Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eventide: Selene Pryor Part 2

Continued from Part 1

“Come on, Beck,” she had begged. “I know you’re good for it! Just the entry fee, and I’ll pay you back. I’ll pay you back double!”

“Not a chance, lady. I wouldn’t ante up for you to go racing if you were the queen and I was the royal shitter of gold bricks.”

Rebecca Constance was a saint in wolf’s clothing, and Selene wasn’t the only one who thought so. Little Hope was a place that lived up to its name. It was Basilium’s ugly little sister, looking up at The City of the Future from across the Black Bay. It was poor, and mean, and dirty with coal dust from the mines, and home to more vagrants than Selene Pryor could count. She had been one, before Beck. So had the other eight girls in the house. Rebecca Constance came from the life herself, but she’d made good off the Eyrie Programs, one of the first girls they sent to the University, and she hadn’t forgotten Little Hope.

“But you have to see it, Beck. The Doge is ready!”

“Lady girl,” her caretaker said, “You’re one talented little fiddlestick. The oil bulbs you made up light the place like nothing, and so I paid you for them. And of course, you spent that on your precious Doge. But, I have seen it, Selene, and it’s a pile of junk.”

“It doesn’t matter what it looks like!” The teenager practically yelled at her. “The Doge’ll win!”

“I said no, my darling fiddlestick, and so help me Creator, I never go back on a no!”

So, it was a no. But, Selene was still here; Beck couldn’t help that. She could keep her from money, but she couldn’t keep her from the races.


“I’ll put up the Doge,” she said softly, laying a hand across the rig’s steel dash. It was warm, from the furnace in back. It thrummed. Like a great beast, Selene thought. Like a lion.

“What, her?” the man scoffed. “I gotta say she looks like you patched her together from rust and wet glue,”

“Shut up!” said Selene. “You ugly, wart-faced harpy! You’re just scared to race her!”

“I don’t race anymore,” he said. “I just make sure they run ‘em right.” He paused, scrutinizing the girl.

“Well,” he finally said, “When you wreck the damn thing, I ‘spose the winner can take her apart and sell her innards, at least.”

She fumed. Her hand twitched on the throttle.

“Whatever,” she spat at him. “I’m ready to start when you are.”

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eventide: Selene Pryor Part 1

And as for the spunky machinist with a heart of gold...

The night was thick-overcast and as dark as could be, the ledge was narrow and unrailed, and her only lights were the double oil lamps hanging from the grate of the sputtering Doge. She didn’t want to use the bulbs: she was going to save them for later.

So, when she felt the rig crest the last rise in the trail and she finally saw the smattering of lights spread across the rise of the butte, she let out a small breath. Careful now, she told herself. Do you want them to think you’re scared?

As the Doge chugged towards the lights, she could make out a man up ahead, walking towards her. In the light from the torches he wore a long black waistcoat, patched in more places than it was whole. He was shouting something at her. There, on the grass at the top of the butte, she eased back on the rig’s throttle, slowly letting the engine burn down to a simmer.

“Whatchya want?” the man asked her. Closer now, she could see that he was tall and bone-thin, with black stubble covering his chin.

The Doge was quiet enough to hear him, now, the engine just a thrum under her seat.

“I want in.”

The man leaned close, trying to peer past the oil lamps to make out her face. Then he rocked back on his heels.

“Well, I’m the man to talk to. But you’re just a girlie,” he informed her.

“And you’re ugly,” she shot back. “I still want in.”

“And I still want a kiss from my poor old ma, but she’s rotting away same as otherwise, ain’t she? You got a racing rig somewhere up on that broken tractor, girlie?”

Eyes flaring, Selene simultaneously pushed down on the clutch, pulled up on the handbrake, and threw the throttle forward. The Doge’s engine gave one great chug, and an entire cloud of steam billowed momentously from its rear. It lurched forward a meter and stopped with a shudder as the brakes grabbed and held it, frontside rack a shivering six inches from the man’s nose.

“This is the Doge,” Selene said loudly, “And she’s the meanest, dirtiest, fastest racing rig in Little Hope. Anyone who says otherwise better put up or shut up!”

“Sure is the dirtiest, anyway,” came a call from nearby where the other oil lamps glowed, where the hulks of big men and of bigger rigs cast long shadows.

“Fine, it’s your skin,” said the waistcoat man, “‘long as you know as you likely won’t come back with it. Got your entry fee?”

Selene glanced down at the Doge.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Agent Nick Part 1 (Karl Rasmussen)

For a change of pace, here's the first part of the comedy that Karl Rasmussen is working on. Want to see more? You know what to do!

It was an old building, decrepit, with peeling paint, yellowed timber and a smell that more or less announced to anyone there that indeed there was an entire family of dead rats in the floorboards. A dead rat city, almost, with dead rat enclaves and little places where the dead rats could meet and socialize except that they were all dead. Agent Nicholas wrinkled his nose. He did not want to be here, and he most certainly did not want to be partnered up with Agent B, otherwise known as Agent NightBlade. The decision to allow agents to choose their own code names was proving to be an unwise one.

“You are narrating out loud again, Agent Nick,” Agent B said. “And the decision to allow us all to use whatever names we wanted was the best one ever.” B smirked. “Only reason you complain is because you got confused at the part that said ‘Nickname’.”

“No. Shut up Agent B. You shut your damn dirty mouth. Come on, let’s check out this building.” Agent B rolled his eyes. Agent Nick would get in moods sometimes. Usually they ended up with people dead and Agent Nick receiving his nth demerit. “Open the door,” Agent Nick demanded. Agent B knew that Agent Nick would only ask once, and that Agent B would either open the door the normal way, or the “dynamic” way.

“Yes, right away.” Agent B exclaimed, racing to the door in the hopes of opening it before Agent Nick had the chance to use him as a punching bag for all of the shame he felt for his son, the fashionista in Mexico City. Use him as a punching bag, again. The entryway into the building somehow managed to smell even worse. Agent B idly wondered why the olfactory senses didn’t shut themselves down when overloaded because goddamn.

“What the hell is taking you so long, go in ther- SWEET MOTHER OF CHRIST!” Agent Nick exclaimed as he caught a wiff of the house’s interior. “Oh god! I can taste it! Aaauuughghuhg!”

Agent B wasn’t as badly affected. Growing up poor, B was used to the everpresent smell of death and hopeless despair that had permeated his house. It wasn’t until later the B had learned that those things weren’t normal. “Come on, Nick. This is our assignment, remember? We have to go in. You have to be a man. Don’t be your son, Nick. Be a man.”

Agent Nick looked into Agent B’s eyes. Agent B saw a mix of disgust, anger and arousal. Wait, he wasn’t sure about the last one. He had issues. “Alright. I’m not my son. I don’t prance around in tight jeans and wear leopard print jackets. I’m a man.” Giving out a primordial scream, Agent Nick charged into the house shoulder first, not bothering to go around Agent B, which resulted in B being plowed full on into the wall opposite the door in the house. “What are you doing laying around on the floor like that? Get up B! Now is not the time to lollygag!”

Agent B got up slowly, clutching numerous fractured ribs. He would have to spend his vacation savings on this surgery. His wife would understand. She always did. Holding back his tears, B attempted to explain the exact situation to Agent Nick. “We… *gasp*… need to find… the… man… *Cough* Blood? That isn’t good…. We need to find the man hiding here.” Agent B wanted to explain why, but he was pretty sure he was dying and wanted to spend his last moments thinking about anything other than why he was dying in a house that smelled like a million dead rats.

Agent Nick looked down at B, who was rolling in agony on the floor of the house. “What are you moaning about? You’ll be fine.” Agent Nick reached down and picked up B, who only really had a few cuts and bruises. Agent B looked down at his body as though a miracle had occurred.

“Nick… you saved me. You healed me! I was gonna die!” Agent B exclaimed, giving Agent Nick a clingy hug. “You… you really do care…” B said, beginning to cry into Agent Nick’s shoulder.

Agent Nick quickly untangled himself from Agent B, holding B off at an arm’s length. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. That was way too gay for me. I mean really. Fruity as all hell. Come on, let’s just complete this mission. We’ll start with the room over here.”

The two agents started a sweep of the building, each one attempting to not breathe in as much as possible. Agent B even found, at one point, Agent Nick with his head stuck out of one of the windows desperately gulping down air as though it had become a precious commodity somewhere along the line. That’s silly, B thought. If air had really become that precious, it would be much better to invest.

Eventually they discovered a door which could only lead to the basement. If there was a thing the agents were good at, it was never getting lost, much to the chagrin of the Department. All the missions in the Sahara had accomplished nothing. “Well, B. Open the door and get down there.” Agent Nick commanded.

Agent B was having none of that, though. “I opened the front door. You can open this one, dammit.” Agent B responded, his voice aflame with righteous indignation. He had enough of Nick’s constant condescending comments, constant comparisons to Nick’s remarkably effeminate son, and the constant physical abuse. Which was soon to continue, as Nick had also decided he had enough of B and had proceeded to pick him up bodily and hurl him full force through the basement door.

“Thank you, B.” Nick said to the body at the bottom of the stairs. Approaching, Nick grew worried. “Come on, get up B.” Nick said to the motionless lump. Nick toed Agent B’s crumpled remains. They didn’t respond. “Get your ass up, B. Come on!” Nick yelled. No response. Fearing the worst, Nick leaned down to check the pulse. Nothing.

Presently Nick grew aware of a presence behind him. He looked up. It was the man they had been sent to retrieve, the Secretary of Defense, who had gone missing earlier. The Secretary looked at the corpse of B. “Damn, son. You straight up iced him!”

Comment for Part 2!

Eventide: The Last Dreamer Part 1

Realizing that the massive first chapter I had posted before was far too intimidating for any but my most devout friends to pour through, I've decided to break it up into sections. Here's the first section of the Last Dreamer arc of Eventide. If you want the next section of this arc, then comment on this one!

In dream, however many leagues may still be the distance between one thought and the next. Swift as an idea, Na soared north, watching below as great swathes of corn and wheat shivered in the white moonlight. The fields swept by, wind-chopped in fast motion, until they gave way to sprawling wetlands, and then dense thickets of jungle. In places, the jungle was fire. Beyond, dunes led to a coast that reached like a crooked finger far out into a bay that reflected the first red and orange light of dawn. Na glided north like the shadow of a racing cloud, fast and far above the surf. In a moment, it left the night behind, to find silver morning over an open sea. Perhaps a day passed, with no land but the scarcest sandy keys. Perhaps. In dream, time is as inconsequential as distance. The color of the water changed, teal-green to navy to a grey-white that chopped against hidden rocks. This far north, Na thought, the sun is bright but the wind cuts. Ahead, Na saw rocky islands jut up from the cold water. Further, again, through treacherous straights, and Na saw a new continent reach across the horizon.

Bleached white cliffs. From far below, surf roared. Gulls called. Na rose, until it looked out over a city perched upon a rounded, grass-covered plateau. It rose again, above the city, above the cliff’s edge which overlooked the sea. Na took in the antique, winding, cobblestone streets, the scattered colors of streetside markets. To the east, it saw the world’s first few factories breathe out plumes of industrial smoke. To the west, the cliffs rose again. Na followed them, higher, as they narrowed to a peak. Above the city, the cliffs shaped themselves into a citadel framed by the stark light of a bright morning sky. The wind here blows strong, Na thought. The sun was bright but cold against the cliffs. The citadel was carved from the rock itself. Na passed through.

A sprawling courtyard garden. It took in the vine-covered trellises and fruit trees, the footpaths mortared from the same white stone. It was a pristine contrast to the smell of newborn industry that rose from the city below. But industry will spread, thought Na. The seeds we plant, in time, will grow. It moved through the garden, and lost itself among the vines. Here, yes, it thought, and waited. In waiting, Na became less than a thought.

An old man, the chief gardener, wandered here. He picked a cucumber near the ground while humming to himself, something without tune or rhythm. As he reached for another cucumber, color caught his eye. It was a flower, not two feet away, drifting across the path in the cool breeze. It was exotic, purple and green, with a curling yellow stamen and black speckles like a henna tatoo.

“I don’t recognize you,” the old man addressed the listless orchid, “which is to say, you don’t belong here. I’d know if you did. But you’re very beautiful.” He stopped his gathering, and braced his back to bend towards the flower. He reached for it, but stopped with his fingers centimeters away.

“You’d just get me into trouble, wouldn’t you?” the gardener asked it. “Just what I need, for them to think I’d be taking lady-blossoms for myself.” With effort, he straightened, and nodded once more to the flower. “So, good day to you, then. You’re on your own.” He moved on.

Comment below for more of this arc!

Eventide: Mark Robson Part 1

Eventide is made of several story arcs coming together. This is part 1 of Eventide's resident War Story. It's also worth noting that this story arc begins roughly 24 fast-paced years after the Last Dreamer arc begins, and occurs 2500 miles away, so differences in tone and technology are apparent. You can get me to post more of this arc by telling me just how hungry you are for the next part!

Knight-Commander Sumen was full of bluster.

“So how about it, Bernie? You ready to find out how they do things, groundside?”

He addressed his squire, but Corporal Mark Robson suspected his voice was raised for the dubious benefit of the entire room. Then again, his voice was near-always raised, so it was hard to tell.

“Ah, hell yeah I am!” His teenage protégé answered, theatrically pumping a fist. “I’ve been waiting to plunge my sword into one of these bastards.”

The knight laughed: a barrel-chested boom. “A truly noble sentiment,” he encouraged, still chuckling. “But remember, I don’t want you running off. Anything happens to you, your dad’ll have my balls. Besides, down there, your job is to keep me clean and functional.

Robson tried to ignore them, to focus on the maps and tools he had spread out around him. There was plenty to study: the Talons and coastal ranges they’d left behind were the most geographically diverse region of Suam, but at least they had been thoroughly surveyed through a quarter century of dirty war. The West Reach, whose thick lowland jungles Robson could now make out now through a nearby viewport, had only recently been mapped via fly-by. Robson had been instructed to prepare a full expertise of both.

“I can’t wait to see you in action,” the youth was saying. They had walked across the debarksure, ignoring the orders to strap in for landing, and were now standing below a giant steel tripod. It was strapped to the inner frame of the blimp, secured with cords and chains. A double cockpit rose up from the tripod treads, like the compound eyes of a 10-foot spider. “I’ve been wanting to see what one of these things can do for a long time.”

“We’ve certainly trained with them long enough!” Sir Sumen complained. “Eight-meter vaporjets, three inch hull, full Eyrie capabilities… this baby puts old heavy cavalry to shame. And now we’ve got our own little firestarter to go with it. Eh, Metris?”

The last was directed at a gaunt, middle-aged officer who sat nearby. He didn’t look like a magic-man, Robson thought. No, nothing like the well-fed, robed Sorcerers that manned this very Skymarshall, nothing like the mysterious, infamous Patterners that Robson had seen back at Academy. He looked more like a short bureaucrat, and not even a particularly effective one. His only admission to the supernatural was the single large sunburst, emblazoned on the sleeve of his right shoulder.

But, he didn’t rise to the knight’s bait, and in Robson’s eyes, that was a victory. “We should make ready to land,” he said instead, simply. “We’ve almost arrived.”

“What clairvoyance!” Sumen shot back with wide eyes of exaggerated superstition. “I suppose they taught you fortune-telling, at Towers? Anyway, just have your boy prepare our bags.”

Fool, thought Robson. They give you an angel and you’d make him a dog, but Metris gave no answer to the knight.

The other legion-men had their totes ready, and Robson grabbed his. He had met a number of them, even befriended a few.

But, whether he willed it or not, he imagined that they felt as great a distance from him as he knew from a noble like Sumen. He was born with no better name than they, no wealthier, but Robson had been fast-tracked at Academy and was on the path to command. It could never be a high command, of course; he could never be Century. Not even Centaurion’s staff: that was for noble bastards and the scions of the wealthy. But a middle branch of the legion’s tall tree: that could be reached by merit alone. That would be acceptable. That would be enough to make his father proud.

“Sumen?” The voice was curt, but deep with command. It was the tone of a man who was too busy to waste time with undue haste.

Still laughing, Sumen glanced over his shoulder. It took him a moment. “Commandant!” he spun, half-tangling his legs as he saluted.

“Don’t look so surprised. It’s my ship, I go where I please. The boys can handle a little old landing like this.” As he said it, he glanced towards Robson and the surrounding legion-men, and nodded. He said nothing, but Robson felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise, as if the man had looked him in the eye and said, “I trust you to do your duty son. I trust that you won’t disappoint.” Now he knows command, Robson thought. Learn from him.

“Sumen, I came to see you off-” His voice was low, now. Of the legion-men,. Robson was closest, and he could only just make out the words.

“I’m honored, Sir!”

The Commandant waved down Sumen’s second salute. “Well. We’ve seen to pleasantries. Let’s to business. On paper, you’re a bondsman to my Century. Do you know what that means?”

“Yes, Sir. It is an ancient trust, to serve a Centaurion on the field of battle. It-”

“No, Commander. It means that whatever you and your men do will reflect on my standing in the Century and the Basilic court. If your unit is destroyed, then I am weak. If you act the barbarian, then I’m the savage.”

The knight’s jaw almost visibly dropped. “Sir, we are both men of quality, and-”

“Are we?” The Commandant leaned in close. “I have no doubt that you have familiarized yourself with my military record. But you should know, too, that I make it a point to familiarize myself thoroughly with every officer who flies my banner.” Robson watched the color drain from Sumen’s face. His squire had long-since slunk away.

“So, Sir, make your Century proud, and hopefully you won’t take a dart to the throat, like my last ground commander.” He stepped back. “I’ll be watching,” he added, twirling the index finger of his right hand up toward the sky above.

Sumen’s eyes were squinted. “Yes, sir,” he managed.

The Commandant turned to go. “Ah,” he added as he stepped away, his voice again loud with command. He gestured towards the steel hulk behind the knight. “Please report back on the field responsiveness of the Korva as soon as you’ve had a chance to try it. We’re anxious to hear how it performs in actual combat.”

“Yes, sir!” The knight called after, still shaken. But he stood taller, now. He leaned a hand against one leg of the Korva Battlearmor as the Commandant walked away. It was almost a caress. What a master stroke, Robson thought. Take away his pride, and what’s left? His gun. The recipe to turn a braggart into a warrior. Or a bully, gods forbid.

“Dropping cables in 5,” Robson heard the Commandant’s voice still echoing from the corridors that that deeper led into the belly of the Skymarshall. “Get ready with the hatches.” He heard other voices call out, seemingly in answer. “Load up the ballast!” “Drop, grab, and out, boys, quick as you please!” Below, he watched the jungle filled in its details with a startling speed: a portrait whose painter was almost satisfied.

Do you want to know what happened to Mark Robson next? If so, comment!!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sophont: Subject Wakes

By Julian Michels
Part 1
(Karl Rasmussen helped write this chapter but has now jumped off authorship of this project in favor of some other work. As a result, this ship is currently dead in the water, though it very well may be my second novel, someday...)

For a while, white was all there was. I can’t even say that white was all I knew, because I didn’t know. How can you know anything, without self? There was never any point of reference. I am told I had the mind of a genius, but there were no ideas, no thoughts.

Subject 2 had been a tragedy. At this point, there was no other way to say it. The initial stages went well. Complete direct nutrition delivery was a success, and the Gene Therapy Electrical Muscle Stimulation program not only created a healthy adult body, but managed it in just the scheduled 18 months from inception to adulthood. Even the brain was healthy. Healthy. Doctor Brian laughed inwardly. If her brain’s just healthy, then mine is mush. No, neural functioning wasn’t the issue; the host of neurologists and neuropsychologists could attest to that. Cognitive functioning had been the problem since the beginning. Selfhood. After everything, all their talk of “an alternative to the obsolete binary approaches of yesteryear”, Transhumanics stood stymied by the same block as their egghead competitors in theoretical computer science.
Selfhood. Subject 1 didn’t develop it at all. She never awoke.

Whether Subject 2 did was a matter of debate. Some said only a self-aware entity could possess the prescience to suicide. Others said, it didn’t take a genius to throw yourself down a flight of stairs. The fact was, they’d never know.

Daniel, who was responsible for her that day, was fired. The deaths of two of the subjects had raised alarms in the investors, who began to grow doubtful of the project’s success. Not only that, but a number of people resigned from Transhumonics en masse, each claiming that the experiments were inhumane, that they were dangerously close to playing god. Fortunately, Transhumonics’ influence with the DoD had meant that passing a mass gag order was cake. That, and there were still two subjects left. Two more chances to prove that this experiment meant something.

Brian stood in front of a door simply labeled Three. He didn’t really feel like being here today. After what happened to Subject Two, being the man responsible for the next subject was worrying. Someone in the company had it out for him, he knew it. He knew that his partner, Charlie, knew it too. Both of their asses were on the line. “We can’t fuck this one up, Charlie.”
Charlie gave a nonchalant shrug. Bastard could reamin calm in a damn firestorm. “Relax.”

Brian gave a sigh. “That’s great, Charlie. And which one of us loses their job next? You think they’re going alphabetically?”
“Even if this one is another bad case, we still have Four. Hell, it might be a gender thing.”

“Does your wife know you feel that way?” Brian chuckled. “I know how she gets.” He cracked an imaginary whip in the air.
Charlie froze. “God, don’t remind me of home.”

Brian chuckled under his breath.“Right, lets go in. And try not to get me fired, would you?”

The first point of reference were the men, creatures of noise, hands, eyes, mouths. The next were the words. I’d heard words before. Endlessly spoken from the walls of my pod, patterns to learn from, patterns to master. But in that pod, what were words? They meant nothing until I heard them from the creatures of noise, hands, eyes, mouths.

“Hello, Three. Welcome. Rise and shine.”

Three sat at a table in the room, curiously poking at the plate of vegetables set in front of her. Brian and Charlie stood watching her, taking notes on the whole process. Brian whispered to Charlie. “Well, so far she seems stable. No signs of incoherence or mental trauma.” Yet, he added in his mind. Given their luck so far, this was just too good to be true. Brian looked back up at Three, who had began to arrange the veggies on her plate.

“What’s she doing there? She’s just moving them around. Two had immediately grasped what they were, but Three is… playing with them?”

Brian wasn’t sure what to make of it. Yes, two had figured out the vegetables quickly, but she had shown no interest, no joy at her discovery.

“There, Brian, see, she has got it!”

Brian snapped out of his reverie, looking up at Three, who had indeed taken a bite out of one of the carrots on the table. She then picked a tomato, bit it, and repeated the process with each vegetable in turn. “Seems she is trying each one. Seems normal enough.” Brian responded.

“Ah, shit. She’s playing with them again.”

After trying each vegetable, and examining it, Three went back to shuffling the vegetables around on the plate. “Ah well. Maybe she didn’t like any of them. Better move on to fruit.” Brian went over to Three, and the plate, but stopped when he looked at it. “Charlie, come over here. Look at this.”

Charlie looked up from his notepad, and approached the table. “What? You mean the plate? What’s the matter…” Charlie stopped when he saw the contents of the plate. Each vegetable had been placed in order of family… tubers, lettuces… she had even noticed that the tomato was an odd man out, a fruit in a plate of veggies. “But how would she… we haven’t moved on to books yet, have we? Where did she pick this up?” Three seemed to be done with the plate. Now, she was looking up curiously at the two scientists.

“I dunno, Charlie. This is… well… I think our job security might’ve just gotten a helluva lot better.”