Monday, January 15, 2018

Don't Tell Me I Look Tired (A PSA) - The Saga of Lyndsie - Part 21

At the end of a long day, a coworker said to me (as I was intently reading something on my computer), "You look tired."

My response was flippant. "Oh, no, I'm fine. That's just my face."

The other coworker said, "Yeah, you've got some serious bags under your eyes."

I responded, "No, seriously. I'm not tired. I sit all day staring at an LED screen under harsh fluorescent lights. Any natural light that does seem to reach my corner does so by the reflection of unforgiving UV rays right off my monitors. I'm not tired. I just have a body ravaged by the toils of office work. In other words, I'm old."

Now, this was said sarcastically and in a kind of joking manner but in all reality I was pretty bothered by the comment. Telling me I look tired or that I have bags under my eyes says 1 of 3 things to me:
- I look like hell.
- I look old.
- I suck at doing makeup and inadvertently smeared black eye shadow on the wrong side of my lid.

None of these are good things. None of them stokes the fragile ego. Each one of them just brings insecurity down onto me. Self-doubt. Self-loathing. I've always been a minimal-makeup kind of gal (unless costuming or being fancy), thinking that my face was pretty enough (and I'm lazy). However, I find that as I get 30-year-old skin, I am using more and more makeup. Why?

So. That. I. Don't. Look. Tired.

Do people think this is a compliment somehow? Or an expression of concern?

Well, let me tell you something: to me, it doesn't say to me "hey, I care about you." It says more, "hey, I am judging you." If you're worried about me not feeling well, then I would prefer you to not contribute to my possible bad mood by talking about my (bad) looks. If you really think I look like hell and are concerned for me, then why not just say:

"Hey, are you doing OK?"
"How are you feeling?"
"Can I get you anything?"
"What's up?"
"ARE you feeling OK?"
"Are you tired?"
"Let me know if you need anything."

There are probably a slew of other things as well that would be leaps and bounds better then essentially telling me that I don't look good. Because, ok, I get that you're not outright telling me that I'm unattractive, but your essentially saying that all the effort I put into my makeup today didn't do me any favors. And let me tell you, "tired-chic" is not a thing right now.

This doesn't just apply to me, however. I am fairly certain that no one - male, female, nonbinary - LIKES hearing this phrase directed at them. Seriously, I don't know the origin of it, but it needs to die. Like, right meow.

So, if you are one of those well-meaning friends, and find yourself concerned for someone because maybe they don't look like they're having the best day ever, here is a handy cheat sheet:

Times it's acceptable to say "You look tired":

1. I'm falling asleep on the couch, with my eyes half closed.
2. I'm falling asleep in the car, with my eyes half closed.
3. I just went to the gym, ate a bunch of dinner, and am falling asleep at the dinner table with my eyes half closed.

Times it's not acceptable to say "You look tired":
1. Any other time.

Let's please try to shift the focus in our language away from looks. Let's avoid the joking talk of: "OMG you annoying, but at least you're pretty." Let's take some time and actually learn something about each other that goes deeper than just the skin.

Yes, we all want to look good. There is nothing wrong with that. And we all love to hear compliments about our looks but that is not all we want. We also, all of us, want to be treated with concern, care, and a bit of sensitivity. We want to be more than just our looks.

Friday, January 12, 2018

We All Die the Same - The Saga of Lyndsie - Part 20

Today, I can’t seem to get over the deaths from the Ventura County mudslides in California. It was only 17 out of how many thousands live there? Five are still missing. So it’s like, no big deal, right? Natural disasters happen all over the world all the time. Even now, as I was scrolling through articles about the mudslides, I came upon one that said “Hundreds Die from Mudslide in Sierra Leon.” But I didn’t even click on the link.

Yet…these 17 deaths still bother me. It’s not like I knew any of them personally. But still, each one of these deaths was a person: a child, a parent, a twin sister, a mother, a lover, a family member, a friend. Those close to the people are reeling with these deaths. To them, 17 deaths is 1 too many.

Hundreds is WAY more than 17, right? Why didn’t that give me the same sinking feeling as these California deaths?

Is it because the people who perished in Montecito had lives very similar to mine? In looking at these photos and stories of the deceased, these deaths, these people, come alive for me.  One person who died was a 12 year old girl with a beautiful freckly face, braces, and slightly disheveled blonde hair. In her memorial photo she was holding up a picture of a  anime character she drew. This girl could have been me or one of my friends.  Another photo shows an older couple, retired, living in their dream home, holding their dog. A third, a woman, just a bit older than my mother had a big ol’ smile, floppy hat and sunglasses.  They were all described as wonderful, kind, happy people. People who were the life of the party or who loved their friends and family. People with hobbies and histories.  People who died suddenly, before their time.

Maybe it’s also because these people were given the warning to evacuate – but it was only optional. The articles said that only 10-15% of the people actually evacuated because they were tired of having been evacuated only weeks before because of the large Thomas fire. And see? All that evacuation and what happened? Nothing, their houses were spared…that time. Many people probably felt that this was a false alarm too. It didn’t help that safety officials didn’t call for a mandatory evac because (as I read in one article) “it would cause mass confusion” to evacuate that many people, so quickly, again. Which makes me angry. Angry at officials who didn’t force people to leave. Angry at the families for putting their lives and the lives of their children (and pets) at risk. Angry at our entitlement to underestimate nature and think “oh, it’s not going to be me” and “I’m safe in my own home”.

We, in America, are fortunate to live in a very modern society. Our society is full of conveniences and technologies that make our lives easier and better.  Maybe this disaster upsets me so much because even in a society with all the technology, all the bright minds building our infrastructure, we still succumb to mother nature. We are still puny meatbags living precariously on a planet full of things that will kill us – rocks, water, mountains, mud. Not to mention all the manmade things that become killing implements by mother nature’s hand: rebar, houses, cars, power lines….

Lastly, the news coverage. While for disasters in other countries you may have articles, videos and even some survivor testimonial, American news outfits covering incidents in our own country scrutinize every detail. They dwell on the fact that the youngest person to die was just 3 years old. They post pics of the victims and backstories. They show the social media support trying to find the 12 year old girl. The bring us so far into the story that we are pretty much there. Many of the details of the articles are not actually providing more information. They are just there to jerk our emotions.


So, while the hundreds of deaths in Sierra Leon should not be glossed over, I wouldn’t fault Americans for feeling incidents like this more strongly. It happened in our back yard to people (possibly rich people) but people, nonetheless, who we can pretty much relate to. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Obligatory New Year's 2018 Resolutions Post - The Saga of Lyndsie - Part 19

Since I spent yesterday comatose on the couch in a carb-induced stupor, I figure that today I’m going to do that “Welcome to 2018!” post. I’ve had these goals for a while now but January is a good time to tell them to the world.  Maybe y’all can keep me honest. 
   
Goal 1: Work out at least 3x per week. I want to be able to make exercise a regular part of my routine. I now have a gym membership so, no excuses!
   
Goal 2: low carb, very low corn & wheat. This is kind of inspired by the Whole 30 diet but modified to be more practical for my life. While I want to make a habit of cooking mostly meat & veggies, I am also going to add in some potatoes and rice for filler and variety. James and I did a really good job of this for a while until  we went on vacation and the holidays happened. When we were working on it, I did notice that I felt less sluggish and happier.
   
Goal 3: Drink water. I have already been tracking my water consumption and have cut out most sugary drinks like sodas and juices, but I feel that I still need to increase my water intake. I am going to include tea and sparkling water because I’m a Gemini and I need variety. That being said, a coffee in the morning will still happen b/c I can’t function without it.  Alcohol is a different goal so I won’t discuss it here.
  
Goal 4: Sober January. I am going to cut alcohol out for January, starting 1/2. The goal is to not drink until James’s bday in mid-February but if a special occasion shows up in there, I may break that for a night.

Goal 5: Consolidate my debt. Buying a house in 2017 put me in more debt than I would like to admit. 2018 is going to be the year of getting rid of it somehow. Paying it down, yes, but also trying to get it to a point where I’m not getting as much interest on some of it. I’m also going to work on not buying things or eating out if I don’t need to.

Goal 6: Have a clear goal for publishing my novel by 12/1/18. This means that either I have submitted it somewhere and gotten accepted, or gotten a ton of rejections and either decided that I will try to self publish OR keep submitting it places. I would like to learn more about this process in the upcoming year.
  
Goal 7: Write an average of 300 words/day (Once I start doing this, I will adjust based on how much time that takes). The writing can be anything I do to further advance myself: blogs, Toastmasters speeches, stuff on my novels, short stories, random journal entries. Possibly also job-related (as long as it's not an email)!

Goal 8: Try to fix my shoulder nerve-pinch thing. If it's not better by December 2018, I think I should work on getting a new mattress....

Goal 9: Lasik....pipe dream perhaps and goes counter to my Goal #5 but it may be worth getting in a bit of debt to do away with glasses/contacts furever....
  
Goal 10: Improve my fencing. This means going at least 1x/week (which is part of Goal #1) but possibly 2x if time allows. Grow more comfortable with all the off-hands, starting w/ dagger.
  
Goal 11: Make or trade for new SCA garb. I'm going to start w/ a Persian coat and Norse Apron Dress. Probably need a couple more under tunics and pants too. Then, if I get all THAT done, work on a new cote (in purple).
  
Goal 12: come up with a plan to replace the carpet in my townhouse.
  
Goal 13: The once-per-week thankfulness jar that I keep seeing on Facebook. I already attempt a daily gratitude journal (mostly on weekdays) but  I love the idea of writing down 1 thing you're thankful for and putting it in jar to read on 12/31. Maybe I can get James to go in on this with me and we can both do it!
  

So that’s it…I don’t think those are too ambitious, right? And it's not like I haven't already started some of these things... But, I guess we’ll just have to see! Here’s to 2018 being another year of growth!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Internal Conflict of Every Writer - The Saga of Lyndsie - Part 18

Welp, I did it!

I submitted Insignia to Angry Robot's open door publishing event. This event was for people who don't have an agent or who aren't published already. I can still submit it to other things but if I get accepted somewhere else, or get an agent, then I'd have to withdraw I think.


I really feel like there should be fireworks or a dancing bear at this point, so I am putting one in below.



Image result for fireworks and dancing bears


Now on to the hard stuff. I'm feeling pretty apprehensive that terrified that it's going to get automatically rejected b/c of the teenage character since they said they don't want YA stories. However, I don't really feel like my novel is YA because it doesn't have many of the elements of YA. Like: No love triangles and no sparkly vampires. In all seriousness though...it's grittier and fouler than a lot of YA novels that I've read and there are other main adult characters plus an overarching theme of revolution and terrorism which is probably more adult than teens can handle? On the other hand, the biggest theme is the growth and development of the main character who is a teenager and his teenage friends.



Anyway, this blog post wasn't specifically about whether Insignia is young adult or not...that may be the subject of a further post after I do extensive research.
The main point of this post was: "YAY! I submitted a thing!" and "OH shit! I might get published but PROBABLY will just get a rejection letter, so don't get your hopes up, Lyndsie." Yeah, you're probably right....this will just be the first submission for this novel and I will have to try again and again.

That being said, I have learned a lot in this process and I thought I'd share some of it here. It will likely be interspersed with my insecurities and doubts, put-downs, and agony over how I'm still not good enough at writing to claim to be a writer. Which seems like a good place to start.....

Insignia - The Saga 

I began writing this novel for NANOWRIMO 2012 after reading Neuromancer and becoming frustrated that the world was so cool, but the characters were lacking. Case was a whiny, drugged-out hacker lowlife who was neither likable nor especially unlikable.  Molly Millions was a razorgirl, who should have been an undeniably badass cyborg chick that would slice the shit out of anyone who crossed her, but ended up getting in trouble in essentially her first job in the book and needing to be rescued by that burnout, Case.

I wanted more. I wanted to learn more about these people - the guy who was addicted to drugs who could hook his brain into a computer, the chick who had her eyes replaced with mirrored lenses and razorblades under her fingernails. I also wanted a slightly more relatedable world. Some of the technology was almost too obscure or inexplicable for me to follow (Which I find is the case with many 70s/80s sci-fi).

However, I liked the gritty, dirty world. The criminal- and assassin- main characters. I liked the odd juxtaposition of 80s tech with futuristic tech. The depiction of file folders manifested in a physical form. The idea that your brain could go somewhere that your body couldn't.....so I wrote Insignia, focusing a bit more on character development and at the same time adding social commentary about the evils of consumerism and the hope revolution brings (think Star Wars!).

Then, life happened at the beginning of 2013. My marriage exploded, I moved out, got divorced, lost my job...and while I had *won* NANOWRIMO by writing the requisite 50k words, I hadn't finished the novel. It would take me another year+ to actually complete it. "Winning" NANOWRIMO 2013 again with another 50k. Novel still was not finished. NANOWRIMO 2014 was the year when I actually completed the novel, which sat around 103k at that time.

It took me yet another year, NANOWRIMO 2015, to edit that sucker, adding another 14k of content in the process, re-writing the prologue, brutally hacking it apart, only to rebuild it from its ashes better, stronger. Then...I left it to sit for two years.

I did this for a variety of reasons. The one I would tell people is that I was busy with my job, the SCA, home-ownership...but the one I didn't admit, even to myself, for the longest time was that I was self-conscious. I didn't think my writing was worth anything. I thought that only non-writers liked my stuff because they couldn't see all the holes and flaws in it that I could see. That publishers would see. That would cause me to never get published.

I let my novel linger in "near-finalized limbo" for so long. I could tell myself, "Yeah! I am a writer! I wrote a novel! I edited that novel! I did what many, many writers can't do! Go me!" I could ride that wave of perceived success for.....eternity. Except for the fact that what I wanted, what I really, really wanted, was for people to read it. For people to love it, as I loved it.

That wasn't ever going to happen if I didn't do something with it. In 2015, a good friend put my novel on one of those sites where you can buy an informal-yet-physical copy of something. Seeing it in this fake-published state made me think "You know, maybe I can do this."  Yet I still did nothing. I polished it up more. Thought about self-publishing. But still, did nothing.

Then, in October of this year, my friend Dana Wodke, a massage therapist and life coach, invited me to this writer's group. The goal of the group is to go from zero to book in a year. Very shortly after that I saw a post on Facebook from Carrie Vaughn, a friend and author, calling out this publishing event. Finally, Finally, I said to myself, "I. AM. GOING. TO. DO. THIS!"

So, I invested money in Scribophile, where you can get feedback from other authors. I perfected my first 2 chapters. I wrote and rewrote my 2-page summary. I thought critically about where the holes were and how I would fill them. I probably neglected James by staying up way too late on a school night writing and perfecting. I submitted the novel @ 6:30PM on 12/30/17. I got a confirmation email that it had been received. I had done it.

One thing that Scribophile taught me is that editing is endless. I could get critique on a piece of writing, fix it according to the critique, and then get critique that essentially wanted it to go back to the way it was. "Does this mean that my work will never be good enough?" I ask myself.  Maybe. Though I've been really trying to ignore that voice. I can't please everyone.

I am probably not the next J.K. Rowling.

But, as long as some people like it. As long as I have an audience, whether that audience is hardcore sci-fi lovers or teen YA readers, then I will consider myself successful.

At this point, I am trying very hard to remain positive about this whole thing. It's very unlikely that I will get an acceptance this time. I mean, it's the very first time I've ever submitted anything. EVER. And I am not that lucky. I mean, even J.K. Rowling was rejected something like 100 times before getting picked up. However, I have taken the first step. And, to quote every obnoxious motivational meme:

Image result for great journey starts with one step

So that was my first step.

Here's to 999 more!

Note: I have posted some resources for writers on the page of the same name within this blog. Feel free to visit it if you want to see what I have found helpful! Also, if you have any other good resources, let me know and I will add them!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Insignia - Novel Summary - SPOILER ALERT

I am posting this summary here in case anyone wants to give me feedback on the summary.

Please keep in mind that, as this is something that will be going to a publisher, it is the full story of the novel condensed to 2 pages (minus subplots). If you want to read my full novel and don't want to know the ending, then go ahead and skip this one :) However, if you would like to provide feedback on the summary, I would love to know the following:

1. Is it interesting?
2. Does it make you want to pick up the book?
3. Does it have intriguing characters?
4. Is the world vivid enough?
5. Can you tell that it's a near-future, dystopian, sci-fi?
6. Anything else...?

Thanks and happy reading!
_____________________________________________________________________


SUMMARY - Rev. 3 (realized it was bigger than 2 pages. So I had to trim it).

It is the year 2267, less than 100 years since WWIII destroyed democracy and many parts of the continental United States. The TRIUMVIRATE, the reigning corporate oligarchy, controls the population with dangerous cybernetic implants. Those who deny these implants are forced to live in slum cities infested with drug use and crime.
SAMSON, a teenage hacker living on the streets, has dreamed of escaping the corporations and living a life free from the ever-present pressure of consumerism and greed. When he is hired by a mysterious stranger to hack into a secure network and steal video footage, he catches the attention of an assassin. Sam escapes the assassin with the help of MARA, a genetically modified human known as a savant, but not before the assassin seriously injures him.
Mara brings Sam, now an amputee, to her headquarters where he becomes part of The Company, a group of contract killers. Sam shares the data with Mara and they discover that it contains proof of terrorist attacks performed by other savants rebelling against the corporations.
Sam meets the other members of The Company which consists almost entirely of savants: the Captain and his non-savant brother, a teenage pilot, a former assassin, a doctor. He also discovers his savant Skill: to see several seconds into the future.
The Company is hired to assassinate a prominent member of the Triumvirate in mega-city of New York. Before they can complete the job, they are exposed to the Memory Code by the rebels, a genetic implant in all savants that allows them to experience the memories of their ancestors. During the job, Mara learns that their mark was an undercover rebel agent, rather than a corporate goon, but not before she accidentally kills him. Their job bungled, the group fractures, barely escaping from the security forces of the Triumvirate.
Armed with the Memories of their ancestors, Sam, Mara, and TRENT, the pilot, flee the city in search of these revolutionaries who are calling themselves the Starkill Army. The ordeal in New York has taken a toll on Sam and Mara, physically and emotionally. Sam’s amputated leg is rejecting the prosthetic and he fights blood poisoning. Mara wrestles with her conscience over killing a man who didn’t deserve to die. 
Once at the rebel’s compound, the trio meets the general and his contingent of soldiers. They also reconnect with the doctor and the former assassin from their former Company.  Here they learn that the rebels have set up an attack on the Great Sea Wall of California with the intention of kick-starting a revolutionary war.
Mara and Sam join the others in planting bombs in the Sea Wall and televising the event to the world. However, the rebels are betrayed by the former assassin and suffer heavy casualties even though the destruction of the Sea Wall is successful. California floods. Sam assists in the rescue mission while Mara flees the encroaching water, meeting back up with the Captain and Aiden.
Sam is able to save Trent, though the latter is critically wounded. Mara and the Captain never return to the rebel compound but the Captain’s brother relays this information to Sam who assumes, much to his anguish, that Mara is dead. The Starkill Army slowly begins rebuilding their forces with new recruits drawn by media attention of the attack.

While Sam grapples with the loss of his mentor and friend, another member of the Starkill Army, a former savant-turned-mech named HAWK has come upon a miraculous discovery. He found that when all of his cybernetic modifications were forcibly removed during the attack, his savant Skill to read auras returned. He understands this phenomenon as the return of his humanity. This belief is taken up by the Starkill Army as a mantra. It becomes the reason why the savants and those downtrodden by the corporations will continue to fight against the totalitarian rule of the Triumvirate.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Insignia - Chapter 1 - Consider It Done

Ok. I have edited, re-edited, re-re-edited, & re-re-re-edited this chapter but I need to stop because this process could be never ending. SO...Here it is. Any final feedback is good, though unless it's show-stopping, might not be heeded :-)

***************************************

- 1 -


Three hundred years ago, human bodies were merely functional. Adequate. They were just as nature designed them. Boring. Then we came in with technology and made them remarkable.

Memoirs of A. St. Claire

The man with the handlebar moustache and plush burgundy waistcoat stood in the doorway of the cyber cafe.

What does he want? Samson thought, cocking an eyebrow in half-hearted interest, his mind more focused on the man’s fast-food bag. He was so hungry.

Life on the dirt-smeared streets of the slum city had been more difficult than the teenager had anticipated. While he was free from his mother’s heavy hand, this freedom was accompanied by the sharp knife of hunger that constantly sliced beneath his ribs. Newly-found independence tasted like the squalor of the abandoned warehouse where he sheltered with other homeless children. In the midst of these disenfranchised youths, no sense of solidarity arose, no kindred spirits. The bitter winter left them shivering, fighting over the meager scraps of food or combustible material.

He never imagined that hunger would stalk him like a predator. The upset of a grumbling stomach was an all-too-familiar feeling.

A year on his own had made him lean, gaunt, and desperate. His meals mostly came from dumpsters: greasy, overcooked protein from the one-star Asian restaurant, soggy sandwiches that were barely edible when fresh, and half-rotten fruit crawling with insects he couldn’t even identify; it was nourishment that stank with the rancid fumes of yesterday’s garbage.

Some days, no matter how hungry he was, he just couldn’t stomach it. Sadly, begging for the mildly stale remnants of a stranger’s half-eaten hoagie or the occasional mystery-meat kabob was barely better than the refuse. At least that stuff didn’t smell rotten…

No. You are smart, he told himself, You are better than garbage.

Sam had always had a talent with data: computer navigation was like a sixth sense to him. Most of his free time had been spent in dingy cyber cafés. A haven where he escaped the world: crouched over an ancient typepad, hunched in a cheap fiberglass chair, with eyes straining at a dimly lit LED.
He was slowly filling a fraudulent banking shell with real money – money that could only be spent outside of the city walls. Traveling in the security networks of big corporations, he stalked through the underground tunnels of their cybernet space. Worming his way into firewalls and secure shields like a cockroach made of bytes, he scrounged for scraps of cred that he put into in the virtual market. Win. Lose. Win. The CORPs never caught him. He couldn’t risk getting caught.

He snagged only bytes at a time. A little here. A little there. Keep a low profile. Don’t get noticed. Can’t get caught. The teenager didn’t fancy spending the rest of his short life on the inside of a CORP prison, serving time for a severely punished transgression.

He had too much to lose. Had to make money, not for food, or clothing, or mech mods. It wasn’t for him but for Charley; to get his sister out of this hate-filled shitthole of a city. To a real city. East, west, north – he didn’t care. All of them had promises, potential. A real life.

The man, who had, in their first encounters only observed him, began to speak. The cybercafé was empty, even the proprietor had gone for a smoke break. “You are not an easy kid to track down,” he said.

“What do you want from me?” The teen asked, tones of curiosity vying with hostility.

The man took a drag of a long, mud-colored cigarette and handed Sam a data chip. “I need you to hack a shopping mall’s security system and snatch the locked files. Payment is ten-thou.”

“Hack a system?” The teen asked incredulously, eyes bulging at the offer, “That’s it? You followed me around for months just to ask me to hack something?”

“I needed to see if you could do it. It’s not as easy as you might think, kid. And trust me, you weren’t my first choice for the job…” The man trailed off. His business-like demeanor returned quickly. He explained, “It’s an AI security system. Makes what you’ve been crawling through look like a toddler’s game. This takes Skill.

“Oh, I got skills,” the boy responded arrogantly, a strong desire to comply with this man’s request suddenly smoldering in the hollow of his abdomen even though he only had the vaguest idea what an AI system was.

The man barely smirked and cocked his head. Nonetheless, he tapped a metal plate on the chip. There was one line of text:

JR. Avenue 5. Independence Plaza.

“This is where you can find me to deliver the goods. Payment upon delivery,” he said, nodding.
“I haven’t given you an answer yet!” The teenager called after the gentleman who was striding purposefully away.

He paused, looked over his shoulder and said, “You didn’t have to.” His smile was arrogant. Knowing. “Your face said enough.”

* * * * *

The mall’s computer was ancient. The teenager made a face. If the ones in the Internet café were 2220 models, this one must be from the mid-2000s. The server room hummed gently, the warm air heavy with sonic vibrations carrying waves of data. Colored LEDs blinked ominously, like so many eyes, watching him.

*tap* *tap* *tap* *tap* *tap*

Skills indeed, the teenager thought angrily, still fuming at the man’s smug smile from a few days ago, This bastard’s complicated as shit. He scowled at the screen.

Maybe he had gotten in over his head. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his t-shirt was becoming damp under his arms. No, he thought, it didn’t really matter. The money was too good, enough to get him and Charley out of the slums. To get to freedom.

*tap* *tap* *tap* *tap* *tap*

The lines of code taunted him. Flashing their glaring green deep into his strained retinas. His stomach growled. It’s just a shopping mall! He railed to himself silently. What could be on here?

*tap* *tap* *tap* *tap* *tap*

An AI system, the man had said. What was an AI system? It couldn’t be a new software because the boy knew all the security systems. However, he’d never heard the term before. Maybe it was an old word? An antiquated security system? Maybe that’s why it was so hard to crack?

*tap* *tap* *ta—

He was in, he stared wide-eyed. The files suddenly were zipping themselves onto the storage device. Bits flashed by in a whirr: zeroes and ones. Replicating with the precision of high-speed data, submitting to his hand, no longer taunting him, but almost screaming.

Screaming... Red lights flashing. Something had triggered an alarm. How, though? He had been so careful!

Shooting to his feet, he yanked the chip out of the mainframe just as a boring-looking man strode almost casually into the office. The man’s eyes, however, were not boring. They were dark, and angry. And they were looking straight at him.

Fuck! He ran like hell.

* * * * *

The mall was a hub of activity at this time of night. In the center of it all, sat a woman in her early thirties, with the chestnut brown hair and olive skin of a mediteranneo, nursing a dark brown beer. She was wrapped in black leather pants the shade of an octogenarian’s favorite easy chair, worn in just the right places, and a dingy white tank top under an equally loved leather vest.

The electrical humming of cold fluorescent lights could almost make her forget that the sun had long since set and all sensible people were in their homes, their Virtua-visions blaring some obnoxious live broadcast. Garishly colored storefronts looked out into the atrium, silently hawking their wares of manufactured diamonds and cheap plastic toys. On one side, nothing but top-of-the-line sex toys, the cylindrical outlines of countless male members shivering a welcome to all who were brave enough to cross the threshold of their inhibitions. And on the other, a front of a more sinister nature, where tatted rat boys hunched over too-white operating tables offering up the newest in body mod trends.

Here, some juiceheads sat at a table bristling with folds of muscle so large that they barely looked human. And over there, fashion sisters, their frozen smiles and stretch-tight skin the result of too many trips to the laser salon. A schizo trolled the floor in faded hospital gowns, begging for credits or junk or whatever you had on you, deftly weaving between the tables too fluidly. A pair of security guards rolled slowly back and forth on one-wheeled scooters, their lurid uniforms thinly disguising the mods encompassing their limbs that pulsed with the synthetic rhythm of black motor oil.

The woman carried no weapons here, as was the rule of all serious establishments. Not that it would matter, she thought, moving her dark glasses over to the juiceheads. Many were themselves weapons these days. However, it still felt strange, Mara thought, to be away for so long from her anlace – a rapier that was part robot and rarely ever left her side, though she carried it more for comfort than safety. She glanced coolly around the room, trying to project the demeanor of the stoic calm that she could barely hold on to.

The twins had told her that he would be here, on this night, getting into more trouble than he’d ever bargained for. She trusted the twins, they weren’t programmed to lie and even if they’d tried, she had other ways of keeping an honest cyborg honest. They lived in the alleys and had enough street cred to be in the know for just about every interesting pair of feet that crossed their patch of asphalt. But Mara had more street cred, and she’d pulled some strings and flexed a few muscles – the right muscles – to lead her to this frozen heart of commerce in the Sink.

The boy was only fourteen and much too young to be pulling off a heist of this magnitude. Mara could only guess how he’d planned it, how long it had taken him to devise a strategy that would actually lead him to this very spot on this very night. And she wondered even harder how he had expected to escape...unless he wasn’t aware of the danger he was in. That’s where she would come in. Clenching her teeth, she forced herself to trust that the right opportunity would present itself.

A commotion arose on the second floor balcony. Mara looked up through the tacky indoor skylight to see an achromatized pipe banister quiver in response to the sound of slapping feet. Her vantage point was such that, across the cafeteria, she could only see a corner of the long hallway with its custard-yellow walls scratched and faded from years of apathy. An adolescent with shaggy hair the color of sand was barreling toward the banister, heedless of bodily harm, eyes wild and breath pounding in and out like a bass drum. Following behind, almost unhurriedly, was a rotund, balding man in an obnoxious band T-Shirt from a decades-forgotten rock group. He wore an expression of boredom as if to indicate that he had already seen the attraction and had found it lacking.

Mara stood up and downed the last of her lukewarm ale in one frenzied swig, gagging as the grainy dregs slid down her throat. She looked up and froze. The kid had made it to the banister and reached out to it with one desperate hand, vaulting over as if he were at a track and field event. Scuffed boots with frayed laces kicked wildly. He seemed to hang in midair, his left leg tucked under him, his right thrust out, grabbing at an ethereal purchase that only he could see. The man held out his hand where Mara could see a shiny metallic square on the inside of his wrist. He flipped that wrist toward the sandy haired acrobat and one rectangle broke off and flew with unnerving speed.


* * * * *

Samson was frozen, literally frozen. No, he hastily corrected himself, not frozen. He was in the air, floating…or falling incredibly slow. His boot had scraped off a layer of paint from the banister and it puffed out behind him in a small cloud. Below was a glass “skylight” – one of those tacky creations that had been popular during the decade before he was born. Even though it had never been subjected to the elements, years of smoke, dust, and dead insects had crusted its edges, giving Sam a blurred, cinematic view of the first floor cafeteria.

The patrons paid little attention to him, too wrapped up in their coffees, booze, or the undoubtedly witty conversation with their modded-up, super model dates. There was one exception, dressed in all black, she stared openly at him with a startled frown, lifting her dark glasses away from her eyes. A heavy beer stein was clutched in her white-knuckled fist. Sam’s confused expression met hers and held her within the trance.

Sharp stinging on his knee was the only indication that he had crashed through the bug-smeared skylight. He barely felt even that pain as glass fragments gently twirled around his face, falling like weightless snowflakes toward the yellowing linoleum. A hair-like wire glittered at the corner of his vision, lazily undulating like a serpent. What was that thing?

The dark woman had moved. Arm arched behind her back, she launched the mug in his direction. It gracefully slid past his ear as the aroma of spoiled barley assaulted his nose. Closer to the ground now, he felt his left leg tucked sharply into his chest, and his right leg…he wasn’t sure.
Something was on the floor below him, it looked like a limb. A leg. His leg? He shook his head. He was in shock, he told himself, gazing at the eerily-familiar boot toe, resting in a pool of blood. His blood?

Everything is too clear, he rationalized, I’m fine. Red droplets surrounded him, mimicking large jewels or small marbles. He could see the surface of each one dimple and shift as the circular shapes became amorphous. There was too much red around him, he thought, as the metallic tang shot through his taste buds. His chest fluttered as he forced himself to breathe.
His left leg was tucked underneath him, but his right…the floor reached him.


* * * * *


The boy’s face changed from an impetuous grimace of rebellion to a frantic O of surprise as his right leg plummeted to the floor. The rest of him followed in a pallid heap of shock and fear. The silver rectangle recoiled into itself and a faint iridescent thread shimmered in the artificial light. Razorwire. Mara had chucked her mug at the assassin with a force disproportionate to her size. It crossed the linoleum desert of the food court, and shot straight through the broken window into the man’s face, shattering into a hundred unforgiving shards of glass. The assassin clutched at his eyes, but slowed only a little.

Digging into her pocket, Mara pulled out another item. It was the size of a strawberry and gunmetal grey. Rolling it between her fingers, she held her hand out flat and the little ball floated imperceptibly over her palm. Pulling her arm back, she whipped it at the assassin with blinding speed. It flew true, past the falling boy, through the hole in the shattered skylight, and directly into the assassin’s chest.
An explosion followed: noxious green-yellow gas blossoming from the rift between the two halves. The gas enveloped the assassin in a clinging, stinking cloud more tangible than ethereal. He roared out in rage, his flailing, ducking figure obscured by the squall. That should keep him busy for a while…She thought.

She rushed over to Samson, who was curled up on the floor in a convulsing heap, blood pooling around him. Ripping off a piece of her shirt, she tied a tourniquet around Samson’s leg, the crimson spreading over it so quickly you’d think it animate. Then she flung the now-unconscious adolescent over her shoulder, and barreled out of the modish jungle. Juiceheads, fashion sisters, rats, schizos and security guards looked on with only mild curiosity as if a young vagabond being maimed by a highly trained, but innocuous-looking, assassin happened every day.

Mara pounded through the streets, carrying the teenager as if he were a sack of rice, before flinging him into the back of a low-flying, rusted transport.

“Where to?” A slight voice echoed quietly from the front.

“Back,” Mara replied tersely, climbing into the passenger seat.

The young pilot’s eyes grew wide as he saw Mara’s blood-spattered appearance.

“That bad, huh?” He grimaced and began to turn around.

“Don’t…” Mara put a hand on his shoulder, “Don’t turn around. Just fly.”

As the transport rose into the air, the pilot’s voice was heavy, “Back it is.”


Mara really hated violence.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Insignia - Prologue - Iteration 3

I know that I haven't posted in a while. A lot has been going on since Battlemoor ended and I have been trying to focus on my sci-fi novel. There is a publishing  event that ends on December 31 so I    am trying to get all the stuff together for that. In doing so, I have rewritten the prologue of Insignia for the 3rd time. Please take a look below. Any feedback is appreciated.

Cheers! (And sorry about the formatting...Blogger does weird things with copy/paste).

Prologue-


We'd all become unpeople undoing unthings untogether. Fascinating.

The Doctor: Pertwee Era
“The Mutants”: 1970-1974

In its heyday the Sink had been a bustling metropolis full of life and every convenience that technology could offer. These days, it was just another scrap city, albeit a large one, made of trash and reused concrete. Metal was precariously crusted onto the skeletons of formerly respectable buildings, buildings that had been retrofitted with a combination of modern and vintage tech. It was filled with undesirables: crime lords and drug cartels ran the commercial districts while the rest of the inhabitants, mostly ex-military and the poor, did whatever they could to survive. The corporations only had tenuous control here, but it was enough to keep the city in line.
The assassin arrived home bleeding, sick, and seeing double. His front door was ajar. His place, a mess. The slums were simultaneously loud and silent around him: bustling with the hum of traffic, but his house sounded dead. No one was home. He checked every room just to be sure, gingerly stepping over pieces of broken furniture, garbage, and strewn-about clothing. But still, no one was home.
Then, it started coming back to him, slowly blinking in his memory like an ancient film reel. Hot blood ran down his hands.
* * * * *

His next target. A woman. A scientist. A brilliant scientist working with the XCGen Corporation.
“We have confirmed that this woman is conducting secret genetic research outside of the company. She has been threatened to desist, yet she denies involvement. However, we cannot take any chances,” the security commander told him.

“Okay,” the assassin replied, forcing a calm demeanor, “Who is this woman?” There was a heavy grip on his heart. He knew very well who this woman was, but needed to hear his commander say it.
“Bella Kinney.”

The most beautiful woman in the world. His wife.

“No.”

“You have no choice,” his commander explained, “Your contract states that you cannot say no.”

“Well I’m saying…no.” The assassin said, punctuating each word with vitriol.

The commander gave him an impassive look.

“If you refuse, then you will be decommissioned. Undoubtedly, someone else will take your place.”

The assassin glared but continued his even tone, face impassive. “Then let them.”

The commander just shrugged.

“But first,” the assassin continued with slow deliberateness, “You will have to catch us.” He gripped the small metal tube implanted into his left forearm and tugged, fingernails digging into the dark skin around it. Pain, he thought. It was only a shadow in the very back of his mind, however because his greatest fear was in the forefront: losing Bella.

The air in the room became thicker, charged. The commander’s hair began to float away from his head as energy overtook the small office. Sharp pops echoed just at the edge of hearing. The assassin dug his fingernails deeper into his arm, howling as he ripped the tube free, tossing it aside. At the same time, he sank his consciousness deep into his core, into the very center of his self and pulled the sparks. It took almost all his breath to force his aura out in an ever-widening circle, crackling.

The commander sat, half on his desk, stunned. He stared at the assassin with water eyes. He stared at the man who had begun to work on removing the second tube, face feral. More pain, the assassin thought, feeling his heart flutter. He gasped and swallowed hard as his forearms were coated in thea hot, sticky fluid. Blood. He ignored it. The second time he reached into himself to grasp at the energy, it came easier. Flowing through his veins, his muscles, and then his limbs. Bursting outward with visible blue flashes, electrons flowed freely around him. He could almost see them dancing and rejoicing at their freedom.

With a definitive, primal roar, the assassin sent the electrons flying in all directions as he finished excavating the last bit of metal from his arm. The electro-magnetic pulse radiated around the room, passing violently through the commander, knocking him off the desk. He crumpled to the floor like a doll.       

The room went dark. The dull chortle of machinery had been suddenly silenced. The air, so thick and heavy only moments ago, was still. Almost light.
The assassin fled.

* * * * *

He wasn’t fast enough. That had never been a problem before. His mind was struggling to wrap itself around the possibility. He had always been fast. Now, something had changed. He was no longer himself. Or, rather, he was again himself – the self that he was before the mechanical mods. Before the razorwire and fiops cables that had run through his nervous system like parasites.

The assassin was as he used to be – human. Savant. No longer mech. And not fast enough.

They must have come for her, for Bella, he knew. He could imagine how it would have all played out: burly mechs with shiny limbs, clamoring like armored elephants through the house. Taking Bella. Was she alive? He had no reason to believe that the company would let her live. However…
If they had killed her, wouldn’t there be blood? A body?

He checked through the house twice, feeling his heart, his insides, twisted by barbed wire. There was no blood. No body.

Was she alive? He didn’t know.

She was…just…gone. He raced out the door, hoping to see her arriving home. Nothing but the cold eyes of the dark skyscrapers greeted him. Gone.

The assassin screamed, face upturned toward the starless sky: a raving, crazed animal trapped and yet motivated, by fear and anger. “I will find you!”

If anyone heard him, they didn’t answer. The city bustled around him.

These days, crime was just another part of life. If you wanted to stay alive, you didn’t get into anyone else’s business. If you were determined enough to mess with the CORPs, then you’d best be prepared to defend yourself. The sociopathic citizenry would not even blink when you disappeared. No one would look for you in hell.