Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Witchbreaker, 20941

I've started the third book of the Dragon Apocalypse, Witchbreaker. (It was originally titled Sorrow, but this was a downer of a title.) December is a horrible month for writing, since it seems like every week has two or three evenings where we are going to some holiday gathering or another. I'm not complaining about these events; I like hanging out with my friends and family! But, it does tend to shred up my "free" hours.

Making matters worse, I caught the flu near the beginning of the month, and spent many of my days off sleeping 18 hours a day. I actually had to use three sick days for, you know, being sick. That sucks! Sick days are ordinarily a valuable secret weapon in any writer's arsenal, especially when under a deadline. Fortunately, my actual deadline for this book is July. If I produce 10k words a week through January and February, I'll have a 100k first draft with plenty of time for rewrites.

Witchbreaker follows the young witch Sorrow, who is introduced in Hush. In that book, she taps into the elemental spirit of a dragon, giving her tremendous power, which she intends to use to destroy the Church of the Book in revenge for it's centuries long campaign of wiping out all witches. Unfortunately, the magical forces she's accessed are so strong she's lost control of them, and her quest to destroy the church instead becomes a quest to save her own life. She's joined in this quest by an unlikely ally--a five-hundred year old amnesiac super-warrior who may or may not be the legendary Witchbreaker, the famed knight who almost single-handedly vanquished the once mighty kingdom of witches. Sorrow needs to find the immortal Queen of Witches so she can learn to control her powers. The possible Witchbreaker wants to find the Queen to kill her. But, at least on the finding the Queen part of the job, their are benefits to them working together.

This book builds to the most important battle with a primal dragon yet, one that will forever change the balance of power among the dragons and place all of mankind in the crosshairs of destruction.

And, you only have to wait until January 2013 to read it!

Coming soon: News about new appearances I'll be making once Greatshadow is released. Cons! Classes! Discussion panels! Book launches! I'm going to have a busy start to 2012!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The first six chapters of Greatshadow, now available on Goodreads!

Want to get a headstart on The Dragon Apocalypse? Interested in seeing what all the fuss is about? My publishers have graciously supplied me with a preview of the first six chapters of Greatshadow, now available as a download from Goodreads!

Most standard previews Solaris provides are just one chapter, but I lobbied hard to get a six chapter preview because the first six chapters form a more or less complete story arc, introducing most of the cast and building to the books first big dragon battle in chapter five, and revealing Infidel's secret origins in chapter six, as the stage is set for the most dangerous mission of her life. Goodreads only allows the preview in epub format for download, but even if you don't have an epub compatible reader, you can still read the whole excerpt online!



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Final Greatshadow Cover

Behold! The final cover! The back text reads:

The warrior woman known as Infidel is legendary for her superhuman strength and skin tough as chain mail. She’s made few friends during her career as a sword-for-hire, and many powerful enemies. Following the death of her closest companion, Infidel finds herself weary of life as a mercenary and sets her eyes on one final prize that will allow her to live out the rest of her days in luxury, the priceless treasure trove of Greatshadow.

Greatshadow is the primal dragon of fire. His malign intelligence spies upon mankind through every flickering candle, patiently waiting to devour victims careless with even the smallest flame. The Church of the Book has assembled a team of twelve battle-hardened adventurers to slay the dragon once and for all. But tensions run high between the leaders of the quest who view the mission as a holy duty and the super-powered mercenaries who add power to their ranks, who dream only of Greatshadow's vast wealth. If the warriors fail to slay the beast, will they doom mankind to death by fire?

Greatshadow is the first book in an exciting new adventure series from a master of dragon fantasy.

Greatshadow is now available for preorder on Amazon! But, for followers of my blog, if you're willing to write a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads, and don't want to wait until January 31 to get your hands on a copy, drop me a line at nobodynovelwriter(at)yahoo.com. I have ebook editions available now, and will soon have a small supply of actual books.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Buy, Baby, Buy!

Burn Baby Burn is now available on Kindle! Nook users, don't despair, the book has been uploaded to Barnes and Noble as well, and should go live in the next day or so.

Burn Baby Burn is my first real "indy" novel. While I'm still pursing a traditional publishing path for my fantasy novels, BBB is the first of what I hope will be a long run of fast paced, funny, and unapologetically geeky superhero novels that I'll be self-publishing as ebooks.

Burn Baby Burn is the product of long, long years of daydreaming. Perhaps something is wrong with my moral core, but for all my life any time I've walked into a bank, I've looked around and thought, "Man. This place would be so easy to rob if I had superpowers!" In this book, I bring my most felonious fantasies to life in a superpowered crime spree that threatens to end civilization as we know it. Of course, since it's a supervillain novel, you can count on superheroes showing up to try to save the day. The book is chock full of superhuman slugfests, mixed together with musings on life and death, hatred and love, and what kind of wisdom chimpanzees could offer if they wrote books. At the core of it all is a romance for the ages. I promise you will not be disappointed. A bargain at $4.99. You know you want it!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

HUSH IS FINISHED! Also, a peek at the cover...

Woohoo! I just emailed Jonathon Oliver at Solaris Books with my complete draft of Hush, the second book of the Dragon Apocalypse! I started working on Hush around the first of March, so it's taken eight months to bring it to fruition. At one time, eight months would have seemed pretty fast, though having cranked out Burn Baby Burn in a week, the pace seems a bit laid back.

Of course, writing an epic fantasy is a LOT more labor intensive than writing a superhero novel. For epic fantasy, you have to create every last aspect of the universe. With a superhero novel set in modern times, I don't need to stop and spend two pages describing Richmond, Virginia, or explaining how a car works. On the other hand, to create my fictional city of Commonground I have to devote thousands of words and figure out all sorts of mundane bits like where people get thier food, what they do with corpses, who makes the clothing, etc. And in Hush the heroes travel around the world (and several chapter outside the world) via clipper ship, a vessel that also comes with a high word count to make it vivid and plausible. I'm not complaining about this extra work, mind you. Indeed, it's one of the most entertaining aspects of writing fiction to try to bring to life unusual settings.

Above is a sneak peek at the cover design for Hush as sketched out by Gerard Miley. I love the action of this sketch and can't wait for the finished product!

For most of November, I'll be taking a break from producing new fiction. I'm getting married November 11, so that's obviously where my time and energy will be devoted for the next couple of weeks. But, I do promise a few blog posts during this time, and hope to have a big announcement in the next few days regarding Burn Baby Burn.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Greatshadow Preview: Bone-Handled Knife

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of my novel Greatshadow, due out January 2012 from Solaris Books.

Greatshadow is the primal dragon of fire, spying upon mankind through every candle flame, watching for any moment of carelessness to strike and feed by burning barns, houses, or even entire towns. To confront this ancient evil, the Church of the Book assembles a team of twelve battle-hardened adventurers to seek out the dragon his his lair. Half of the team regards killing Greatshadow as a sacred duty; the other half dreams only of the beast's priceless treasure horde. Will these warriors learn to put aside their differences and slay the monster? Or will a weakened force merely wound the dragon, and trigger a world-wide inferno?

Greathshadow Preview: Bone-Handled Knife

When Infidel grabbed me by the seat of my pants and charged toward the window, I didn’t protest. Partly this was due to the speed of her action, but mostly due to my inebriation from the sacramental wine we’d stolen. Plus, it wasn’t the first time I’d been defenestrated by her. Of course, this window was five-hundred feet up, in a lava-pygmy temple carved into the sheer cliff face of a volcano

In my semi-drunken haze, I admired the view as I departed the temple, surveying the landscape around me. The night sky was bright orange as the bubbling caldera above reflected against belching steam. Far below, the dark, vine-covered canopy of trees draped like a casually tossed blanket down slopes stretching to the moonlit ocean. A lovely tropical night, one might even call it serene, save for the steady pulse of war drums and the nerve-jangling pygmy battle cry. It’s difficult to relax when five-hundred waist-high men are barking in unison, “Yik-yik-yik-yik-yik!”

I reached the apex of my arc and began to fall. The pygmies were drowned out by the whistling wind and a deafening, high-pitched shriek tearing from my throat.

I don’t know why I was screaming. If experience was any guide, Infidel had aimed me toward a particularly bushy looking patch of forest. While my brain had faith in her, my vocal cords had doubts. I quickly saw that my brain was correct as I fell toward a living net of blood-tangle vines. I threw my hands over my eyes. My leather gauntlets spared my face from the worst of the thorns as I punched into the canopy, the vines popping and snapping beneath my weight. I bounced from branch to branch on the trees below. Even with my leather armor, the beating was as bad as anything I’d ever received at the hands of a mean-spirited bouncer.

Seconds later I jerked to a stop, completely tangled. I spread my fingers and found my face inches above a jagged obsidian boulder. The sobering realization I’d just escaped a messy death negated the effects of the stolen wine. I reached for the steel flask in my back pocket and took a quick gulp to restore myself. As much as I wanted to hang in the vines until my nerves calmed, I knew that the pygmies wouldn’t need long to find me. I reached for my bone-handled hunting knife and chopped at the tendrils, my body lurching, until I slid onto the boulder and tumbled to the ground.

I looked up at the hole I’d punched in the canopy. Far above, a dark speck shot from the window through which my hasty exit had been facilitated. The speck quickly took on the shape of a woman as she hurtled toward the gap in the trees.

Infidel was laughing. She had both hands wrapped around the dragon-skull, hugging it to her chest like an oversized watermelon. Her long blonde hair trailed out behind her. She was still wearing the loose-fitting white blouse and navy breeches from her recent stint as a mercenary in the pirate wars. She was barefoot, the soles of her feet black as coal. The orange light caught the string of yellow beads around her throat, a necklace of human molars that she’d kept as a sort of diary while she’d served aboard the Freewind.

If she’d been aiming for the hole I’d left in the vines she missed, overshooting by several yards. I lost sight of her but heard curses and grunts as she bounced from branch to branch, the blood-tangle snapping as it slowed her fall.

I managed to find my feet as she stumbled out of the darkness. Her blouse and breeches had been torn in a dozen places, but there wasn’t a scratch on her enchanted skin. She had blood red flowers jutting from her hair, and thorny vines draped over her shoulders. She held the dragon skull above her head one-handed, as if it was carved from balsa. With her other hand, she used her cutlass as a machete. Her lips were pressed together tightly as she spotted me.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Nothing’s broken,” I said, my voice trembling. I took another swig from the flask. “Your aim’s still good.”

She giggled. “I’m glad you’re fine, because I’m looking forward to teasing you for the next ten years about that scream. Even I can’t hit a note that high.”

I held a finger to my lips and whispered, “You can laugh later. The pygmies won’t be far behind.”

“We’ve got a good head start,” she said, looking up at the temple. She plucked a few flowers from her hair and flicked them away. “You worry too much.”

For most of my life, I’ve earned a reputation as a man who doesn’t worry enough. It’s only around Infidel that I play the role of responsible adult. She’s been magicked up to be as strong as ten men, with skin as tough as dragon hide. Her supernatural gifts have left her fearless, an aspect of her personality that draws me like a moth to a flame. Like many a moth, I sometimes get singed.

She held the dragon skull toward me, admiring it in the dim light. “The Black Swan’s going to slip in her own drool when she gets a look at this.”

Since I was presently in hock for a life-endangering sum of money to the Black Swan, I hoped that would be the case.

I whispered, “Let’s get going. The pygmies know this jungle better than we do, and –”

There was a tapping sound, like raindrops hitting a leaf. Infidel looked over her shoulder, stretching out her long, slender leg. Three porcupine quills were caught in the torn fabric of her pants. Suddenly, the air around her was thick with flying quills, some tangling in her hair, some bouncing off her impervious forehead. My own armor sprouted a dozen of the missiles. None made it through the leather, which was good. Lava-pygmies tip their darts with poison.

“Follow me!” Infidel shouted, slicing at a wall of vines with her cutlass and leaping through, the dragon-skull balanced on her shoulder. She could have stayed and fought without risk. By running she was protecting both me and the pygmies. We’d come out here to rob them, not to kill them.

I ran as fast as I could, slashing out with my bone-handled knife to better clear the path. In the darkness, I focused on Infidel’s bright hair bobbing before me like a ghost. The pitter-patter of pygmy feet echoed in the canopy. Darts tapped across my shoulder blades as they continued to fire.

I kept falling farther behind. I was only a week away from my fiftieth birthday, too old for this profession. Once this was over, I swore I would find a safer, more gentlemanly way of earning a living. My breath came in ragged gasps. A stabbing pain ran up my side. I could barely raise my knife to chop away the remnant vines Infidel left in her wake. I felt sure that if I pulled off my boots, sweat would pour out like stale beer from a pitcher.

I wiped the perspiration from my eyes and when I pulled my hand away, Infidel was gone. I kept running. The darkness in front of me had an Infidel-sized hole torn from it, and beyond I could once more see the rolling clouds of the eerie orange sky. There was a bass rumble ahead, a sound like a waterfall. I skid to a halt on the lip of a cliff and looked down into a deep scar in the earth. Infidel dangled from a mass of roots just beneath my feet. She was still carrying the dragon skull, but her cutlass was nowhere to be seen.

“I know where we are!” she yelled, her voice nearly drowned out by the rushing water beneath her.

I knew as well: the southeast slope of the volcano is cut through by a whitewater river that cascades all the way to the sea, about ten miles distant.

“We’re practically home!” she shouted.

I was of a different opinion. Many years ago, a palm-reader in Commonground told me I’d die of drowning. More poetically, she’d told me, “The sea will swallow your bones.” It had been one reason I hadn’t joined Infidel on the Freewind. I extend my caution by never imbibing anything weak enough for a fish to live in.

“Jump!” Infidel yelled.

“Let’s weigh our options!” I shouted back.

Of course, arguing was pointless. Infidel pulled herself up on the thick root she held, clamping onto it with her teeth. With her now free hand, she punched the cliff wall. The root-draped stone beneath me crumbled.

As I dropped, Infidel grabbed me by the shoulder, pulling me toward her. She wrapped her arm around me, pressing me tight against her unbreakable body. Her breasts flattened against my back as she spooned me, curling us into a ball with her powerful legs. Her breath was hot against my neck. We fell through darkness, weightless.

I couldn’t breathe. Partially because Infidel’s arm across my belly was as gentle as a python, but, even more, because I so often dream of Infidel’s embrace. She’d been a mere teen when I met her; I a worn-out drunk twice her age. I’d watched as she’d ripped the arm off a bold warrior two feet taller than her who’d pawed her lithe body as she’d stood at the bar of the Black Swan. I wasn’t the only man to witness this that quickly decided an attempt at seduction wasn’t worth the risk.

I was, however, the only one who bought her a cider that evening and told her tales of the ruined cities hidden in the jungle. I’ve always been quick to make friends. Fate has brought me many fortunes over the years, and I’ve spent those fortunes making sure the patrons of the Black Swan never go thirsty. Yet, I’ve never had a friend quite so true as Infidel. Her lightness balances my darkness; her recklessness makes the ongoing foolishness of my life look like sage wisdom. The two of us laugh together freely, and trust each other with our lives. I’m the one person who would never betray her for the obscenely large bounty on her head. She’s the one person who never abandons me when my money runs out and I’m suddenly begging for drinks.

Never once in ten years of friendship has a night passed in which I didn’t fantasize about her touch. I’ve never spoken a word of my secret passion. She means too much to me. It’s not my arm I fear losing; it’s her company. Our time together is so much sweeter than our time apart.

As dreamlike as her embrace might be, there was the unfortunate reality that we weren’t in a bed, we were hurtling toward a dark, raging river. With a horrible jolt, Infidel’s shoulder cracked a boulder. We bounced into the torrent and her grip loosened. I inhaled, a bad move since my head was under water. We slammed into another rock and I slipped from her grasp. My face popped above the surface for a second and I coughed, water spraying from my lips. I sucked a cupful of air and croaked, weakly, “Infidel!”

She didn’t answer as I bobbed along, careening from rock to rock. In moments of panic, the mind can latch onto the most trivial details, and I noticed I’d lost my knife. Infidel either misplaced or broke her weapons on a daily basis, but I’d carried this knife for forty years; it had been a gift from my grandfather. For a fleeting second, finding the knife felt like a priority. Then, from the thunder ahead, I realized that I was about to be swept over a waterfall, and my new priority became not to do so. I clawed desperately at boulders, but my hands had no strength. I still could only gulp small mouthfuls of air. The rocks pummeled me like the fists of giants. The knife-sharp pain that had torn my gut while running sliced me from groin to gullet. The water pushed me under and I went numb.

I slammed into a rock face-first. Stars danced before me, changing to snowflakes as they showered down in the darkness.

I was swept over the lip of the waterfall. The drop proved to be the shortest distance I’d fallen that evening, a trifling fifty-foot plunge into a broad pool. The water at the base of the fall roiled. In the turbulence, I couldn’t even guess which direction was up and which was down. The shallow gulps of air I’d gotten bobbing in the river were exhausted in seconds. My leather armor was heavy as steel plates. The pounding water pinned me. Yet, the pain and pressure felt distant. The water was warm, heated by the volcano, almost pleasant. The polished gravel beneath me was as comfortable as a feather bed. I went limp, all my weariness flowing from me like bubbles from my lips. There were worse ways to die.

As I was about to discover.

Just as I was on the verge of sleep and surrender, a strong hand grabbed my hair. I was tugged into the air and tossed over Infidel’s left shoulder like a sack of sodden potatoes. She was still carrying the dragon skull, her fist shoved inside the base. She waded through knee-deep water as I draped across her back, my eyes at the level of her heart-shaped buttocks. Water poured out of my lips and nose, but I couldn’t muster the will to inhale.

Infidel laid me on a beach of black sand, dropping the skull beside me, then straightened, shaking her head to get the hair from her eyes. She looked as soggy as a drowned rat; her torn pirate blouse hung from her arms like flaps of skin on a once-fat man. Her hair was plastered to her scalp, knotted so horribly that she needed a razor more than a comb. At some point, her necklace of molars must have snapped. The only evidence it had ever been there was a single tooth wedged between her hip and the top of her broad belt. Despite her sorry condition, her waterlogged clothes revealed the magnificent paradox of her body, the sleek and sultry curves that sat atop angular, iron muscles.

I spotted something amiss on her flawless form. A dark red stain glistened atop her left shoulder. I sucked in a spoonful of air, the effort making me tremble, and whispered, “You’re bleeding.”

She frowned as she followed my gaze to the crimson circle that seeped out across her blouse in ever-lightening shades of pink. Her face turned pale as she pushed the remnants of her pirate blouse down her shoulder, revealing streaks of red across her ivory skin. She wiped away the blood with her fingers, leaving behind smooth, unblemished flesh.

She looked back at me, her face turning whiter still.

I looked down. I understood why I couldn’t breathe.

The good news was, I’d found my knife.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Progress Report

October has been a productive month. I've completed a polishing draft of Burn Baby Burn and sent the manuscript to Rick Fisher with e-Quality press for proof reading and final formatting. I can't wait to get this book out! It's the first thing I've ever written directly for ebook publication, and if it does half as well as Nobody Gets the Girl has done as an ebook I'll be thrilled. My biggest concern is whether I should market it as a sequel to Nobody, or present it as a stand alone book.

In spirit, it stands alone. It takes place seven years after Nobody, and features a different cast. You can pick up Burn Baby Burn if you've never read Nobody and have no problem at all following the story. However, if a person were going to read both books, it would make more sense to read Nobody first, since Burn Baby Burn takes place in a world that's been changed by the events of Nobody, and this inevitably produces spoilers.

Of course, BBB is only one novel I've written this year. The second is Hush, and I'm now producing the final polished draft to turn into Solaris. I technically have until the end of November to complete the book, but my goal is to have it turned in my the end of October. Of course, today I finally bothered to look at a calendar and I really only have four free days left in the month to focus on the book. Eeep! It's still doable, but I'm stunned at how quickly a month gets away from me these days.

After that, I'm taking November off, since I'm getting married November 11 and want to enjoy my honeymoon without worrying about word counts. But, on December 1, I'm back in the chair to start work on Sorrow, the third book of the Dragon Apocalypse. This year will definitely set a record for how many words I've produced in a year. Over the course of the next 15 or so months, I'll have four new books out, doubling the number of novels I've had published to date.

If you needed some further sign that the world really will end in 2012....

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Class Outline on Getting Past the First Chapter of Your Novel

This morning I taught a class on How to Get Past the First Chapter of Your Novel at the Orange County Library. I promised the class I'd put the full outline I used up on my blog, so, here's the promise kept. It's sketchy, since this was mainly used to prompt me into regurgitating the contents of my brain. Still hopefully it will be of some use for those who were in the class, and may be of some interest to other as well.


Part One: Okay, Brain, let’s do this.

The Most Dangerous Thought: One day, when I’m a writer, I’ll have time to write.

Three Empowering Thoughts
1)To write a good novel, you must first write a bad novel.
2)The worst novel you put onto paper is better than the best novel in your head.
3)“The artist must maintain his swagger. He must, he must, he must be intoxicated by ritual as well as result.” Patti Smith, “High on Rebellion”

Part Two: How to write a novel.

Three ways to write a novel
1)Lightning in a bottle.
2)The architectural approach.
3)The hybrid engine.

The hybrid method
1)Lightning arcs.
2)To catch lightning in a bottle, bring a bottle.
3)Arcs are built from scenes. Scenes are built from characters, settings and events. Characters, settings, and events are built from nouns.

Lightning Arcs
An arc is an extended series of events that move your character from one state of mind to another.
One trick to making an arc is to work backward from the desired final state. If you’re writing “A Christmas Carol” and you know that Scrooge has to be loving and generous at the end of the book, you could deduce that in the beginning of the book he should be spiteful and stingy. Once you know the middle and the end of a characters journey, the middle is easy.
(In a pulling teeth, sweating blood kind of way.)

To Catch Lightning in a Bottle, Bring a Bottle
Switching analogies, writing a novel is a bit like working a jigsaw puzzle. Your imagination will keep bringing you little squiggly pieces that intrigue you, but leave you wondering where they fit. But, like a jigsaw puzzle, the key is to build the edges first. To do this, you need to figure out what the major sections of your story are going to be.

Burn Baby Burn
1)Let’s rob some banks!
2)Hounded by heroes!
3)Sanctuary! (The false solution)
4)Doomsday! Oops!

The Wizard of Oz (movie version)
1)Kansas sucks!
2)Let’s go see the wizard!
3)Let’s go get the broom! (The false solution.)
4)There’s no place like home.

A Christmas Carol
1)Scrooge sucks!
2)The ghost of Christmas past
3)The ghost of Christmas present.
4)Whose name is on the stone?
5)Scrooge redeemed!

For your own novel write down three, four, or five major parts. Be vague! You don’t need full sentences. Try to keep things under 25 words.
A generic, multipurpose outline:
2)Gather info and allies.
3)The false solution.
4)Problem solved!

Plots are made of arcs, arcs are made of scenes, scenes are built from nouns. (And, okay, other stuff)
Scenic thinking is the key skill in writing a novel that immerses the reader in the world and creates a sense of immediacy. Your story is going to be about big, abstract things like love and honor and grief. But, to get to the abstract, you must guide the reader there via the concrete. For this, you need nouns. Good nouns go off in the mind like flashbulbs. If you are building a good scene, you can read a list of only the nouns and they will be enough to hint at the story.

Imagine the opening scene of your novel. Make a list of interesting nouns that will hint at where and when the story takes place. Some categories of nouns to get you started: Clothing, creatures, constructs, containers, food, foliage, body parts, and knick-knacks. Try to think of nouns that provoke sensory reactions, like porch swings, bacon, and Vaseline.

Part Three: Butt in chair.

Writing Mantras
1)Here. Now.
2)Never look back.
3)Little by little, the work gets done.

If you were in the class, thanks for coming! I had a great time. If you weren't in the class, don't despair. Everything I went over in class has been developed over the years on this blog, and I promise to continue posting about writing for many years to come. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hush update, plus Link-O-Rama!

I just finished the third draft of Hush! It's now 104,500 words long, not much longer than the second draft, but that's because I chopped the old final chapter, which really was more of the first chapter of the next book in the series, Sorrow. I decided that the old last chapter didn't sufficiently focus on the core characters of Stagger and Infidel, and I now end the novel as Stagger's story comes to an end.

Next step: Ignore the book for a week, then launch into draft #4, which is where I really start focusing on polishing the style. I'm happy with the current shape of the story and doubt I'll be tinkering with it much further. There's a few more dangling threads than I'd normally leave in a book, but since this is part of a larger series I'm hoping these threads are tipped with effective hooks. Gotta sell that next book, after all.

While I've been hunkered down typing, the great interweb has continued to spin. I have for your clicking pleasure a variety of links.

First, I'm teaching a class this coming Saturday, October 8, at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough called "How to Get Past the First Chapter and Finish Your Novel." Details may be found here.

Second, Alethea Kontis with IGMS has just posted a review of There Is No Wheel.

And, speaking of IGMS, did you know that all back issues are now available as kindle downloads on Amazon? I'm not going to link to all 24 issues, but if you're a fan of good SF and Fantasy, it's definitely worth checking out.

Finally, check out the two most recent "The Future and You" podcasts from Stephen Euin Cobb. These two episodes, one on the ethic of Cryonics and one on the future of Alternate Energy, are actually live recordings of two panels Stephen and I were on at ConCarolinas back in June. Lively discussions, both.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Halfway through Hush, V3

Just finished my rewrite of chapter 10 of Hush, third draft. My calendar calls for me to finish the draft by the end of the month, and since the end of chapter 10 marks the middle of the book, I'm well on track to hit my target.

Third drafts are where I try to fix problems my wise-readers have brought to my attention. They are also a draft where I try to catch continuity errors. Usually, it's just trivial stuff. In chapter 9, there was a fight scene and I rather vividly describe one of the characters involved as being red in the face while she's screaming. But, in chapter 10, Stagger says of the same character that when he'd seen her last, her face had been pale. Simple enough to fix, but also the type of error that most terrifies me. It's easy for me to keep track of the big picture and avoid continuity errors in the plot, but my cast has a dozen or more named players and trying to remember small details about them from chapter to chapter like what color shirt they are wearing can really trip me up. In the grand scheme of things, these details aren't really important. The plot will unfold exactly the same whether the captain of this ship is wearing a white shirt or a black shirt. Unfortunately, tiny contradictions can bug a reader and cause them to lose focus. At the same time, you can't leave out these minor details, since they add the sensory detail neccessary for a scene to come to life. I know some people keep "bibles" where they write down all these details, but I've never found that all that helpful. I do have a notes file where I jot down small points I know I'll reference later, but I find that I almost never look at it except to put new stuff in.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wheel winners, and some fine short fiction

We have winners! I fired up my steam-powered, robotic prize picking monkey, Robo-Bobo and had him thrust his razor-sharp claws into the vast hat I use to store my contest entries. At first Robo-Bobo wouldn't release the winning entries, demanding increases in his rations of bananas and coal, but I distracted the poor devil with a firm blow from a two-by-four and liberated the winning names. Negotiating with unruly monkeys only encourages them.

And the winners are: Jeff Domer, Jr.! Edgar Mason! and Nathaniel Lee! All sent in 100 word or less short stories that I thought did the flash fiction genre proud. And, luckily, I have permission to share these stories:

by Jeff Domer Jr.

It started with a punch. One punch too many from a bully named Red.

Revenge was on Nick’s mind. Not the revenge that brings a gun to school and makes a bully a martyr. The kind of revenge he wanted was the kind that took time and research.

Time, Nick thought to himself. Nick was close to knowing how to bend time back on it’s self. When he broke the mystery of time, he would go back. Red would not be remembered. Red would not be a martyr. Nicolas Knowbokov would make Red a nobody.



by Edgar Mason

When the pages began to fall out of The Collected Short Fiction of William Faulkner, she knew it was over.

She undid every strap in the apartment. She untied all the laces onher shoes. She unbound her hair from its many braids.

Gently, she lowered his body down from where it had hung since the night he had decided he would die. She broke the webs the spiders hadcast over his eyes, and kissed him for the last time.

And then she left, with no more bindings on her – nor on him.



by Nathaniel Lee

It's the small things that make a life. A chipped diamond ring foundon a table tells a story. A sprinkle of glass and tire marks at an intersection tell a different one. Or the receipts in a library copy of "The Prince": lifts for shoes, a power tie, strawberry yogurt, andTaco Bell. Stained.

It's these tiny details that count, that make someone real. I thinkas many as half the people in the city are my creations, now.

Oh, don't look at me like that. I know you don't believe me. I know everything about you.

My child.


I should also note that Nathaniel is something of a pro at this 100 word fiction. He posts a story daily at the site Mirrorshards.

You can find out more about Edgar Boyles at the site saturdayradio.blogspot.com.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Interview at Futurismic

Luc Reid has interviewed me about my experience writing Burn Baby Burn in one week. The article can now be read at Futurismic. A teaser quote from the interview:
"I wasn’t aiming for epic fantasy. I was shooting for a page-turning pulp
adventure featuring atomic supermen and space aliens drifting along dark desert
highways. This is the sort of novel I used to devour on a single summer
afternoon when I was a teenager."

And, speaking of quotes, I am far too modest and also a bit too lazy to sit around collecting all the pithy nuggets of wisdom I spread across the internet. But, the Codex website has a thread called "quotedex" where participants can quote other members when they say something that strikes their fancy. Luc has lately been collecting some of these quotes from individual authors, and has just recently posted some of my quotes from the forum. For a sampling, check out the article here. A teaser quote:
For me–and I can’t speak for anyone else–my formula was stupid stubbornness. I
kept plugging along despite rejection letters and harsh critiques because I was
too dumb to understand that I really was no good at what I was doing and it was
time to give up and move on to something else.

Finally, don't forget that the drawing for signed copies of There Is No Wheel ends next week! Send in your 100 word or less short stories to enter at nobodynovelwriter (at) yahoo.com.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

There is No Wheel.... Wait! Yes, there is! And you can win one!

It's my great delight to announce that my short story collection, There is No Wheel, has just been published in a print edition by Spotlight Publishing. It's now available on Amazon. I originally self-published this collection as an ebook, and it's done pretty well to date in that format. But, I still have a fondness for actual paper books, so when Spotlight approached me about releasing a physical edition, my answer was an enthusiastic yes!

I got a few contributor copies out of the deal, so it's time for a giveaway! I've got three signed copies that I'm prepared to mail anywhere in the universe. This is a chance for all you Venusians to get your hands on some free fiction! Since this is a collection of short stories, all I ask is that, to enter the drawing, you submit a short story. Like, really, really short. Under one-hundred words, including title. If you give me permission, I'll post your story in a future blog post. All entries will go into a drawing for the free copies. I'll announce the winner September 7.

Email your entries to nobodynovelwriter (at) yahoo.com with the subject line, "Wheel Giveaway."

Good luck!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Five tricks for writing a novel in a week

Okay, so I wrote a novel in a week. Now that I’ve had a week away from that task, here are a few key tricks that made it possible:

1. To capture lightning in a jar, bring a jar.

I had a stack of note cards filled with significant plot points for Burn Baby Burn. By the end of chapter one, I’d rendered half of them useless. But, while my efforts at outlining in advance weren’t terribly useful in the details, I did happen to create a structure that I maintained throughout the writing. I realized, based on my rough outline, that the book would unfold in four major acts. In part one, I’d introduce my supervillain protagonists and have them go on a crime spree. In part two, a team of superheroes would come after them. Part three would involve the supervillains trying to escape by finding sanctuary in a foreign country that had no extradition treaty with the US. In part four, the heroes would come after them anyway, and the resulting battle would place the world in danger. For reasons of simple symmetry, I decided that each of my four major acts would be built out of four chapters, and the target length for the chapters would be four thousand words. This would produce a novel sixty-four thousand words long.

By keeping this structure in mind, I never had moments where the immensity of the project overwhelmed me. I could just focus on the development of my current four chapter arc. Breaking the story telling down into these manageable components was a key factor in making me feel as if the work confronting me wasn’t particularly formidable. Deciding on the structure provided edges for the jigsaw puzzle of story I was going to assemble.

2. Now what? Then what? Then what?

This one is so simple I’m almost embarrassed to put it on the list. But, lots of times during the week I was writing Burn Baby Burn, I’d run my imagination dry. I couldn’t keep typing because I didn’t know what would happen next. On most of my previous novels, if I reached this point, I could just walk away and come back another day. By the third day of BBB, I was walking away, then waiting for twenty minutes while my brain answered the question, “Now what?” Then I’d go back and write the one event I’d imagined, and be stuck again. On days 4-7, I got past the horrible sensation of constantly running dry on ideas by walking away, thinking, “Now what?” and then, before I would go back to write, I’d figure out the next two “Then whats?” It worked! Thinking three events ahead is actually a rather modest goal, but it reduced the demoralizing moments when my imagination felt empty.

3. It can’t be that easy.

Another really obvious one, but probably the most important thought I had all week. It was fairly early in the book when I finally had the good guys face off with the bad guys. I was really happy to reach this chapter, since I’d already figured out how the bag guys would escape. So, I just cranked out the whole fight as I imagined it… and had 1000 words. Eek! I’d planned to fill a whole chapter with the fight! So, just when it looks like the heroes are thwarted and the bad guys are getting away, oh no! The toughest superhero, who’d had to run off to take an wounded civilian to a hospital, races back onto the scene. The fight continues! They run over him with a truck. He shakes it off! Etc., etc. The key thing to take away is that, for the rest of the book, any time I’d get a good idea for getting my protags out of a jam, I’d figure out how this good idea would go horribly wrong. It creates much more suspenseful action scenes, and, more importantly, it gets more words onto the page.

4. Never look back.

This is advice I always offer for first drafts: Never stop to read what you’re writing. If you’re writing fast, you’ll be making mistakes, and the temptation will be to stop and fix the mistakes. This will kill momentum. Obviously, correcting your errors and polishing your prose is key to producing a professional manuscript. But, the first draft isn’t the time to do this. The only thing you need to focus on is what comes next.

5. Take your foot off of the brake.

The most perverse fear a writer can possess is this one: “What am I revealing about myself?” If you’re dragging fifty thousand words out of your brain in a short period of time, it’s almost impossible to pull them out with out snagging a good bit of yourself. My characters, being human beings, have lusts and fears and crazy beliefs. Scrape aside the thin film of fiction, and you find my lusts and fears and crazy beliefs. But, I’m writing a book about people who can fly, or are bulletproof. I’m firmly in territory where an average person might justifiably think, “Well, that will never happen.” Fancy lies will catch people’s attention, but can only hold it for so long. Eventually, you have to put something true on the page. But putting true things on the page is risky. In order to function in society, most people spend the majority of time not being open and truthful. There are categories of things we regard as private and don’t want the world to know about us. But, in fiction, readers want to see these private moments. You could follow the safe route and simply recycle fictional private moments you’ve seen in movies or read in books. Plenty of writers do. You simply write cautiously, advancing carefully across the most dangerous terrain, your foot on the brake. But, when I was writing Burn Baby Burn, I didn’t have time to search my mental catalog for appropriate fictional moments to mimic. I just had to take my foot off the brake and write what I knew. What I really knew.

Was it worth it? I think so. I suppose readers will be the ultimate judges.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Burn Baby Burn, the possible cover, and a few thoughts.

So. I've written a complete first draft of a novel in the span of a week, starting Monday 7 am, finishing Sunday, 5:30 pm.

I really don't know if this is happy news, or terrifying news. I've kind of shattered my comfortable expectations of how much writing a person could reasonably accomplish and still be productive.

Can't really think about it right now. My mind is numb.

Whipped up the cover before I ever started, in case I self pub on Kindle. Any thoughts or criticisms?

Burn Baby Burn Chapter Sixteen 3190 words. The end, baby!

She hasn’t moved since I got here. She just hangs there, a little sliver of the sun, shining down on us goats and chickens and fools.

Used to think that one bullet was for her. But, I’m starving. So thirsty I’ve drank my own pee. I’ve been here so long even my pubes have turned white. I bet I’m a hundred years old. Hell, maybe older.

Nothing here rots, but I age. I age because I’m human.

And so was she.

And she’s dead. Starved or died of thirst, or maybe her air burned up. Probably thought she was all alone.

And I guess she was. I guess, in the end, we all are.

The revolver is cold and heavy in my hands.

Typing out these little scraps of memory used to keep me from blowing my brains out. We all want our stories told.

But my story has come to an end.

Chapter Sixteen
Burn Baby Burn

Sunday’s cleaver had long since melted. Her arms ached. Her hands were numb. She had trouble feeling the ceramic knife in her hand.

She wasn’t keeping count. She wasn’t even thinking now. She was flying faster than she’d ever flown, far to fast to think, in utter, eerie silence, all the whispers of doubt long since left behind.

She climbed back toward the stratosphere. She wasn’t sure how she was still breathing. The shockwave of compressed air that had formed when she’d gone supersonic had spared here from her most morbid visions of wind ripping off her flesh. The high pressure air seemed trapped even when she pushed up to the very edge of space to find her next target. They were getting harder and harder to spot, both because they were fewer in number and because they were now back in daylight.
She dove, pushing to speeds she couldn’t even estimate. Mach six? Mach seven? Mach eight? Photons were flying out of her at the speed of light. Was there any limit to her speed beyond the ones Einstein had written down?
She slowed as she raced up behind her target. She readied her knife and went in for the kill.
At the last second, the drone spun and pushed Sunday’s arm away. A few of the other drones had spotted her and shown similar rudimentary defenses, but she’d fought those before her arms turned to lead.
The drone kneed her in the belly and they both went into a tailspin. The drone kept her hands clamped on Sunday’s knife hand.
If this was the last one, it didn’t matter if they both plunged into the ocean. If it wasn’t….
She eyed the camera cluster where the head should be. Why didn’t these things burn? The chimps were geniuses, and were developing a reputation for building advanced materials that were stronger, lighter, and tougher than anything humans had whipped up. But, this was still just matter. Even if the Sundancer body was immune to solar radiation, this thing had to have a melting point.
She set out to find it. The ceramic knife suddenly warped like a vinyl record, then vanished in a spray of droplets. She felt the old pressure building in her gut as they raced toward the ocean and with a sudden release the wormholes surrounding her doubled, then tripled. The webcam vaporized and the drone went limp.
Sunday never reached the surface of the ocean, because the surface of the ocean moved as she approached it, boiling away in a flash. She pulled from her spin and climbed.
She tried to close the wormholes, to reduce her intensity.
She couldn’t find the invisible switch in her mind that controlled them.
With so much power channeling out of her, the second she switched off, she was going to die.
And she didn’t want to die.
A blue blur flashed across the corner of her vision. It was Skyrider, racing toward her much faster than the drones had moved. She was carrying a ridiculously large rifle, which she aimed at Sunday. She pulled the trigger when she was only a few hundred feet away.
Whatever came out of the barrel vaporized as it came within a dozen feet of Sunday. Skyrider veered to avoid a collision, but passed close enough that her rifle turned to putty in her hands. Suddenly, her flight suit caught fire, including her helmet.
Skyrider slid to a hover and yanked her helmet off, gasping for breath. Her face was covered in a silver mesh. As the flaming fragments of her suit fell away, the silver mesh proved to cover her whole body, sheer as pantyhose.
Skyrider squinted as she stared at Sunday. “You’ve got a head!”
“I’m the original,” Sunday shouted back.
“There are only three left,” Skyrider shouted. “But we’ve got radar locks on all of them and missiles in the air. Time to draw the curtain on your little doomsday play!”
“I didn’t want this!” Sunday screamed. “I tried to stop it!”
“Then stand down,” said Skyrider. “Turn off your flames and surrender.”
“I can’t!” she screamed. “I think… Dr. Trog pumped the drones full of adrenaline so that they would be living bombs. I’m running on nothing but adrenaline now!” She swallowed hard. “I think… I think I’m going to explode.”
Skyrider said, “You don’t have to explode! Just turn down your flame and wait. The Covenant employs the finest scientific minds on the planet. We can fix this!”
“Call them!” screamed Sunday. “I surrender! Just do what you can to save me before I take half the planet with me.”
“Um,” said Skyrider. “I can’t call them, actually. My radio was in my helmet.”
“I don’t have time to wait for you to go get help!” said Sunday. She looked down at the glimmering blue ocean. She saw a few patches of white sand in the distance. “Where are we?” she asked.
“Just north of Midway atoll,” Skyrider shouted. “The island is empty except for a research station. Don’t move! I’ll go use their radio to call Covenant Command.”

Pit couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Ap was still pumping his fists in the air.
“We’ve won?” he asked.
“Servant ambushed a drone over Nevada and Chinese jets just shot down the last one!”
“I thought Servant was dragging the island?”
“How could you…?”
“Dr. Trog said so.”
Ap shrugged. “We Covenant move in mysterious ways.”
“Right,” said Pit. “Space machine.” He rubbed the hole in the back of his skull. “I probably would have got that if I hadn’t just pulled damned metal spike out of my brains. Anyway, if the drones are finished, what happened to Sunday?”
“Not sure,” said Ap. “Skyrider had visual contact, but then we lost her signal.”
Pit shook his head. “Sunday fried her.”
“Don’t think so. The lab boys have outfitted her with some fancy thermal underwear.”
“What have long-johns got to do with anything?”
“Not that kind of thermal underwear,” said Ap. “It’s a silver mesh networked into the space machine. It detects highly energized particles that collide with it and automatically cut and paste them into the earth’s core. Sarah can’t even get a tan.”
“Hold on,” said Ap. “I’m getting a message from Simpson.” He grabbed Pit by the wrist. “You wouldn’t be a World War Two buff by any chance?”
“I spent most of the war years drunk,” said Pit.
“Too bad,” said Ap. “We’re about to be tourists!”
Then Pit experienced the familiar sensation of being folded by the space machine. His backs of his elbows twisted to slide along under his nuts as his eyeballs bent to stare directly at one another. Then he dropped to his knees on a beach of white sand.
Ap was by his side, and Servant and Skyrider were standing in front of him. It was high noon, with the sun directly overhead. Except, as he looked to the west, the sun was also down on the horizon.
“What’s he doing here,” Servant growled, staring at Pit.
“You want me to just leave him?” asked Ap.
“I want him in a cell!”
“He’s eaten himself out of every jail he’s ever been thrown into,” said Skyrider. “He’s probably safer in our custody.” Pit tried not to stare, but he could see all of Skyrider’s lady parts through the mesh of her thermal underwear.
“Here’s the situation,” said Skyrider. “Sundancer says she feels like she’s about to explode. She’s putting out enough radiation that if she were over a population center right now, people would already be dying. I’ve already had Simpson cut and paste the researcher here to safety, but safety isn’t what it used to be. If she experiences the sort of exponential flare up we witnessed in some of the aborted drones, she could carve a hole out of the planet that would rival the comet impact that killed off the dinosaurs. Nowhere is safe.”
“Cut and paste her out into space,” said Ap.
Skyrider shook her head. “We never got any targeting nanites into her. And, with the radiation she’s putting out, satellite sensors just go blind when we try to get a lock.”
Servant shook his head. “Is this a joke? Let’s just break her neck.”
“The problem with that—” Skyrider never finished her sentence.
“Up one mile, Simpson,” said Servant. He vanished.
Suddenly the sun overhead began to fall toward them.
“Ghost mode!” shouted Ap.
Sand and seashells flew all around them as Sunday and Servant slammed into the island half a mile away.
“Breaking her neck might trigger the explosion!” Skyrider shouted.
“Servant!” Ap screamed. “Stand down! Stand down!”
A volcano began erupting where the two had crashed. Beads of flaming lava rained down, sizzling as they burned little holes into Pit’s clothes and the flesh beneath.
“He’s not answering!” Ap said, sounding panicked.
The heat and light pouring of the spit of land were almost unbearable. Even here, the sea was boiling. Hurricane force hotter than a furnace winds nearly knocked Pit from his feet.
Pit lunged at Skyrider and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Strip!” he said.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“Take off that fancy underwear! I need it. I’m the only one who can stop her!”
“Johnny, if you record a single frame of this I will murder you,” she said, eying Ap.
“You’re going to do it?” Ap asked.
“I don’t have a better idea!” she said, lowering the invisible nanozipper that sealed the front. Pete averted his eyes. It was what a good cowboy would do. She shoved the suit into his hands and said, “Ap. I can’t stay here without protection. You’re safe in ghost mode. It’s up to the two of you!”
Ap nodded.
Then, she was gone.
Pit struggled to pull on the flimsy garment. He didn’t know what the hell it was made of, but it was tough. Real panty hose would have ripped as he pulled them on over his jagged toe-nails. Not that he’d ever actually tried that, mind you. The springy fabric stretched over his clothes, but he felt like his balls were being pulled up into his belly as he tried to yank the suit tight and pull the hood over his head. When he finally had it on, Ap pointed out the zipper, which Pit would never have found on his own.
“I’m coming with you,” said Ap.
They marched into the inferno across bubbling earth, along shores now completely dry as the ocean was pushed back a mile in every direction. Once or twice Pit fell, and had to crawl in the face of the horrible winds. Even protected from the heat, his mouth and nose and eyes went completely dry in air where every molecule of water had been torn asunder.
They reached the crater where Servant and Sunday had fallen. It was now a sheet of glass. In the depth beneath, a naked man with an ogre’s face was frozen in mid scream, though he looked more angry than in pain. He’d been trapped in the molten sand like a fly caught in amber.
And further down the beach was Sunday. She sat with her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them, staring at the sunset.
He slogged through magma to reach her. He placed his hand on her shoulder.
She looked up. “Is there hope?” she asked.
Her eyes had already answered the question.
He dropped to his knees and wrapped his arm around her. She rubbed her cheek against his cheek. They kissed once again. Her lips were completely dry.
“I can’t stop burning,” she whispered.
“Then don’t,” he said, his voice trembling. “Just… do what you do best. Burn, baby. Burn.”
And then he opened his other mouth and closed his eyes. There was a familiar tickle at the back of his throat, a familiar fire. And when he opened his eyes she was gone.
Ap stumbled as the hurricane force wind suddenly stopped. “What just happened? Did… did she just get away?”
“Naw,” said Pete.
“Is… is the world safe?” Ap asked, scratching his hair, or trying to. In his ghost mode, itches apparently were impossible to relieve.
“Naw,” said Pete. “No more than it ever was. Nobody gets out of here alive.”
Ap glanced back to the crater that held Servant. “You think he’s still alive?”
“Couldn’t care less,” said Pit.
“Let me get Simpson online,” said Ap. “Let’s go home. Well, my home, at least. Guess you’re going to have a new home.”
“Yeah,” said Pit. “Guess I will.” Then he shoved his fist into his mouth. He swallowed. And kept swallowing.

He’d arrived in a world of trash. A vast ring he couldn’t begin to measure, in orbit around an elongated star that poured out heat and light. He’d pulled off the thermal underwear and shouted at her for days, or what felt like days. There was no way to measure time. She never showed any signs of hearing him.
There wasn’t much gravity. Things in the ring did tend to pull together, though. He’d found a few things to eat in the garbage. Felt like he was dying of thirst until he found an old soda machine and managed to pry it open with a crowbar he’d swallowed back in 1973, along with the arm of the man who’d swung it at him. He drank sodas and ate from a desiccated deer carcass while he watched living chickens and goats cavorting in the distance.
Later, he’d had to go to the bathroom, wiping himself with pages from a Dallas phone book. It wasn’t his first clue, but it felt like proof that he was normal again. Whatever Eleven had done to freeze his body in time no longer had any effect on him.
One day he found a typewriter. An old one, a Remington, completely manual. Just like the one he’d written his screenplay on. To keep from going crazy, he’d started typing, filling up scraps and bits of card and any thing flat he could roll through the machine. He thinned out ink from a ball point pen he found in his own urine and soaked the ribbon to refresh it when the letters had finally faded to nothingness. He was surprised when this actually worked.
He was always worried that one day he would run out of paper.
But, in the end, he ran out of memories. He ran out of things to say.
So he’d placed a pistol against the roof of his mouth.
And then, for a time, he’d been dead.

It was nighttime when he woke up. He’d been resting on short, thick green grass, like what you’d find on a gold course. He sat up, and saw a glimmering sea in the distance.
He could tell from the air that he was back on Pangea.
Eleven floated before him.
“I’ve completed my mission. It is time for us to leave.”
“Oh,” said Pit. “Hmm. What mission was that?”
“I came here to catalogue the sentient beings of this planet. I’ve finished my recording of the beings of this world, as well as the five sentients of this world that currently reside on Mars.”
“There are men on Mars?”
“You’ve met two of them,” said Eleven. “As for their offspring, I’m unsure you would classify them as men.”
Pit looked at his hands. They were young and strong again. Well, not young. He looked like he had when he was in his forties or fifties.”
“Was I dead?” he asked.
“You had regressed to your lowest biological threshold,” said Eleven. “Only the bacteria in your gut were still active.”
“Do they count as part of me?”
“Who else would they count as?”
Pit looked up at he stars. “You left me in there for a long time.”
“In the relative time frame of your four dimensional existence, you were only gone two weeks. I saw no need to retrieve you prematurely.”
“Two weeks? It felt like decades.”
“Then it was,” said Eleven. “There is no precise formula for reconciling times between the two realities you inhabit.”
Pit stood. It was then he realized he was naked. “You couldn’t pull me out some clothes?”
“They will serve no purpose where we are going. If there are sentient beings in the Centari system, it is highly unlikely they will care if you are wearing pants.”
“How are we getting there?” he asked.
“We’ll walk,” said Eleven. “But I know a short cut.” Then Eleven splintered apart and splashed against Pit’s chest. Pit looked down and found himself covered with triangular stripes, like a tiger.
“Ready?” Eleven asked.
“No,” said Pit. “I can’t leave without… without knowing what happened to Sunday.”
“She perished,” said Eleven. “Due to the time variance, by the time you followed her inside, she had long since failed to receive the primitive but necessary chemical fuels that powered her life functions.”
“You fixed me,” he said, holding up his hand, staring at the stripes that now coated it. “Fix her.”
“We’ve been a braided life-form for a long time,” said Eleven. “I can restore your cognitive abilities because your thoughts are my thoughts. Even if I could reassemble Sunday’s material form, she would not be the person you knew. For now, her presence within our dimensional hold is most fortuitous. The solar radiation she emits will provide plentiful power for our travels. Were it not for her, you would need to devour a mass the size of Mount Everest to generate the required energy for us to escape this planet.”
Pit nodded. He crossed his arms across his chest.
It wasn’t fair. But that wasn’t the way of this world. Some travelers reach the end of their journeys while those who loved them traveled on. And like every other person, all he could take were memories, and the warmth of knowing that he carried some part of her inside him.
Only, less metaphorically.
He stepped forward, and was gone from earth.
And on a world with green skies he gawked at unfamiliar stars, and laughed.
He’d gotten out alive.
3190 words

Burn Baby Burn Chapter 15 3684 words

Raw first draft.


(Note: In the previous scene of the chimp restaurant there is a chef with a huge cleaver who hacks up a lemur. This scene will be modified in the next draft to show the chef pulling out a white ceramic butcher knife after he’s killed the lemur and butchering it further.)

Had to punch a new hole in my belt today. Just used a nail I found stuck in a two by four. I was skinny when I got here, but I’m now four belt hole’s thinner.

Almost completely bald now. When I got here, I still had some dark hair in my beard, but now it’s all gone white. I found a little round mirror on a stand, the kind you use for shaving. I look like someone’s grandfather.

Spend most of my days sleeping.

Haven’t eaten in three days.

Funny, given that I’m surrounded by meat. Hundreds of severed human hands, some arms, a few feet, over a dozen heads. Still look as fresh as the day they got here.

I’ve collected them as I found them. One body, I pieced back together, like the world’s goriest jigsaw puzzle. If memory serves, he was a lawyer from Kansas City.

Some people say we taste like chicken.

I don’t guess I’ll find out.

I might be a man-eater, but I ain’t no cannibal.

Chapter Fifteen
Boom Boom Boom

Sunday’s kiss lasted barely a second. She pulled her lips from his mouth and pressed them too Pit’s ears. “Close your eyes and duck,” she whispered.
Pit ducked, covering his head, as Sunday pointed her hands over her head. Her fingers almost reached the low ceiling.
The green beam reached the tips of Pit’s knees as he squatted, his hands over his head. The fabric of his jeans vaporized as the advancing light reached him.
There was a whoosh and heat washed over him, singing his hair. There was a sound like every kernel of popcorn in the world firing off in the space of a second. Flakes and fragments of concreted rained down onto him. The green light fizzled out as it cut a raw hole in his right kneecap the size of a quarter.
He stood up. Sunday was on fire from the tits up.
He said, his voice cracking, “You’ll—”
“Hush,” she said. “It only hurts when I turn my powers off. That’s never going to happen.”
Dr. Troglodytes looked unflustered by Sunday’s destruction of his disintegration grid. He calmly reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled out a gun the size of the derringer that looked like a miniature version of the regeneration ray. A red targeting light cut through all the dust in the air to land on Sunday’s left breast. Pit shoved Sunday and jumped as Troglodytes pulled the trigger. The beam took off his right ear and a chunk of his shoulder before he opened his mouth and swallowed the chimps hand, gun and all, to the mid point of his forearm. With his remaining arm Dr. Troglodyte punched Pit in the cheek. Pit was knocked to the ground, stars in front of his eyes. He spat out a molar as he tried to rise. Then he fell once more, too dizzy to rise. The chimp punched like he had a horseshoe hidden in his glove, if he’d been wearing a glove.
Fortunately, the ape didn’t press his attack. Instead, he ran with inhuman speed, shouting, “Regeneration Mode!” as he veered suddenly to hide behind a concrete pillar. A ball of glowing plasma hit the ground where he’d just stood, sizzling away, leaving a black scorch mark.
Even though she’d missed, Sunday’s splattering plasma must have caught Dr. Troglodytes at least a little, since the chimp gasped in pain as the smell of burnt fur polluted the air.
“Foam Mode!” the chimp screeched from behind the pillar.
Then, Dr. Troglodytes whipped back around the column, the shaving cream like substance bubbling from his skin. He vomited a torrent of the goop at Sunday, forcefully enough that she was knocked from her feet like she’d been hit with a water hose.
The chimp leap upon her and thrust his long canine teeth toward her throat. She twisted at the last possible second and he sank his teeth into the meat of her shoulder rather than into her jugular vein.
Sunday screamed, blowing the foam that covered her lips into the air in a spray of white bubbles. Pit rose to his hands and knees, blood trickling from his mouth. He reached for the chimp in a motion that was half a lunge, half a fall. He grabbed the ape’s foamy right ankle.
An inhuman growl tore from Pit’s throat as he summoned every bit of strength he had left to yank the ape off of Sunday. Fortunately, the foam provided lubrication, helping slide the super-intelligent chimp off. Dr. Troglodytes rolled to his back and opened his foaming jaws, pink with Sunday’s blood, inhaling to shout another command. Pit shoved the monkey’s foot toward his jaws, and took the ape’s leg off all the way up to the hip. Blood spurted from the severed limb as the ape screamed. Then, once more the ape sucked in air. Before he could say anything, Pit punched him in the testicles.
The doctor arched his back and opened his jaws. He looked like he was screaming, but no sound came out. Pit dragged himself closer to the ape, sucked in, and the ape’s hairy belly vanished as a tornado of entrails and organs spiraled into Pit’s mouth. Blood and bile and things Pit didn’t want to think about flecked Pit’s cheeks.
He closed his mouth. The stupid ape was now gone from the rib cage down. Everything that should have been inside the hollow of his ribs had vanished. Pit sat up, wiping his face on his shirt.
His back grew hot as Sunday baked off the foam that had smothered her. He looked back, squinting, and found her staggering to her feet, her hand clamped over her injured shoulder.
“Just sit still,” he said. “You’re hurt. One of them monkey doctors upstairs can stitch you up.”
“Give me the disintegration pistol,” she said.
“You just ate it!” she screamed. “I don’t have time to argue! Give me the damn gun!”
Pit reached in and grabbed the gun, with the black leathery hand still attached.
Sunday’s whole body was now glowing, save for her right hand, which was a dark spot against her radiance. She reached for the gun. Her hand was thin and wrinkled. Blood oozed from around her nail beds.
“Your hand—” he whispered.
“Will you just the fuck up?” she screamed as she snatched the gun away. “I’ve got to stop an army of cyborg Sundancers from destroying the world!” She ran toward the door her duplicates had left through. “You start eating computers! Something down her must be guiding them!”
She jumped into the air and flew through the door, leaving behind only a tornado of sparks.

Sunday burst from the tunnel she’d followed for half a mile to find herself in bright sunshine. She’d completely overestimated how much time had passed; she thought by now the sun would have set.
Spinning around, she found it had set. The false day was being created from the hundred duplicates of herself who stood at attention on a low hilltop off to her right. The headless women looked like some cryptic modern sculpture as they stood aligned in ten perfect rows of ten, each precise one arm’s length away from each other. They were pumping out enough heat that the hilltop beneath them had fused into black glass.
Sunday didn’t know what they were waiting for. She didn’t care. She suspected that no amount of heat and radiation she could throw at them would have any effect. Her own powers had never even made her sweat, though she was sweating now. Her heart was beating like she’d run up the tunnel rather than flew. Her fight or flight instinct had kicked in at full power.
So, she did both, flashing toward the grid of bodies firing the disintegration pistol almost blindly. Bodies began to topple as she swept the beam across the cyborg army. In seconds, she’d killed or seriously maimed over half. Could things really be this easy?
Then, the remaining bodies lifted their arms to her, and suddenly there was nothing in the world but fire. Sunday felt as if she was suffocating as the combined blasts of the assembled drones tore the molecules of air surrounding her into a slurry of elemental particles. She raced upwards, out of the blast zone, gasping as she reached intact air. She looked down at the army and point the raygun. But when she squeezed the trigger, it was like squeezing clay that oozed between her fingers. The barrel of the gun drooped like a spent penis. Whatever its melting point had been, the drone attacked had gone over that line.
She looked down at the remaining drones. They had stopped targeting her, and now stretched their arms out stiffly to their sides. The dust and dirt flew up in a ring around them as fire shot out from their palms and feet, thrusting them heavenward like rockets. They lifted slowly at first, but accelerated so swiftly that they reached Sunday, hovering a quarter mile above them, in only a second. She shook her hand to clear it of the molten gun, then clenched her fists, braced for their attack.
Only, they weren’t attacking her. They flashed past without even seeming aware of her. One passed less than a yard away and on pure instinct Sunday kicked it in the gut. Her stomach tightened from the impact; she’d somehow expected the thing to have a hard gut, filled with robotics. Instead, it was warm and yielding, disturbingly… human. But, human or machine, the fortunate effect of the kick was that it knocked the drone off it’s trajectory, causing it to crash into a sister drone that rose only an arms length away. That drone spun out, and in a game of aerial dominoes, three more drones were knocked off balance by the veering bodies. As the naked women bounced off one another, lights on the camera atop their head turned red. The affected drones went into tailspins as their robotic navigation systems lost control. The raced down to messy endings on the ground below, but Sunday had no time to waste watching them. She pushed her self higher, in pursuit of the surviving drones. She didn’t pause to count, but there were still close to thirty.
Then, BOOM BOOM BOOM! Sunday was hit in the chest by a shockwave as the drones above her accelerated past the speed of sound. Now it was her tail in a spin. The ground raced toward her with sickening speed. But, she clenched her teeth and took control of her fall, leveling off a few feet above the ground, leaving a trail of burning earth behind her as she raced toward the chimp city nearby. She blazed down the main street, setting convertibles ablaze, then whipped down the side street where the lemur sushi bar had been situated. She was doing 200 miles an hour when she neared the restaurant, crowded with two dozen chimps having dinner. The chef in his leather apron had his arm raised over his head, the cleaver gleaming with her reflected light. She grabbed his apron and his arm as she sped past him. Unleashing a blast, she ripped the monkey’s torso apart, leaving her holding a hand holding a cleaver, which she pried free. She had the apron draped across her arm. She turned toward the sky as she fished the white ceramic carving knife free.
Years of practice had taught her how well certain materials held up to heat. The cleaver would warp and turn to putty at a paltry 2500 degree Fahrenheit, but the ceramic knife was good to twice that heat, maybe even three times depending on its specific elemental components.
The drones were spread out in the sky in a straight line, just little dots of light. How could she ever catch them? She’d never been able to go past the speed of sound.
Or had she just never had the courage to go past the speed of sound? Those were copies of her up there. Anything they could do, she could do.
With the knife in her hottest hand and the cleaver in the hand she’d cooled to carry the gun, she inhaled deeply, and felt tightness build in the pit of her stomach. If she flew that fast, the wind would peel the skin from her face. If she flew that fast, she couldn’t breathe. She was still clinging to the tiniest fingernail ledge of hope that she’d survive this. Exhaling, she let go, and shot off like a white hot bullet.

As Sunday raced up the tunnel, Pit ran to the computer terminal Dr. Troglodytes had used to activate the drones. He stared at the screen, then stared at all the cables around him. His orders were to destroy everything.
But he couldn’t. These computers held everything there was to know about Sunday’s body. She seemed ready to die, but couldn’t they just build her a new body, then swap her brain into it? It seemed like an idea from B-movie science fiction, but he was on a floating island of talking chimps with robot servants, and the woman he loved was out doing battle with an army of headless clones. No idea sounded dumb at this point.
He tried tapping the computer keyboard. Dr. Trog had left the screen up, so he didn’t need a password. The only thing he needed was a genius IQ and about a decade of advanced training in robotics and genetics and making sense of what he was looking at would be a snap.
Then, either he hit something or Dr. Trog had planned to watch his army launch, because the screen switched to a camera shot from the top of the hospital to a nearby hilltop where the army was gathered, glowing brightly. He watched as Sunday charged, and cheered as she mowed down the army with her disintegration ray. Then his voice caught in his throat as the drones fought back. He watched as, a few seconds later, the remaining drones launched like rockets, rising above the frame of the shot. Then, for reasons he couldn’t guess, a half dozen of them rained back down from the sky and smashed into the burnt ground.
Without him pressing a button, the screen switched to black and a scroll of white words rolled up the screen.
Tokyo: Aborted
Seoul: Aborted
Mexico City: Aborted
New York City: Active
Mumbai: Active
Jakarta: Aborted
Sao Paula: Active
Delhi: Aborted.
The list continued. Pit didn’t even recognize half these cities. A handful of American cities stood out to him: Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Washington, Dallas, Detroit. All were active except for Houston and Washington
Pit left the terminal and ran up the tunnel. He emerged beneath a darkening sky with a row of glowing stars spread out above him. An even brighter light raced up from the center of Goodall, blazing like a comet. He squinted but couldn’t tell if there was a human figure at the center of the light, let alone whether or not it had a head.
All around him were severed body parts. A woman. Lot’s of women, actually. Bloodied breasts everywhere he looked.
No heads.
Sunday wasn’t part of this field of death.
He ran back toward the hospital, taking the above ground path. “Space donut!” he cried out, panting. “Space donut! Eleven!” That was right. “Eleven!” But, there was no answer. Hope that the alien thing that was turning him into a space ship might help him lift off and chase after Sunday began to fade.
He made it into town. Robotic firetrucks were rolling down the main drag. A dozen convertibles were on fire. Burnt chimps were laying on the sidewalks. Pit leaned against the wall of the parking deck catching his breath.
There was a kind of a whistling sound from somewhere, followed by a thump. He lurched forward but didn’t fall. He couldn’t feel his legs. He looked down and found he was now pinned to the concrete wall behind him by a four foot long shaft of steel a quarter inch around. He looked like a bug on a board.
Without warning, a shadowy form that almost looked like a man grabbed his right arm and pressed it up against the concrete wall. Ffffip! Thump! A second steel rod now emerged from his wrist, trapping his arm.
The shadow man punched his hand under Pit’s chin and slammed his head back into the wall. Fffffip! Thump!
“Ow,” said Pit, going cross-eyed as he tried to see what had happened. He couldn’t move his head at all. His thoughts felt scrambled. Was there really a long steel rod jutting out of the top of his forehead?
His eyes focused on a woman floating in the air a hundred feet away. Skyrider? She was holding an enormous rifle. She squeezed the trigger and suddenly he couldn’t move his other hand.
“God!” the woman shouted. “This job is so much easier when you have the right tools!”
“End Shadow Mode,” said a voice he’d heard before. He could just see the top of Ap’s head.
“Pit Geek, the vessel known as Pangea has just entered American waters. We have been authorized by the proper authorities to seize the ship.”
“Ship?” Pit was confused. “This is an island!”
“It floats. It has anchors. I believe that any court of law will accept the argument that Pangea is little more than an oversized garbage barge. Everyone on board will be taken into custody until the finer legal matters have been resolved. You will be treated a little differently, however. Because, for the crimes you’ve committed against humanity, you’re under arrest. You have a right to remain silent.”
“I’ll talk,” Pit said, firmly. “You listen. A couple of dozen copies of Sunday just rocketed out of here like bats outa hell and are going to explode over the most populated cities on earth. A couple of hundred million people are gonna die if you don’t stop them.”
“Sundancer is next on our agenda,” said Skyrider, floating closer.
“No, dammit!” Pit shouted. “Sunday ain’t the problem. Dr. Troglodytes has sent a whole army of copies out to wipe out humankind. Stop them first! I can show you where to find a list of their targets!”
Skyrider looked at the stars. The Sundancer Legion was now very far off. “I wondered what all those lights were,” she mumbled. Then she turned to Pit. “I’m going to give chase.”
“They’re pretty far away,” said Ap.
Skyrider nodded and said, “Simpson, can you cut and paste me about twenty miles due west and about a mile straight up? I need to catch up to some fleeing suspects.”
Suddenly, she was gone.
“Double-density mode,” said Ap. He yanked the steel rod holding Pit’s head to the wall free.
“Christ almighty, that smarts,” said Pit, squeezing his eyes shut.
“You’re going to show me the list of targets,” said Ap. “These rods are coated in nanite tracers. Simpson can now fix on their signal and grab you with the space machine any time he wants. Fuck with me, and he’ll drop you inside a volcano. We clear?”
“Clear,” said Pit, rubbing his wrists as Ap freed his arms. “I won’t be no trouble. I need… I need your help. Sunday’s dying. Dr. Trog said he’d used your belt technology to make the copies of Sunday. You’re supposed to be a hero. Save her! Make her a new body!”
“Hold on,” said Ap. “I’m not following you at all. Who’s Dr. Trog? What does my belt have to do with anything?”
Pit explained it as best he could as they ran back to the tunnel. Ap nearly tripped and fell when Pit said the name Code4U.
“She was a chimp?” he screamed, recovering his footing to keep up. He shook his head. “Man, you can’t trust anyone in a chat room.”
Back in the basement, Ap whistled as he looked around the room. “You know, it’s been something of a mystery why used game systems cost so much these days. I think I just figured out where all the old boxes are going to.”
“These are just old game boxes?” Pit asked.
“I’m sure they’ve been modified,” said Ap. “But they’re nothing to sneeze at. The graphics on one of these has more computing power than was available to NASA when they put men on the moon. String together a couple of thousand like this, and you can crunch some serious numbers.”
Ap plopped down in front of the system. Enough time had elapse for the screen to go blank. As he tapped the keys, it asked for a password.
“Try ‘banana,’” said Pit.
“That’s racist,” said Ap. But he gave it a shot anyway.
“Ha,” said Pit as the screen returned to the list of cities.
“Simpson!” said Ap. “I just activated my retinal camera. You’ve got a list of a dozen cities in front of you that are being targeted for destruction by individuals who have the same powers as Sundancer. Like her, they are small enough and fly low enough that most traditional defenses won’t spot them. We need jets in the air defending every target ASAP!”
Pit couldn’t hear Simpson answer, but Ap gave a nod that looked as if he’d just gotten confirmation of his orders.
Pit said, “There were more than a dozen.”
Ap said, “Well, now there’s only eleven. Skyrider doesn’t mess around on this saving the world stuff. She’s been doing it a long time.”
“So’ve me and Sunday,” said Pit. “Except. You know. On the opposite side.”
3684 words

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Burn Baby Burn Chapter Fourteen 3047 words

Raw first draft.


I learned to type back in 1939. Started writing a screenplay, tapping it out with two-fingers. I’d make a mistake and tear the paper out and toss it in the can. I curse a lot and drank a lot over the course of a summer, staying up all night.

The Stick-Em-Up Kid Gets the Girl.

The Stick-Em-Up Kid never had a real name in the movies, but in the script it was Pete Green. He’d come west to mine for gold but fallen in with a bad crowd. Took to robbing stagecoaches, but he never killed nobody.
The gang leader was named Mick Silver. Silver spotted a young girl named Susie Hart inside the stagecoach and dragged her out, telling her she was going to cook and clean for the gang. But Pete tells Silver to leave her alone. They wind up fighting. Pete kills Silver, and has to flee. Susie rides away with the handsome and mysterious outlaw, since she doesn’t want to be left alone in the desert.
They flee into Indian territory. After overcoming a series of obstacles (a swollen river, a pit of snakes), they meet a good Indian named Black Wolf. He warns Pete that a band of bad Indians is headed to the Gold Hart Ranch to kill everyone and steal the cattle. We discover that Susie’s father owns the ranch. Pete rides his faithful steed Lightning to save the day. He kills all the bad Indians and saves Susie’s father from scalping.
As a reward, he’s allowed to ask Susie’s hand in marriage.
They ride into the sunset, living happily ever after.

Because in the movies, one good deed erases a lifetime of crimes. No one demands justice for old sins.

I sometimes stare at the revolver, thinking about the remaining bullets.

Thinking about old sins.

Thinking how sometimes, in the real world, nobody gets the girl.

Chapter Fourteen
A Terrible Actor

Pit didn’t bother to button his shirt as they ran toward the elevator banks. Unfortunately, the shaking of the building had disabled the elevators.
“There stairs?” Pit asked.
“Our legs aren’t really built for stairs,” Cheetah said, opening a door a few yards away from the elevator. Inside was a series of parallel ladders. “We’re more comfortable climbing,” he said, leaping onto the bars. He descended, shouting “Dr. Troglodytes has an office on the first floor. We’re on the sixth floor. Hurry!”
Sunday leaned into the ladder bank, staring at the long drop too the first floor. “It would be quicker if I flew,” she said.
“You know what the Doctor’s said. Using your powers even one more time might kill you.”
“Don’t nag me,” she grumbled. Then she grabbed the rungs and started to go down. “I don’t like feeling helpless.”
“You ain’t helpless,” said Pit, grabbing the rungs. “You’re still my better half. Hell, I’d still be on that bed talking to a space donut if you hadn’t figured this all out.”
“Where did Eleven go?”
“Damned if I know,” said Pit. “Just sort of disappeared once all the shaking started.”
When they arrived at the lobby, the place was in chaos. Chimps on stretchers were screeching loudly as hairy orderlies raced them out to the streets.
Dr. Cheetah was halfway across the lobby, running on all fours. He spun and called to them, “Hurry! The whole building may collapse upon us if this continues much longer. This structure was built to withstand typhoons, but the designers never planned for an earthquake. They simply can’t happen here!”
Pit and Sunny ran, following the doctor deeper into the building, weaving through a stream of chimps heading in the opposite direction.
They followed Dr. Cheetah around a corner and found him shaking the handle of an office door.
“It’s locked,” he cried.
“I’m on it,” said Pit. Then, even though he was barefoot, he ran at the door and put his full weight into a kick. The door splintered at the lock and swung open.
“Ow, ow, ow,” Pit said, hopping. It felt like he’d cracked every bone south of his knee.
“Why didn’t you use your powers?” Sunday asked.
“Aw, this way was more cowboy,” Pit said with a grin.
“It was rather manly,” she said approvingly, looking at him with goo goo eyes.
Except for the fact that the desk was only two feet tall, the office looked like it could have belonged to a used car salesman, just a modest box of a room barely big enough for the three of them.
“This isn’t a very fancy office for your top oncologist,” said Sunday.
“We spend very little time in our offices,” said Dr. Cheetah. His voice was nearly drowned out as the building groaned.
“That was ominous,” said Sunday.
“We should leave the premises,” said Dr. Cheetah. “The value of interrogating my colleague no longer exceeds the value of the risk.”
“You go on,” said Sunday. “We’ll keep searching.”
“But where will you even begin?” he asked.
“I’m thinking this secret door is a good place to start,” she said, moving behind the desk.
Pit squinted. The lights were flickering, but Sunday might be onto something. The pastel green drywall behind the desk had a rectangle four feet tall and three feet wide that had a small seam around it. It looked like it had fit perfectly flush until the twisting of the building had set if slightly ajar in the concealed frame.
Sunday pushed on it. When it didn’t open, she leaned back and kicked it. The door bounced back after the blow. She pulled it open and revealed a shaft with a ladder heading down.
She crouched and hopped on. Pit followed, looking back. Dr. Cheetah stood in the doorway.
“The danger…” he murmured.
“We ain’t asking ya to get yourself killed,” said Pit. “You go on.”
Dr. Cheetah hung his head shamefully as he slinked through the door.
The shaft was dark, light only by the flickering light from the room above. The air in the shaft was cool and dank, smelling of damp concrete. The light grew dimmer and dimmer as they descended.
“I’ve found the bottom,” Sunday announced.
Pit stopped. Her voice was so close, he was worried he might accidentally step on her.
“There’s a door,” she said. “Steel. We’re not kicking this one down.”
“Step aside,” he said. “I can—”
“I’m not a cripple,” she said. There was a sudden flash. Pit squeezed his eyes shut from the painful intensity. There was a hiss, followed by sharp, sour metallic smoke. Pit coughed, and peeked downward. Sunny’s right hand was glowing as she cut around the lock of the steel door. With a clatter, the handle fell out on the other side of the door. Sunday pushed the door open. Pit dropped down.
The light around Sunday’s hand faded. She frowned as she looked around the room. With her other hand, she rubbed her wrist.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
“It’s just all this ladder climbing and door kicking,” she said. “Flying all these years has made me a little soft.”
The room beyond reminded Pit of a parking garage, a vast space filled with pillars sandwiched between to slabs of concrete. Only, instead of cars, the room was packed with row after row of video game consoles and what looked to be at least a hundred refrigerators. If they were refrigerators. They were a little tall, and seemed to be made entirely of dark glass. In the dim light, he couldn’t make out he contents.
“The good news is, when the hospital collapses down on us, we won’t feel any pain,’ said Sunday.
However, Pit noted that the shaking and vibrations had calmed down considerably. Whatever force had set the building in motion seemed to be dying off. Either that, or the building above ground just shook more than the building below ground.
Sunday jumped as there was a noise from the door to the ladder. Pit stepped in front of her, ready for whatever came out of the door.
It was Dr. Cheetah. “Sorry if I startled you,” the chimp said, softly. “I was halfway outside when I changed my mind.”
“What changed your mind?” asked Sunday.
“When I represented Pangea, I had to monitor human media for what was said about our countries. It galled me to hear radio talk show hosts say that chimps could never display traits such as love, or honor, or courage, since these were purely the reserve of humans. As I was running from danger while you were pressing on in search of truth, these words were like burrs digging into my pride. I can’t live with myself if I think that two mere humans have displayed greater bravery than I have.”
“What if it’s just greater stupidity?” asked Sunday.
Dr. Cheetah shrugged. “Let’s move forward,” he said.
They walked toward the nearest refrigerator with Dr. Cheetah in the lead. Suddenly, a row of green lights lit up on the ceiling in front of him. He swung forward in his four limbed gate and the front half of his body suddenly vanished in a display of bubbling lights. His belly fell to the ground leaving his rear end sticking up. Bright red blood poured out of him. Where it flowed forward, it turned into bright sparks and vanished. A line beyond which nothing could pass was clearly demarked.
Pit looked around. They were now standing inside of a ten foot square marked by the green ceiling lights.
“How regrettable,” said a voice to their left. Dr. Troglodytes stood there with his hands behind his back, just on the other side of the green line. Unlike when they’d seen him last, he was wearing clothes. He wore what looked like a lead apron, the sort x-ray technicians might wear. And, he sported a wide black belt. He was gazing at the remains of Dr. Cheetah with a look of genuine sorrow. He sighed. “I suppose it was a bit fantastic of me to think I could accomplish this without the death of at least a few chimpanzees. And, if someone had to die, he was a worthy candidate. Pangea will be better off with one fewer human sympathizer.”
“What did you do to him?” Sunday growled, letting her right hand flare up.
“Be careful, human,” said Dr. Troglodytes. “You’ll lose that hand if you aren’t careful. From the data I’ve gathered, the degradation of your physical structure accelerates with each use of your powers. Every time the wormholes damage your cells, they produce further mutant cells that generate defective wormholes.”
“I’ll take my chances,” said Sunday.
“As you wish,” said Dr. Troglodytes, gazing up at the green square above them. “The lights on the ceiling are scanners for a teleportation beam. At least, the portion of the teleportation beam that tears matter apart. Alas, I have not installed the sensors needed to capture the data to restore my colleague. These beams are purely for destruction, meant to finish off unwanted visitors.”
Dr. Troglodytes turned away, waddling toward a computer monitor and keyboard hooked into the networked game systems. “Curiously, I didn’t design it to serve as a cage, and yet it seems as if it will serve that function perfectly.”
“You made the regeneration ray, didn’t you,” Sunday asked.
Pit took this as a cue. He reached into his mouth and produced the weapon once more.
“Of course I made the ray,” said the chimp as he turned the monitor on. “But I wouldn’t waste time training it on poor Cheetah. His brain is gone. You could build a new body based on his DNA, but it would be a soulless, mindless copy.”
“Why did you build this ray? Was this an elaborate plot to kill me? What had I possibly done to harm you?” asked Sunday.
Troglodytes bared his teeth and hooted. “You flatter yourself to think I gave even a seconds thought to you. No, my interest in teleportation technology long predates you. I was aware that Rex Monday had once designed and tested a teleportation belt that proved more effective at tearing matter apart than it did in putting it back together. I coveted the technology. The small size of Pangea’s population makes us vulnerable. But imagine how feared we’d be if the robots we employ for our defense were armed with disintegration beams!”
“So when you downloaded my father’s data, you learned how to duplicate the technology.”
“Even better!” said Troglodytes, sounding delighted. “I had some data, true, and had made significant breakthroughs. I have no doubt that, in five years, I would have perfected the technology. But then, to my astonishment, the original source code and schematics for the belt were posted on the internet!” He patted the belt he wore. “I’ve adopted an online persona of a young human female named Code4U and have been corresponding with the clueless hero Ap to perfect the technology. I was wrote his preferred Regeneration Mode code. It was a simple matter to transfer the technology to the gun you bear.”
The chimp began to type with both his hands and feet. He kept talking. “Among your father’s data, I found the dates and locations he was to use to contact you. I had quite a bit of information about your abilities from your father’s notes, but craved further data. The possibility of weaponizing your abilities was too tempting to ignore. The regeneration ray has recorded your genetic make up in detail and transmitted it to me. Now, you will be pleased to know, your physical form is effectively immortal. I need merely provide the raw materials and my teleportation beam can build a carbon copy of you. A soulless, mindless copy, to be certain. But also a copy in full possession of your abilities.”
He glanced at Pit Geek. “Your mate, alas, was not as interesting. Whatever the source of his curious consumption and regenerative powers may be, it does not seem to spring from his DNA.”
Pit looked down at the concrete floor. It wasn’t sparking. The disintegration beam was apparently calibrated to stop at this point. Could he eat a tunnel out of here?
Sunday asked. “So you can duplicate me. But my duplicates would have the same flaws that I have now. Their powers would kill them.”
“True,” said Troglodytes. “Fortunately, they will only need to use them once.”
With a click, lights inside the glass refrigerators clicked on all at once. In every direction, they faced the horror or Sunday’s nude, decapitated body, the head replaced by a small bank of webcams.
“I now command my own legion of Burn Babies!”
“Baby Burn,” Pit correct him.
Troglodytes paid him no mind. “I had told myself I was building these purely for deterrence, but in truth, I always new the day would come when I would unleash these on the earth’s largest human cities.” He tapped a few more buttons. “When these have accomplished their mission, Pangea will be the dominant world power! It shall be humans who live as animals in the forest!”
“I’ve never had the power to blow up a whole city,” said Sunday. “You’ll kill some people, yes, but then the armies of the world will strike back! You think a hundred headless copies of me are stronger than even a single nuke dropped on this place?”
“Most definitely. You’ve never unleashed your full power because your fears hold you back. My army has no such fears.” With a tap of the button, robotic arms moved inside the containers and brought a syringe to the arm of each duplicate. With a jab, dark blue fluid flowed into the bodies.”
“This is pure adrenaline,” said Troglodytes. “It will prime the cells for the fullest release of power. The cities of the earth shall be reduced to ashes!”
“Don’t do this!” screamed Sunday. “The humans haven’t attacked you. They’ve done nothing to deserve destruction!”
“Have you not felt the ground shaking?” asked Troglodytes. “We are currently under attack. The Covenant member called Servant seems to be dragging us into US waters. I have no doubt this is a prelude to war. The navy of the United States no doubt prepares to fend off our incursion. The truth of how our nation wound up moving across the open sea will almost certainly never be reported by human media.”
“The Covenant doesn’t want war with Pangea,” said Sunday. “They want us! You can stop all this destruction just by turning us over to them!”
“She’s right,” said Pit, his shoulders sagging. “It is us they want. We should have known we couldn’t just run away.”
“I assume this is a trick of some sort,” said Troglodytes. “The two of you have never shown the least bit of remorse for your crimes.” He pressed a button. The glass door slid open. “But, if it was a sincere offer it’s too late. Perhaps you’ve doomed mankind by coming here. If this is so--” he looked at them with a twinkle in his eye“--I’ll see that statues are erected in your honor.”
The women throughout the basement began to glow. Waves of heat washed across the cement floor. In unison, they all began to march out of a steel door.”
Troglodytes stood up from the terminal and came to the edge of the green line. “And now I face the question of your disposal. I doubt you will voluntarily walk into the disintegration beam.”
“Probably not,” said Pit.
“And the second I leave to deal with Servant, you’ll simply chew through the floor and escape,” said Troglodytes. “This would not be optimal.”
“Aw, we ain’t going nowhere,” said Pit. “What do we care if you blow up the world? We’re terrorists! Good riddance, I say.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you are a terrible actor?”
Pit grimaced. Being a terrible actor had sort of been at the origin of every problem he’d had since 1938.
“Fortunately for me,” said Troglodytes, tapping a few buttons on his belt. “The grid array is mobile.”
More of Dr. Cheetah’s body vanished as the green lines on the ceiling closed in on one another.
Sunday turned to Pit. “Just one last time to do this, I guess.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
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