Forever a WIP

RE: my absence. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up: lost my job, went on vacation, now back to writing.

Yesterday, my boyfriend (who composes music) and I were having a discussion about our creative processes. He’s been writing music for nearly as long as I’ve written stories. During that time, he’s gone and re-recorded/remastered older tunes. My version of this is to edit the living hell out of an existing document. Kind of like making a layer cake, but instead of something yummy, half the time I felt I was covering the errors with prettier words. Anyway, I thought, ‘Hey, why not take a scene from an early version of a story and rewrite it?’ For this, I went with my much loved, yet much edited sci-fi RENEGADE. I have always liked how I introduced Simon’s character, even if the original version is pure 80s action movie camp. So here they are for your reading pleasure. Intro to Simon 2005 and Intro to Simon 2016. I am presenting the 2005 version in its original form. This is to better compare the two scenes. Let me tell you, I was damn wordy back in 2005. On with the writing!

Intro to Simon: 2005 version

Autumn reached her car, where she unlocked the back door to place her tote bag on the seat.  She closed it, readying to open the driver’s side door when she heard footsteps behind her.  Autumn glanced over her shoulder, catching sight of three people slowly making their way across the level.  There was something odd about them in spite of the casual way they were dressed.  The one in the middle looked around as if seeking something, while the other two moved in perfect unison.  After a moment Autumn relaxed.  They looked like they had lost track of their car, and were simply looking for it.  She hoped they would find it and turned away.  Just as she went to get inside the car a hand appeared over her arm, placing gentle but firm pressure on the door.  She whirled around, surprised and angry at the intrusion.

“Excuse me, but this is my car,” she said, glancing at the three who now hovered close to her.  Uncomfortably close, actually, and Autumn stepped aside to give herself room.  The man on the left followed her, blocking her way. 

“Autumn Welles,” the man in the middle stated in a crisp yet strangely accented voice.  Autumn held her car keys close to her, silently thanking her sister Samantha for talking her into buying the can of mace that hung from them.  It looked like she was going to need it very soon.

“Yes?” Autumn replied, trying not to sound as nervous as she felt.  The man on the left stepped closer to her, forcing her to retreat until she stood before the driver’s side door again. 

“You must come with us now.  Your presence is immediately required,” the middle man continued, reaching for her.  Autumn jerked out of the way, her hand tightening on the can of mace. 

“Come with you where?” she asked warily. 

“That is unimportant.  If you will just follow us-“

“I don’t think so,” Autumn replied shortly, surprised by her boldness.  The three looked at one another, as if their expressions alone conveyed what was on their minds.  Autumn knew she was trapped, and the need to say such a thing was nothing more than a stall tactic.  If she continued with the ploy, then perhaps she’d find reason to use the mace.  One spray was all it’d take to ward off the three strangers. 

“You can’t expect me to go with you without telling me where we’re going.  There’s also the fact that I don’t know who you are.  And another thing-“ Autumn’s words died in her throat then, for the man on the right leveled a strange-looking weapon in her direction.  She swallowed nervously, fear paralyzing her mind. 

“We are not asking you to come with us.  We are telling you,” the man with the weapon declared calmly.  Autumn shook her head, wanting to speak when the middle man laid a firm hand on her shoulder.  She jumped, suppressing a cry of protest before she was dragged away from the car.  Autumn tried to pull free but to no avail.  The man yanked her forward so that she was walking before him, his hand locked on her shoulder with an unyielding grip.  Her eyes darted to and fro nervously, hoping someone, anyone would see her and come to her aid.  But the parking level was empty. 

The three men led her toward the stairwell, the one holding her forcing her through the doorway as soon as it was opened.  Autumn went inside, nearly tripping when the man hauled her up the stairs.  She was literally dragged the whole way until they reached the top floor.  The man on the left pushed open the door, Autumn’s hair whipping about her face thanks to the wind that passed over her.  Upon scanning the immediate area she saw no waiting car.  In fact she saw nothing but scattered lamp posts and empty spaces. 

“Where are you taking me?” Autumn demanded.  Her captors said nothing; they merely walked across the level in the direction of the far edge.  They had cleared the center when all of a sudden the one on the right stopped, bringing an arm out to halt the others.  He glanced over at his companions, speaking in an odd, guttural language that Autumn could not understand.  It was then she saw what they must have seen materialize across the way.

A tall figure draped in black was casually leaning against a lamp post, his arms crossed over his chest and right leg propped up.  His head was angled down, the shadow of his hair shielding his face from view.  After a moment he lifted his head and slowly turned his gaze toward the men, allowing Autumn to see that he wore a pair of sunglasses. 

“I believe you’ve got something I want,” the man said, his voice also slightly accented but not as mechanical in its delivery.  Two of the men approached the black-clad one slowly, while the third remained behind to keep Autumn still.  Her fear steadily grew as she watched.  Suddenly she wished she had gone home earlier, if only to avoid this strange confrontation.

The black-clad man watched the other two with nonchalant disregard, yet when he uncurled his arm one of the men made an exclamation.  A firearm slid into the black-clad man’s hand, the light from above gleaming off the barrel.  Autumn recognized it as the same as the one that was pulled on her, but she had little time to reflect on the coincidence.  She was shoved to the ground by the one who held her, and as she scrambled to her hands and knees she saw the weapon barrel glow with an eerie yellow light.  What could only be described as a laser beam shot out, catching the man on the right in the shoulder.  As soon as the man dropped in a heap the other two advanced, leaving Autumn alone.  She was too transfixed by what she saw to think to escape.

The stranger darted away from the lamp post in a half-spin, his other hand producing a weapon.  He hoisted both guns up, firing several times.  The lasers burned through the second man, and after his body was sent spinning awkwardly he collapsed.  Autumn felt her stomach heave at seeing the blood pooling around the man, prompting her to cover her mouth to keep from retching. 

In the meantime the third man came at the stranger, an angry cry escaping his lips.  Autumn watched, amazed, as the stranger sheathed both weapons before reaching out to halt the other’s forward progress with the flat side of his palm.  The man staggered back from the hit, yet before he could muster a counter the stranger grabbed his head and slammed it against his upright knee.  When the man fell onto his back his attacker stomped on his neck with such force it severed the head from the rest of the body. 

Autumn cried out and scooted backwards, pushing herself away from the carnage in a frantic attempt to escape.  She kept going until she backed against a wall, causing her to jump to her feet.  The moment she did she found herself face to face with the stranger and screamed.  He brought a gloved hand up to cover her mouth, an expression of distaste coming to his lips.  Autumn watched him with wide eyes, her nostrils flaring as she heaved.  Her hand tightened around the can of mace in spite of the paralysis the situation cast over her mind. 

“If you scream again I will kill you.  Understand?” he said coldly.  Autumn found herself nodding, and he removed his hand from her mouth.  The instant he did she brought the can of mace up, emptying the whole thing right in his face.  She had the sudden urge to smile; this man had single-handedly killed three others only to be felled by a can of pepper spray.  Autumn was on the verge of laughing her triumph when she realized the stranger did not stagger back to wipe at his eyes.  Instead his expression turned more grim as he reached up and slowly lowered the sunglasses so they rested at the end of his nose.  Autumn pulled in a breath at the glowing intensity of his blue eyes.

“I’d appreciate it if you refrained from doing that again.  Your types have no idea how foul this smell is,” he remarked.  Some of Autumn’s fear faded, replaced with annoyance.  It suddenly didn’t matter that he displayed immunity to mace, only that he had insulted her. 

“What do you mean by that?” she demanded angrily.  The stranger dutifully ignored her as he wiped his sunglasses clean of the pepper spray using the sleeve of his coat.  After replacing them he reached for her.  Autumn jerked out of the way. 

“There’s no time for this,” he said in an annoyed tone. 

“I don’t care.  Who the hell are you anyways?” Autumn snapped, moving aside each time he attempted to grab her.  At length he took hold of her forearm, bringing her forward with such strength it caused her to gasp.

“If you don’t keep quiet and come with me, you won’t be alive long enough to learn the answers to those questions.  Now come on,” he insisted. 

***

Intr0 to Simon: 2016 version

The stretch of road featured a fair amount of traffic. Overhead, the stars were blotted out by the distant glow of the city to the north. Autumn picked out a few constellations as she walked, her thoughts drifting to the times her grandfather took her stargazing. He’d taught her how to identify Polaris, Rigel, and Sirius. She knew the best times to view Venus and Mars thanks to him. His desire to see these places was so strong her grandfather reassured her that once he passed, he would use the time to explore the universe. Autumn smiled faintly at the sky, wondering, not for the first time, if her grandfather was still traveling, and what he had seen.

The buildings to either side grew closer together as she walked. Dark, narrow passages marked the boundaries between them. As Autumn passed one, she heard footsteps. She expected to be overtaken by whoever was behind her. But the steps kept time to hers. And they were gaining.

Overcome by a sense of warning, Autumn hurried her pace. The Mexican restaurant was still a few blocks down. Autumn quickly scanned the buildings, hoping to slip into a convenience store or something. It was too dark and quiet for her to feel comfortable. But when she neared the corner, a man appeared in front of her. It was the same one she’d seen at the hotel.

Frightened now, Autumn tried to go around him. He cut off her escape.

 “Autumn Welles,” he said. His pronunciation was strange, as if English was not his primary language.

Autumn gulped. She gripped the purse strap at her shoulder. If he tried anything, she might be able to hit him and run.

“What do you want?”

The man withdrew a black object from his coat. Two more men appeared to either side of her. Autumn flinched at their proximity, but it was the strange handguns each aimed at her that stilled her movements.

“You must come with us now.”

One grabbed her shoulder. Autumn’s panicked cry was muffled when he covered her mouth. Her thoughts frayed, only to reform as the instinct to escape. Despite her efforts to twist free, the man dragged her into the alley. The rancid stench of garbage invaded her nostrils. It was such a sickening scent, she felt momentarily dizzy. Tears burned her eyes. Who were these men? What did they want with her? She hastily looked around, hoping someone, anyone would help her.

And then, almost on cue, a tall figure with long, stringy blond hair and wearing what appeared to be armor inspired by TRON: Legacy appeared at the far side of the alley. His eyes, while a striking shade of blue, were cold as he stared at them. Autumn’s belief he was associated with her kidnappers fled the minute he opened fire.

His using the same gun as her kidnappers was lost as what could only be described as a laser beam shot through the air. It struck the first man in the chest. He screamed in pain and dropped. Autumn cried out as her keeper thrust her toward the wall. She sank to the ground, trembling all over. The scent of rotting food nearly made her pass out. She pressed her hand to her nose to reduce its effects. Fear, however, kept her transfixed on the scene unfolding before her eyes.

The other two advanced. The man in black fired again, hitting one of the two in the neck. Blood spurt forth to coat the wall. Outraged, the remaining man raced toward him. The knife was a flash of silver as he threw it.

Autumn watched, speechless, as the stranger holstered his weapon before extending his hand. The knife collided with an invisible force. It spun away into the distance. The stranger finished his enemy off by shooting him in the head. When he looked down at Autumn, the gleam in his eyes freed her from her paralysis. She screamed and scrambled toward the street.

The man in black caught her by the arm and dragged her back. She struggled against him as he spun her around. His hand was like a lead weight across her mouth.

“Don’t scream again,” he said. His voice was as cold as his eyes.

Autumn found herself nodding, and he removed his hand. The instant he did, she attempted to swat him with her purse. He gestured. The purse was torn from her hands so fast the strap snapped. It landed between a pair of overflowing garbage cans.  

Heart pounding, she stared up at his face, all sharp angles and lined with faint scars. In her terror, she swore she saw another face pass across his.

Her voice shook as she did. “Who are you?”

 

Advertisements

Life’s not so little interruptions

My younger sister recently underwent surgery, so my focus has been shifted to taking care of her while she recovers. Still, the writer’s muse continues to gather inspiration for projects past and present, even if I am not thinking about writing.

On contests: Submission of Renegade‘s first chapter to the contest hosted by Wildsound went smoothly. I expect to hear back from them within 3-5 weeks. All entries have the chance to be read aloud at the WILDSound Writing Festival, but that’s not why I entered. It’s the feedback I want. Having it read will be a bonus, but not one I’ll be sad about if it doesn’t get selected. I still have to wait until July to hear how Mermaid’s Courage fared. Really, really, really hoping it makes the grade. If not, there are other contests. Certainly no shortage of them. Am anticipating entering the 3 Day Novel contest. I’ve gathered more references to use in the story, which makes me super excited to work on it. Hell, I may write it even if it isn’t for that contest. So many elements of this story come straight from the heart. Never before have I placed so much of my own feelings into a character. Her story deserves to be written.

Now that I’ve completed the outline for Renegade’s sequel, the time to start writing has begun. Process has been slow due to outside distractions, but I am liking what I have. Simon is not in a good place, but he has an ally and a goal. It’s a good start. One that I don’t hate, anyway.

On books: I finished reading Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN yesterday. My delight in reading a good sci fi aside, Andy Weir’s success with it isn’t what you’d expect. There wasn’t an exhaustive pursuit of agents and hundreds of rejections. He decided to write a story, posted it chapter by chapter on his website, where it gained popularity. He then offered it on Amazon for 99 cents, and booyah! Bestseller. He received a publication AND movie deal pretty much at the same time. The movie is slated to come out later this year. I also hear he’s working on a second novel. Good for him, I say. 🙂

While his success can be associated to what other writers are doing with their popular fanfiction (‘filing off the serial numbers), it’s also a clear indication that the publishing industry is evolving. Someone saw his story was already popular with readers, so they made him the offer. Half the work is already done for them. It makes good business sense to take in popular writers. I dislike that this process involves ficcers looking for an easy way to make it big, but for every one of those trend-driven books, I take comfort that there’s an Andy Weir in there who’s being given the chance we all dream of. We should celebrate it.

Universal expansion

When it comes to writing, one of the best, and most rewarding, parts for me is the world building. I admit, sometimes I get lost in the details, so when it comes time to explain something in the narrative, I pause and think, Yeah…how DOES that work?

As I’ve said before, Renegade‘s overall plot did not leave me a lot of room to explore the vast universe it occupied. Its sequel will not have those constraints. As I continue to lay down the groundwork for it, I am focusing on some background information the characters will come across during the course of the story. A lot of it has to do with things that were briefly touched upon in Renegade. I am also going to introduce other species that occupy my universe. They may not play major roles in the story, but their inclusion is every bit as important. I don’t have anything solid just yet, the wheels are turning.

Years ago, when I first tried shopping Renegade around, I had a potential editor tell me she could sympathize with Simon because he was a tragic character. Considering the shit I put him through, and all the secrecy surrounding his origins, it’s easy to see that. It really clicked when I wrote up a medical log the characters will find in the sequel. So I’m sharing this tidbit with everyone. Whoever coined the phrase, ‘You always hurt the one you love,’ was not kidding.

***

From decrypted medical logs concerning Project Rebirth

Subject: Xabeldi
Re: transfiguration readiness

Log 1.1 Preliminary examination shows subject endured trauma to the left arm and right hip. Blood loss minimal due to surface antiseptics. Muscle damage to arm manageable. Pins applied to hip fracture. Injuries to head superficial.

Log 2.1 Injuries are healing. Subject shows no decrease in functionality with arms, shoulders, and neck. Limp not as pronounced; however, strength in leg joint questionable. Pins reinforced.

Log 2.35 Subject growing weaker. Amount of sunlight and nutrients required to maintain biology difficult to come by. Viability for project at risk. Stasis pod recommended.

Log 4.5 Subject health at acceptable level. Phase one of biological rewrite approved. Nanomachines inserted into bloodstream. Subject returned to stasis.

Log 5.7 Subject’s body is showing signs of resistance. Nanomachines increased.

Log 9.8 Phase one nano therapy complete. Tests on subject show decreased need for sunlight. Need for carbon dioxide still a factor. Subject asphyxiated when removed from CO2 atmosphere maintained in pod. Nutrients fed intravenously.

Log 11.4 Phase two of nano therapy initiated. Continue to decrease need for sunlight absorption. Human DNA received. Cultures collected for testing.

Log 12.13 Genetic structure incompatible between human and Xabeldi. Modified stem connector must be created to achieve successful fusion. Will continue running tests.

Log 17.3 Final nano therapy phase complete. Dependence on sunlight weaned. Respiratory and circulatory system therapies initiated.

Log 25.2 Subject required resuscitation again. Rejection of human organs impedes progress. Subject’s resilience weakening. May have to reconsider project.

Subject: Xabeldi
Re: transfiguration- updated

Entry 2.3 My predecessor’s vision was limited. Subject’s resilience will be a nonfactor once modified stem connector is in place. Initiating bone restructuring. Xabeldi chest cavity inadequate to contain human organs.

Entry 7.5 Subject had to be heavily sedated to allow procedure to commence. Rate of growth satisfactory. Implants grafted to key zones to maximize effect.

Entry 12.4 Stress from the bone growth placed a strain on the hip fracture. Section has been replaced with tech. Modifications operate on the synthetic compound found in Nureni bloodstreams. Subject’s body shows no sign of rejection.

Entry 35.2 Bone growth continues. Natural human organs are rejected repeatedly. I have authorized synthetic versions of the cardiovascular and pulmonary organs. Digestive therapies incomplete at this time. Will instruct my assistants to speed the process.

Entry 54.7 Bone restructure has been completed. Additional finger lengths on left hand shorter than expected, but still functional. Nano therapy for respiratory system a success. The synthetic lungs have been transplanted. Subject relocated to an oxygenated chamber.

Entry 60.1 Test results are positive: oxygen inhalation has no adverse side effects. Musculature regrowth shows promise. Phase two of cardiovascular nano therapy has been initiated.

Entry 87.9 Synthetic heart transplant has been a success. Cellular rewrite on the subject’s circulatory system is functioning. All traces of chlorophyll eradicated. Activating stem connector to complete neurological rewrite. Inhibitor collar activated to control fluctuations in telepathic/TK powers.

Entry 102.5 Stem connector online and functioning. Subject’s biological readings are steady. Phase one of epidermis replacement initiated. Sedation not required. I must be able to test subject’s reaction to stimuli.

Entry 112.4 Skin graft test interrupted by subject’s violent reaction. Results inconclusive. Restraints will be implemented for remainder of tests. Will need two new assistants.

Entry 125.5 Removal of first layer fifty percent complete. Alterations to subject’s body has negatively affected parts where skin is thinnest, notably the feet, hands, behind the knees, inside the elbows, pelvic region, and neck. Those areas must be reinforced first before cells die.

Entry 148.1 Phase two of epidermis treatment concluded. Distribution of human skin layer imperfect, but it is responding to stimuli. Increase in musculature on chest, arms and legs complete. Initiated cartilage and fat cells growth at key areas. Subject’s readings remain steady.

Entry 200.6 Epidermis replacement complete. Subject is showing signs of hair growth on head, arms, legs, chest, and pelvic region.

Entry 215.9 Further tests indicate alteration to digestive system requires diet of specialized nutrient paste, sugar, and water. Subject’s system has adapted to changes wonderfully.

Entry 238.1 Transformation complete. Stem connector switched to dormant mode. Subject reported as having emotional episode once in the confines of his cell. He is the result of years of extensive, and exhaustive, research. A marvel of the best our science has to offer, despite our limited supplies. I should think he would be proud.

Looking ahead

My plans to use April Camp as a means to revise Lifeline may have been a bust, but I have turned that creative fervor into a new outline for the sequel to Renegade. Most of what I have so far is mostly character-driven (conflicts, goals, that sort of thing). The plot for the sequel’s original draft involved events that will be explored in the third, and final, title in the trilogy. It leaves a lot of room to maneuver for the revision. I plan to shift focus to characterization, rather than characters reacting to plot-driven forces. My biggest mistake with Renegade was writing the plot first, and the characters second. The only reason I didn’t scrap it in favor of a full rewrite was because several key elements exist in its subplots that will be used to drive the sequel. Think how The Empire Strikes Back played out in comparison to A New Hope. Luke and Co. were pulled along by a bigger plot, while Empire took time out to focus on the characters (Luke’s Jedi training, Han and the others looking to meet up with the rest of the fleet, before all plots merge in Cloud City). That’s what I intend to do with the sequel.

What I love best about this approach is it allows for a LOT of introspection. Simon and Autumn learned a lot about their connection, which leads to a lot of questions that need answers. New characters will be introduced, as well, and each of them has an important part to play in the overall story arc. Fortunately, I have a lot of raw material to work from. I’ve already been shaping, or re-shaping, characters/plot points as needs be. It’s funny what you learn about your characters. For starters, Simon’s father is a top candidate for World’s Worst Dad considering how he screwed him over. This will be one of the subplots I tackle, because it links with the stuff happening in Autumn’s life, too. Neither of them will have much love for him, that’s for sure.

Aside from hashing out a rough outline, I also wrote a definitive bio for Simon. It’s mostly for me to use as a reference, but what I love most about it is how well it maps out his characterization. It’s like, ‘Whoa, you’ve had this guy kicking around in your head for near on ten tears, and only NOW you can put two and two together?’ Again, this was a result of my putting plot first, and characters second. Despite this, 2005 Serena did lay enough groundwork for me to use in solidifying Simon’s character today.

On that note, I’d like to share some parts of the bio that aren’t ridden with spoilers. Enjoy!

***

With his history hidden deep in his mind, Simon grew up lacking identity, and a name. The caretaker at the nursery dubbed him Xargun, after the star that went supernova in the Xabeldi’s earliest history. It turned out to be a fitting moniker. He was an angry youth given to violence. This temperament kept him a permanent ward of the orphanage until a recruiter from the XSF visited. Simon had already demonstrated a knack for slipping past security using telepathy. The XSF tapped him for training in their espionage and tactical unit. He joined up shortly after he turned eighteen (by human standards).

 
Though his training began with some rough spots, Simon soon learned to become a team player, even found enjoyment in it. For the first time, he felt he belonged. While not physically strong, he demonstrated remarkable skill with hacking, small weapons, and infiltration. This was helped along by his telepathy, which was higher than his telekinetic powers. Simon could still summon shields for protection, or use TK to allow for swifter movements, but it was not his forte. During training, he teamed up regularly with two other skilled hackers, and all became close friends.

 
Upon graduating among the top of his class, Simon and his friends, along with a small squad, were assigned to investigate a Xabeldi colony that had gone silent. It was Simon’s first field mission, and it turned into a disaster. His CO, in league with mercs hired by Nuos itself, used the mission as a cover to capture the squad. Upon realizing they had been set up, Simon gunned down the CO. The mercs then opened fire on the squad. All but Simon were killed despite his best efforts. One of his friends created a distraction so he could escape. The last Simon saw of him was the mercs gunning him down. He returned to Xa’Beld to make his report, and was court martialed for his trouble. Disgusted by the High Council’s decision, and with no one to keep him on the planet, Simon left Xa’Beld behind.

 

After hunting down the mercs that attacked his squad, he spent the rest of his 20s making a name for himself as a contract killer, bounty hunter, and thief. His reputation as a proficient killer was helped along by stories of what he did to the mercs. These had painted him as ruthless. Simon did not contradict them. He had given up trust in favor for money, and it was ironic amusement that had him accept Xenon’s contract to kill Councilor Irexun. It was to be his downfall.

 

Injured and on the run from the XSF, Simon propelled his ship toward an inactive gate at the edge of Xabeldi space. When it came online on its own, he went through without hesitation, unaware that the Nureni, under orders from Nuos, had opened it to enable his escape. The construct then went offline, preventing the XSF from pursuing him.

 

Simon then spent the next ten years as their slave. The Nureni took advantage of his skills in order to keep their colony maintained. Though he demonstrated defiant acts against his keepers whenever possible, the worst was yet to come. Five years into his imprisonment, the Nureni began the long, painful process of biologically altering him into the first human/Xabeldi hybrid, a feat impossible if not for the stem connector, in order to send him to Earth. The mission brought him face to face with his hidden past as a descendant of Xarthan, as well as his connection to Autumn Welles, the woman carrying Bexanth’s powers. Association with her enabled Simon to trust again, and he turned on the Nureni to save her life. They developed a close bond during their experiences, and she is one of the few he trusts. He has taken the name she gave him and made it his own.

 

Though free from the Nureni, the scars of what they did to him are deep. The stem connector threatens his life. The XSF still seeks his death. It’s not until nearly three years after his escape from the Nureni that questions about who he is, where he came from, and what’s expected of him as Xarthan’s descendant, stand a chance at being answered. Now entering his late 30s, Simon’s journey is far from over.

Body models + new material= gooood

Some stories, you just go into knowing what your characters look like. I’ve known Simon’s face since day one. The funny thing is I didn’t realize I had modeled him after anyone until recently. His antagonist, Arxon, however, went through at least three different ones before I found his face. It clicked while I was watching Last Days on Mars. Coincidence? I think not.

brett scallions

Simon: Brett Scallions, former lead singer of Fuel

Liev-Schreiber

Arxon: Liev Schreiber, actor

The following is new material I wrote up today. I have plans to revise Renegade‘s sequel, and this scene may or may not be the bridge that gaps events between the two books. The scene is heavily influenced by nearly every sci-fi movie out there, plus all the hours I spent playing Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3. Got me a fun world to play with. Might as well enjoy it, right?

***

Yshmar hated Xa’Benth Station. As a native of Aldab Caye, an open, lush planet, the station was an affront to his senses. It was overpopulated, dark, noisy, and always on the brink of civil unrest, or worse, a battleground for warring merc factions. Charxun Sector was no exception. Despite its unpredictability, Charxun was good for one thing, and one thing alone: covert meetings.

Eateries, shops, clubs, and pleasure houses were numerous here. It seemed no matter where one looked, digicreds exchanged hands. As an intel specialist, Yshmar was no stranger to deals of this sort. He’d met plenty of surly characters- and had lived to tell about it thanks to his ability to sniff out a bad bargain. Yshmar’s code was simple: if the reward did not match the risk, make it worth his while, or walk away. Today was no different. Today, he had chosen to wait for his contact inside a dingy, little place that afforded him a nice view of the exits. Should things go awry, he knew the fastest route back to his ship.

Yshmar laid his hands on the triple-enforced steel case on his lap. Rare was it he dealt in physical pieces. He preferred the intangible aspect of information. But between his lackey dying during the retrieval, the secrecy employed by his contact, and the want to dump the piece quickly, Yshmar had set aside his usual caution. Better to cut ties now than let it sit in his private vault. There was no telling what this tech could do.

Someone pressed a pistol to the back of his head. Yshmar, accustomed to receiving greetings worse than this, kept his tone neutral.

“My contact, I presume?”

“Turn off your bioscan, or I shoot.” His aggressor’s voice was muffled, indicating he was either masked, or wore an environmental suit.

Yshmar tapped a code into the wrist communicator on his right arm. Bioscans were a necessary evil in his line of work, particularly if he needed to know how to slow a foe down in the event of a quick escape. The fact his contact had him deactivate this failsafe made Yshmar glad he hired two mercs when he arrived. They waited in the shadows across the way.

After showing him the scan was off, the contact spoke again. “Do you have it?”

Yshmar gestured to his lap. The other retracted the pistol, and joined him at the table. Yshmar studied his contact for a moment. He wore black and red armor, its exterior scuffed and chipping in places. The way the pieces fit together suggested it had been crafted by hand. It wasn’t like any armor he’d seen before. No insignias identified him as part of any gang or faction. His face was hidden beneath the darkened visor of his helmet.

At the other man’s prompt, Yshmar set the steel case on the table, only to slide it just out of reach. The armored figure stiffened in his chair.

“The fee we agreed on is insufficient,” Yshmar said. He caressed the case with idle fingers. “Tech as dangerous as this is worth far more than five thousand. I feel its value is closer to ten. Don’t you agree?”

As he spoke, the two mercs appeared in the entryway. The few patrons sitting at tables quickly fled, much to the owner’s chagrin. However, his demands that the diners pay was cut short when a merc aimed a rifle his way. The owner dove behind the counter.

The armored stranger said nothing for some time, nor did he seem bothered by the mercs. Yshmar waited with the patience born of his profession, and the guarantee that need would be greater than outrage at price.

What happened next, Yshmar had not counted on.

The chair flew from beneath Yshmar, just as the table was swept away. As he crashed to the floor, the steel case launched into the air. The armored stranger snatched it with expert timing. Two pistol shots took out the mercs. Next, Yshmar became intimate with the same gun barrel. Heat blasted him in the face.

He stared up into that black visor, and knew at once he was not only dealing with a Xabeldi, but a Xabeldi unlike any other. Yshmar held up his hands in a pleading gesture. “Did I say ten? I meant three. Three will do.”

The Xabeldi knelt beside him. When he pried open the case, a sector-wide alarm sounded. Yshmar glanced about in fear. Possessing tech of this sort was illegal in all sectors. Xa’Benth Station security would be here any moment. The Xabeldi did not seem the least bit concerned about that, for he upended the contents with measured calm. A single circuit board spilled out to land on Yshmar’s chest. Horrified, he shifted in place to be rid of it. Wild stories of the tech’s capability to embed itself within flesh sent shivers down his spine.

“You wanted ten thousand for this?” the Xabeldi said in a low hiss.

Yshmar’s smile turned nervous. “Please, understand,” he said, trying very hard to ignore the alarms, the gun in his face, and the sense that the Xabeldi would shoot him at the slightest provocation. “Acquiring Nureni tech proved more difficult than I had expected. Even knowing of its existence breaks dozens of interplanetary laws. I had to recoup my losses.”

“Then you chose the wrong way to do it,” the Xabeldi retorted.

“Ah, yes, I did,” Yshmar replied, shrinking as the gun stabbed him between the eyes. The circuit board slid along his chest. The pins poked him, making him more nervous. “Perhaps we can arrange something else? Something equally beneficial. You require more of this tech? I can get it for you.”

The Xabeldi leaned closer. “Why should I believe you?”

At this, Yshmar indicated his need to access his wrist communicator. The Xabeldi gestured he do so with a sharp wave of the gun. Yshmar keyed in information as quickly as possible. A map appeared in the air between them.

“See? A gesture of good faith,” he said, speaking rapidly. “Here are the coordinates. It’s in a secure vault beneath an old mining facility. Let me send—”

The Xabeldi tore the communicator from Yshmar’s wrist, removed the memory core and slipped it into a pocket on his belt. He then let the communicator drop to Yshmar’s chest. It landed close to the circuit board. Yshmar swore he saw the pins stretch outward to connect to the comm. However, when he tried to sit up, the Xabeldi hauled him to his feet. The objects fell to the floor.

“Wait,” Yshmar said, fearful. “Don’t kill me.”

“I’m not going to kill you,” the Xabeldi told him. “You’re taking me to that mining facility. I don’t think you want to stay here with that,” he said, indicating the Nureni circuit board. Yshmar heard the smile in his voice. “Security is already on the way.”
Being caught with the Nureni tech was not on Yshmar’s agenda today. Neither was a forced trip to the same place where his lackey was killed. It was then he knew which Xabeldi he was dealing with. It couldn’t be any other.

“I know who you are,” he said, his fear giving way for desperation. “What if I tell them the tech belongs to the infamous Xargun?”

“They wouldn’t believe you.”

The answer confused him. “Why not?”

The Xabeldi lifted the black visor. Yshmar stared into a smiling face that was definitely not Xabeldi.

Amusement shone in his piercing, blue eyes. “Because Xargun died three years ago.”

Renegade, reborn

Renegade has had quite the journey since I finished its first draft back in 2005. After several rejections and a failed attempt at self-publishing, I decided to remove it from the list of possible publishing candidates. As a result, I have posted it, in its entirety, on my Scribd page. The original plan was to put it on Booksie, but technical difficulties (and a distinct lack of communication from the support team) had me upload it elsewhere. Feeling up to a fun, action movie-esque adventure? Head on over to my Scribd account. While I don’t think it’s commercially viable, the story is still entertaining. Simon and Autumn remain two of my fave characters to write. Here’s my fave piece of Simon fanart, drawn by the awesomely talented Grant Gould. I’ve been friends with him for years. He’s living the nerd’s dream as a freelance artist for Lucasfilm. 🙂

simon_by_grantWith all this TLC I’ve devoted to Renegade, my plans for Camp NaNo have fallen on the wayside. I’m not bothered by it. The year has plenty of writing opportunities for me. There’s November NaNo, the second Author’s First Novel contest, plus I need to finish writing Mermaid’s Courage before July. I am also going to participate in the 3 Day Novel contest over Labor Day weekend. Of course, all this needs to be balanced with real life stuff. I am nothing if not lacking in challenges.

Dedication vs Denial: Are You Beating a Dead Horse?

Last night, I had an unexpected idea cross my mind: what if I was to make the male lead in my sci-fi, Renegade, a female rather than a male? And keep the human name because Simon is from a mono-gendered race, and therefore doesn’t understand what denotes a human male name from a female one? It sounded pretty brilliant- for about five seconds. Swapping Simon’s gender has no benefit to the plot. It is the literary equivalent to a publicity stunt. A cheap tactic to gain interest on a property that, perhaps, might not grab everyone who comes across it. And it shames me that this thought even crossed my mind. I have a deep love for this story and the characters that inhabit the world. A friend read the book and liked it. Two others have agreed to read it as well. I recently re-read its latest version. Barring some minor changes (some parts could benefit from more character interaction), it flowed well. I enjoyed it. It stands as a good doorway into the other two books in the trilogy.

But I’ve also been working on this story since 2005. It has seen dozens of revisions. Simon himself has changed with it. The narrative was, at times, dreadfully wooden. Uninspired. Dull. My sister likened it to reading a historical book. She hated the female lead. My antagonist was as multidimensional as your standard 80s action movie villain. Even Simon came across as sadly one dimensional. There was no heart in it, only cold, hard facts. And she was right. So I took it to the editing desk. Again, and again and again. Part of me wonders if wanting to inject such a radical change into its makeup at this stage is sounding its death knell. I don’t mean that it is destined to share the same shelf as other ideas that I couldn’t make work. Maybe I have done all I can for it. Adding or taking anything away now will only make it worse. It must be allowed to stand on its own two feet and I, like an anxious mother, must let it. This is a good example of beating a dead horse.

Here’s another example: I had a friend who once thought I was addicted to editing. I had just finished my immense epic fantasy (found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/184758572/The-Last-Hero), but my work was far from done. What she defined as an editing addiction was just the natural progression of a story’s life. However, at the time, I thought she was right: that it WAS done, and I couldn’t let it go. So I did. I turned my focus to other things. The Last Hero languished for years. My firstborn novel receded into the background to make way for its siblings. Given the fact that I devoted three years to its creation, letting it waste away on my hard drive is a cruel fate. That’s why I made it available online.

Sometimes I think about that story. I even debated on dusting it off and taking it through a revision. Its biggest problem isn’t anything plot-related (though I can think of a few scenes that can be cut). It’s the length. It clocks in at over 200K words in length. That’s at LEAST a trilogy, if collected in one volume. Were I to cut it into multiple pieces now, I’d need to make certain each part I selected had a definitive beginning, middle and end. I’d probably spend another three years working on it. Hell, had I not stopped when I did back in 2003, I might have a fantasy trilogy on hand already. Revisions for the first book would probably be done, or close to done. I’ve learned so much about myself as a writer and what works versus what doesn’t. It could really benefit it. Alas, it is a project for another day. Perhaps I’ve resigned myself to its fate. Or I’m not willing to put all that work into an old idea when I could turn it into a new one. A fine example of not beating a dead horse if I saw one.

Letting a project go is a true test for any writer no matter the skill level. We’re not just faced with questions related to the plot, pacing, characters, etc. We’re faced with being able to identify when it’s time to hold on, and when it’s time to let go. Sometimes we become so involved in our stories, we lose the ability to disconnect from them and observe from a distance. I think that’s what happened to me for Renegade. It’s time to let this one go.

 

If at first you don’t succeed…

…apply the lesson as seen in this clip from The Swan Princess.

 

To those who have seen the movie, the scene depicts Prince Derek sharpening his skills so that when he finds the Great Monster, he’ll save Princess Odette, and live happily ever after. This can be applied to writers, too, except the Great Monster is the dreaded synopsis, and you must defeat it in order to get the princess agent. I have way more experience completing novels than I do with synopses. I can bet every writer feels the same way, but it’s a skill we need if we’re to have any success in getting repped. Fortunately, the internet offers a wealth of tips, tricks, do this, not that, and samples for books that went on to be published. The one I found the most helpful was written by Susan Dennard. Just head on over to her How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis and see for yourself!

Why am I bringing this up? Well, aside from needing the practice, hehe. I am looking to submit the first fifteen pages of The Shadow Conflict to Writer’s Relief for their client list consideration. They offer proofreading and editing services, but also extend invitations to writers during open submissions. Since I need my synopsis to shine, I decided to use Renegade as the springboard, while utilizing Susan Dennard’s method. My first draft clocked in at almost 600 words. The short synopsis must be less than 500. I managed to get it to 481:

Synopsis
RENEGADE
By
Serena Gulledge

Millennia have passed since the end of the Xabeldi/Nureni war. Now banished to the farthest reaches of space, the Nureni prepare to exact vengeance.
Xabeldi outcast Xargun, imprisoned by the Nureni and biologically changed into a human, wants one thing: freedom. To get it, he must go to Earth to capture Autumn Welles. She possesses a power the Nureni and Xabeldi covet.
Xargun’s first hour on Earth turns violent when he encounters three members of the Xabeldi Special Forces. Taking the name ‘Simon’, he tracks down Autumn to a parking garage. Autumn proves to be a handful, and her desperate bid for freedom escalates into risking their lives when she veers into traffic. Simon nearly kills her for it, and is tortured by the control device implanted in his body.
After another close call with Xabeldi agents, Simon flees in a stolen aircraft with Autumn. A surprise attack by the Xabeldi Special Forces captain, Arxon, destroys the ship. Simon is injured; when faced with the odds of her survival, Autumn abandons her plans to escape and helps him. An accidental touch awakens her sleeping power, resulting in telekinetic bursts when she’s agitated. Simon suspects something else is going on.
Arxon finds them and, after leaving Simon for dead, takes Autumn to his ship. Simon infiltrates the ship, but the sleeping agent Arxon used on Autumn threatens her life. Simon saves her, and in her panic she slaps him, and siphons some of his power. Exhausted, they retreat to a motel. Autumn reveals she can now hear thoughts, and she strikes a deal with him: she’d go with him if he swore to bring her home. Arxon attacks the motel, and captures Simon and Autumn when they try to escape on the road. Arxon takes them to the Xabeldi home world.
Once there, the truth becomes clear: Simon and Autumn contain one half of an ancient Xabeldi’s power. In order to restore it, Autumn must absorb the half Simon carries through touch. The Nureni take over Simon’s body using the control device, and he goes on a killing spree. After ‘Simon’ saves Autumn, he claims he was never taking her home. Devastated, Autumn expects to die.
The Nureni force Autumn to touch Simon. Armed with the ancient’s power, the Nureni prepare for rejuvenation. Simon frees Autumn, kills the Nureni and steals a ship, but is mortally wounded. Autumn heals him while they escape. Arxon’s attack cripples the ship. Simon sends Autumn home through a teleportation gateway, then jumps in after her. The ship crashes, but Arxon doesn’t think Simon is dead, and swears to find him. Meanwhile, Simon has appeared in the cargo hold of an isolated outpost, where a Xabeldi waits for him.
Six months later, Autumn tries to resume her normal life while balancing her telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Something tells her she’ll see Simon again. It’s not over yet.

The weird thing is that once I got the hang of the process, it became easier for me to narrow it down to the basics. The key here is flow. I’m not saying this is the best I can do, but hey, it’s a start. I’ll practice next with Lifeline, or perhaps try my hand at Renegade‘s sequels, Exile and Savior. Lifeline will be slightly more challenging for me since there is no clear cut antagonist. All the conflict exists in Gabriel himself, which he must overcome in order to resolve the main plot. Whatever I do next, I have until April 10th to submit to Writer’s Relief. Here’s to hoping my final result is my best!

 

I stand corrected

I received an email confirmation from Lulu concerning the review for Lifeline. The story’s content was indeed reviewed and compared to other, popular authors but not the way I originally believed. It was more a diagnosis of writing style versus the quality of the story itself (as far as grammatical, plot and characterization went). Here’s how they described Lifeline:

writing personalityUnfortunately, I deleted the rest of the PDF file they sent me by mistake. While it described the plot as something that could be found in a sci-fi thriller, I did like that the program was able to accurately define the story’s makeup. Was this information enough for me to pay $50 to Helix to get the more in-depth review (which included finding an audience for the book)? Not really. The story isn’t completed yet. It’s a long way off from publishing. But Lulu is still accepting manuscripts for free review until the 31st. I submitted my YA fantasy, just to see how it stacks against Lifeline, style-wise. Since I’m not locked into a particular genre, I find that my style changes according to the story I’m writing.

Which brings me to another subject: that of writing serial books. Renegade is part of a three book trilogy, The Shadow Conflict is comprised of two, and Lifeline has a high chance of being the first book in a series. I don’t actively set out to create multiple books in the same universe. They tend to come about depending on story progression. That’s most likely due to my pantser take on writing versus straight up plotting. I know other writers have divided opinions on those approaches. On the other hand, writing is a unique experience for all of us. Whether we spend months creating outlines, spreadsheets, character histories or write by the roll of the dice, the end result is the same: creation of something that wasn’t there before. I like to think of myself as an equal opportunity plotter/pantser. I lay enough groundwork to build on, and go from there. Sometimes this works in my favor, while other times it blows up in my face. Several stories have undergone countless rewrites because of complete character revamps. The Shadow Conflict is infamous for it. I can’t tell you how often I’ve changed things since its inception.

Renegade was originally intended to be a one-and-done book. A fun, fast-paced science fiction action/adventure that would give readers a movie-going experience. All that changed, of course. I found I really liked Simon’s character, so I went back in, rewrote the story, included some important plot points/characters and bam- suddenly Simon’s characterization is spread among three books. I don’t regret the decision; in fact, Exile and Savior take what I introduced in Renegade and make it better. The world these characters live in deserves to be fleshed out more. I’m lucky I haven’t let its size overwhelm the characters. I’ve written stories where the world was more of a character than those inhabiting it. That’s almost certainly a death sentence unless things change.

I’ve also decided to go back into Renegade to do more edits. I read it over recently, and gods are there so many clumsy sentences I overlooked. Once I’ve uploaded the new content, I will provide links for the updated release. Stylistically, Lifeline is a smoother read than Renegade. Can’t expect potential readers to pay for a shoddy example of my writing.

 

 

Sneak peak: Exile

October 31st has become so much than Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, and Samhain to me. It is the last day I can celebrate my sanity, my ability to do whatever I want, whenever I want. For starting tomorrow, my life, my hobbies, and my service belong to NaNoWriMo.

To celebrate this year’s exciting adventure with Gabriel, Evelyn and Maria, I thought I’d post some teaser scenes from Renegade‘s sequel, Exile. Exile was also the subject of my 2010 NaNo (which I won, whoo!). Further proof that NaNo has been so beneficial to me since I started participating in 2009.

So, without further ado, let’s leave the comforts of our homes for the far reaches of space, where our hero is currently looking for answers to a potentially life-altering problem…

***

Two years later…

There was nothing unusual about this part of space: stars, planetary systems, debris that may or may not have been the remains of colliding asteroids. The only difference was that he never wanted to see it again.

Glancing past the debris, Simon’s gaze narrowed when he spotted the rectangular craft in the distance. It had been the same view that greeted him all those years ago, when he had carelessly believed in its promised sanctuary. Five years he had been imprisoned by the Nureni, using skills he had mastered in the XSF and during his stint as a mercenary, to find the things needed to keep the colony alive. But as much as he hated being their personal scavenger, the worst was yet to come.

His hand clenched, tightly, as he glanced at his reflection. While he might have freed himself from the Nureni, killed Nuos and returned Autumn Welles back to Earth, that face would always be there. Reminding him of a past he was doing everything he could to bury.

A sharp jolt of pain shook him. Simon touched the base of his neck, felt the raised bit of flesh there. Nuos had once used the stem connector to keep him in line, but as time passed it had started to bother him more and more. His hand tightened over it. He might not be able to do something about this human body- not yet, anyway- but he’d be damned if he had to live with this thing anymore.

The pain that cut through him this time forced him to grab onto the edge of the console. As he leaned over to catch his breath, the sensor by his hand lit up, and a holographic Xabeldi appeared.

How can I be of assistance?

Simon ignored the question as he sank into the pilot’s chair and gripped the rests. He waited until the nagging ache passed before glancing at the hologram. “Just get me in and out of there fast.”

Understood, Xargun.

Simon scowled. “I told you to stop calling me that.”

The program looked up at him. I am currently conversing with my user, Xargun. It would be incorrect to address you otherwise.

Annoyed, and in no mood to keep correcting it, Simon made a few adjustments. It had been hard enough getting rid of all the information from the ship’s former owner. He’d spent much of that time listening to the demand he turn himself over to the proper authorities for the theft of the ship.

New streams of data flowed in the hologram’s eyes. “Mental responses disengaged. Visual verification for the Xabeldi also known as Simon, completed,” it announced. “How can I-”

“Look for anything that will get rid of the stem connector,” Simon ordered crossly.

The hologram responded and disappeared. Simon looked into the distance, watching the Nureni stronghold grow larger as the ship neared it. It was dark, the glass containers on the exterior cracked. The wide bay doors stood open, the hangar dark.

“Analysis complete,” the hologram announced. Simon rose from the chair and headed for a tall storage locker to pull out an armored black and red uniform. He started to dress as the computer spoke.

“I have detected a chamber in the sub floors where the equipment you seek is stored. The complex has been inactive for some time. I urge you to use caution.”

“Right,” Simon answered, snapping the gauntlets in place over his gloved hands. He turned his hand over, inspected the mesh covering his palm. These were standard grade for members of the espionage unit in the XSF; it would make finding hidden control panels all the easier. After securing the helmet in place he took a pistol, checked its power level and holstered it at his waist. “Let’s go.”

The ship began a slow descent. Simon marched to the rear of the cockpit and swiftly entered codes into a wall unit. The doors shuddered, unlocked and slid open. The ship had barely touched down when Simon stepped out into complete darkness.

He switched on the exterior lights of his helmet. “Where’s the entrance to that sub level?”

“Directly below. I can provide you with a route to-”

“No time,” Simon interrupted. He pulled his pistol and opened fire on the floor. The yellow light pierced the darkness in quick bursts, allowing Simon to glimpse the damage to the panel there. When it fell away, it hit the floor below with a loud clatter. Simon jumped inside.

He touched down on the bent panel, its echo resonating in the empty room. Simon started down the corridor slowly. As he continued on he debated on using his telepathy to help track the equipment better. When the stem connector started to pain him, he also learned it enhanced his telepathic/telekinetic abilities for short periods of time. Unfortunately, this left him weak. The last thing he wanted to do was risk that while in this place.

Each time he turned, the head lamps showed the thick wires stretching across the floor. After leaving the main hall he entered a spacious room. There he found a still-functioning terminal.

Simon lifted his right arm, touched the panel there. “Can you get into the system?” he asked when the hologram appeared.

There was a brief pause. “Negative,” it reported. “Security firewall has been engaged. Interface with Nureni technology is forbidden. It-”

Simon cut its comments short with a quick touch of a button. He didn’t need the lecture. After holstering the gun he pressed both hands to the console. A low ache began to develop in the back of his neck by the time he finally found what he needed. He punched in the codes relayed to him by the computer and waited, absently rubbing the back of his neck. After some moments a groaning sounded, traveling up and down the room before it was suddenly flooded with green light. Simon turned away, ready to continue his search when he realized where he was.

The wall was lined with a series of capsules. A few stood open, bodies collapsed on the floor in front of them. Wires leading from each capsule joined in the circular pit in the center, where another body lay. Simon approached it cautiously, his hand going for his gun.

The body was larger than the others, with long, clawed arms and legs. The hole in its skull identified it as Nuos. Simon spent a moment staring at it before he let loose a single shot. The blast took Nuos’ head off its body. When it hit the ground, it did so with a heavy, metallic thud. Grunting, Simon turned toward the exit.

He had searched the main levels- he avoided the corridor that led to his old cell- before he came across a small chamber hidden in the corner. A flashing wall unit allowed him to see a long table sitting in the center, the metal containers scattered around. Mechanical arms hung from an overhead device. As Simon stared at this, he was suddenly overcome with pain. He gripped either side of his head, his eyes squeezing shut as swift, distorted images flashed in his mind: two guards holding him down, a Nureni standing above him, the overhead device shining brightly in the light.

Was this where they had done it? He couldn’t remember.

“Biometric readings have escalated,” reported the hologram’s voice from his wrist. “A sedative may be necessary to ward off further discomfort. Shall I prepare one for you?”

Simon was breathing heavily as he shook off the effects. “No,” he snapped. He looked past the table to the console on the wall, used it to help focus his thoughts on why he was here. “Just keep looking out for trouble. I’m almost done here,” he explained as he placed his hand on the console. The hologram acknowledged him and fell silent.

It took several tries for Simon to get past the security system. His hands were shaking a bit as he called up the information. After scanning the first few lines he frowned. Of course it’d be coded in a language he couldn’t understand. Left with no choice, he downloaded the data onto several discs taken from his belt. He had just secured the last one when a muted explosion rocked the room.

Simon grabbed onto the console for support. “What was that?”

“Power generator has overloaded,” the computer answered. “Internal systems have been severely damaged. The station will not be able to maintain gravity for long.”

“Great,” Simon muttered, and bolted from the room. Already he could see the effects of the explosions in the corridor; cracks had appeared along the walls and floor, and the wires had been torn open in some spots. The floor had also buckled nearer the hangar. Simon had to use telekinesis to launch himself across a sudden chasm in order to make it to the other side.

Alarms had started to blare as he appeared through the opening in the floor, and just in time too: another explosion caused the supports holding it in place to give. Simon barely managed to make it to the landing plank before more panels collapsed.

He was in the middle of sealing the doors when the hologram appeared on the wall panel. “Foreign craft detected heading our way,” it reported.

“What kind?” Simon demanded as he headed for the pilot’s seat. He threw himself down and started pressing keys.

“Unregistered cruiser. I am reading several weapons systems on board, all of which are highly illegal in this sector.”

Simon scowled at this. Another common problem he’d had to deal with was mercenaries. While he didn’t know who had posted the bounty on his head- Arxon or Saronna was his first guess- he was in no mood to deal with anyone looking to collect. All he wanted to do was get back to the outpost.

“Get the weapons ready,” he commanded as he steered the ship out of the hangar. Portions of the walls continued to collapse.
“This is a luxury craft. It is not equipped with weapons.”

It was, but the computer didn’t know that. Of course, had Simon installed the system at an authorized location, he wouldn’t be dealing with a confused computer now.

“Then give me manual control,” Simon barked impatiently. The computer complied.

Simon sped out of the hangar at top speed, ignoring the ship’s warning against acceleration while in dock. As he banked to the left, he could see the Nureni base slowly falling apart. He had only seconds to enjoy its demise, for a blast grazed the front of the ship. Quickly righting his position, he turned to see his opponent.

The merc’s ship closed in on him, its dual cannons zeroed in on him. “I’ve got you trapped, traitor Xabeldi,” the mercenary growled- literally, if not for the translation- stated over the communications channel. “Surrender now and or I will send you to your death.”

“The enemy is preparing to open fire again,” the computer announced. “Evasive maneuvers are recommended.”

Simon didn’t bother with an answer. He scanned the other ship, made a few adjustments to the weapons and opened fire. Two quick hits to the enemy’s lower hold was all it took to end the mercenary’s intent to collect.

“Enemy craft destroyed. Proper procedures in alerting its species’ government and kin are as follows-”

“How about we skip all that and you just get the spatial gateway online?” Simon suggested, turning the ship away from the wreckage. He really needed to do something about its civilian programming.

“Acknowledged. Spatial portal opening…now,” it replied.

A white circle appeared just ahead, arcs of lightning crossing the entrance. Simon sped through at top speed, again ignoring the hologram’s warnings.

He reappeared in the vicinity of a cluster of moons orbiting a large planet. Nestled between it and the largest moon hovered the outpost. Sunlight reflected along the silver body, concentrated the most on the dome-shaped upper region and leaving the slender, narrow support in shadow. It had been Simon’s sanctuary ever since he escaped the Nureni. Every time he returned from a completed mission or narrow escape, the sight gave him something he never experienced before: a sense of relief. A sense of home. This in turn made the outpost very, very special to him. He’d do anything to keep it safe.

Simon set a course for the docking bay, then let the hologram take over. It rambled on about their current location, what civilized worlds were nearby–and what ones to avoid– while he began locking down other stations. He wouldn’t be taking this ship the next time he needed to go out. If one, green mercenary could identify him, he didn’t want to think about what an experienced one would do.

Or Arxon and Saronna, for that matter.

As always, Simon’s mood darkened at the thought of their names. What should have been a quick set of missions to do away with all connections to his past had turned into a full year’s worth of running and hiding. He had used every trick he could get think of to avoid getting captured– that last escape had been by pure luck and nothing else– but he knew it was only a matter of time before they found him again, and the chase would start all over again. It wouldn’t stop until he killed them, or they killed him. And since he had no plans to die, all he could do was keep avoiding them.

But first, he needed the stem connector removed. Its disadvantages outnumbered its benefits.

“Approaching hangar doors,” the hologram announced.

Simon turned, glimpsed the ship’s reflection mirrored in the wraparound windows of the outpost’s dome. The twin doors retracted, exposing the brightly lit interior. Automated repair drones stood waiting to either side of the designated landing site, Simon’s secondary craft docked behind them. He frowned slightly at seeing the refit was incomplete.

The ship’s engines powered down, then off, allowing the retractable arms attached to the ceiling to continue guiding it inside. Landing gear was deployed, the loading plank descended, and Simon exited the cockpit. The room echoed of humming machinery as the drones came forward to begin evaluating the ship. They darted out of his way as he strode across toward the next room. A large computer was built into the far wall, the six, small screens showing different angles of the hangar. Across the way, three other monitors displayed various programs intercepted from Earth.

Simon turned his attention to the computer console, and the panels set to either side of the power generator. He smirked.

He’s fixing it. Again.

Another Xabeldi entered the room then, dressed in a white and purple suit, his head down as he inspected the data pad in hand. Several tools floated after him. Before Simon could speak he turned, his aura flashing the gold that indicated happiness. His eyes, bright purple despite the tinted glass of the helmet, shone with delight.

“You’ve returned, Xargmon!” the Xabeldi exclaimed. The habit of mashing his Xabeldi and human name had been there from the start, and Simon had long stopped trying to correct him.

“You’re just in time,” the Xabeldi continued, approaching Simon with quick steps. “I’ve just finished installing the new detection system. It operates at a higher percentage than the previous program, and at half the power. Let me show you!”

“Not now, Seixenth,” Simon began, some impatience in his tone. The last thing he wanted to do was hear one of Seixenth’s ridiculously long explanations. Seixenth immediately fell silent, gazing up at Simon with a broad smile. As Simon met his gaze he couldn’t help but crack a tiny smile. The outpost had given him more than just a place to stay.

Two years ago, after Simon had gone through the spatial gateway, he had not expected to wind up in an outpost, let alone in one already inhabited. He had appeared on the lowest floors, weakened and disoriented; just as he looked for a way out, Seixenth had just been there, as if he had been waiting for someone. At first Simon prepared himself for a fight, for he sensed Seixenth to be Xa’En. But what he originally thought of as an enemy turned out to be something very different.

Seixenth honored Simon as a fellow Xa’En despite his appearance, and placed him in healing stasis in the sunlit chamber at the top of the station. Seixenth had also been there when Simon emerged a full year later, ready to assist him however he could. Having been alone on the station for centuries, he took Simon’s arrival as a sign that his duties monitoring the star system were done, and he was free to do whatever he wanted. He never asked Simon about the Xa’En, or Xa’Beld. At first this worried Simon, but he realized that it was a subject best left alone. He was still having trouble coming to terms with what he had seen and learned while there.

Though young, Seixenth was smart and resourceful. Their association had guided Simon to systems that were well beyond established borders, and Seixenth also proved to be an expert at hands-on construction. Be it a ship, computer, or weapon, Seixenth could build it, and with as few resources as possible. Hearing of Simon’s exploits on Earth (somewhat abbreviated) turned him on to human culture. There had been a time, some months ago, when Seixenth offered to build a spatial gateway to Earth should Simon want to visit Autumn. He had refused; he didn’t think she’d like another surprise visit. And he wasn’t exactly eager to go back.

And yet, there was one other, crucial role Seixenth filled: that of ally. Though Simon hadn’t realized it at the time, he had gotten used to having Autumn around. It wasn’t so much her company that he missed, but the fact that she had been on his side. Seixenth was all that and more.

Simon pulled the data discs from his belt. “I need you to read these,” he stated as he released the discs to float between them using telekinesis.

Seixenth set the data pad aside as he plucked the discs out of the air. “Is this the data for the stem connector?” he asked eagerly.

“Yeah,” he responded, unable to keep the edge from his voice.

Seixenth sighed. He took the data pad in hand again and inserted the discs into the underside compartment, one by one. “I wish you had taken me with you. I’ve only ever read about the Nureni. I would have liked to have seen where they had been living all these years.”

“Well, there wasn’t much to see,” Simon told him irritably. “They’re all dead.” He made an impatient gesture at the data pad. “Read them.”

At his command Seixenth nodded and activated the data pad. After several, long moments Seixenth met Simon’s questioning gaze.

Simon grunted. “You don’t know what they say.”

“I’m sorry,” the younger Xa’En said quickly. “The discs are designed to interface with a program I’m not familiar with.” He thought for a moment, brightened. “But if I had access to the computer you found the data in, I could use it to extract what we need.”

Simon leaned against the console and folded his arms. “Sorry, Seixenth. That was all I could get.” He frowned. “You sure you can’t just recreate the program?”

“I can’t recreate what I don’t already know,” Seixenth protested. There was a moment where he looked thoughtful before he nodded. “But I might be able to reconfigure the program you use to install illegal modifications to the ships. They are equipped with the latest in intrusion tech and—”

“I don’t care how you do it, just do it fast,” Simon interrupted. He ran his hand down the length of his face, heaved a sigh. “I’m going to rest. Get the detection system back up. A merc found me when I was leaving the Nureni stronghold. I don’t want any of his friends to find this place.”

“I will assign the drones to work on it right away,” Seixenth promised. He smiled brightly. “Oh! I adjusted the solar output of your restoration chamber to better suit your needs. Rest well, Xargmon.” He then turned away, the various tools floating after him. “Let me see, what shall I listen to while I work? Yes, I rather enjoyed that music…”

Simon watched him drift out of the room, shook his head and passed through the second doorway toward his personal chamber. A bed was rigged up to a redesigned restoration chamber, its interior lights glowing brightly. A squat, rectangular cold storage unit was beside it. Within was several nutrient tubes Seixenth had gotten for him while he had been recuperating. A computer had been built into the wall beside the clothing cabinet. Scattered supply crates made up the rest of the room. Simon paused to root through the one nearest the door, selected a new arsenal and disposed of his old weapons. Given Seixenth’s work efficiency, Simon had a pretty good feeling they’d be looking for whatever he needed to read the discs once he woke up. He intended to be ready.

After stripping off the armor plating and uniform, Simon stretched out onto the cot. He closed his eyes, activated the system with a thought. Just as he prepared to enjoy the warm, life-sustaining light a sharp jolt of pain launched him right onto the floor.

For a long time Simon lay on his side, his hands curled into fists, teeth clenched, eyes squeezed shut as waves of pain coursed through his body. Time seemed to stop as he waited the pain out; when it finally passed he took some moments to catch his breath. When he touched his face, moisture dampened his palm. His hair stuck to his brow.

Out of habit, he reached up to touch the stem connector. His fingertips grazed its outline, far more pronounced than before, but it was the distinct feel of metal that forced him upright. Simon probed the infected area with both hands, all his anger draining away.

Slowly, his hands fell away from his neck.

This was not good.