Tag Archives: excerpt

Motivation and muddying the waters

The iVokh are winged, sociopathic aliens, but their motivation is not that different to our own – pride, a Machiavellian lust for power, fear, hatred – and none exhibit those emotions more clearly than the Yellow. As the most powerful Healer in the Guild of Healers, its power is absolute, but only in the Settlement. While its rival, the Blue, remains free, danger could strike from the shadows at any time.

The following is a critical scene from the second book of Vokhtah in which the Yellow’s Assistant brings the news that the Blue may be dead. But it learned this news from someone who might be a Trader. The distrust between Healers and Traders goes back generations, and the Assistant itself was once a Trader.

To get at the truth, the Yellow uses its power to feel the Assistant’s emotions while it’s being interrogated [think paranormal polygraph test], but it’s the Yellow’s own emotions that colour how it interprets the results.

This is a critical scene, and I need fresh eyes to see if it makes sense, if the motivation and the thinking it engenders ring ‘true’. All beta responses gratefully accepted!

Scene in the Settlement between the Yellow and its Assistant:

The Yellow’s eyes narrowed to hard, vertical slits as it stared at the head beneath its hands. A Trader, on the very last day of Tohoh, and carrying the chain of a dead healer who might have been the Blue?

Sitting back on its haunches, the Yellow wiped its hands in the sand as it tried to sort fact from fiction. It very much wanted the Blue to be dead, but that was no secret. Was it being told what it wanted to hear, or was its Assistant reporting what actually happened? Yet if the Refugee really was a Trader, then the story of the Healer’s death was almost certainly a lie, but to what purpose?

“Where being this…Trader now?”

“With other Refugees, Master,” its Assistant said eagerly. “Thinking might being useful…”

Useful, yes, but to whom? If the Blue died while travelling with the caravan, why not simply return the chain it was wearing? Passengers died in the Wild all the time. No one would have given it a second thought. Why lie about how it died? It did not make sense unless the Traders wanted the Guild to think the Blue was dead. But again, to what purpose? They gained nothing from-

but what of Blue?

The gears inside the Yellow’s head seemed to click and whir as the events surrounding the Blue’s disappearance suddenly took on a new significance. First the report of a stolen chain. Then a few days later, the return of the missing Timekeeper’s ladle, along with the description of a ‘tall, thin Messenger’ who had paid for passage on the last caravan of the season…with a blue gem shard. Clearly, the so-called Messenger had been the Blue, and now it was beyond reach.

But what if the Blue had not left with the caravan at all? What if its disappearance had been nothing but a cunning charade? What if it had been hiding in the Traders’ Quarter ever since, spinning a web of deceit to undermine the Guild-

Ki!…not Guild, the Yellow thought, its stomach suddenly churning with bile. Self!

The two had been rivals for decades, and the Blue had always hated being second best. It would never just slink away. It would want to revenge itself on the one who had brought about its downfall, and what better place to do so than in the Quarter? Close enough to sneak in and out of the Settlement, but the one place no one would ever think to look. And, of course, the Traders would not be averse to undermining the Guild as well, especially if they were paid well enough.

It all made perfect sense, except for one thing: why had the Blue waited until the very end of Tohoh to have the chain ‘delivered’. It would have been far better to have the Trader bring the chain into the Settlement while there were still genuine Refugees to mask its arrival.

That was what the Traders had done in the past when they tried to infiltrate the Settlement. Waiting until the last moment, and then sending in a lone Trader was simply stupid. They must have known the Guard would turn it away…

but guard being Assistant

The sense of betrayal was so overpowering, the Yellow almost lost control and killed its Assistant there and then. Leaping to its feet, it retreated to the other side of the cavern and poured itself a cup of pippa juice, sipping slowly until the bloodlust subsided. Killing its Assistant before extracting every last detail would not be wise…

especially if being others

Because Messengers were never assigned to gate duty. Yet that was precisely where the Yellow’s Assistant had been sent, by the Master of Acolytes. Coincidence? A desire for maximum humiliation? Or a sign that the Master was part of the plot as well?

The Yellow put the cup down with exaggerated care and forced itself to breathe, long and slow. It had not clawed its way to the top of the Guild hierarchy by being precipitate. Its Assistant might be capable of conspiring with the Blue, but the Master of Acolytes possessed less guile than a rock. That was one reason it had never been elevated to the Council, that plus the fact that it had never shown the slightest interest in politics. Every speck of energy it possessed had been expended on finding a healer-seneschal. And it had not deviated from that obsession despite decades of failure and the open contempt of most healers. Making a fuss in public was very much in character, plotting in private was not.

Yet if the Master was not involved in the Blue’s plot, then the Assistant could not be involved either because it could not have known that it would be assigned to gate duty. Of course that did not preclude the young fool from helping one of its own when it saw the opportunity, but again, the Blue would not have known that. So why would it initiate a plan so likely to fail?

To successfully infiltrate the Settlement, it would need everyone to believe that it was dead, without question. Yet this botched plan had done the exact opposite, raising questions where there had been none. It would have done far better to simply leave the chain somewhere for the guards to find. The gate guards were not known for their intelligence, but even they would know better than to leave seven starrock links out on the…

“Takh preserve!”

Shock held the Yellow frozen for a moment. Was that it? Was the Trader supposed to fail? Was it supposed to be turned away…after it delivered the links? Because of course the guards would take the links to someone in authority, and of course that someone would try to discover who the dead Healer had been.

Once the links were connected to the Blue, its supposed death would be accepted as fact because there would be no one to interrogate. In the meantime, the so-called Refugee would be safe inside the Trader’s Quarter, mission accomplished.

A cunning plan, and worthy of the Blue, but something had gone wrong. Instead of being confronted by a stupid gate guard, the Trader had been met by a Messenger with divided loyalties, and now that Trader was languishing inside the Settlement with the rest of the Refugees!

A trill of pure delight burst from the Yellow’s cilia as it stared at its Assistant. Far from being a conspirator, the young fool may have inadvertently helped foil the Blue’s plot!

But only if being true, the Yellow thought as it strode across the cavern and dropped to its knees in front of its Assistant. Arranging itself comfortably on the sand, it reached out and initiated the truthsaying once more.

“Why hiding Master’s visit?”

“Not hiding! Just…not wanting to bother Yellow with…”

The Yellow felt a surge of contempt rise and fall beneath its fingers.

“With?” it asked gently.

“Having great respect for all Healers! Truly. Especially Masters but…”

Again that surge of contempt.

“Speaking freely.”

A swell of anger rose beneath the Yellow’s fingers before its Assistant finally spoke again.

“Everyone knowing healer-seneschal being impossible! Master being-…”

The angry out-pouring cut off mid-word, but the seething anger continued for some time as the young Trader struggled to control its feelings. It clearly blamed the Master of Acolytes for its current predicament.

Well pleased with what it had learned, the Yellow sat back on its haunches and considered its options. It was convinced its Assistant knew nothing of the Blue’s plot, but the young Trader might still prove to be useful in other ways, at least for the moment. None of the other Messengers knew how Traders thought. That could be important during the interrogation. If the Trader could be convinced that its story was believed, and it was then allow to escape, the Blue might feel safe enough to return to the Settlement. A lot of ifs and mights, but well worth the effort if the Blue could be killed once and for all.

“At first light should visiting Healer from South. Finding out if chain being one stolen by Blue.”

“Thanking, Master! Thank-”

“Then should visiting…Refugee. Finding out if truly being Trader.”

“S’so! Not being disappoint-”

The flood of gratitude turned into a squeal of pain as the Yellow sank its claws into the body beneath its hands. The squeal turned into a high pitched keen as it dragged its claws through the soft flesh. The wounds were not fatal, but the scars would demonstrate what happened to any iVokh who dared to cross the most powerful Healer in the Guild.

Thanks for reading,
Meeks


When the middle becomes the beginning…

I’ve been writing this damn sequel for years now, yet the beginning has never satisfied me. Or perhaps I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t right, that one of its hearts was missing. Sorry, small pun there.

Anyway…after the umpteenth rewrite of the beginning, I gave up trying to massage the existing story into shape and sat down for a rethink, another one. I knew that Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1] had to meet a character called Death in book 2, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t work out why Death would be at that location.

Everything I tried felt contrived. Either the social constraints didn’t quite work, or the internal motivation of the characters didn’t gel. I knew I was on the right track, but for my internal bullshit-o-meter to be satisfied, everything had to slot into place with a sense of ‘oh…of course.’ But it wasn’t. And then…

Eureka!

I remembered something I’d written ages ago, and suddenly I felt as if a key had turned in my head, a key that made everything else slot into place. And this, with a slight change of emphasis, is that key:

The Master of Acolytes stared at the closed door in dismay. The Assistant had promised to speak to the Yellow, but something about its response had not rung true. Its expression had been too polite, too controlled…

As if just humouring self, the Master thought with an unaccustomed spurt of anger. Its hand rose, but the anger faded before it could knock again.

Surely the Assistant wouldn’t dare ignore the request of a Master?

Of course not. The Yellow would never allow its Assistant to overstep the bounds like that.

Nevertheless, as the Master of Acolytes headed back towards its own quarters, it decided to check back in a day or two, just in case. Because whatever the Yellow’s Assistant might think, finding a healer-seneschal was important. Very important.

The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, however it did fear another Great Unrest and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while all communication with the outside had to go through the Quartermaster.

All the eyries had to communicate through the Trader Quartermasters, but at least they had Seneschals of their own and were not forced to share an eyrie with the Traders.

The Settlement, however, had never had a seneschal of its own. Ever since the Great Unrest, the Guild of Healers had debated the value of employing a non-healer as their seneschal, but the move had always been stymied by the need for secrecy, and trust. Out in the eyries, Seneschals bonded with their Vokh, so their loyalty was unassailable. In the Settlement however, the Guild could only form such a relationship if its seneschal were also a healer, and so far they had not found any.

They had tried and failed, for two hundred years, because the two talents seemed to be mutually exclusive. An iVokh could either heal, or speak mind-to-mind, never both.

Or so the common wisdom said. The Master, however, had never been completely convinced by the common wisdom. Despite past failures, including its own, it still believed a healer-seneschal was possible, but only if the iVokh possessed both talents in sufficient measure before the Quickening.

Finding iVokh with the mindspeech was relatively easy as the talent tended to manifest itself at a young age. The talent for healing, however, was much less straightforward and seemed to need the shock of the Quickening to reveal itself. Thus, creating new healers was always a hit or miss affair. Often those who seemed to have the most potential turned into the worst disasters. However the records showed there had been exceptions, even to this rule.

Before the devastation wrought by the Rogue, healers had always arisen naturally, but their numbers had been few, and only the most powerful Vokh could claim them. After the death of the Rogue and the Great Nine, however, the new Nine had decreed that the remaining healers had to be shared by all the surviving Vokh. That was how the Settlement, and the Guild had begun.

In the hundreds of years since then, the Guild had perfected the Quickening to the point where most candidates survived the process. Picking good candidates, however, still involved a great deal of guesswork as very few displayed clear signs of talent before hand.

Of course wild talents did crop up, even now. In fact, the former Blue had been one such talent. Sadly, it had never shown the slightest ability to mindspeak. The young Tanner though…

A shiver ran down the Master’s spine as it remembered how close it had come to dismissing the claims of the Senior from Deepwater. How could a Tanner’s apprentice possess even one of the great talents much less two?

Yet, right from the start, the young Tanner had demonstrated an uncanny ability to soothe the newborns placed in its care. When asked how it did what it did, it said that the newborn were simply uncomfortable; once their needs were met they settled down easily. What it could not explain was how it always seemed to know which particular discomfort to ease.

But the Master knew. Despite the young Tanner’s small stature, and the lingering stench of the Tanning pits, it possessed the ability to feel the newborn’s discomfort. It was something all Healers had, at least to some extent.

Of course, feel alone did not guarantee that the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Some could feel but not control the ability enough to actually heal. Others, like the Messengers, could feel but were not distressed by another’s pain.

Nevertheless, the Master was convinced that a natural ability to feel was the best indicator of latent talent. That was why it had arranged for the young Tanner to take the position of Acolyte at Needlepoint. The Triad assigned to the Needlepoint eyrie was lead by a Raised Senior of exceptional ability. If anyone could bring out the youngling’s latent abilities it was that Senior…

Who could guessing? the Master thought as it entered its own quarters and closed the door behind it.

Needlepoint was one of the best hidden eyries in the north, yet the Seven of Five Rocks had taken it anyway. Neither the young Tanner nor the Triad were harmed, but in raids, anything could happen, especially if the Triad attempted to save its Vokh. And now the Challenger was heading north as well. It seemed to attack eyries at random, but those it chose were destroyed utterly. If the Nine did not rise soon, the Challenger would decimate the north as it had the south.

Something had to be done. The Guild’s one chance of securing a line of healer-seneschals could not be left to chance. Returning the young Tanner to the Settlement was vital, no matter what the Assistant to the Yellow might think!

Apologies for the long excerpt, but I just had to share.

cheers
Meeks


Hello and goodnight!

I was just about to toddle off to bed when I received an email from Sally Cronin of Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore, saying she’d posted an excerpt from The Godsend on her blog. -dance- And, she’s included Diana Peach’s fabulous review as well. As you can imagine, I’m thrilled.

The excerpt is a short bit about Kenneth, my broken hero. Hope you like it.

Here’s the link: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/smorgasbord-cafe-and-bookstore-share-an-extract-scifi-the-godsend-innerscape-book-two-by-a-c-flory/

And now I really must go to bed. Sleep tight if you’re in my timezone. If not, have a happy day, and stay well.

cheers
Meeks


Self-publishing a paperback – trim size and bleed

The following extract is taken from my how-to books and explains about two key printing terms: ‘trim size’ and ‘bleed’.

Trim Size

The term ‘trim size’ refers to the finished size of your book – i.e. after the pages have been glued inside the cover and trimmed off neatly.

There are many trim sizes available, but the most popular sizes for non-fiction are shown in Table 1 below:

As even the largest of those trim sizes is slightly smaller than a normal A4 page, the trim size you choose will inevitably change the total page count of your book.

Note: the size of a default Word document is A4, and A4 is 8.27” x 11.69” in size.

This change in page size will have consequences in terms of layout. For example, you may find large gaps on pages where the graphics no longer fit. As a result, some re-formatting will be required. Furthermore, as the spine of the cover depends upon the number of pages in the book, trim size will indirectly affect the width of the spine as well.

You can see a complete table of trim sizes available in KDP – in both inches and cm – at the web address below:

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834180#trim

Bleed

Although selecting the right trim size is the first critical step in printing your book, ‘bleed’ can be the second.

To illustrate the concept of ‘bleed’, consider the two pages below:

Note: the dotted green line represents the trim line.

The image on the left extends past the trim line into the ‘bleed’. When the page is trimmed, the image will have a crisp, clean edge with no white showing. By contrast, the image on the right does not extend into the ‘bleed’ and will have a thin white edge after it is trimmed:

Although most novels do not contain photographs, some do include maps and illustrations, and for them, bleed may be an issue.

If those images sit within the normal margins of the page, the book will not need bleed, but if they extend to the very edge of the page, the book will need bleed. This point is highlighted in the two pages below:

So keep ‘bleed’ in mind when you select the trim size of your book.

Another factor to consider is the length of your book.

A short book printed in a large trim size may end up looking too thin. A long book printed in a small trim size may end up looking too ‘fat’. More importantly, the spine may not be wide enough to allow for the printing of the title.

Note: KDP requires a minimum of 100 pages to print the title on the spine.

And finally, there’s the question of genre. Books are tactile objects and readers get used to a certain size in their favourite reading material.

Note: books that are either too big or too small for their genre may not be as ‘visible’ to a reader intent on buying a book.

Table of trim sizes – with and without bleed

The following is a table of trim sizes available with KDP:

I hope this proves to be useful. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


Kaati – a new beginning

I began the second book of Vokhtah back in 2013, but then Innerscape captured my imagination and ‘Kaati’ disappeared into a digital drawer for five years. I finally restarted the project today by writing an 800 word Prologue. In it, I refresh my memory a little and set the stage for the story of Kaati, the young Trader who helped The Blue survive the crossing of the Spine of the World.

The words aren’t set in stone, but this part of the plot is. I hope you like it. 🙂

***

It was close to deep-dark when the Master was ushered into the Quartermaster’s presence, yet the leader of the Traders was neither asleep, nor alone. Five young Traders, all from the Runner clan, sat or sprawled drunkenly around a table littered with spilled pippa juice and half-empty bowls of dreamweed.

“Sit, sit!” the Quartermaster cried as it waved the Master to a vacant cushion. “Juice?”

The cushion was sticky, as was the goblet offered by one of the younglings, but the Master kept the distaste from its face as it sat and folded its wings to either side.

“May Takhti being gentle!” the Quartermaster said, raising its goblet in a toast.

“And Pah Hakh being short,” the Master replied as it raised its own goblet. Unlike the Quartermaster, however, it swallowed very little of the fermented pippa juice.

“S’so,” the Quartermaster said once the demands of hospitality had been met. “What bringing Master Teller here so late?”

That was not a question the Master wished to answer in front of so many witnesses, drunk or not.

“Just a few details concerning trade with Five Rocks. Nothing serious.”

“Details, details. Always details,” the Quartermaster sighed. Despite its long suffering tone, however, its eyes were sharp as it sent its guests off to bed. They went, but not without a good deal of grumbling so it was some time before the two older Traders were finally alone.

“Now,” the Quartermaster began. What-”

“Psst!”

Rising from its cushion, the Master tiptoed to the wooden door that separated the Quartermaster’s area from the rest of the clans, and threw it open. The light spilling from the cavern confirmed that all the revelers were gone, and the passage was empty. Nothing moved except for the same, slack-jawed drudge it had seen sweeping on the way in.

Satisfied they would not be overheard, the Master closed the door and returned to the table.

“What being wrong?” the Quartermaster asked, its tone more annoyed than concerned.

“Hoping nothing,” the Master said as it chose a clean cushion and sat down, “but receiving disturbing report from Five Rocks gather.”

“Caravan still being there?”

“S’so. Departing at first light, but-”

“Hoping not being more deaths!”

The hint of righteous indignation in the Quartermaster’s tone caused the Master’s cilia to flare with anger. The Quartermaster might not have ordered the deaths of the two young Flyers on the Spine, but it had certainly benefited from them!

yet perhaps still failing

That thought cooled the Master’s rage, and its voice betrayed no emotion as it said, “Ki, no more deaths, but…perhaps being a…ghost.”

“Ghost?” the Quartermaster said with a laugh. “Ghosts being tales to frighten iVokhti!”

“S’so. But if true, this one could causing great trouble.”

“Explaining.”

“Teller overhearing Traders talking about na-Quartermaster. About seeing na-Quartermaster at gather.”

“Impossible!”

Pippa juice sloshed from the Quartermaster’s goblet as he banged it on the table. “na-Quartermaster being dead! Messenger witnessing.”

The Master wiped juice from its chest before saying, “but no one seeing na-Quartermaster’s body so how being sure truly dead?”

“Ridiculous. Messengers not lying, especially to protect Traders!”

“S’so. But what if Messenger being tricked-”

“Tricked? How?”

“Not knowing, but Messenger being ignorant of Wild. Perhaps not seeing to’pakh at all. Perhaps only hearing to’pakh, then hearing screams-”

“Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps! Or perhaps na-Quartermaster truly being dead, and Traders only seeing what wanting to see!”

That thought had occurred to the Master as well, but it could see no reason for the Traders of the caravan to start a rumour about the na-Quartermaster if it really was dead. What would they gain? No, the one explanation that made sense was that the young Trader was still alive and getting ready to challenge for the leadership of the clans.

The Runners would support the Quartermaster because it was one of their own, but the Flyers and Plodders were still angry over the deaths on The Spine. If the na-Quartermaster were allowed to return, they would greet it as a hero, the only Trader to ever survive the Wild on its own.

“If being wrong and na-Quartermaster still being alive, clans could tearing Quarter apart.”

“Not being wrong.”

Taken aback by the Quartermaster’s self-assurance, the Master decided to take a more conciliatory tack.

“Perhaps being right, but what harm being in posting guards at entrance?”

“And looking like fool? Or coward? Ki. Not posting guards.”

Faced with the Quartermaster’s stubborn refusal to take precautions, the Master could do little but concede defeat.

“Hearing and obeying.”

Then it walked from the cavern, steps heavy with disappointment. Once out in the passage, however, its step lightened considerably. Just because the Quartermaster refused to post guards at the entrance did not mean the Tellers could not. They would have to stay out of sight, of course, but that was probably a good thing anyway. If the na-Quartermaster did try to return, they could catch it and dispose of it without the clans being any the wiser. Sometimes opportunity really did spring from adversity.

***

Right, time to go watch The Drum and cook dinner.

cheers

Meeks


The Godsend – Introducing Jaimie

The Godsend is the 2nd book of Innerscape and continues the story of Miira Tahn and the digital world she now inhabits.
In this short excerpt, Miira gets to meet Jaimie Watson for the first time. Despite his youth and apparent rudeness, Jaimie will become a pivotal character in The Godsend.

* * *

 

Miira stepped out into the Tokyo HUB and stopped, stunned by the sheer volume of people crowding the vast, circular concourse. There must have been thousands of them.

Shaking her head in bemusement, she was scanning the crowd for her next guide when she caught sight of a young man with shoulder-length blond hair and wild blue eyes. His long black coat reminded her of dark wings as he pushed his way through the crowd.

Stopping to watch the bright angel run past, she was caught off guard when he suddenly changed direction and barreled towards her. She managed to step out of the way, but her bags were not quite quick enough.

The young man tripped over the bags and grabbed at Miira on the way down. For one timeless moment, they teetered together, then momentum sent them both crashing to the ground.

“Oouw!” Miira yelped as her head hit the tiles. The yelp was followed by an ouff as an elbow knocked the breath from her body.

“Shit, shit, shit!” the young man muttered as he pushed himself to his knees and tried to help Miira sit up. “Just my fucking luck…are you okay?”

“I…think so,” Miira wheezed, one hand going to the back of her head where a small but uncomfortable bump was growing beneath her fingers. “Sometimes reality could be a little less real.”

“Yeah,” the young man said with a frown. “Look. I’m really sorry. I thought you were just a, you know, NRA.”

“Because I look Asian?” Miira snapped, shock giving way to anger.

“I didn’t mean it that way!” the young man protested. “I just… Ah, crap.”

Bending from the waist, he bowed in a very Asian way and murmured, “Gomenasai…”

Maybe he wasn’t being racist after all, Miira thought, impressed despite herself. She probably had looked like all the other NRAs milling around.

“So what did that mean?” she asked, her tone marginally less hostile.

“It means ‘I’m sorry’.”

“Okay. But is your Japanese good enough to get me a taxi?”

The young man’s lip curled in a sneer, as if offended by the very thought that his Japanese might not be fluent.

“Of course. Where do you want to go?”

That’s a good question, Miira thought. After being dwarfed by the Hilton in Aqaba, she had no desire to go to one of the big international hotels. Unfortunately, they were likely to be the only places where her own lack of Japanese would not matter.

“Do you know of any traditional hotels here in Tokyo where the staff still speak some English?”

“Hmmm… You’re not going to get traditional anything in Tokyo,” the young man said with a frown. “But I know a great ryokan in Kyoto where you can do the whole traditional shi-thing, and the staff all speak English.”

“Rio-kan? What’s that?”

“Boy, you really don’t know anything do you?” he retorted, his tone superior.

Miira just raised an eyebrow at him. Her head still hurt, and she was in no mood to be talked down to.

“Okay, okay!” he cried, throwing up his hands. “A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the time when this place was still called Edo. Happy now?”

“Yes, thank you,” Miira said. Kyoto was where she intended to go the next day anyway, so it was not out of the question. “Would I have to go through the HUB again to get there?”

“No, Kyoto is part of Tokyo HUB.”

“Fine, in that case, you get me a taxi to this ryo-kan of yours, and I promise not to sue for grievous bodily harm.”

“Har de hah hah,” he replied, but his lips quirked as if he were trying to restrain a real smile. “C’mon then.”

“Wait!” Miira said to his retreating back. “I can’t keep calling you ‘hey you’. What’s your name?”

“Jaimie. Now c’mon, I haven’t got all day.”

Jaimie? As in Jaimie Watson? Miira wondered as she started after her bad-tempered young guide.

Now that she thought about it, he was certainly rude enough to be eighteen. But there was also a vitality about him she had not seen in many other Residents.

Maybe Nour was right? Maybe young Jaimie Watson had discovered the way to live a good life in Innerscape?

“Let’s go, bags,” Miira said with a shrug. “Our guide is definitely not going to wait.”

 

cheers

Meeks


Who is Alex Tang?

At the risk of boring you all silly, I thought I’d post one more, very short post about my mystery character, Alex Tang. It leaves a lot to the imagination, but I’m rather proud of how much I’ve managed to convey with these 400 something words. I hope this answers most of your questions. The video clip below is what I was listening to while I wrote. The track is called ‘Knights of Palmyra’, from Jo Blankenburg’s album Vendetta.

***

“No.”

The holos of the two government representatives glanced at each other before turning back to the slim, Asian man who sat perfectly still on the sofa opposite.

It was the older official who finally spoke.

“We do understand how bitter you must feel about your husband, James. But we’re pretty sure the people who set fire to the safe house were hired by Beaumont-…”

“If you refuse to testify they’ll get away with everything!” the younger official said.

Alex Tang’s face remained inscrutable as he said, “Your people should have thought of that before they left my husband to burn.”

“We’ve apologized for that a hundred times!” the younger official began.

“Steven!”

The older official cast a withering glance at his companion before continuing.

“Our people died in that blaze too, James. Jenny Martin was one of our best operatives, and she left behind a three year old daughter.”

The mention of Jenny Martin made Alex wince. He had liked Jenny. She had been a friend. And when the wall had imploded, shooting that ball of flame towards him, she had shielded him with her own body. Her sacrifice had saved his life…

“With two of his team down, and your husband…trapped under that wall, Phil Denning did the only thing he could…”

Yeah, he ignored Pete, and saved your precious witness

Pete, Alex’s husband of less than a year, had been furthest from the inferno. Trapped, but also protected by the heavy cupboard that had been blown on top of him by the explosion, he should have been the one to survive. Instead, he had died a slow, agonizing death.

Despite being blinded, and burned to a crisp wherever Jenny’s body had not protected his, Alex had remained conscious the entire time… listening to Pete scream.

“Won’t you at least talk to Phil? Hear his side of the story?”

Talk to Phil Denning? The man who had let Pete die?

A mirthless chuckle escaped Alex’s lips as he turned bitter eyes on the two holograms cluttering up his living room.

“I don’t think so.”

“But-…”

“We’ll let you think things over,” the older official said. “If you change your mind, you know how to reach us.”

when hell freezes over

Alex remained seated as the older official winked out.

“You know they’ll have to pull the plug? If you don’t co-operate,” the young official said. When Alex did not answer, he too winked out.

Alone again, Alex Tang turned his head towards the window. The glass was pristine once more, allowing him to see the Forbidden City in all its glory.

When he had first woken up inside Innerscape, he had smashed the window and thrown himself off the ledge. He had woken back in his bed. Unscathed.

But there was always more than one way of skinning a cat.


Introducing Alex Tang, a new character from Innerscape

I’ve had a great weekend writing, so I thought I’d introduce you to a new character.:)

Tragic house fire kills three

In local news, the bodies of two men, and a woman were recovered from the burnt out shell of a house on the outskirts of Stradwick.

Located in the once green hills of Macedon, Stradwick is a small, domed enclave that was rebuilt after the devastating fires of 2072 razed the original township to the ground.

Thirty years on, Stradwick has become the favoured weekend retreat of wealthy CEO’s and holo stars.

Francis Naismith, one of the ten permanent residents of Stradwick, told me the gutted house was a rental property administered by Greenhills Real Estate.

A spokesperson for Greenhills refused to comment on the identities of the deceased, or even if they had, in fact, been renting the property.

 Police also refused to comment, saying the relatives of the three deceased had not yet been notified.

Neither the police nor the fire services would comment on whether arson was involved. I did, however, manage to discover that the house had a sophisticated fire protection system of its own, above and beyond the protection afforded by the dome.

Why the fire protection system did not work is just one of the many baffling questions surrounding this tragic fire.

This is Jonathon Szabo for Victoria Today, reporting from Stradwick. June 2, 2102.

***

Alex Tang sat in his luxury penthouse, bottle of cognac in hand, as he looked out across the dark water of the moat.

The Forbidden City was a beautiful sight, especially at night when everything was lit up.

Once, he had dreamt of travelling to Beijing and seeing the city of the old emperors for himself. Now he hated it.

Draining the last of the Louis XIII cognac as if it were water, Alex rose from his chair, and threw the bottle at the plate glass window that framed the view of the Forbidden City.

The bottle shattered, and the Forbidden City disappeared behind a web work of crazed glass.

“That’s better.”

They should have let him die.

Barely tipsy, despite the cognac he had drunk, Alex looked neither right nor left as he walked to the bedroom.

A towel covered the large mirror on the wall, opposite the bed, but as the lights came on, he caught a glimpse of a slim, Asian man reflected in the window.

“Curtains close!”

Pulling off his t-shirt and jeans, Alex knelt beside his bed, and clasped his hands in prayer.

“I am James Milgrove,” he whispered into his hands. “I’m 6’2”, and I have blond hair and blue eyes. I was born in Perth twenty-nine years ago. I have an older sister…”

…and I was once married…

They really should have let him die.

***

I have known about this character from the very beginning, but until this weekend he was just a hazy shadow. On Saturday the name, the location, the whole scene just… happened. These are the moments writers live for. They give us the courage to soldier on during the lean times, when every new word feels like giving birth to a 20 pound gorilla. 

Cheers

Meeks


Old friends and new acquaintances on Vokhtah

This excerpt is also about the Forager and takes place a few days later. It is quite a bit longer than the first snippet so remember to make a cuppa first. 🙂

***

The Forager was standing in line with six other foragers, a bag full of fresh herbs in its arms, when the gong for true-dark sounded throughout the eyrie. They had all been held up because of a dispute between one of the foragers and the head Attendant of Stores. The forager only had half a bag to hand in and the Attendant was refusing to pay.

“But only needing one last credit for rock lizard,” the forager cried. “Bringing extra half on the morrow!”

“Pah,” the Attendant said. “And if to’pak catching again?”

“Ki! Promising-…”

“Out of way Scar!” someone else called angrily. “Missing all food soon.”

Other irate voices quickly joined the first, and the Forager gripped its bag tighter, in case a scuffle broke out. It too was just one credit short of a rock lizard, and had no intention of losing its precious herbs in a fight. Peering over the heads of the iVokh in front, it breathed a sigh of relief when it saw the desperate forager finally give up and step out of the line.

As the iVokh limped past, emaciated arms clutched tight around its half empty bag, the Forager could not help noticing the scars tracing an uneven semi-circle around its right wing and leg. Bite marks like that could only have come from a to’pak. Scar was lucky to be alive. The attack must have happened close to the eyrie or it would have bled to death before the healers could reach it.

But why had they left it half crippled? Letting it live without the means to feed itself properly was no boon…

When the line began to move again, the Forager promptly forgot all about the scarred forager, and shuffled along with the rest until it reached the Attendant.

“How knowing so much about herbs?” the Attendant asked.

The iVokh’s tone was more curious than suspicious, yet the Forager still felt its bowels clench in fright. The Attendant was one of the original survivors of the eyrie, and obviously thought it was one of the newcomers from Five Rocks. Unfortunately, the rest of the foragers still waiting in line really had come from Five Rocks. And they thought it was one of the survivors. If it said the wrong thing now it could end up betraying itself to both groups.

“Great parent teaching,” the Forager mumbled, hoping the Attendant would not question it further.

“Ah… fever balm,” the Attendant said as it picked up a twig with pale orange leaves and sniffed. “Parent teaching self. Being apprentice healer before coming to Needlepoint.”

Then parent failing apprenticeship early, the Forager thought as it nodded politely. The obvious pride in the Attendant’s voice stopped it from pointing out that the twig was actually sleep balm, not fever balm. Both were an orange colour, however sleep balm smelled sweet while fever balm had a strong, astringent scent.

“Healers being pleased,” the Attendant continued as it handed the Forager three credits. “Next!”

Clutching its credits, the Forager bowed with exaggerated politeness before hurrying towards the communal feeding area.

By the time it reached the huge cavern next to the animal pens, most of the other iVokh of the eyrie had already fed. And of course, the plumpest rock lizards were gone.

When the bored attendant saw the Forager coming, it reached into the lizard cage and pulled out a scrawny specimen with one hand. Its other hand held a large sack that bulged with credits.

As the Forager handed over its own precious credits it could not avoid a moment of bitterness. If it had only thought to keep a few of the credits it had bartered for the gem shard, it would not now be breaking its back for the privilege of drinking lukewarm blood…

Lizard in hand, it retreated to an empty spot by the wall, and began to feed. It tried to drink slowly, to make the moment last, but all too soon the body in its hand began to shudder.

Pulling away with regret, the Forager licked every last trace of blood from its mouth before going to collect its ration of dried vegetables. It was halfway through the unappetizing granules when it chanced to look up, and recognized Scar standing next to the baskets that held the used bowls.

The iVokh had its back turned to the Forager, and seemed to be transferring bowls from one basket to the other. Every so often it would stop and examine one of the bowls for a moment or two before placing it neatly in the second basket.

Strange, the Forager thought as it started eating again. A moment later its meal was interrupted a second time when an angry shout sounded from the direction of the baskets. It looked up just in time to see an attendant bearing down on Scar, who was backing away with a bowl clutched in its hands. As it retreated it licked frantically at the inside of the bowl.

Realization hit the Forager at the same moment the attendant hit Scar, and pulled the bowl from its hands.

“Cripple!” the attendant hissed in disgust.

“Not being cripple!” Scar hissed back, but it did not try to approach the baskets again. Instead it wandered over to a group of washers who were still eating, and sat down just a short distance from them. If it was hoping they would leave something in their bowls, it must have been disappointed when they got up as a group and moved closer to the attendant.

The scarred forager remained where it was, staring blankly into space, as if it did not care.

Apprentice looking like that

The Forager’s stomach seemed to turn over as it suddenly remembered that night on the Spine, when the Apprentice and the other two had been disowned by the rest of the Traders. Of the three it had managed to save only one.

Was the Apprentice still alive? Had it managed to get back to the Settlement on its own?

Despite knowing it had done all it could for the young Trader, the Forager could not help wishing it could have done more. Perhaps that was why it rose to its feet and crossed the cavern to where Scar still sat, staring at nothing.

Sitting down a short distance from Scar, the Forager made a show of eating as it watched the other iVokh from the corner of its eye.

Scar did not come any closer, but nor did it move away.

The attendants were just starting to clean up when the Forager belched, and put its half-finished bowl on the ground by its side. Then it rose and walked away without a backward glance.


Do you know this iVokh?

I thought some of you might enjoy a small snippet about an old friend. 🙂

* * *

The tall, thin Forager rose up in the air and carefully inspected the clump of boulders before landing, and plucking the fleshy pink shoots that grew in the shade they cast. Boulders and shade often meant to’pak, and it had learned to be extremely cautious when approaching either.

Moving away from the boulders, the Forager popped one of the round, succulent pink leaves in its mouth and chewed. The leaves of the lifeberry were not as effective as the fruit, and the flavour was rather unpleasant, but the moisture and small rush of energy were welcome. Spitting the remains on the ground, it popped another leaf in its mouth before it returned to the heat and back-breaking work of gathering.

When the Forager had first arrived at Needlepoint it had chosen to become a forager because, as a healer, it knew far more about the plants of Vokhtah than most ordinary iVokh. Foraging, however, had turned out to be a gruelling and hungry occupation.

At Needlepoint, every iVokh received one small bowl of ground seeds and tubers every day, no matter what their occupation. Food animals, however, had to be bartered for credits.

As one of the least valued classes in the eyrie, foragers received just one small, leather credit for every bag of seeds or tubers they gathered. By contrast, each rock lizard cost ten credits.

The small upland plateau that surrounded Needlepoint was still almost lush in comparison to the great plains, but even here, most foragers were lucky to gather three bags of food a day. That equated to one rock lizard every four days. They all grazed on whatever was edible as they worked, but a few berries, or the odd piipa fruit could not compensate for the severe lack of blood in their diets, and they all looked half-starved.

Thanks to its knowledge of medicinal herbs, which had a higher value than seeds or tubers, the Forager managed to feed on a rock lizard almost every second day, yet even so it was always hungry, and seemed to spend every waking moment thinking about food. It even dreamt about food. Strangely though, it never seemed to dream about akaht, or tukti. Despite having fed on akaht for most of its life, it could now hardly remember what either akaht or tukti tasted like. It knew akaht were supposed to be slightly salty, but it could not actually remember how the blood tasted on its tongue.

Shaking its head to dispel such futile thoughts, the Forager popped another lifeberry leaf in its mouth as it squinted up at the sky. Still another three hours to go…

…and no rock lizard this night…

The Forager’s sigh was lost in the swish of grass as it bent to its work.


%d bloggers like this: