This post is brought to you by not enough sleep, 4am, and the letter R (for rant).
I don’t know if it is the boards I frequent, the blogs I read, or what, but lately I see a lot of writers who put up an ebook or two and then bitch and moan when they don’t sell much or aren’t instantly successful and rich. I don’t get it.
I mean, I get the frustration. You take a book or some short stories that have been vetted, either by industry professionals (in the case of previously published work) or by trusted peers or professional editors you hired or what have you. You put it up. No one buys it beyond those three guys that live in your basement and drink your beer (or is that just MY three guys? I dunno). So then you throw up your hands and declare that no one can make any good money by self-publishing ebooks.
What I really, really don’t understand? Often times these are writers with publication history. They have spent years if not decades in the trenches getting rejected over and over as they struggled to get to a point where their work sold reliably. They know what perseverance is. They know what hard work is. These are writers who wouldn’t dream of only ever writing one story, sending it out to a single market, and then throwing up their hands and saying “oh well, I guess this doesn’t work” and quitting writing. Because the writers who make that decision are the ones you will never hear about. They don’t get published because this isn’t a business for quitters.
And yet, that is what I see, over and over, among professionals who decide to test the ebook waters. They take a single work, put it online (often with a terrible cover and boring blurb), and then throw their hands up and cry all over the net how only selling to big publishers works because no one but the very very lucky can make any money at this ebook thing.
W. T. F. I’m serious. I don’t get it. Why would people who should KNOW better do this? Writing as a business isn’t easy. It is, however, very simple. Heinlein’s Rules haven’t changed and they still work. Write. Finish. Get it out there. Keep it out there. Rinse. Repeat.
Ebooks are no different. Make them as damn good as you can. This means studying the covers, blurbs, prices, etc of the books that are like the ones you are selling. Put up a good product. Do it again. And again. Keep writing. Keep writing books that people want to read. If you aren’t selling, write better books, write better blurbs, get better covers. You know… work at it. The same way we all do going through the traditional publishing trenches. We slog through the rejections, the crits, the workshops, the endless query-go-round. And when we sell a book, we rejoice. But we don’t expect a single sale to solve all our problems forever and that we can instantly be rich and famous and awesome. Instead, the next day, we start another damn book.
So if you have put up a single work (or even two or three) and are sitting there whining about how you don’t have the time and energy to properly market, that you don’t have the budget to do what a big publisher can do for you, that no one will buy your book, that this ebook thing is failsauce… well… look at yourself. What are you doing? Are you pinning your hopes on a single work? Would you pin your hopes on a single book bought by a trad publisher? Or would you go out and write the next book? And the next. And the one after that. Would you take a single no for an answer? Or would you examine why a story/book/whatever got rejected and figure out how to do it better?
This is the same game as it was before. Why let one failure stop you? You wouldn’t let a single rejection stop you. Come on, guys. Be smarter than this. Fail better.
(This said, I need to go write some more books. Because winter is coming and I bet there will be millions of new e-reader owners all looking for awesome, well-packaged books to read.)
Yes, that is right. The interviews are back. I’ll be posting them every Thursday until I run out of victims entries.
Who are you? What’s your genre/history/etc?
Melissa: Hi! I’m Melissa Mead, writer of mostly fantasy, occasional SF, and even more occasional horror (usually on a dare.)
What’s your Race score?
Melissa: Aw, you caught me near the end of the month! I generally sub a batch of stories in the first week of a month. Right now, I’d say 12 “serious” points. (There are also some novel queries to agents who I’m assuming aren’t interested at this point.)
When did you “get serious” about being a writer?
Melissa: My seriousness has increased in waves. First, in 1997, I got serious enough to submit for publication. (Which happened in 1999) In 2002, I went to my first con, met Real Writers, and started sending to more than one or two places, and tracking my subs. In 2007, I started querying agents. I have a feeling that it’s about time to decide whether to catch the next wave or not.
What are your goals with your writing?
Melissa: Right now, I’d love to 1. Qualify for active SFWA membership. (This could happen soon!) 2. Sell a story to Realms of Fantasy, and 3. Sell a print novel to a major publisher.
Where do you see your career in 5 years?
Melissa: Depends if I catch that next wave of commitment or not. If I dare, maybe you’ll see that novel in a bookstore somewhere.
Do you have a particular story or idea you are dying to write? Or, if you could write a tie-in to any established universe/franchise, what would it be?
Melissa: I have a novel that’s been lurking in my brain for a few years. I’m not dying to write it just yet, but it hasn’t gone away, either. It starts with Snow White, and gets odd from there. As far as tie-ins go, I don’t play well in other people’s yards. Although my husband and I once did come up with a Star Trek story involving Voyager, the doctor’s mobile emitter, and STTNG’s Moriarty that I would’ve loved to watch.
What are your hobbies outside writing?
Melissa: There are hobbies outside of writing? Oh, reading, of course. Going on picnics with my husband. Turning my not-very-impressive photographs into artwork.
What’s your writing process like?
Melissa: Get idea. Write like crazy. Realize I don’t know where it’s going. Stare at screen. Surf the Net. Get another idea. Write like crazy. Get stuck. Eventually, browse among the various stuck beginnings, realize where one is going, and FINISH something: hooray, at last, ‘bout darn time. Repeat.
What’s been toughest about your journey so far as a writer? How do you keep yourself going?
Melissa: Lack of self confidence. And sometimes I don’t. (See the last question.) But there are always more ideas. If I don’t let them out, who will?
Any tips or tricks you’ve figured out for improving your writing?
Melissa: Write flash. Drabbles, even. Write stories of 1,500-2,000 words, and distil them to under 1,000. It’s great practice for packing the most story into the least space.
Nico disliked the heavy feel of the gun in her hand almost as much as she disliked skulking around in a service tunnel before curfew. Too many people around above, too many chances for someone to notice something, to hear something. She was only an outlaw by necessity of her birth, not by choice and definitely not by inclination.
She halted a moment, listening. Kadin, her companion on this particular venture, stood close enough that she could feel him breathing against her back in the tight tunnel. Her tall, almost androgynous body hovered like a stick inside a bottle. After a moment, she resumed creeping forward.
Definitely too many people up there, somewhere in the world above her. The power hub lay beneath the central Subway station in the Kajipe district. They were three grids down from the Totsi Electronics tower where the rest of the team would be falling into place soon. If Nico and Kadin could do this part right.
“Left,” murmured Kadin, his voice a buzz in her ear. She was the only one in the group without a Personal Uplink implant thingy. Ryg had outfitted her with an ear piece and a patch for her throat, but electronics had a tendency not to last long when in contact with her skin. She couldn’t hear Ryg’s directions at all and depended on Kadin for that.
She acknowledged him in a quick nod and went left. A ladder took them up to a locked hatch. Nico hung on, one arm curled awkwardly around the ladder so she could keep hold of the damn gun. She pressed her other gloved hand against the hatch. Electronic lock, perfect. Power uncoiled within her and buzzed along her skin, stretching through the thin shield of the cloth glove and into the lock.
The hatch popped up with a hiss, as though keyed open. Nico hung there for a moment longer, listening. They had the patrol timings for the power hub and the corridors should be clear, but she trusted her ears far more than a stolen schedule.
“Clear,” she whispered down to Kadin. His face was outlined in red shadows, his strong features a blur to her night vision, but she saw him nod as the shadows shifted. She couldn’t make out the face paint even with her special vision, but she knew the patterns were there, same as her own. The paint clung to her skin, smelling metallic and thick. Her nose itched but she didn’t dare disturb the markings. They needed them to confuse facial recognition.
The corridor led from the entrance, which was now behind them as they emerged and replaced the hatch, down to an office which overlooked the power control room. The whole thing was computerized and automated, but two human guards and a technician were on duty at all times.
Three against two. Not odds that Nico favored, but Kadin was scrappy enough and hopefully no one would try to be a hero. She’d already warned Kadin that he’d have to do any killing, if killing needed doing. But no one wanted it to come to that. The Grey Guard looked for murderers with a lot more gusto than thieves. If they pulled this off right, no one would die and nothing would look like it’d been stolen.
“Too many ifs,” she muttered.
Kadin shushed her and they slid along the wall to the office. The door was thick, the kind that slid back on electronic tracks, and required a key code to open as well. Kadin slipped the jammer from his pocket and set the small device against the wall in the corner near the door. He flicked the switch on it and nodded to Nico. She bent, gun ready, and laid her hand against the electronic keypad. She was just about to short it out when the pad buzzed and the door started to slide open.
* * *
Tommy, AKA the Mouth, had nothing to do but wait. He’d been in position for well over an hour now, though the power field around the secret server room was jamming up his PUDI and he had no way to tell the exact time. He lay on his back in the dry, slightly sweet smelling defunct sewer tunnel, and did long division in his head for kicks.
He had his nickname for talking too much, not for his mouth being anything particularly impressive. His lips were a pinkish line, almost bruised looking, across his narrow brown face. Above them his eyes looked tired and bruised as well. He’d gone for a basic mask instead of the face paint. It worked better with the thermal equalizing suit he wore to keep him comfortable while laying on cement and the gods knew what else.
His part of the job was pretty easy which is why he’d volunteered for this section. The door was state of the art, the walls super thick, and no one was getting into this hidden server room without retinal scan, finger-print, and voice ID. As long as the power worked, anyway. And it was hooked right into the main power hub for Kajipe. And if the power blew, the servers would be offline anyway.
Stupidity was Tommy’s favorite vice in other people. His plan was perfect and they were going to do what no one else would think to, what no one would dare. Hack right into a government black box and walk off with the back-ups of all the data from all the Casimir government systems. Without anyone guessing what they were up to. It was so beautiful he felt his eyes stinging with tears inside the stuffy black cloth mask.
The wall was still humming with power though, so it wasn’t time yet. He just had to lay here, waiting for that buzzing power to go silent. Then he’d walk in, swap the memory stick, retrieve the progs that Ryg would have dosed into the system, and walk right back out again. He could gain the street at the jimmied access point a few hundred meters away, pull off his mask, pull on his overcoat, and catch the subway home before curfew.
Tommy licked his thin lips and smiled. Yeah. He was sure brilliant.
* * *
Clad in black from head to toe with their faces painted, Sif and Hex flattened themselves against the plexi window and let the drone patrol go by. It was before curfew but after business hours, so the security presence wasn’t high yet. But there did seem to be slightly tighter security on this section of buildings than Ryg had led them to expect. Still, it wasn’t yet anything they couldn’t handle.
The drone gone, Sif pulled out her small lazer-cutter and went to work on the window. There was no way to get in here without leaving a trace, but they could minimize the damage. The plexi slowly melted away in a circle as Hex pressed the suction cup to the center, holding the cut-out in place as Sif finished. The oily smoke smelled like cancer happening as it melted away and Hex grit his teeth.
Sif turned off the tool and capped the hot tip, then nodded at Hex. There was enough ambient light from the small running lights inside the hallway that he didn’t need his night vision to see her, but he wished she’d add a little verbal communication to her repertoire.
The cut-out disk came free as he pulled gently and Sif wiggled into the hole, dropping down onto the hallway floor. She crooked a finger at him. His turn.
“Couldn’t have made that opening a little wider?” he muttered over the sub-vocals.
“Eat less,” Sif mouthed and her grin was downright scary with the black markings on her rice-paper skin.
Hex glared, though he knew it was wasted on her, and handed the plexi disk through. His shoulders jammed in the opening for a minute and he entertained a vision of being truly stuck, left for the drones and the Grey Guard to retrieve with cutters and jests in the morning. Spurred by that image, he wiggled his shoulders, stretching his arms above his head.
Sif grabbed onto his hips and yanked. Hex’s head cracked back as he popped loose and slammed into the window, the dull ringing echoing down the hallway and out into the ventilation shaft they’d rappelled down.
“You okay?” Ryg’s voice asked through the PUDI connection. What he meant was “have you been spotted?”
Both thieves froze, waiting for the hum of the drones. Nothing.
Head still stinging and with a dull burr of noise echoing on in his ears below the sound of his racing heart, Hex let out a slow breath.
“Yeah, I think we’re good,” he told Ryg. “Where now?”
Ryg’s response was to pull up the overlay of the building and ping the little map he’d put together for their PUDIs. Sif made sense of it right away and motioned to Hex to follow. He unhooked his harness and left it in the shadows with the cut-out from the window. According to the most likely patrol schedule, they had a good three quarters of an hour before this hallway would be occupied again. Enough time to run the progs and get out.
Hopefully. Ryg wasn’t communicating as much as he usually did on a job. He seemed almost distracted by something. Hex prayed it was just jitters and imagination on his part. No way to bring it up to Sif and get her thoughts without Ryg listening in.
Get in, get out , then worry. With multiple glances behind him, Hex slipped down the corridor after his lover, a growing sense of unease he couldn’t explain tickling the back of his brain.
Sif muttered a garbled protest as Hex rose with the daylight. He’d only had a few hours of sleep and his body ached as though he’d taken a beating. He smiled down at his sleeping lover. She had one slim arm thrown over her head, with the other pale hand tucked under her chin. Her hair, like fine gold thread, had escaped its braid and blanketed her narrow shoulders. Relaxed with sleep; her normally defined muscles hid beneath unblemished skin.
Hex thought she looked at her most inhuman when she slept, less like a child than a doll. Every feature symmetrical, the coloring of her mouth, cheeks, and even her lashes were more like painted details than living flesh.
Hex carried his clothing into the main room and dressed quickly. He selected seven of the condensed food bars they’d appropriated the night before and tucked them into the pockets of his long brown coat. More grateful for stairs then he’d been in a long time; Hex navigated the twisting corridors of the building and descended slowly to street level. It was still raining, a slow lazy drizzle.
Though curfew ended with dawn, there were very few people moving along Casimir’s winding Main Street. Later, the streets would fill with bicycle traffic and throngs of bodies moving between underground stations. Ijipe’s lower levels held many small home shops and markets. It was possible to find almost anything one needed in the little registered or illegal shops tucked between the alleyways and building entries. A warren of commerce slept as Hex moved up the glowing road towards the edge of Ijipe housing district.
Sore as he was, he still opted to walk. The light rain cleared his head even as it matted his curls to his face and neck. Hex left his hood down. The food was safe enough inside his waterproof coat and the plastic packaging.
The solid walls of building shadowed his walk, the ubiquitous crowns, bells, and wings of traditional Casimir decoration casting odd shadows down on the rain-dark concrete. Here and there in the morning mist lights within windows glinted. The fiber-optics embedded into the streets lit the morning purple, green, and red.
A few hundred steps down the road, just as the buildings started to twist again in another curve of the giant spiral that was Casimir, Hex found the alley he was looking for. The alley was dimly lit by pale strands of fiber-optic light tucked into the edges. Debris and a dark plastic bench blocked some of the light rising up from the ground. Hex moved carefully down the alley until he came to a narrow stair leading upward into the buildings.
Hex climbed until his legs hurt. He bypassed one hallway entrance after another. Finally worn green paint in twisting designs greeted his eyes. He turned from the stair and stepped down the hallway. At the fifth door he hesitated. With a deep breath, Hex knocked.
A small, dark and wrinkled woman opened the door just enough to see him. He heard a chain being withdrawn and then the door opened fully.
“What do you want, Hex?” Jaline said.
“I’ve brought food for the kids,” Hex said, pulling the food bricks out of his pockets.
“They’re asleep. Come put it over here.” She moved aside, allowing him into the small room. This apartment was laid out much like Hex’s own. He walked to the kitchen, noticing the large crayons aligned neatly on the low table. He stacked the food on the counter and turned back to Jaline.
“Thank you. Is that all?” She said the last more as expectation than question.
“Daddy?” A soft voice asked from behind one of the curtains leading to the sleeping rooms.
“Nadia, hi.” Hex bent and held his arms out to his youngest child. She emerged from behind the cloth and ran the few steps to him. Her body was so thin and her heart beat so fast, more like a bird’s than a girl’s.
He carefully clutched the fragile four-year old in a hug and looked up at her grandmother. Jaline is nothing like her daughter was. Her daughter, the mother of Hex’s two children, had been so carefree and full of life. Her mother was a bitter creature that the world had long since sucked dry of all joy.
“Nadia, you should be in bed.” Jaline stepped forward as if to take the child.
Hex shook his head. “Nadia, I brought food for you all and Granma is going to make you a huge breakfast.” He let his face go hard as he stared Jaline down.
Nadia looked up at him with large purple eyes and her mother’s narrow chin. Her mother had been a Drift addict when she was pregnant and the drug’s mark was forever imprinted on his child.
“I don’t get breakfast, Daddy.”
“Don’t be silly, child,” Jaline said, her voice high with a panicked note. “Of course you get breakfast. Granma is going to do just as your daddy says.” She tore the child from his hands and set her down on the counter. “Hex,” she said, “it’s just that she isn’t registered, so of course it’s harder to get her rations. We have to pay attention to those things in this house. You see.”
“Of course,” Hex murmured. He wished suddenly that he hadn’t come. “Say hello to Eddy for me when he gets up. I’ve got to go.”
“Have a good day,” Jaline said stiffly, though her eyes still showed a trace of fear.
Hex paused in the doorway and watched the domestic scene of Nadia waving a mixing spoon in the air while her grandmother peeled open a package of Sunrise! Delicious! He shut the door quickly and did not look back.
* * *
Sif, Ryg, and Hex gathered around the low table. On it Ryg had spread a print-out of building schematics.
“Here,” Ryg said, indicating a large room on the inside edge of the seventy-fifth floor.
“Just in and out, eh? The files won’t be hard to copy?” Hex asked.
“Shouldn’t be. I’ll send along one of my little standard chips. You might have to try running a couple different programs.”
“Sounds easy enough. Guards?”
“Drones. Totsi Electronics provides their security. They’ve got the regular issue. Non-lethal only. Patrols on a random generated pattern.”
Hex sighed. “Looks like roof entry through that central shaft is our best plan.”
Sif smiled at him and squeezed his hand. Hex hated the roofs, though he couldn’t deny that they were the best way to travel unnoticed in the city.
“Tomorrow night then, if you think that’s not too soon?” Ryg said. He sat very straight, body rigid. There was an air of anticipation about him.
Sif’s eyes narrowed.
“Not too soon at all, kid. Sooner we work, sooner we get paid,” Hex said and rose to clear their cups.
Sif followed Ryg into his room, yanking the curtain closed behind her.
“What’s going on?” she asked him, using sub-vocals.
Ryg turned his back to her and began fiddling with Fisheye. “Nothing.”
There was yellowish crust around his neck implant. It wasn’t like him to tolerate any bodily fluid leaking, much less drying on his skin.
“I know you better than that, brother.” Sif stepped forward and gently touched the wires protruding from his shirt.
Turning, he brushed her off. “I’m going to need to replace my knees soon. The joints are going. I need this job as much as you. That’s all.”
Sif considered him. He looked tired, yet focused. “Night then.” She turned away. We’re all falling apart.
* * *
Ryg waited until the curtain dropped closed behind Sif. He sighed and settled down in front of his computer screens. He loaded a program and made a call. Kadin’s face appeared. He was passing middle age, with short silvered hair and darker skin than Hex’s.
“They in?” Kadin asked.
“Yes. Though Sif’s suspicious,” Ryg said.
“Everything will be fine. They’ll never know.” Kadin’s image smiled wide and reassuring. “The real work will be going on far below them.”
“Except they won’t get paid. That’s going to ruffle things,” Ryg said. He hadn’t lied to Sif, he also needed the credit.
“Would they do it if they were getting paid?”
“No, not a job like this,” Ryg said with a sigh. He couldn’t tell his friends the truth. Sif would kill him for even thinking about it. Her rule was to stay as far away from anything having to do with the Council and government as possible. “But it’ll still look bad when we fail.”
“I’ll see what I can do for you at least,” Kadin said, reading into what Ryg wasn’t saying. “And we’ll see what we can do with what we get. There might be a larger payday later, if all goes as it should.”
“Thanks, friend,” Ryg said. He resisted the urge to scratch at wires in his neck, forcing his hands to stay quiet in his lap. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow night. Make sure everyone else is ready.”
“They will be,” Kadin said and then he ended the call.
“This better be worth it.” Ryg shivered. It would be. It had to be.
* * *
Sif fixed the tiny camera to her forehead, smack between her eyes. The apoxy stuck immediately and she inwardly winced at the idea of ripping it off. That part was never fun. The benefits of a live feed of what was going on, however, would always outweigh the bit of skin she’d lose later.
“Great,” Ryg said. “Now, try not to move your head around too much. I’m not the biggest fan of motion sickness.”
“Really?” Hex asked. “I figured you would have replaced your stomach with a spare bucket and some plumbing tape by now.”
Sif tensed. Ryg could be touchy when it came to making light of his body’s failings. She needn’t have worried. Ryg chuckled and then shrugged.
“I would, but you see, who knows where those spare buckets have been? So very unsanitary. So I’m unfortunately stuck with the acidic bacteria infestation that comes as standard option.”
“In that case I’ll try to resist all urges to pick Sif up and shake her like a rat,” Hex said solemnly.
“Aw, but then I’d get to witness, first person view and all, what she’d do to you afterwards.”
“Now that would be unsanitary.”
“If you two are done,” Sif muttered, “We have a building to rob.”
Sif and Hex descended down the cabling of the hanging garden outside their flat and climbed in through the modified window, the latter feeling like a rat in a wash cycle. The blue curtain across the doorway into Ryg’s room was tied open and the tiny space beyond that held a cot and low desk was unoccupied.
“Did I miss something?” Hex asked. He bent, hands on thighs, and enjoyed just standing still in a place that wasn’t pissing down water on him.
Sif shrugged. “He said he had something to do tonight.”
She’d already started stripping down and tossing her wet clothing into the autowash installed in the main wall of the kitchen, conveniently near the window. Of course, in a place this small, everything was conveniently close to everything else. The apartment was typical of Ijipe housing plans and had four sleeping compartments that opened off the main room. The main room had enough space for a small kitchen and sitting area.
Hex slung the bag of stolen food up onto the chipped concrete counter next to the sink and sighed. “He never leaves base, that’s all I’m saying. When he said he was busy I assumed he meant busy plugged into the wires.”
“He’s probably down at Kadin’s. He’s got Fisheye with him.”
Hex glanced into Ryg’s room again and noticed she was right, the drone wasn’t resting it its cradle on the far wall. Sif, naked with her waist-length blonde hair unraveling from its braid, gripped his wet jacket and pulled it towards his head insistently.
“Hot shower. Food. Sex,” she said.
“In that order?” Hex asked, amused. What Sif wanted, Sif got. Mostly because she’d just take it and there were few humans capable of physically stopping her. He certainly wasn’t one.
She didn’t respond, instead she continued to assist him out of his clothing. The showers were shared by four other apartments and located across the hall outside. Hex snatched up a robe from the hooks beside the exterior door and followed Sif out. Sif hadn’t bothered to grab a robe. He watched her nude, curving form as she walked ahead of him and felt suddenly far less tired than he had a few minutes ago. Definitely not in that order.
* * *
Ryg hated the hallways. He thought a blind rat must have drawn up the architectural plans to this section of the building. Some stairs went to some levels and not others. Some hallways went through for hundreds of meters; others only accessed a few apartment clusters. This was also prone to change, since occupants sometimes blocked up or knocked down walls between sections depending on the usefulness of having a pass-through.
Once upon a time, probably centuries ago, someone had painted each hall with color coded bands that, if you had the key, could tell you where it went and other useful information. In some sections dirty colors would leap out of the uniform grey and white to shock his vision. The lack of continuity, of symmetry, annoyed Ryg.
Then there were the people. He could hear them. Smell them. Sometimes they’d brush against him in passing. He could sense their presence behind the composite walls of the building like vermin.
Fortunately tonight it was late enough that he encountered no one on his way up to the rooms he shared with Sif and Hex. He still kept his hood pulled down tight over his face, relying on his drone, Fisheye, for peripheral vision. The fist-sized drone floated above his head with a steady, comforting hum. Occasionally one of its trailing sensor tendrils would brush his head. Ryg kept the visual data the drone’s large single lens collected streaming onto the retinal screen in his right eye.
Ryg took deep, controlled breaths. Fifty meters. Forty. Thirty. Two red lines, familiar and garish, sprang out of the wall ahead of him as he turned a corner towards home. Ryg paused. He reached out with a gloved hand and touched the lines. One. Two. One. Two. Almost home. He made himself walk, resisting the urge to bolt the last few meters. Then he was at the keypad and the door. Ryg punched in his unlock code and then closed the door firmly behind him.
The apartment was empty. The heat readings from Fisheye had already warned him of this. Ryg thought his friends might not have returned yet until he noticed the puddles on the floor and the two large black bags resting on the kitchen counter. He turned and saw that Hex’s black robe was gone from its hook.
Ryg hung his duster up by the door and then grabbed a kitchen towel. Meticulously, he dried the counters and then the floor around the black bags. The bags themselves were waterproof, the beaded precipitation evaporating as he watched. He dumped the towel into the autowash.
Neatness restored as much as he could manage, Ryg let curiosity claim him and opened one of the bags. Blocks of yellow, blue, and red foodstuffs were piled within. He removed a blue brick that had ‘Roll Noodle! Amazing!’ stamped into the plastic. Pulling out a small knife, he slit open the brick. The food was compact, dehydrated noodles that smelled strongly of cheap dried fish.
Ryg shook his head. His friends would be hungry. He put the bags onto the floor, dried the counter underneath them with another kitchen rag, and started heating water on the electric burner to reconstitute the noodles.
* * *
Sif and Hex returned from the showers flushed and refreshed. Sif’s hair floated around her, dry from the blowers in the ceiling of the bathroom. She noticed Ryg was home and acknowledged him with a nod.
He was cooking. This pleased her as the smells of fish and starch awakened another hunger. She went into the little room that was all her own and pulled the curtain behind her.
Carefully Sif removed a narrow, flat box from underneath the lumpy mattress. Inside were two empty vials, a syringe, and one tiny vial of deep purple liquid. It shimmered like quicksilver in the dim light of the magnetized LEDs stuck at random to the room’s support beams.
It was never dark in Sif’s room if she could help it.
She removed her last vial and inserted it into the syringe. She expertly found a vein in her ankle, sliding the long needle beneath her pale, unmarked skin. Her heart, racing before from the long night of running followed by sex, slowed immediately as the drug took effect.
For a few moments the world was bright and clear. She could see everything; the cracks in the cement walls, the weave of the curtain that shut her away from the only two people in the world who gave a damn about her. She felt herself healing, cells that were genetically programmed to shut down and fail years and years past soaked up the un-distilled Drift and repaired themselves.
It was over within a minute. Bitterness replaced the fleeting elation. She’d have to talk to Lucien, she knew, to get more. Not something she looked forward to, especially since they were so broke at the moment. She’d have to rob a business perhaps, which would piss off Ryg.
The curtain twitched a moment before Hex started pulling it back. Sif shoved the box back under the mattress along with the empty syringe.
“Oh,” Hex said, staring at her naked body sitting cross-legged on the floor, “I thought you were getting dressed.”
Sif smiled up at him and shrugged. She’d learned early in life that talking generally got you in more trouble than not talking. If she had nothing to say, she didn’t bother filling the air with meaningless excuses. She didn’t think he’d noticed the box. She was too quick for that. But his dark eyes, the color of high quality wood, narrowed slightly. She pretended not to see his suspicion and continued smiling up at him.
He shook his head.
“Food’s nearly ready.” Giving her a final, odd, look, Hex let the curtain fall behind him.
Sif slipped the box back out and replaced the syringe. She pulled a clean set of drawstring trousers and a tee-shirt out of the stacked plastic containers that made up her headrest. Her hair was too fine to need much brushing and stayed in its customary braid from habit more than natural inclination. She braided it quickly before pulling on her clothes and tying the curtain aside.
“Sit, sit,” Ryg said. “I’ll bring bowls over.”
Sif sank down onto a faded blue cushion next to Hex at the low grey table centering the small living room. She noticed, not for the first time, how different the two men were. They were both tall, over six feet. The resemblance ended there, however.
Hex was swarthy in complexion, dark like most people, with a strong jaw, long black eyelashes, and a cruel twist to his full lips. Small scars cut pale reminders in his chin and right eyebrow, giving him even more of a bad boy air. Dark curls more fitting for a child’s fancy doll than a grown, muscular man, lingered around his face. Sif was always fascinated with how his hair managed to be both soft and coarse at the same time.
Ryg was pale, nearly translucent, much like Sif herself. And also like Sif, he was dying slowly. Unlike Sif, however, Ryg couldn’t use Drift to repair his traitorous cells.
He was a different generation, a different model. His body was painfully thin no matter what he ate, and he had no hair. His left eye had been replaced years ago, a high-tech screen that glowed imperceptibly red covered over the empty socket. His right eye was also an implant, though it was formed to resemble a human eye and had a hazel iris striking only in its normalcy.
Ryg always wore a large robe over trousers that hid his body from the throat down. Underneath, Sif knew, he was slowly replacing everything with whatever he could engineer to work. Lucien had hooked them up years ago with experimental engineered organs to refit Ryg’s dying ones. Parts of his left arm were fitted with hydraulics and cabling instead of tendon and muscle now.
Someday, we’ll run out of ways to rebuild him. She didn’t finish her thought. Pain hovered there, lurking down that road, waiting for her to care too much.
She turned her mind away, rejecting the bright burning of memory. No past. No future. Eat, Sif. Sif picked up her plastic eating sticks and dug into the noodles. For a while the three just sat and ate in silence.
Ryg rose awkwardly and took their bowls when they’d finished. Sif noticed that his right leg was moving more stiffly than usual and made a mental note to ask him about it later. More things to replace, we’ll need more credits.
Pickings had been lean lately. The Grey Guard’s latest recruitment surge, due to the poisoning of Twelfth-Seat Councilman Blake, meant more police on the streets and less easy opportunities for criminal activity. The usual suspects for jobs were laying low until the Council selection process was over. It could take months. No one was sure exactly how long, since it was almost unheard of for a councilman to die without an heir.
Ryg cleared his throat and stood at the imperceptible boundary between kitchen and sitting area. Hex and Sif looked up, abandoning their private thoughts.
“So, we’ve got a job, if we want it.” Ryg’s pale face was tense.
“A job? What kind of job? What does it pay?” Hex asked.
Sif watched Ryg, running her tongue along the inside of her lip. He avoided her gaze.
“Kadin got an offer for it. We’ll go through him. It’s a pretty simple in and out information theft. Totsi Electronics building, some offices BioCore rents from them I guess,” Ryg said.
“Smash and grab, eh? How much?” Hex said, as though they had a real choice. They needed work. The food they’d stolen tonight would tide them over for a few weeks, but there was tech to keep upgraded, building officials to keep bribed, and other, more personal, needs.
“Six hundred wic each, I think it works out to,” Ryg said. “Apparently someone in Isidore at the Phemed main office wants to know what the Casimir’s BioCore is up to. And they’re willing to pay well to get it. Clean credits.”
“The biggest pharmaceuticals company wanting information on their competition?” Hex grinned. “They’d better have clean credits.”
Something’s wrong. Sif knew Ryg, they’d been together almost as siblings for nearly half a century. He was too tense, too still. His body language beneath the coarse robe screamed for them to agree, please agree. Was it the credits? Had something gone wrong? Did he need a complicated implant? Sif shut down that line of thought again. Whatever it was, Ryg wouldn’t tell her unless he wanted to. She’d have to just wait, be patient. Six hundred wic would be enough, more than enough, to pay Lucien for more Drift. She could get a couple months worth of vials. Months without having to worry about her body shutting down was worth whatever anxieties were pulling Ryg into a quiet ball in front of her.
“Let’s do it,” she said.
“What she said.” Hex echoed and put a muscular arm around her shoulders. “Six hundred buys a lot of needs.”
I released another short story collection as an ebook. This one is all science fiction and all the stories deal with space travel or distant planets in some way. It includes my other Clarion application story, “Pele’s Bee-keeper”, which also was a semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest. “No Spaceships Go” appeared in December on Daily Science Fiction and will be reprinted in the third issue of Scapezine: the magazine of Young Adult SF.
Here’s the cover:
Here’s the blurb:
A shuttle crash and a rescue by a mysterious woman alone on a deserted planet leads to political and physical dangers… A captain facing court-martial discovers an alien in hyperspace… In the not so far future, a teenage boy has to choose between love and traveling to the stars… On a far away planet, one old miner finds something beneath the ice that forces him to face his grief… Two brothers offered a second chance at their dreams of manned space exploration face technological and personal dangers that could cost them far more than just their program…
This collection of both new and previously published science fiction contains four short stories and a novella. Included are “Pele’s Bee-keeper”, “The Memory of Bone”, “No Spaceships Go”, “Beneath the Ice and Still”, and “The Light of the Earth as Seen from Tartarus”.
Mist, pervasive and cloying, settled in between the tall buildings and along Casimir’s spiraling street. The fog dimmed the bright advertisements pasted on screens, blurred the shining lamps and ever searching eyes of the security drones. On the far outskirts of the shell, beneath the conical towers of the aeroponic gardens, two shadows were up to no good.
Long warehouses stacked like steps lined the way between the wide alleys. The readout panels on the doors at ground level shone dimly red, all except one. The two shadows, revealing themselves to be thieves as they soundlessly shifted weapons and empty sacks in the darkness, honed in on the building with the panel. One was a slim woman covered all in black from eyes to toes. Her companion stood a head taller than she and was also covered in black but for his dark curling hair which escaped the hood of his jacket to stick to his swarthy brow.
It became immediately apparent to the thieves that someone else had gotten to the warehouse before them.
The woman, Sif, moved in on the guard watching from the doorway, dropping him to the ground before the hapless man could do more than open his mouth. Her companion, Hex, slipped inside the door and along one wall, listening to the two men haggle. He raised a hand, motioning the woman to move around and flank the men doing business, and their guards. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but Hex and Sif had learned to work with what they had.
Privately, Hex vowed to pay a nasty visit on the whisperman who’d sold him the info about this warehouse and teach the little bastard the real cost of double-selling.
A balding man with stick arms and a cheap suit leaned onto the large table dividing the back of the warehouse. On it were stacked bright red, blue, and yellow bricks of food stuffs with names like “Sunrise! Delicious!” stamped into the plastic. There were no batch numbers yet, nor dates.
In the eyes of the two men haggling, these were bricks of credit. For Sif and Hex, they were food. As much as he’d have liked to, Hex knew he and Sif couldn’t get enough out of the warehouse to afford to sell any on the black market.
“One hundred work income credits each, Mr. Cimbon.” Baldy stared up at the taller, younger man. “Seems fair, yes?”
“Fair? Seems like robbery, present situation not included, Mr. Armode.” Mr. Cimbon glanced at his goons and they both chuckled on queue. “Look, we’ll agree on sixty wic each, and be on our way home before curfew. Which,” his eyes unfocused as he queried his Personal Uplink Data Implant, “is in less than a half hour.”
“You’ll starve my family at that rate, Mr. Cimbon. Eighty-five at least.” Mr. Armode dropped his eyes to the man’s chest, seeming to sneer at the puff of chest hair spilling over Mr. Cimbon’s partially unbuttoned shirt.
“Seventy, and we’ll throw in a voucher for Sorjipe pond-grown fish. The real thing. Free and clear. Totally legit.”
“Seventy-five, and the voucher.” Mr. Armode licked his lips.
So did Hex. Pond-grown fish was a delicacy of the very privileged and though he’d never tasted any, it was reported to be night and day away from the vat grown imitation flesh standard vouchers could acquire. Hex knew instantly that Mr. Armode had made a mistake and bargained too low when Mr. Cimbon looked mockingly hurt as he accepted the deal.
“You’ll put us all out of business with those prices, friend. I suppose I must accept however. Man has to eat.”
Hex figured he’d given Sif enough time. As Mr. Cimbon had just said, a man had to eat.
The crackle of an electro pistol interrupted whatever either man might have said next. One of the muscle men dropped. The other went for his own gun, but another blast of energy dropped him with a blue hissing jolt. Hex emerged from near the warehouse entrance, pistol gleaming in his hand.
“Sit down, baldy. Put your hands on the table, flat.” His voice was silk over gravel. Mr. Armode did as directed.
Mr. Cimbon smirked at Hex. “You robbing robbers, fellow?”
“Indeed. Now, since you’re sneaking a hand toward the pistol in your jacket, you might as well remove it and set it down.” His gun hand didn’t waver.
The smile slid off Mr. Cimbon’s face as he removed the pistol. Hex watched him evaluate his options as he sluggishly complied with the order. The tables covered in bricks of food could supply some cover. There was plenty of darkness to hide in as well since the only illumination was a small battery powered glow disk resting near the terrified Mr. Armode. Planning his next action, Mr. Cimbon kicked his gun aside, letting it slide under a table.
“Not thinking of diving after it, are you?” Hex chuckled. Mr. Cimbon’s thoughts were painted on his face with broad strokes.
“I have friends, mister. Connections. I could be useful to a man like you. If you can accomplish this alone, think of the possibilities of a partner.” Mr. Cimbon molded his face into an open, friendly look that was about as convincing as pink dye on a sewer rat and not nearly as pretty.
“Thanks,” Hex said, “but see, I’ve got a partner. And she’s a hell of a lot better looking than you, I’m afraid.”
Mr. Cimbon heard a scrape near him and turned his head. Sif emerged from the shadows holding his gun as though it were a festering rodent.
“I can certainly see your partner’s ‘perks’,” Mr. Cimbon muttered, looking at the woman’s chest filling out her hooded coat. “She going to shoot me?”
“Her? Loria no!” Hex said. “She hates guns.”
As if to demonstrate that her partner had the right of things, Sif dismantled the pistol into component parts in seconds.
“Hex,” she said to her partner in subvocals through their linked PUDI, “stop preening. Stun them and let’s pack up.”
Hex sighed. He’d been enjoying the feeling of turning the tables on these assholes.
He shot first Mr. Cimbon and then Mr. Armode, the crackling electro-pistol sounding loud inside the large warehouse. They filled two large black packs with the various food packages. Seconds ticked past. Sif raised her head and put up a hand. Hex froze.
“What is it?” he asked through the link. She shook her head. Then he heard the drones. “Damn,” Hex said, “Baldy must have called security before I got him. I guess it’s time for plan B.”
Sif crossed her green eyes and scrunched down her pale brows at him, which he barely made out in the dim interior.
Hex chuckled. “Plan B is always run like hell.”
Sif snorted and scanned the darkness. She ducked under a bank of tables and growled, “Hex, back door,” into her sub-vocal mic.
The two slipped out the back, keeping their bodies in shadow against the long row of warehouses. They moved through the mist toward the towering buildings that loomed like walls lining the main street of Outer Morrow. The hum of drones and the sound of booted feet echoed in the damp air. Hex wished they had a little heat mapping support from Ryg right now, but he’d been busy with something else tonight so they hadn’t included him in this little mission. A shout rang out and the boot steps grew louder, closer.
“I think they’ve spotted us, probably our heat signatures,” Hex muttered into the sub-vocal mic.
He and Sif broke for the wall of buildings a hundred meters distant. Options were meager for escape. Curfew was in a few minutes, so the subways had stopped running and soon the city lights would be shutting down. The district gates would close. Hex resigned himself to either a slog through the subway tunnels or a cold long climb and a mad run along the slick roofs and walkways of Outer Morrow.
Sif dashed ahead of him, a dim blur in the wet. Running, Hex pulled his goggles out of a jacket pocket. He shoved them on one-handed and slid the wire into his PUDI jack just below his hairline at the temple. Once again he envied Sif her ability to see at night without artificial aid. The world turned to shades of gray and green, shapes forming out of the darkness. He nearly slammed into the first towering building that formed the barrier between Outland and Outer Morrow.
Sif’s gloved hand gripped his shoulder painfully hard and shoved him back against the wall. He glanced at her. Her beautiful face was hidden by the shadow of her black hood, her head cocked ever so slightly to the left. Hex turned very carefully and looked out into the darkness. He could hear the hum of drones; see their infrared lights through his goggles. None were too close, but the net was slowly closing in.
“Not much chance of getting to a subway access from here,” Hex said into the subvocals. Sif didn’t answer, but he’d hardly expected her to.
He felt his partner move and looked back at her. She was crouching, staring upwards, her face pale and damp. Hex followed her gaze and saw a large crenellation in the building above them. Most of the buildings in the city had carvings and outcroppings such as this. The concrete bell above them was quite large for the area, sticking out and forming a convenient ledge. Convenient if you want to jump three meters.
“I can’t make that leap straight up, love.” He looked back down at her.
Sif smiled up at him and interlaced her long fingers to form a step.
Hex sighed. He holstered his gun, checked the strap of the bag with their stolen food in it, and put a gritty, wet boot into her hand.
“Couldn’t we just shoot our way out of this in a blaze of glory like civilized people?” he muttered aloud.
Sif flung him upward into the air. He nearly missed the ledge of the ostentatious bell. His gloved hands scrabbled on it, and he winced at the noise he was making. Infrared light flared around him as a drone pinpointed their location. Hex hauled himself up, clinging precariously to the concrete. Sif joined him, leaping cleanly from the ground. She made anything physical look effortless.
Above and to the right was another bit of decoration. Slowly they made their way upward. Below they heard shouts but ignored them. One persistent drone kept up, climbing with them through the air. It was one of the egg-shaped spotter drones, at least, and not a full security model, which meant no gun.
No gun was good. Hex hated to be in a fair fight.
Hex drew his own gun and hung from the point of a concrete crown carved to look half-submerged in the building. The head-sized metallic construct drew near, the mist, now turning into a steady drizzle, forcing it closer in order to retain line of sight on the pair. Hex aimed and then closed his eyes against the bright flash of the electro pistol as he shot down the drone. It spiraled away into the darkness, echoing as it hit the pavement below.
“I just bought us a couple minutes ‘til they pinpoint us again, so let’s move.”
Sif climbed ahead of him, moving up the wall easily. They climbed higher until Hex felt as though his arms would never empty of blood again. No other drones had climbed this high and he wondered if they’d given up the hunt or if they’d just wait for the two to fall. So far they’d found no windows, no access points to the building they were climbing. He mused that their escape plan lacked some vital details in its construction.
There was a muffled curse and scrabbling off to the right and slightly above their position. Hex felt more than saw Sif shifting and moving towards the noise. He edged sideways, heading for the corner of the building. Sif had disappeared when he finally found enough purchase to risk looking up. Thankful for the roughened palms of his gloves, Hex gripped the edge of the building and cautiously swung his head around the side for a look.
Boots scrabbling on metal drew his gaze upwards. A couple meters above Sif leaned over the rail of a fire escape landing, staring down at him. She winked and beckoned to him. Hex couldn’t see a good way to get to the fire escape ladder without either leaping and hoping to catch the side of the ladder or sidling back along the wall and climbing higher. Sif would just jump.
He carefully counterbalanced his weight with his right arm against the corner and inched up the building. When he’d judged that he was on level with Sif he slid carefully around the wall again. She helpfully extended her hands towards him.
“This will be embarrassing if I fall,” he muttered.
“Only for about ten seconds,” said Sif.
Hex clenched his teeth and pushed away from the wall. For a split moment he was loose in the air, flying. Then his left hand gripped the rail while his right was caught expertly by Sif’s outstretched arms. He hauled himself over onto the landing.
Two of the Grey Guard, Casimir’s security force, lay piled against the far rail. To gain the ladder upwards, the two had to step over the bodies. Hex bent, partially to catch his breath, partially to check vital signs. They lived.
“Thanks for not killing anyone.” He looked up at Sif.
She shrugged and pushed him into the wall of the building. Her mouth, warm and soft, pressed against his as she grabbed a handful of curls to drag his head down to hers. He kissed her back, shivering as her body rubbed against his. Then he gently put a hand under her chin and lifted her face away from his own.
“Interesting timing, love,” Hex said. “Home first, perhaps.” He looked pointedly down at the unconscious guards they were practically standing on top of. Sif grinned at him and cupped his crotch suggestively. Then she stepped onto the ladder and began to climb.
Hex took a deep breath and started after her. It looked like it would be another cold, wet run across the roofs of the city.
Well, in what very well might be my second to last quarter of eligibility, I got another honorable mention in Writers of the Future. Go figure. At least I’ll pro-out with a stack of certificates, right? Bright side and all that.
Ebook sales held steady for August despite people apparently thinking that summer would be the slow months. I’m hoping they were right and that this fall is going to be even better. And I’m really looking forward to the holidays when many more people will acquire e-readers.
Here’s the numbers:
Ebook sales: 105 (Note: Smashwords hasn’t updated since June for most of the places other than Apple, so I don’t know about some sales yet)
Paper sales: 3
Words written: 19, 904
Yeah. My word counts have died down horribly. But that’s okay. I’ll make up for it this month. There’s probably no way I’m going to hit 900,000 words this year, but I think I’ll hit 500,000 or so, which is more than half of goal. Clarion and my husband losing his job side-tracked me a lot.
I have another SF collection ready to go (just waiting on one rejection (or sale) ) and I’ll start the weekly chapters of Casimir Hypogean tomorrow so that my blog is totally neglected while I’m writing The Raven King. Most of the plot for Raven King fell on my head while I was driving to Reno for Worldcon, so I feel confident that I can bust out the novel in good time.
Hey. I’ve been super neglecting the blog lately, sorry. I will do a monthly round-up post this weekend plus talk a bit about Worldcon. I’ve also been trying to write a post about Clarion, but I’m honestly not sure I’ll be able to do it. There was so much that happened and so much I’m still processing that I don’t know how to sum it up in 500-800 words. I’ll have to think on it and maybe I’ll just put it up as a blog post at the same time I get my Clarion project book out and use the same thing as a sort of forward in the book. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, I have a book to write in September. This means I’m probably not going to feel much like updating the blog with posts since my brain is hopefully going to be full of novel and not blog posts. However, I think I’m going to serialize my cyberpunk/dystopia SF/pseudo-thriller novel Casimir Hypogean here with weekly posts. It’s just a rough draft and I’m not entirely sure I’m not going to tear this novel apart and redraft it from scratch (I’ve already done that twice), but we’ll see. If I get good reader response, maybe I will just write the sequels instead. So starting next week I’ll post a chapter or at least a part of a chapter a week.
Here’s the cover, by the way, and the rough description of the book:
A genetically engineered bodyguard addicted to the drugs that prolong her life. An ex-cop struggling to provide for his children. An obsessive-compulsive cybernetically enhanced computer genius. This band of misfits scrapes by below the radar of their iron-fisted government in an enclosed city where all is not as shiny or under control as it appears.
Then they uncover a plan with deadly side-effects aimed at taking control of a top government position. As hundreds start dropping dead in the streets from an engineered virus, the criminals find themselves in a race to decode the information they’ve stumbled upon and unravel a terrifying plot. Faced with betrayal and pursuit on all sides, the three quickly realize that they must save the spiral city and very government that has outlawed them if they are to have any chance of saving themselves.