Musings on the 21st Century

“Basic message repeats: V.G. Smith reports. Currently stranded in 21st century. Taking long way around. If possible, establish currency drawing accounts at pre-established banking institutions for living purposes; otherwise, return is set for 6 July 2129. Have Gardiston and crew ready at that date. Best wishes, James.”

Musings on the early 21st century:

Having been born into a particular era, I know a fair bit about the people and society therein. That’s not to say I’m an expert in psychology or sociology or anything; but I know people. Well, at least my own era’s people. People aren’t hard to follow. OK, think of it this way: what separates a man born in 2000 from a man born in 2100?

The man born in 2000 is mired in the muck that is economics and religion; he is trapped in a society that has its morals and priorities all mixed up. How, in all the world, did the human race not realize that you can’t practice religions with rules like, “Love thy neighbor,” while living in an economic system where one has to work for a third or more of a life just to survive?

The man born in 2100 has similar problems, but economics isn’t one of them. People are still, in a general sort of way, fools, ignorant and downright stupid. But at least the majority of them are decently educated, fed and are accepting of decent customs like privacy and an actual application of the Golden Rule.

Having to live through the 21st century for a second time has taught me something interesting about the time that whelped me: people believe only what they want to. Case in point, a man I work with (I picked up a part-time job to observe these people a little.) thinks research into Dark Matter and Kerr black holes will revolutionize science and energy production. Likewise, another man I work with thinks the election of a wealthy fascist into political office will revitalize the waning economy. Is either right? Not at all. But it’s OK to dream of a better tomorrow even if a dream is only a dream if it never comes to fruition.

Just the other day, I had stimulated a conversation with one of the scientists from the labrotory on the other end of town about the future of human exploration. I wanted to see where my coworkers would take the subject she and I spoke so heatedly about, so I kept prodding and playing advocate to the Devil in every point. It amused me, if only because I carry such foreknowledge to this century, that they couldn’t see past the accomplishments of the automobile and the mobile music player. These people seem to worship such small things.

Offhandedly, I gave an exact year to the first Solarian interstellar flight as being 61 years from the present date. Nothing but blank stares and a questioning throat sound; so I explained, “The first time we saw Alpha Centauri up close was in 2077, right at the end of the year. Nothing there, obviously, but the stars were neat to watch circle one another from only a few AU away. Been there myself, once, when I was a kid. It’s a tourist trap now. Come see the Earth-men dance around in zero-gravity. Marstarians and Ellegrans come and fuel the Solarian tourist market by taking in shows and enjoying delicacies of Earth and Mars. Ellegrans especially have a taste for North American grass served with a light soy sauce drizzle or a vinaigrette. Oddly, they don’t like lettuce or other human veggies served the same way. To each their own, I guess.”

More blank stares. To each their own, indeed.

The people of this time period are odd in other ways. They care about skin color and place of birth. If I told someone I have an Britannian/European best friend and his wife is French/Welsh nobility, they’d probably laugh at me. (On which part, I wonder: Britannia or foreign nobility?) If I expanded and made even the slight mention that the Martian Augustian Marquis or the Margrave la Albion had skin darker than a boring, sunless pink, they might even take violent offence. I don’t understand these people that were once my colleagues and peers. But at least I’ve grown away from that way of thinking, though I admit to once being such a close minded fool as well.

It should only be another few years before I can set up delay mail to myself – can’t set up too quickly, should Past Me take notice and start asking questions. 2037 should give me a nice margin for error and it’ll get me free of fallout from the last major war this century. Worst case: the letters don’t make it due to human error or data failure. Doesn’t matter really – I’m taking the long way home regardless of the assistance I get from the Method.

Means of Revealing Details to the Reader, One, Destruction

611px-NORADNorth-Portal

Featured in many speculative fiction stories since NORAD was established, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex remains one of the most interesting military locations in reality and fiction.

Star Gate used the location as the secret base of the titular Star Gate transportation device; used to travel to other worlds. They did this under an Air Force banner for ten seasons (and spin offs that are of varying quality). The location was destroyed numerous times, always back to working order by next episode (alternate world, avoidable future, alien lotus eater machine, etc.).

Independence Day mentioned NORAD as the location the Vice President and the Joint Chiefs fled before the President (as played brilliantly by Bill Pullman) evacuated the White House. In passing, it was said to have been destroyed by the giant alien ships’ death ray (which turns out to be some kind of anti-matter beam or something).

But the best use of language to denote destruction comes not from television or film, but literature.

As the headquarters of the North American Space Defense, the mountain complex is featured somewhat prominently as a military target in the last section of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. During the climax of the book, NA’s space defense HQ is hit, repeatedly, by many thousands of pounds of rock covered in steel and shot out of a mass driver from the Moon with the Earth’s gravity well used as icing on the kinetic strike cake.

Then came one of the most potent lines I’ve ever read concerning total destruction. When considering if the new Lunar government should hit their space command again,

“I don’t think we had better hit that mountain again.”

“Why?”

“It’s not there any longer.”

Until next time,

-M

1949 – an original work of fiction

A few months ago, I started working on something of a side project with a friend of mine. He’s writing a book and had asked for my input on character creation. After more than three months of little more than editing my own half-finished book, I was inspired to write something new. The characters are the same, but the setting is one I romanticize a bit.

I’m a little defensive about my work, but still think it should be able to stand on its own. I have to actively try not to defend it from criticism, but rather use those comments to better it. I’ve been posting and re-posting this on Scribophile and it’s in its… second revision? Third? Something like that. I think it’s getting to where I want to publish for real, but to those of you who read my little, personal blog, you are the ones who deserve to see it first and let me know what could use improvement.

Leave a comment below or email me, if you so please, at michaelajohnpoll@gmail.com with comments or just to ream me for the piece of trash you so kindly took the time to read. Up to you.

Until next time,

-M


“1949” – an original work of alternate world fiction

–The night fog kept the police away while the pair visited an old friend–


“Proposed twenty-second amendment to Constitution fails to gather enough votes to consider ratification. God, who reads this trash?”

I threw the newspaper away; probably annoying the news-pusher I bought it from not half a minute ago. Too depressing for today anyway. You remember yesteryear; maybe we could make a real living if the rubberneckers and the bitchy conservatives would let well enough alone. A man used to be able to make a dishonest Dollar without the police knocking at the pub door.

Speaking of… is it the sixteenth already? I know where Roland will be. Her favorite speakie – his too, if memory serves.

I found him in that same shitty pub on the edge of oldtown.

Stepping inside, I sideswiped some kid peeking in and stole his wallet. Solely for my entertainment, you understand, depriving some youngblood the chance to use his, oh dear, no less than three sets of falsified documents that show this overgrown infant is of voting age. Someone isn’t getting his booze tonight.

The stench of smoke, ash and spirits in the air should have driven any man away. The acrid combination cut through me, but I forced myself through, hoping I’d acclimate before I gagged.

I tossed my hat on a rack beside the door and moved towards the bar, staying back a good ways from Roland. I spoke to the owner, a wretched old Brit by the name of Lawrence.

“Barkeep, not another drink for him. Get me?”

The aged man, bearded and grizzled, gave me a once over as if we’d never met. The old fart and I had it out dozens of times and it always ended peaceably. Well, ‘cept the time I tried to block a kitchen cleaver with my own flesh. Not my finest hour. Nor my soberest. Have a decent metal replacement now – this one can even grip my .44 pretty well, unlike the last one. Thank all the Gods I live in such a time where I can get a shiny new arm, but not sell gin to the hard-working men of this fine nation. How’s that for peace, justice and the American way?

“Sir,” Lawrence said, “if ‘e orders ‘em, I gotta’ pour ‘em. Dem the rules ‘ere. Ya don’ like it, take yer drinking uptown to dem hoity-toity Nun-pubs on the Straight ‘n Narrow.”

He spoke, when it suited him, in a heavily affected accent. I have to remind my juniors that he does that to confuse us on collection days. That son-of-a-sow’s been here for ages and owes us his due like everyone else in this part of town.

“Barkeep,” I said more forcefully than I thought I could muster on her anniversary. “Not one more spirit for the boss. I will pay for each pour of water if I must. No more gin. Are we understood?”

No one disrespected Lawrence, or much any barman, in his own place and lived to tell about it. Well… at least not a man made it outside less a beating from his kin. I gulped down air hoping Lawrence didn’t make a problem for me. I want to get Roland out of here in one piece, not get into a fistfight with one of the barkeep’s ham-fisted sons. The git might owe us money, but he deserves more respect than I want to show him tonight.

The barman spoke in hushed whispers right at me. “You have a lot of gumption coming in here and saying that. I might owe you for my ownership of this place, but I got rights, ain’t I?”

Now Lawrence sounded almost civilized, belying his true disposition. Old-fashioned, retired gangster at his finest; stepped away from our way years back, turned to mostly honest trade and owns one of the speakeasies our syndicate used to operate directly. It’s a good gig with prohibition going strong so many years – that new amendment can’t come soon enough for our kind. They push through a whole amendment for when Dewey’s turn at bat is up and they can’t bother to drop old number eighteen?

“Lawrence,” I said, putting on the brass balls and praying a little harder. “You and I have known each other a while. I’m going over there, getting the boss as sober as I can in the next ten minutes and getting him home before the police decide that curfew is a half-hour sooner. Get me now? I’ve got business to attend, friend.”

“Go,” the man demanded. “And don’t expect as kind treatment next time one of your bosses decides to waste away in my tavern. This is an honest establishment.”

“I’d be careful, friend. I can’t control him when he’s at his best. He hears you made this much trouble, he might demand the loan back early.”

I tossed Lawrence a few bits from my own clip, partly paying for the threat I should have kept to myself; partly another silent threat that we’re the ones in the money, not him. I don’t think Roland will want to retaliate over nothing much like that. At least this’ll keep the old man from selling me out to the cops tonight.

I hope.

Over at the other end of the bar, I tapped my friend’s shoulder.

“Hey, Roland. Heard any good ones lately? It’s time for a little water, buddy.”

He moved his head just enough to free his mouth and grumbled, “One more word and I’ll crack your skull.”

“Is that any way to talk to an old friend back in town? Now sit up and drink.”

Roland, in his stupor, pushed the proffered glass back up the bar.

“No more tonight. Room’s Technicolor-y, like a picture show. Don’t seem right.”

“Too true. But this one’ll make you feel better. Drink.”

I pushed the glass back into his hands and watched him finish it off.

“Hasn’t been the same since that pubby Dewey won,” Roland slurred. “Can’t help the lil’ guy no more.”

“Come on, buddy. Let’s think about getting out of here. We’ve got places to go and people to see and I ain’t talking about the President.”

To his credit, Roland Roberts resisted the offer long enough for me to lift him to his feet and make the decision for him. Pulling his overcoat around him, I pulled one of his arms over my shoulder and tried to keep him up under his own power.

He giggled. Twice. “Feet are jelly… can’t stand right.”

“What did you have,” I said, “two, three at most? You’re too thin to be drinking like this.”

I managed to grab Roland’s hat as well as my own and get him out the door before too many people took to gawking. Saw the kid I robbed on hands and knees looking for his wallet. When I threw it at him, minus his fake paperwork, he shot me a nasty look. I glared back and tossed my coat open with more than a little effort. With Roland crossing my right side, I didn’t want to deal with anything more violent than a threat. The kid’s temper seemed sufficiently smothered when the .44 tucked under my left prosthetic glimmered in the light of the streetlamp.

“Come on, buddy. You and I know we’ve got things to do. What’s with the drunken bit? Don’t you know better?”

Roland’s head slumped into my back and he muttered, “You really had some shit parents, didn’t ‘cha? Them drunkards. No wonder you and Danny and Pete got ‘long so well. Freaks, the lot of you.”

I sighed through his laughter. “You’re one to talk.”

“Least I didn’t lock my boy in a cupboard, teach ‘em to kill folk with tinned veggies. Now that’s parenting!”

“And look where I am now. Pro in my field. Playing babysitter to a grown man too sauced for his own good. Whoop-de-friggin-do.”

Roland and I went back and forth for a few more minutes. He’d make a crass statement, I’d retort, keeping in mind that he’s piss-drunk before the temptation to break his arms got too strong. A man ought not have to listen to a lecture on the finer points of parenting and responsibility from someone who, himself, reeks of gin and brandy.

“How’d we ever get it so wrong?”

“Which part?”

“We had it good back then. I don’t see where it all went bad.”

“Roland, you’re rambling.”

“Like this,” he said, flailing his free arm. “We could have done it all better. Run the pubs like real business-folk, see?”

This may be for the better. At least he’s sobering up a little. This’s part of a conversation we had the other night. It’s only a matter of time until he remembers why he was shooting himself three sheets to the wind, but I want to hear him out. Another year, another drunken anniversary, another day to forget my folly.

“Pretend we’re like those wireless stars, you know, like on the radio; or like those fast-talking suits over on Broad and Wall. That’d be the life. Not this shit,” Roland says, waving his free arm around at the darkness. “Living like rats because the law says we gotta’ scrounge. But we did good, eh?”

“We did pretty well, all right.” Well enough for you to go out and get plastered on the gang’s hush money without so much as denting our books. “But maybe we did pretty nice for ourselves too, huh?”

“Yeah,” Roland said. “We did nice. You and me and Dan all made a bundle. Iz and ‘lexis too. Rein–”

One may as well hang for his lies as for his crimes. And this, like every year, is one of mine. I was the target, damn it! They should have taken me!

“James? Where’s Reinette?”

I followed through with the charade. “Just ‘round the corner.”

“That’d be good. Haven’t done that lately. Too busy with work an’ darn fools all over; Dew-boy and his bunch of Congressional pissants.”

“I hear that. My boss has me running all over creation making sure we keep afloat until the bigwigs change the rules again. You wouldn’t believe what a chore it is funding a group like ours.” Or what a chore it is doing this year after year. Ten years is too damn long. But I can’t bring myself to blame you for this; the fault is mine to grasp.

I can’t bring myself to cause a stir. Why he has never condemned me I’ll, perhaps, never know.

I dragged Roland around the block, keeping a watch for police and civil walkers. Not a one tonight. Too much fog and too little moonlight to make a blind search worth the trouble. Most of them will be sitting at the station up on 22nd and 5th waiting for a call that’ll likely come in too late. Ten years of violence and the terror that came from other gangs calling hits became second nature. Even the police have gotten soft of late.

Which is why she’s no longer with us: our first and last casualty, the object of our sorrow and our devotion to the bonds we share.

It didn’t take much to snap the rusted lock on the wrought-iron fence and push the ancient gate open. The problem of the hundred and thirty pound weight on my shoulder subsided when he realized where we were.

With the memories coming back out of his alcohol-induced haze, he stumbled towards one of the markers far inside the site of hallowed ground. We could both find it with our eyes closed.

I held back several steps and refrained from speaking. Nothing would make this any easier and nothing I could say would stop the same thing from happening tonight that happened each of these anniversary nights of the last ten years.

“Thanks, James,” he said, pulling the hat from his head and clutching it tightly, “for bringing me all the way here.”

By the time I came into sight of it through the fog, he had knelt in front of the marble monument. ‘Reinette Roberts,’ it read. ‘She who is granted eternity. 1910-1939. Beloved wife, mother and friend.’

Red Mist (3)

Today, I’ve concluded the short I’ve been working on. As usual, it’s rough, there are misspelled words and it needs a little more work. Enjoy–!


“I found out he died later,” Lucius said in a low, toneless whisper.

Dean almost didn’t know what to make of that. He said, “I’m sorry to hear that. You’ve brought him back to us today.”

“So I have,” Lucius agreed. “Good guy. Burned in all the worst places and still co-ordinating the initial defenses. They told me he kept at it for the better part of two hours before one of the Iota Series winged him. Quick, painless.”

Dean nudged the subject again. “What about your group? What were you doing?”

“Oh, that? We marched, quick as we could, right up to Anderson Square—sorry. It’s Anderson Square today. At the time, it was the center of the commercial district, the Anderson Building. It was offices and the like then. The building’s still there, but it’s all part of the SDF now.”

“Corporal, what’s the situation?”

Lucius saluted clumsily. “General, the Sergeants are engaged in combat back the way we came. Looked like fifty or sixty—”

The General turned away. Putting a finger to her ear, “Roland, we need to spread out more. They’re coming in from the west too.”

“General,” Lucius tried to cut in.

“Hold that,” she said into her mobile. “Corporal?”

“The Sergeant said we were needed back here. What can we do?”

“Hit up HQ,” she said, pointing at the Anderson Building. It would have been an impressive sight except for the smoke billowing out of the fortieth floor. “Don’t worry. It’s not under attack. Took a hit when we shot down one of the enemy ships. It should hold, we have Faction Six and Nine up there on evac and FRs”

“HQ, mum?”

“That’s right. First floor and the sub-basement. Get going.”

“Inside headquarters, we were referred right to the top.” Colonel Lucius laughed mirthfully. “We were Specialists and Corporals and they said “Go talk to the boss.” What humor! I almost told the Major to stop toying with us, but I held it. I don’t need to go in to any detail about the Commander. What a powerhouse. He’d been running around and had already decapitated a man that day before we got to him. He was covered in drying alien blood.”

“Hey kid. Long time,” he said. “You have time?”

Lucius was hesitant to answer. “Erm… yeah, Commander.”

“Good. Get up stairs. We need you on the roof.”

“The roof,” Lucius exclaimed.

“Yeah. Need you on repair up there.”

“Sir,” Lucius said as evenly as he could manage. “The building is on fire.”

“I know that. Have Daniel and John get you up there. The fire cut power to the defense system on the roof. Take this,” the Commander said placing a small box in Lucius’ hand. “That’s enough power to get the system running for about ten minutes. That should be enough.”

“Before I could answer,” Lucius told Dean and the audience, “the Commander told me, “Kid, you’re it. I have no one else who can manage this in as little time as you can. Got me?” And you know what I said?”

“Commander, you’re out of your God damn mind.”

“So I hear. Get on the fuckin’ roof and give ‘em what-for.”

 

 

“We got on the fuckin’ roof,” the Colonel said slowly. It was strange to hear that language from a man of his age, but Dean stopped his surprise from showing. The young host had some experience, but couldn’t top Lucius’.

“Hey, Luke,” one of the Corporals said. “Need an eight by ten over here. Transformer’s blown from seven to fifteen, but I think I can patch it.”

“We’re out. Here,” Lucius said rushing over, “let me take a crack at it.”

He tinkered with the board for a minute before slamming it against the concrete floor.

“What the hell,” the Corporal exclaimed.

“Need the wiring from inside the thing. Switch to wireless and shove this,” he held up the snapped board, “in number nine. It should hold for as long as the batteries do.”

“That’s gonna’ blow the moment the system hits cap.”

“The defenses won’t hit cap. The Commander only sent us with one power supply. Normally, I’d agree with you.” Lucius pointed out at the sky to punctuate his point. One of the alien ships was bombarding the coast. “We don’t have time to worry about what works. Make a path. Run power.”

“I’d grabbed the poor guy’s face and pushed him into the board to send my meaning home.” Lucius took a long breath. “He got back to work while I beat at my boards. Between the four of us up there, fifteen minutes was all it took.”

“Just got a call from HQ,” a Specialist said. “They want the defenses firing five minutes ago.”

Lucius was finishing up the wiring. It was an ugly rig. Cables stretched through the air and a sneaking suspicion that the sparking wasn’t from the fuel cell the Commander’d send them up with.

“We’ll be lucky this doesn’t kill us,” Lucius remarked.

“That’s for the ringing endorsement, boss.”

“You three get out of here.”

That got the three staring at Lucius.

“Brad,” one ventured.

“Someone needs to get the couplers firing. If the system flares, I don’t want everyone up here.” Lucius turned away, almost glaring at the couplers he mentioned. “Leave.”

One of the Specialists reached out, pulled his hand back, held it out again in a fist. “Give ‘em a Red Special, boss.”

Lucius tapped his own fist against the man’s. “See you in Hell.”

They turned, hesitantly and reverently. Lucius didn’t watch them go.

“They left you,” Dean Daily said almost painfully.

“Of course. There wasn’t one chance in a hundred this would work. We practically pasted components together with food and string and staples.”

“You didn’t want them there if something went wrong?”

“I didn’t want them there when the power surged. Would have killed us all.”

Lucius looked over his men’s work one more time. He nodded to himself, pleased that everything seemed to be in order. There was a single switch a meter or so from the couplers. Couldn’t get any farther than that – no extra cables. He took one last breath and threw the switch.

And the whole world exploded.

“Next thing I knew, I was on my back and the Commander was there. An unfamiliar canvas ceiling hung above me in the temporary hospital the Countess arranged.” Colonel Lucius laughed softly. “He said, “Brad, you stupid son of a bitch. You did it.” I didn’t know what be meant until I saw the other Generals around the room.”

Lucius was surrounded by dozens of people in the makeshift hospital. All was silent despite the fighting.

“Brad,” the Commander said as Lucius tried to get out of bed. “Stay still. Don’t want the docs getting angry with me.”

“Commander,” Lucius said, his throat dry and voice crackling. “Worked?”

“Course,” the Commander said. “Old Smith here can tell you first-hand how well it worked.”

“Fried my sphincters, kid. Takes a special kind of ass-kickery to put me out that long,” Smith said.

Lucius blinked at that, not knowing what he meant.

The Commander cut in. “Plan went off like a hitch.”

“He told me the enemy had turned to red mist, like what they called the day. That was that. The whole story.”

“And you were promoted?”

“Something like that. People called me Colonel from then out. Nothing official. Command tossed me a new button and said to wear it and take the lead when none of them were in the room, so that’s what I did. Still kept this,” he tugged at the jumpsuit, “but added a jacket so people could pick me out in the field.”

“Thank you for joining us today, Colonel. Ladies and gentlemen,” Dean said, “that just about concludes our hour with Colonel Lucius. Can we send him off right,” Dean said, eliciting a thunder of applause.

Red Mist (pt.2)

I’m keeping my last post going a little. Here’s another few hundred words of the story I’ve been picking away at. Same as yesterday, it’s a little rough on grammar, spelling, and overall quality. I just wanted to get it down and it’s by no means the final version. That all said and done, enjoy and lemme’ know what you think. Oh! Tiny disclaimer: I totally made up the names and events. If it resembles anything real or whatever, it’s happenstance.


“What happened from there?” Dean Daily was as invested in his interview as his audience was.

“It wasn’t long before the next time we were called on to do something important. The wrong man in the right place, they say. I’d been promoted again to commander of the technology division under Faction Three. Was still a Corporal, but I had superseding authority over the decisions of the other Corporals in the division – like that made a difference. This semi-military thing was new to all of us and we just ran with the best idea regardless of ranks.

Around the middle of December –must have been a week before Christmas­– F3 was ordered to the sewers to repair a couple meters of broken pipes before the next attack.”

“Anyone else sick of Anderson,” one of the technicians asked. He was banging away at some rusted cables, complaining that percussive maintenance was the only way any of this would be done inside three days.

“Enough chatter,” Lucius ordered, beating on his own length of torn material. “The Commander wants this done and Anderson agreed to front the cost of tools and time. This isn’t cheap, you know.”

“Don’t I know it,” one of the techs answered from across the way.

“That’s when all Hell broke loose,” Lucius told Dean. His voice was low and even.

Dean Daily leaned in, a cue for his audio technicians to adjust the gain on the microphones. He barely whispered, “Go on.”

“A few days later. The main invasion. You’ve all been through a history class or two, right? Twenty ships dropped out of orbit right on top of us. The hovered, office blocks in the sky. Each carried hundreds of soldiers who wanted out city. Why? Who could say? The SDF wasn’t so hush-hush in those days. New management, I suppose.”

The team from Faction Three felt the shockwaves of ships landing far below the surface. The city was built to withstand natural disasters of all sorts from flooding to super-storms like the one over Siberia.

“What was that?”

Lucius said, “Groundwave concussion. What could have caused that?”

The question was rhetorical, but received an answer. “Nuclear weapons?”

“Idiot,” Lucius answered in kind. “There aren’t any nuclear weapons left. At least, none anyone will admit to.”

“Exactly. What if America is up to that research into nukes again?”

“Shut it. Besides, that was Brittania you’re thinking of.”

“One empire falls apart, a new one took its place. I don’t think anything but the name changed.”

“You watch too many movies.”

“Then what was that shockwave?”

“I don’t know. Those repairs done yet?”

“Near enough. Should we glue the cover plates back on, or leave them?”

Lucius knew he wanted them back on, but they didn’t have the time to adhere them any better than that. “Bolt them in place. If they fall off, no matter. Let’s get to HQ and see what happened.”

The Auto-Bolter was meant as a weapon against the possibility that something might follow them into the subterranean sections of the city. It fired twenty-millimeter slugs meant for short to mid-range suppression. He supposed the Commander adapted the thing from a power tool because the projectiles were almost the same shape and size of a bolt gun one would find of any modern aircraft carrier or battleship. It made quick work of the cover plates and his team was hightailing it back to the surface.

“We high-tailed it out of the sewers damn fast, hoping that nothing happened.”

“But you weren’t sure?”

“Of course! For all we knew, the city was gone. Those shocks didn’t feel like much, but we were almost a hundred meters below street level.”

“That you felt anything at all was the problem.”

“That it was. We came up on the opening salvo.”

“Green Squad, suppressive fire! Red Squad, circle around and flank!” Orders left and right came down from the command staff on the ground – Sergeants barely awake at such an early hour waiting for their superiors to take over.

Lucius ran up to someone who seemed to be giving orders. “Corporal Brad Lucius, reporting.”

“Hell of a time,” the Sergeant said. “You’re tech, right?”

Lucius nodded.

“Command is in disarray. All I know is that something blew up near the center of town. Get your people over there and get whatever it is working.”

“Any idea what it is?”

“None. Heard from one of the Colonels that we’re calling everyone. We’ll hold here, cover your six.”

Lucius grabbed his hand. They shook. “Thanks. Knock ‘em dead.”

The Sergeant turned back to his people. “That’s the plan.”

 

Red Mist Day Retrospective

So as part of the back story to my book, I’ve been jotting a lot of ideas down. One of them is a major turning point for the war that was effectively “First Contact” for humanity. Red Mist refers to what happened to the enemies of mankind when fighting the guardsmen. The following is an excerpt from a work in progress and, while it’s feeling and sense of style probably aren’t going to change, the exact wording will. It should be taken with a grain of salt in terms of progress.


“And today, we have one of our best and brightest, Colonel Bradley Lucius, hero of the Red Mist! Please help me in welcoming him!”

The host waited for applause to die away while Lucius walked, slowly and with the assistance of his cane, across the stage to his seat. He’d been offered automated help, but declined.

Lucius sat gracefully in the oversized recliner, but refrained from pushing back into a more comfortable position. He sat up, showing off the untarnished uniform of his prized rank: a repairman jumpsuit, one he’d received days before Red Mist Day, a bomber jacket with a few medals sprinkled about and two sets of rank pins: Corporal and Colonel, denoting his ascension from one rank to the other without intervening ranks.

He himself was a dignified, aging man. Wrinkles coated his angular face, but his body moved where he wanted it, albeit slowly. He stared out into the crowd, smiling slightly and waving softly.

“Colonel, welcome to the Daily. How are you today?”

Lucius was somewhat slow to answer. Taking his time, “Well today. Yourself?”

“Pleased as pudding to have you with us. As you know, today marks the sixtieth year since the turning point in the Omega Conflict.”

“Of course. It was when I earned this.” He pointed at his Colonel’s stripes.

“Yes. I was wondering, along with all our guests, if you’d tell us a little about your involvement.”

“Well… Nothing you wouldn’t see in this history books, but I suppose it’s more interesting if I give you the nitty-gritty, eh?”

“Of course! Anyone can read about it, but you can bring it to life for us.”

“I won’t go that far,” Lucius said. “How about this. I’ll tell you how we got the defensed back on. It’s boring thought. Fair warning.”

“How about it,” Dean looked out on the audience. “Do we want to hear it?”

The reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

“You heard the people.”

“Indeed I did,” Lucius said, picking at his left ear. “Started early December 2119. I’d just joined the Method—the Defense Force—that November and they’d put me to work as a general specialist at the lowest rank. I was already pretty good with electrics, so I was repairing energy weapons and running power all over the city before I knew what I’d signed on for.”

“Brad,” one of the other low-ranked specialists called. “You have a minute? Spec-ops grabbed some laser gun or something this morning and they want us to pick it apart for use.”

Bradley Lucius, barely out of his teens, looked up from his work recharging an early human attempt at a directed energy weapon in astonishment. “We get to pick at something like that? I thought they leave the cool shit to the Generals.”

“Generals are busy. We’re the highest rank that isn’t doing anything useful.”

“Useful my ass. I’ve been fixing these things all day.”

The weapons Lucius had been repairing and charging fired, at best, five shot before melting the barrels and depleting the batteries. There weren’t strong enough metals or powerful enough batteries to make them worthwhile in anything less than mass quantity.

“Well drop it and come over here. We might get something nice out of it.”

Of examination of the captured weapon, it was quickly evident that this so-called laser gun was nothing of the sort. It fired super-compressed bursts of plasma from a fuel cell that attached like a rifle’s magazine. While inoperable, they could pick apart how it worked by comparison only.

It fired projectiles out of a barrel, used something resembling a trigger assembly and seemed to have a stock made for a slightly differently shaped shoulder than a human shoulder. All that aside, it was as alien at the creatures carrying them though the streets.

“What do you make of it,” the younger specialist asked.

“I have no idea,” Lucius said. “It looks like a gun. If the videos are anything to go by, it fires like a gun.”

“But?”

“But it doesn’t make sense! What the hell is this,” he exclaimed holding up the fuel cell. “What makes it go?”

“Micro-fusion?”

“Not this again.”

“Why not?”

“Because your best reference for that idea is a video game that is was antiquated when its principle event came and went twenty years early.”

“World War Five wasn’t nuclear.”

“I was talking about Three and Four.”

“Bite me. Got a better reason?”

“It’s like arguing with a brick wall.”

“As God is my witness,” the younger tech said, “I am red and held by concrete.”

Lucius turned back to the weapon. “Lets tape it up and see if we can get it firing on our batteries.”

Some hours of tinkering and trying everything from duct tape to cybernetic enhancements, they settled on a relatively basic adaptor to get a current to flow from their batteries to the weapon through it’s fuel cell compartment. The result was a single shot per battery. It wasn’t much, but it made the weapon work using Terran tech to power it.

Lucius took in a deep breath before continuing. His face stretched upwards when he told Dean, “You know what happened next, don’t you? That was a major boon to the tech division’s morale. We figured out alien guns! How strange. You-know-who came down to the catacombs next and all hell broke loose around us. The Supreme Commander said, “Kids, you just made Corporal. You’re in charge of Tech now.” And we were.”

Tag 10 Friends and List 10 Books

So I see more and more on Facebook that people are filling out this “list ten books and tag ten friends” thing. I’ve done it and tagged ten people (and this is pretty much a pain on a phone). I don’t think I gave the full story of some of my choices, so I’m going to expand on that here.

My list will include traditional print media (DeadTreeForm books), light novels, manga, graphic novels and even fan fiction. Never let is be said that all media is equally treated. All lit may be equal, but not all is recognized. This list is in more order than random mixed with “Oh, that reminds me.” This isn’t everything, but a sampling of some of my favorites and the ones that stick with me.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) by Robert A. Heinlein

This, as many of my friends can tell you, is my favorite book. I’ve read it many times and feel as if I know it inside and out. This was one of the first Heinlein novels I read and it’s stuck with me for it’s fantastic way of engaging a reader to empathize with an inhuman character. The setting stuns me with every rereading with Heinlein’s rich descriptions of Luna and the cities and homes therein, Terran politics and the affects of one planetary body on another. This book has stuck with me and has changed the way I write my own work in many ways.

Time Enough for Love (1973) by Robert A. Heinlein

Yes, yes. Another Heinlein so placed on the list. If Moon changed my writing in terms of setting and intertwining sociopolitical story, then Time Enough for Love changed my character writing for the better. Lazarus is a man of experience and with each section of the book, you see both the same man and a different type of man. His is a stretched example of how people change with time and this is made easy to see by simply stretching the life span out.

The Boat of a Million Years (1989) by Poul Anderson

From a purely historical standpoint, this novel offers an interesting look at life from period to period – eon to eon. Following the story of a family of sort of ancient (and not so ancient) immortals while the world shifts around them… and the details! Oh, the detailed world. From BC when-ever-the-hell into the far future. Never before had I need a book with description of Roman street life and alien linguistics, and I may never again. Until some smart-ass recommends one to me on the basis of that statement.

The Call of Cthulhu (1926) by H. P. Lovecraft

How do I tell the ways of madness? Honestly, just read the story. It’s online, mostly legally, and is well worth the time to really dig through every word with a fine tooth comb. There is a reason the Lovecraft is considered one of the world’s best, if not the best, horror writer.

Not Simple (2006) by Natsume Ono

From chapter one I knew what I was getting in to, but I kept reading because I wanted to know how Ian got to that diner and why he was sleeping outside. It’s a powerful story that I suggest to anyone who wants to know that there will always be someone worse off. I know that’s a terrible way of looking at it, but it’s the honest truth.

The Vanishment of Suzumiya Haruhi (2004) by Tanigawa Nagaru

This volume of the Suzumiya Haruhi series sticks with me because it breaks from the usual “I’m in an alternate universe” trope by using the nature of the one character who realizes the world changed to point it out. The main character, contrary to the name of the novel series, is openly terrified at the new world and takes any help he can manage (including alternate version of his friends, cheating from the future and a world-ending trust password) to get his way. Causality? We don’t need any stinking causality.

Watchmen (1986) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

It’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery tied up with a physical god cooked in bacon. The first time through, I never saw the ending coming, let alone how the real villain was perfect. I won’t spoil anything, but his victory was ensured long before the heroes saw it coming. The next time through, and every reading since then, I’ve sought out every trick and red herring, every little clue that something was amiss. And I’m not disappointed.

Pedestal (2009) by Digital Skitty

I’m probably going to enrage any literary critics that happen by this post some day by having fan fiction on my list of favorite and most (personally) influential books. All I can say to them is “you don’t have to read my blog.” This story is unlike the usual “boy gets Pokemon, boy goes on journey” tale from it’s oftentimes masterful prose and ability to play off the terror of the world the Nameless Narrator finds himself in. NamNar is unlucky, a little bitchy and gets screwed over more times than any main character should. But I want to keep reading. There is never a dull moment and it sticks with me because through half a million words (proving that fan fic authors don’t use editors), I am never bored and I am invested in the boatful of named characters.

Questionable Content (2003) by Jeph Jacques

QC has a way with you. Honestly, I find some of the characters annoying, but only because they remind me of so many people around me (and sometimes myself in ways that I’m not going in to). The references go over my head sometimes, but it’s clever in how even the esoteric ones can be explained to laypeople (as I find myself here and there). For its accessibility and fun, versatile story, I can’t praise QC enough.

MegaTokyo (2000) by Fred Gallagher (& Rodney Caston)

I won’t pretend to be able to explain why MegaTokyo is one of my favorites. But the fanbase, myself included, must have the patience of God to be able to wait so long (sometimes months) for a new page. It tells an intense, maddening but relatable story of a couple of guys who move to Japan on a whim and for whom, the best way home is to be deported. Needless to say, it doesn’t happen and life ensues. I’ve read the whole thing through several times and I’m never disappointed. If I had to point out any aspect of my own work it influences, it’s definitely the randomness of life. Sometimes, a Zilla or a Magical Girl just drop in for no readily explained reason, and we just have to deal with that.

Misfile (2004) by Chris Hazelton

If you wanted a fan service filled, NSFW webcomic, you’ve some to the wrong window. If you wanted a well paced, long-terms story, step right up. If this story has changed by style, it’s in how to pace a chapter. Maybe it comes from running for ten-plus years, but the speed at which the story progresses never seemed slow, but never went too fast. And honestly, in today’s religiously PC (politically correct) world, it’s nice to see a story that tells a complex, gender-related topic without falling into H-game territory.

Nobody Dies (2009) by Gregg Landsman

Again, I won’t argue with lit critics. Nobody Dies is an alternate universe Evangelion fan fiction in which several principle characters who are dead (sorta’) in canon, are alive and still working with the Project Evangelion. This piece changed how I treat the multi-universe and how I can treat canon (as not meaning much). A similar change to when I read Number of the Beast (Heinlein) a couple years later.

Double Arts (2008) by Komi Naoshi

This is one of my favorite, short lived manga series ever. Granted, it was cut short just as the main plot was taking off, but it lives on in the hearts of the fans (of which there seems to be at least a few besides me). It’s straight-forward story-telling, to the point characters engage and enthrall. If I had to pick any part that’s changed in my thinking from this work, it would be in character interaction.

The Immortal Mr. Smith

I haven’t posted anything in a while, and what I was posting was a little off on my wild soap-box ranting side. I’m not getting off my soap-box, but I don’t really have anything to rant about today; no monsters to defame and no tyrants to shoot off their horse… Except to mention one woman (to quote Manual Davis, “can’t call her ‘lady.'”) who didn’t sign the petition I was passing around, insisted that she was a progressive activist anyway and called President Obama a tyrant and a dictator. What a country we live in that you don’t get carried off in a bag at night for saying these things – it’s not that way in some places.

Anyway, I’ve been writing in my spare time. I won’t go into too many details about the story, but I will say that if you were stuck with me in Mark Powell’s fiction workshop at any time in the last year or so, you’ll remember Mr. Smith, the immortal. His disjointed and often non sequitur tales have been woven into a single piece that follows his endless life for several centuries while he gets jerked around.

In fact, the image today was something my wonderful, fantastic Assistant drew for me out of the blue before I got on my plane out of Tampa back to sunny (not so sunny this last week) Muskegon, Michigan. For as much as she insists that she can’t draw and that everything she creates is crud, I would choose to point you at the image I chose for today’s post. This is Smith. It’s an image of him sometime before he realized he was probably going to live forever; a young, puckish rogue who’d sooner just nap than actually do his job. A man, fictional or not, after my own heart. (*chuckle*)

In addition to my Assistant creating the faces of my world, a Certain Scientific Railgun– I mean Sparky– I mean… Let’s try this again. I met a friend of Lind’s at Metrocon who I spoke to at relative length about my book. He agreed to let me have a look at his sketchbook he had at the time and I commissioned him to design the machines and ships of my book. Now at first, the commission was for a shorter, AU tale about the same characters, but in a more Miyazaki-esque steampunk setting. This has since expanded to more of the whole book of The Immortal Mr. Smith. I don’t have anything from him yet, but I’m really excited having only seen a few images in his sketches.

Last, I suppose, I’ll put a little sample of the prose here. I can do that safely, right? I mean, IP is more or less a protected thing these days, eh? Whatever. I’ll put a little up and let me know what you think. The following is about a thousand words from the beginning-middle parts of Runners of Arcadia, one of the short stories from Immortal Mr. Smith. I wanted to put it up mainly to illustrate my writing style, so I’ll put the scene into context. Jason and Lucas are part of some kind of death game on a planet called Arcadia. The ten million victims of the Arcadia Project are trapped in a super-city and were told there are no laws. Go nuts. One year later, these two teenagers are doing their day-to-day business when Lucas finally finds where the ringing he’s been hearing is coming from. Atop the building, Smith and his crew have arrived, partly to turn the Arcadia Project on it’s head, partly out of whim and random chance. This is Smith’s intro into this part of the story:


At the top of a thirty-story climb, no small feat at how fast Lucas was moving; they came to a large, somewhat curved structure. It seemed to be large enough to fit several people and rooms inside and fit loosely on the roof of the massively wide building. The windows were coated in a silver, metallic, watery material that rippled with the change in sunlight. It reminded Jason a little of the older science fantasy stories back home – those that existed before spaceflight was a common enough practice. An ‘ufo,’ he thought. But this thing was just sitting there, a far cry from flying anywhere

Lucas approached the craft, amazed, it would seem, that it was in front of him at all. “Jason,” he said, staring at the strange thing in front of them. “The bells stopped.”

Which was when a door slid open from the craft. A ramp slid down and an airlock hissed out the remainder of the pressure difference. Jason couldn’t see through the light coming from the ship, but Lucas wanted to get closer. They closed in, Lucas grabbing Jason’s hand to pull him along. It might be sweet if Jason wasn’t scared out of his wits.

The two stopped at the bottom of the ramp as four people descended toward them.

“It’s good that someone finally heard my call,” one said in a chiding retort to an unheard comment. He seemed young, but his voice was old.

“It is not the fault of lesser species that the Methuselah’s methods are too advanced. The Methuselah is lucky that this worked at all,” another voice ground out. It was harsh, but tolerable.

“I have to agree,” a younger female said. Jason stared as well as he could into the light – finding it hard to take his eyes off of her. He couldn’t tell exactly what she looked like, but appeared young. “That even one person on this entire planet had the psyonic aptitude to hear the cloister is astounding.”

“You forget,” the last voice said. This was a modest, mature voice and the easiest of the males on the teenager’s ears. “Smith has access to unknown foreknowledge.” He turned to the first man to speak, Smith. “You’ll pay for this, my friend. You’ll have to inform yourself of all of this at a later time and I don’t want to help you.”

“Forgive me if I step on the rules a bit,” Smith said. “I didn’t write them and I don’t like following them.” He seemed to see the boys for the first time and greeted them. “Hello there!”

Lucas leapt forward to shake Smith’s hand while Jason steadied himself against attack. Twice today is twice too many.

“Your friend doesn’t like me,” Smith said to Lucas.

“He’s got no reason not to,” Lucas said, directing the sentiment at Jason.

“For all we know.” Then, Smith said to Jason, “Boy, have I wronged you before? Be honest. Time travel confuses me as much as, well… this planet, I guess.”

Jason slowly took to a social stance. He tucked the metal pipe away and said, “Not that I know. You’ve done nothing to harm us. Who are you and what do you want?” Jason eyed the gun Lucas hid away, considering two possible situations. The first, Lucas uses it if this goes south. The second, he has to steal it if Lucas were to freeze up.

Smith let Lucas’ hand go.

“That’s an interesting question, boy. Let me just say that our interests intersect.” Smith finished with a spin to face his crew. “Welcome aboard.”

“Don’t give him that, Smith,” the mature man said.

The young woman said, “For once, can you take the mission seriously?”

“Methuselah is incapable of taking action with solemnity. This is both Methuselah’s strength and most pressing danger,” the man with the sandpaper vocals said.

Smith sighed out a loud sigh. “Fine.” He turned back to the teenagers. “Guys, I’m called Smith. Name never really mattered, call me what you want. The lovely lady is Chi Anderson. Nice girl. Knew her… was he your dad or your dad’s mom’s dad?”

“Hey,” Chi responded, indignant.

Smith ignored her complaint about his phrasing. “Girl needs manners. The kid next to her is Alexis Wells, Super-Awesome-Time-Boy.”

“What was that,” Alexis demanded.

Smith again ignored the peanut gallery. “The scary fellow is Jones. He’s harmless, I swear.”

Jones said, “Mostly harmless,” dismissing Smith’s asserted fact, moving into a half bow.

     “This is my ship, Veillantif. And you, boys, are looking at the single most advanced piece of technology you’ve ever seen. Feel like hitching a lift home?”

It was like the veil was lifted.

“Home,” Jason questioned, aghast at the idea after so long.

“That’s what I said, kid,” Smith said.

Jason though for a moment. His glance at Lucas’ weapons told Smith that the trust to believe him wasn’t there. As it stood, he lured in Jason’s best friend and showed them nothing less than a miracle. Jason wasn’t buying it.

Before Jason could question Smith further, an explosion shook the building, collapsing parts of the facade and shattering windows up all thirty flights.

“Ruka!”

A high voice came up the building, piercing ears. Lucas, Chi and Smith raced to the side of the roof, taking a careful glance over. Smoke was rising from the ground and Smith thought he saw the beginnings of a fire in the shadowy mist.

The building shook again with a male shrill of “Aki!”

Chi was first to lose her footing when the floor collapsed. Lucas reached for her, but couldn’t pull her back up; instead was pulled over. Smith leapt for them, pulling both in tight only part way through his trajectory over the side. Jones, alert at once, took off in a run after the three. His arms turned to massive wings as he moved.

“Methuselah!”

He dove into the collapsing building, taking up a transformation and an avian-style assisted dive in an attempt to fall faster than those ahead of him. All of this took only seconds.