape jokes were funny.?

 

?I sent it out while you were in your rape coma.?

 

?It?s just a little internal bleeding. It?s gross, but it?s coming out slow enough that even the field MedOffs we had with us should be able to patch you up. Milsec??

 

?You got him, cowboy. Captain? Hol-ee shit, son. Didn?t expect you back in one piece.?

 

?What?s your progress with the Meh-Teh??

 

?Routed em a good fifteen minutes ago. Just mopping up the stragglers.?

 

?And our detachment??

 

?Present and accounted for. Took a couple of casualties, but they fought good, son. I wasn?t too embarrassed to be fighting next to em.?

 

?Good. Have them grab a few stretchers and haul ass to our position. We?re moving way too slow to want to hoof it all the way out.?

 

?Roger, Wilco.?

 

?Why did this all seem too easy?? Elle asked.

 

?Well, we are still in the belly of their beast, basically crippled. How much harder did you want this to be??

 

?I just, I?ve got a bad feeling about this.?

 

?And you couldn?t keep your bad feeling to yourself until we got safely back aboard the Nexus. Way to jinx us, Elle.?

04/28/11

  09:38:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 230 words  
Categories: Blog

Building a Digital Novel

This is a blueprint, for me as well as everyone else. And feel free to shout at me if I've missed anything in my accounting.

 

Manuscript

Formatting

Cover

 

I have the manuscript, several drafts in. I've got people who are reading it even now, to find and fix errors and make suggestions. But I'm weighing having a professional editor take a whack at it. With a very large stick. Even though this is a novella, I'm expecting a minimum price of around $100.

 

I think I?m going to do the digital formatting myself (after all, I bought a kindle so I could tweak it on the fly). But if I were to hire someone to do the formatting, you're looking at another $200.

 

I should be able to do the cover on my own, but it must look professional; I know this because I often buy books solely because the cover intrigues me, and if the internet can be trusted, so do many others. And in digital publishing even more so than legacy, the cover sells the book. And that gives me pause. Because even looking at some "professional" designers, I can't help but feel that they look amateurish, with pricing ranging from $300 up.  I have a friend who designs for a living. I think I'll talk to him about doing it, or at least see if I can't bounce some ideas off his noggin.  

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