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Casimir Hypogean: Chapter Two

Casimir Hypogean: Chapter Two

(Link to Chapter One if you need to catch up)

Chapter 2:

            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.”

(Continue to Chapter Three)

New Short Story Collection

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”.

Here’s where you can buy it:  For Kindle, For Nook, All Formats.

Tomorrow- another chapter of Casimir Hypogean!

Casimir Hypogean: Chapter One

Chapter One

Chapter 1

            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.

* * *

(Continue to Chapter Two)

New Month, Some Changes

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.

One Year of Indie Publishing

Yeah, I am not sure I like the term “indie” either, but it has become pretty common usage, so here goes.

In July of 2010, I decided to test out the e-book waters with three short stories.  I put them up under a name that has no internet presence (you can find those stories here if you are curious) and sat back to see if anyone would buy them.  That’s right. I didn’t bother with promotion or anything because hey, they were just short stories and literary short stories at that.  Since then, well, Music in the City became my bestselling story, outselling anything until I put up Surfacing.  When I wrote Surfacing and put it up at the end of April, it then became my new bestselling story (usually it accounts for 30-40 of my sales each month, which, as you will see, is the bulk of my sales).  Under my published/known name (Annie Bellet), my short story Broken Moon was my bestseller (10-15 copies a month) since it went up in April until I put my SF novella Light of the Earth as Seen from Tartarus free. Since it went not-free, it has sold over 40 copies in just a couple weeks though that appears to be slowing down.

But here is a year of sales, by month:

July- 3
August- 4
Sept- 3
Oct- 4
Nov- 2
Dec- 12
(released Spacer’s Blade & Other Stories)
Jan- 17
(released Light of the Earth as Seen from Tartarus (LoTEaSFT)
Feb- 18
(released Heart in Sun and Shadow)
March- 39
April- 34
(Released 3 short stories)
May- 84
(Released Gifts in Sand and Water collection, lowered LoTEaSFT to 1.99)
June- 87
July- 103
(LoTEaSFT was free for 2.5 weeks of July on Kindle with 3257 downloads)

I have also sold 2 print copies of A Heart in Sun and Shadow, one via Amazon, one through the distribution.  (If you are in the Portland, Oregon area and want a print copy, Annie Bloom’s Books in Multnomah Village carries a few and they (and I!) would be thrilled if you went and bought a copy there.)

I don’t know about all the June and July sales yet since Smashwords hasn’t completely updated, but usually for this sort of recording purpose, I count sales in the month they show up, not when they were actually sold (I don’t do this for my tax/permanent records, for obvious reasons).

But a year of ebooks looks like I’ve sold about 410 ebooks and 2 print books across 10 titles.  Only one of the ebooks up is a novel. I have two short story collections, one novella, and the other six ebooks are short stories.

By December I should have at least three more novels out (including the sequel to A Heart in Sun and Shadow), so I am optimistic that this next year will look even better since releasing new work has so far been the best way I see to increase sales.  I also have three more short story collections in the works including my Clarion project book.  Everything should be out by the Holidays.

Speaking of sequels- The Raven King, book 2 of the Chwedl duology, has been delayed. When I set the deadline for Summer ’11, I didn’t realize I’d get into Clarion.  So I’m pushing it back to Winter ’11 because I want to make sure I have time to write the book I want to write and make it awesome.  I also need to re-acquaint myself with the world I built for the first book.  So it is coming this year, just a little later than I’d originally planned.  Also coming in December are at least the first two books of the Pyrrh Considerable Crimes Division.  Book 1: Avarice is mostly complete, I’m waiting to write the others before I release it.  I’m also waiting on the cover artist (the covers are paintings!). I’m really excited about this series though (it’s my Law & Order with sword fights series).

So that’s a year in indie publishing for me.  Here’s for a kick-ass Holiday season for all of us. *grin*

WotF Q2 Results and Sundry

I got a Silver HM for Writers of the Future 2nd Quarter 2011.  My second Silver HM in a row.  Guess I need to step up my game somehow.  If only I could go to an intensive, 6 week workshop on writing SF/F fiction.  (Oh, wait….)

My SF novella is still free on Kindle for a limited time and over 3,000 people have downloaded it.  Want to be cool, too? You can Get it Here!

And my SF collection “The Spacer’s Blade& Other Stories”  was featured on Daily Cheap Reads.  Go here, check it out.

There. That’s all I got. Sorry.  Clarion has 2.5 weeks left, and then I’ll try to formulate some thoughts on it, etc.

First Love Stays with You Forever

I started outlining The Raven King, the sequel to A Heart in Sun & Shadow, and started thinking about fantasy novels in general and why these books are the ones I’m choosing to share with the world right now.  As the title of this post hints at, Fantasy was my first love, starting way back when I was eight.

My love affair didn’t start where you might think, however. Many of the people I know got their introduction to fantasy via Tolkien, but that isn’t where mine began.  It began with four women.

The first was my mother.  This was probably an accident on her part, since she used to tell me all the time that the genre fiction I read would rot my brain and was popcorn for the mind.  Yet she read us Mrs. Pigglewiggle, books by CS Lewis and Lloyd Alexander, and kept giving me money for whatever I wanted to buy at Powell’s each time we went (anything under four dollars, she’d say). She did her best to put literature in front of me, but she didn’t start early enough, I suppose.  Now, mind you, she’s a dedicated George RR Martin fan and even read Juliet Marillier’s fantasy books on my recommendation.

Una was my teacher sixth through eighth grade, but she helped out sometimes with the fourth and fifth graders at the tiny private school I was banished to after being kicked out of the Public School system.  Una encouraged me in crazy ways.  She didn’t mind when I snuck fiction books inside my school books or when I wrote stories about ancient Sumer instead of research essays.  She taught me Irish and introduced me to the Dewey decimal system.  But the most important thing she ever did for me was tell me that it was okay to write fiction, to “make stuff up”.  She gave my very young mind the permission I craved to dream, to wonder, to explore, and to live inside my head.  Without her encouragement and teaching, I don’t think I’d be a writer today nor as educated or curious about the world around me.

My mother read aloud to us as kids, and between CS Lewis and Lloyd Alexander, I had a preliminary introduction to the fantastical, but it wasn’t until I started reading on my own that my love affair turned serious.  When I was nine or ten, I really wanted to read something that didn’t look adult and boring, but all the books on the shelves at home were either kids books I’d read or boring looking.  All except one.  It had a blue cover and a woman riding a pretty horse (and I was as horse-crazy then as now). The title was The Mists of Avalon.  I pulled the huge book down from the fourth shelf (the highest I could reach on the wall) and started reading.  Soon I was buried in Arthurian myth.  It was the most amazing book I’d ever read.  When my mother next dropped me off at Powell’s, I went to the Gold Room (the F&SF section to this day) and looked up that amazing author, Marion Zimmer Bradley.

And I discovered the Sword & Sorceress anthologies.  In the front were always these scathing, insightful, amazing introductions by Marion Zimmer Bradley that I would read and reread, amazed that real people wrote these stories and that writers weren’t just names on books.  In the back were writer’s guidelines.  MZB died before I could ever get up the courage to send in a single story, but to this day, I see those S&S books as the earth my little creative seed buried itself in.  I wrote story after story, all horrible (I was 11 when I started, after all), but all trying to capture the wonder I found inside those pages.  MZB and the anthologies made writing fantastical stories seem like more than a dream and lit the fire that started everything.

Then, just to toss a little oil on my love affair with Fantasy, my mother came home from a trip to Canada with a giant book for me.  It, like Mists of Avalon, had a blue cover and was super thick.  The woman on this cover was also riding a horse, but in full armor, fighting a couple of giant white wolves.  Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion took everything I’d thought about fantasy and pushed it further, opening up an entire world for me.  I fell in love with Paks and her adventures.  I cried when she was tortured or when characters I loved died, I literally cheered when she triumphed over adversity, I memorized the map and the currencies and started looking into the SCA to see if I could become a knight, too, because I wanted to be just like Paks.  When I was 12 and home alone, I cut my heel badly (right down to the bone).  I stayed calm because I asked myself, I kid you not, “what would Paks do?” and I cleaned the wound with alcohol pads and bandaged it up until it could be stitched properly later that night when my dad got home.

The Deed of Paksenarrion made me fall in love with Fantasy even deeper because the characters were so real, so fallible but heroic in their humanity and because the world was so detailed that I felt I could almost just pack a bag and move to Brewersbridge.  I started to see the possibilities within the genre, even at that young age, and started working those things into my own writing.  I still re-read The Deed of Paksenarrion at least once a year and have for the last 19 years.

There are other authors, other people, other books, that influenced my long affair with the genre, but these women stick out in my mind as the main early influences.  It was a long road to writing A Heart in Sun & Shadow, but I see the start of the path back there, in my youth, curled up with a giant book with a pale blue cover and a woman on horseback, a book full of sword fights and magic where flawed, interesting people chose to make heroic or destructive decisions.

That’s how a good fantasy novel will always be for me.  Opening the book is like returning home to my first love, her arms open, waiting to embrace me.

I Have a Plan

A cunning plan. How cunning? You could tie a tail on it and call it a weasel. (Yes, I’m sort of quoting Black Adder. I’m that old.)

As I’ve been watching my sales and reading about the sales of others in this brave new e-book world, I’ve noticed some interesting trends.  I’ve watched people promote their little hearts out and then cry about no sales.  I’ve watched people stick up what I like to call “ugly” books (bad cover, bad blurb etc) and cry about no sales.  I’ve watched books I would think were the slightly better-looking cousins of “ugly” books sell like crazy.  I’ve watched books that were actually “ugly” books in disguise sell better than things I thought were actually worth reading.  I’ve watched as my literary short stories under a name with zero internet profile out-sell my SF/F titles 5 and sometimes 10 to 1.

Basically… no one knows what will sell and why.  We’ve got the four principles that Konrath and others go by: Good Book, Good Cover, Good Blurb, Low Price.  I’ve seen plenty of titles with the magic four sell very few copies.  Maybe they will be slower to take off, maybe those writers need to just keep at it and good things will happen (what one might call the DWS principle.)  I don’t know.

One thing I would add to the above however, is “write in a popular genre”.  Now, one might argue that good writing will find an audience, and I believe that.  But would you rather aim at an audience of thousands, or hundreds of thousands?  Does genre really matter?  It’s hard to say.  Mystery and Romance are very popular genres, but there are also a ton of books written in those genres  (Romance on Kindle has more books than Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror combined).  Chicken, egg, right?

But hey, what would be the point of experimenting in this awesome new world if I couldn’t run some tests.  So here’s what I’m planning:

I’m going to write ten novellas (20-30k words each).  Five in SF/F and five in Romance.  When all ten are done (by end of September, hopefully), I’ll stick them all up online at the same time, for the same price.  I intend to do zero promotion of the titles for six months (other than mentioning them here so that people will know when the experiment goes live).  I would say that the Romance ones would be at a disadvantage since they won’t be under the name that has an internet presence, but my lit fic doesn’t seem to suffer from being under a pen name so I’m going to rule that the name doesn’t matter (it isn’t like I’m anybody anyway).  I will do my best to make sure each novella has an awesome cover, a great blurb, and is of course an awesome book.  And then I’ll sit back and watch and see how the numbers do.

My prediction, right now? The Romances will out-sell the SF/F titles 10-1.  That’s my early prediction.

See? Isn’t this new world fun?  All kinds of crazy experiments to run! *grin*

New Stuffs and a Sale

I am pleased to announce that I have sold a short story titled “Nevermind the Bollocks” to the new monthly anthology series Digital Science Fiction.  The story should be out in their second installment, so sometime this summer I think.  This is my fourth pro-rate sale and, counting reprints, my seventh overall sale in the two and a half years I’ve been doing this.  I hope this is a sign that between the books I’ve been studying, the workshops I’ve been doing, and the writing practice itself, that I’m still growing and improving.

I also have finally posted a collection of fantasy short fiction, which is will be available soon on Kindle and Nook and is already through the new, streamlined Smashwords grinder.

Here’s the cover:

It includes eight of my fantasy stories.  More information can be found by clicking on the picture or you can get it directly from Smashwords by going here.

As for writing, well, I’m doing better. The novel is literally one working session away from done.  I’m dropping my better half off at the airport today and then I’ll have almost three full days to get work done with zero social distractions.  My top priority is to finish the novel and then finish the story I owe for the Mirror Shards anthology.  Then it’s on to outlining the sequel to A Heart in Sun & Shadow and getting some other short fiction done as a warm-up to Clarion.

Speaking of Clarion, I’m starting to get excited and nervous about it.  As we get ever closer to the start date and things begin to get sorted out like travel plans and housing, it feels more and more like this isn’t something abstract.  And hey, at this point I don’t think I got in on an administrative mistake, since no one has corrected it yet.  My Kickstarter project has only five days left, but it is pretty close to getting funded (only a few hundred left!) so I’m hopeful that the money will come through.  The outpouring of both financial and emotional support by my friends and my fellow writers has really touched me.  I thank all of you and I’m going to work my ass off at Clarion to make sure I don’t waste this opportunity.

So that’s what is going on with me.  Lots of work, not a whole lot of blogging, sorry.  I’ll do my usual monthly round-up next Tuesday (e-book sales have been pretty good to me this month, yay).

Brainz Fried

First order of business, I finally have paper copies of A Heart in Sun & Shadow.  They are up in the Createspace store and available directly through Amazon.com as well.  I will probably be offering signed copies of this directly as well, so if anyone wants a signed trade paperback, let me know.

I have been basically MIA online this last week since I spent the last eight days out at the beach working my ass off in a Character Voice workshop taught by Dean Wesley Smith with some help from Kristine Rusch.  I am still processing all I learned this week. I am not even sure where to begin.   The entire focus of the workshop was on how to build characters that have dimension and feel like whole people who leap off the page and suck readers into books.  You know, basically the most important thing a writer can learn.

Each day looked basically like this:

9am, meet for breakfast.  Noon- meet for first session, turn in our coloring assignments (basically a few pages by a best-selling author that highlights what we were focusing on that we had to go in and mark up) and sometimes we turned in big assignments in the mornings as well (especially as the week went on).  We’d break generally by 1:30 or 2 and then have to be back at 7pm with our big assignments. We’d generally break again for the night between 8:30 and 9pm.  Rinse, repeat for 7 days.

The big assignments were 3-4 story starts, 2 pages each, working specifically on whatever character voice technique we focused on each day.  (So 6-8 pages of writing each day).  Then we also had two short story assigments, 3-6k words each, one was due Tues evening (we got that assignment on the first Sat) and one was due Friday evening (we got that one on Tues night).  We also had to all read everyone else’s assignments so we could see what others were doing that might work and or not and learn from that as well (there were 10 of us in the class, so about 50-70 pages of reading a night plus whatever our coloring assignment was, plus all the short stories once those were turned in).  In the middle of the week the class as a whole basically flubbed an entire assignment and had to re-do all the exercises with whole new story starts and characters, so that added even more work on.  But we did better on the re-do and I, for one, feel that I have a better grasp on what we were supposed to be learning in that exercise.

The things we focused on were: Accents, Attitude, Content through dialogue, Opinion, Actions, and Structure (look & flow of manuscript as it relates to characterization).  We also covered some more advanced tips and tricks at the end of the workshop, but those were the biggies.

Let me say this: One week was NOT enough.  It was a good, intensive start, but I know I’m going to be working hard on this stuff for probably the rest of my writing life.  So much of it can really only be put into practice through subconscious feel, but I’m glad that we did the exercises we did.  They are ones I can do at home if I feel I’m struggling with something.  There were also six major things, and there are six weeks of Clarion.  I know what I’m going to be working on while at Clarion.  Getting characters to look, feel, and sound like breathing, interesting, full-dimensional people is a HUGE part of writing well.  Ideas are neat and all, but people won’t keep reading books with flat characters.  I’ve got a great opportunity for focused practice while I’m at Clarion, and I’m going to make use of it.  I have new tools in my tool box now, and I’m certainly not going to let them get rusty.

I am exhausted, still.  I hit the wall on Saturday morning, on the final assignment.  I opened up the blank page and my brain just said “no”.  Guess what? I wrote the three assignments anyway and made two out of the three really work.  That was me brain-dead.  It’s good to push and push sometimes because I really learned what I was capable of even when it felt like my creative muscle had finally stopped moving.  I literally had no ideas. None. I needed three story starts on Sat morning and my brain just said “no”.  And I, writer me, said “yes”.  Out of all the story starts we did that week? One of mine on Sat morning is probably the only story I’ll actually go back to and finish.  A story start that came out of the dregs of my exhausted brain but the character when she started speaking was there, ready to go and I just let the two pages happen.

So I’m really glad I went. Despite the problems that cropped up in my life right before, despite the frustration and exhaustion, despite it all, I think I’ve grown as a writer in just one week and I think I’ll be able to use these skills going forward.  And again, if you are serious about being a professional writer and don’t mind being made to work, the workshops on the Oregon Coast put on by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Katherine Rusch are worth every penny, every tear, every moment (as any of my fellow writers who have come through that crucible can tell you as well).  I’ve learned amazing things from them and met some amazing writers who have, I hope, become amazing friends.

Now, I’m going to go read a book, drink some tea, and let my brain rest.  But not for too long *grin*