The Drop City Co-Op

No, I’m not talking about a hippie commune in Sonoma. I’m throwing out an idea for a collaborative writing effort; a compilation of Short Stories in a common setting. Anyone read THIEVES’ WORLD when they were younger? That idea, but set in a spaceport. Put Blade Runner, Serenity, Lost and The Wire in a blender, sweeten with a dash of Babylon 5, then mash the Frappe button hard, fast and repeatedly.

Think about it: Addicts, Au Pairs, Bankers, Buskers, Cabbies, Cops, Dealers, Doormen, Prostitutes, Politicians, Smugglers, Soldiers, Terrorists, Tax Collectors… Whoever fires your imagination. The boundaries are the futuristic common setting, one submission per month of quality work not to exceed 7,500 words per, and realistic but redemptive themes. Other than that, it’s Open Season on anything. It’s a chance to exercise some writing skills, cross-pollinate with other creative types, and exorcise some characters or thoughts that have been haunting you.

So here’s my invite to you: Think about it over Christmas/New Year break. Leave a comment if you’re interested or have questions. The plan is to start January 2012 with the first postings at the end of the month. If there are a couple legit responses, we’ll hammer out the details and I’ll add a new section to the site. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Smashwords Coupon

In light of Amazon’s latest grab at a bigger market-share Kindle promotional feature, Kindle Select, with it’s 90-day minimum exclusivity demand, I’m offering the RUNNING BLACK ebook at Smashwords for 25% off until Jan. 12th, 2012. Use code KJ59L at checkout to help support me and free market competition. Thanks.

That’s for chickens to laugh at…*

Watched Serenity again the other night. (Orson Scott Card agrees with me that it’s the finest sci-fi film ever made. Hate it when he copies me…) There’s no way to over-state Joss Whedon’s skills. Plot, character, action, pace… the film’s a benchmark for shiny sci-fi goodness. The dialogue alone has some of the best one-liners ever uttered, and the scene with the Reaver ships confronting the Alliance in the skies over Mr. Universe’s planet is pure epic.

Watched it last night with a buddy who’d never had the pleasure of seeing it before, and after acknowledging its obvious awesomeness, he said “The guy (J.W.) knows the Bible but doesn’t seem to like Christianity very much. It’s the whole sub-text.”

It’s not my purpose here to dissect the film’s themes with its notions of creating a ‘world without sin’ and faith in faith. I’d be happy to discuss them some other time. Between the hullabaloo over at deCompose on Labeling Christian fiction and my friend’s comment, I was reminded of the obvious fact there’s a worldview driving every bit of media. It’s never really ‘just of movie/song/show/novel….”

“All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.”
— Upton Sinclair

I’m not shocked to find that others hold different or opposing worldviews, neither am I sniveled that they would construct and infuse their creations with their perspectives. I expect it. I also hold to the conviction Christian artists shouldn’t use ‘bait and switch’ tactics trying to be clever.

What I do find odd are the shrill accusations of ‘proselytizing’ that come whenever certain folks encounter a novel/art with Christian themes, or the strident calls for warning labels on the same like those on gansta rap cds or household chemicals. Star Wars, Serenity, Avatar, Childhood’s End, Caprica or the new BSG, or (insert your own title) don’t feature lead-ins with “This film contains elements of secular humanism/re-constituted pagan belief systems, and was made in a facility known to hold condescending/denigrating attitudes towards traditional Judeo/Christian values.”

What’s ridiculous* (see below) is the double-standard employed, as if Christians aren’t entitled to the same integrated creative expression as other artists. When I was shopping Running Black around, one editor strongly suggested I lose the ‘definite world-view statement’ (read “Christianity”) to make it more marketable. Apparently, a child going to Heaven is offensive to some people.

As an adult functioning in the Open Marketplace of Ideas, I’m fair game. I’m expected to sort out different truth claims when I meet them, generally without the benefit of a warning shot across my bow. Being a free moral agent in a free society means I encounter those who have made different choices and engage in conduct I disagree with. That’s the burden and benefit of maturity and liberty.

Atheism insists it holds the intellectual high ground; that religious folks lack a chromosome or a matching pair of brain cells, or some equally debilitating condition, but isn’t what’s good for the goose also good for the gander? Don’t like my perspective? Deal with it… Deal with it the same way I deal with yours. Like an adult.

But given the hue and cry, the scorn often heaped on Christians, I’d say those folks are acting in the very manner they accuse believers of: myopia, fear, and shallow conditioned ignorance.

* In the film, the safeword phrase that Simon uses to shut River down, “Eta kuram na smekh”, is a Russian expression (“Это курам на смех”). Literally, it means, “That’s for chickens to laugh at” — a Russian idiom for “That’s ridiculous”.

Well done Public Service Announcement

EDIT: WordPress doesn’t like the Video Embed Code. Here’s the link: THE GATE

Scroll down a bit and you’ll find the video.

Nice blend of fact, fiction and film work. Touch preachy at the end, but fascinating way to get the point across.

Question: If the truth is too complicated or esoteric to convey to the average viewer/consumer, is it OK to resort to fiction?

SHIFT TENSE – Sample Chapter

Working my way through the next Eshu International installment, I figured I’d post random scenes for your enjoyment and feedback in the meantime. Please remember everything is subject to a final edit. The lads are landing north of Somaliland at the start of the mission. Bit of geek-speak in this one. Enjoy.

CHAPTER NINE – GROSS AND IMPROBABLE MISCHIEF

Gulf of Aden. Ten kilometers off the coast of Djibouti

An M-106 Stiletto boat is a thirty-five foot, M-keel spear head of carbon composites and smoked armorglass. Open up the two, three hundred horsepower engines, and twelve thousand pounds skips across water like grease on a hot plate doing one hundred and forty kpm. We added a stealth package and lost a few knots with added weight, but the photo-mimetics mirrored the ocean so perfectly it looked like the boat’s surface was heaving with moon-silvered slate and shadow waves. Stare at it long enough and you’d swear dream winds were bearing you naked over open seas. It was mesmerizing and eerie as hell.

The seven of us were crouched below the gunwales as the boat sliced through the night. Poet9, the Triplets and I were up front. Tam and Curro were double-checking our gear in the stern. Above us the sky was alive with stars, diamond chips scattered in ink. Ahead, the charcoal smudge of the Djibouti coast was fast approaching.

Mission up: Somaliland. Another episode of gross and improbable mischief.

Poet9 was tapping something on a keypad, green-screen glow on his face. “So far so good. No coastal surveillance grid. Worst case is a boat patrol, but even then, with a war on, everybody’s got their hands full. So probably not. We’ll be on the beach duty-free in twelve minutes.”

“Not to mention most sane people are trying to get out of Africa right now.” I said. “You validate those IFF tags Hester gave us? Things’ll be sketchy enough without D-H ‘bots shooting at us.”

“He says they work. I ran ’em through diagnostics. But the only way to know for sure is when we’re staring down the barrel of one.”

I looked over at him, raised an eyebrow.

“No worries,” he winked. “I scripted a Nuke code. Little bastard will crisp any network it touches.”

“We start glassing tac-nets, we’ll attract all kinds of unwanted attention.”

He shook his head. “It’s a one-time use, so we need to be in full panic mode before I push that button.”

“Sure as hell better not come to that.”

The little Mexican threw me a grin. “Relax… this job’s a walk in the park. Or, in this case, a stroll through the lion preserve.”

“Barrel of laughs, you are. Hester say how many other outfits have been contracted?”

“His guess-timate was a couple dozen. Hefty chunk of that military drop-outs from the ‘Stans. They work cheap. Some of them might have a few notches on the handle from pacification duty in Krasnodar or Tbilisi, but my guess is they’re coming to be vodka-soaked meat shields for the veteran crews.”

“Like us.”

“Like us,” he agreed.

“Everybody’s gotta start somewhere,” I said. “Earn as you learn.”

“Hell of a lot better than pay as you go.” Poet9 shrugged.

I kept eyes on the horizon, chewing on my next question. “Any word on Oryol or Alpha Group?” I finally asked.

“I can neither confirm nor deny. That’s another ‘wait and see’. I sure as hell hope not.”

I had nothing to say to that. Poet went back to his screen.

I was scanning the horizon for the twentieth time when Curro’s voice came over com-link in my helmet . “Seven minutes to landfall.”

“You sure of that, Gunga Din?” I asked back.

“Sure I’m sure. I’m watching the 3D mapper. And don’t call me ‘Gunga Din’. Do I get a rifle now?”

“No,” Tam cut in. “Jace, you ready up front?”

“Yes, Mom. We’re smart and strapped.” I thumbed over to a private channel. “He going to be alright? This is quite the field trip.” I whispered.

“Couldn’t talk him out of it.” Tam said. “Poet9 will stick to him like underwear. You, me and the Triplets will be doing the shooting. We’re at the sharp end. They’re strictly tech support.”

“You going to tell Alejo and Carmen? They’re here in Somaliland, you know.”

“I know,” he answered, and that was all he said.

I let that moment sit. “He getting a rifle?” I finally asked.

“Nice little Kriss Super V. Sexy optics. He’ll love it.”

“Good. Full-auto forty-five leaves a mark. Devante will watch him.”

“I know,” he said again.

Curro called over the throb of the motors. “You guys are talking about me. I can tell. Five minutes.”

Tam, Poet and I chuckled. The Triplets burst out laughing.

Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail sat in the bow, their broad pale faces covered in camo-grease and Oakley Elite Quad Eight visors. Billed as ‘Variable Condition Optical Systems’, Quad Eights are capable of four by magnification, night vision and thermal enhancement with digital micro-displays for the built-in laser range finder and windage meter. Oakley V-COS are the ultimate in tactical ninja-vision.

The three of them were running final weapon checks. They had their regular G-46s slung across their backs. The German assault rifles were almost like teddy bears; the Triplets practically fell asleep snuggling the damn things, but the chunky Pelican crates meant they had brought some of their big toys along for this trip. Flopsy and Mopsy were both unpacking General Electric XM214 miniguns. Capable of 4,000 rounds per minute, you could cut down small forests with them. I watched Cottontail secure a rack of HEDP rounds for an M2GC 84mm recoilless rifle. Big lads with big guns.

I leaned over. “You guys expecting trouble?”

“Victory loves preparation,” Cottontail quoted quite seriously.

“OK, but you preparing to arm your own militia?”

The three of them looked at their crates. I could see the wheels turning as they considered the question. “We could supply four –” Cottontail began.

“I’m kidding,” I interjected. “I’m wondering about the firepower. The SPLM doesn’t have a Jane’s Recognition Book, but I’m sure they have plenty of gear kicking about. Why come so heavy?”

Mopsy was gently folding belts of 5.56 ammo into a rigid-frame backpack. “This is the first time we’ve been back to Africa since Mr. Alejo and Mrs. Carmen rescued us in their boat. We thought we should be prepared.”

I suddenly felt like shit. These three were the last of their kind: illegal combat clones known as Series Sevens.

Developed a decade earlier as shock troops for then-President of Zimbabwe and megalomaniac sociopath, N’Kosa Mambi, his army of Sevens blew through the plankton-standard grunts of the Zambian and Mozambique military like linebackers at kindergarten recess. UN Rapid Response troops fared little better.

Mambi’s delusions of empire were finally quenched ten months later by a massive overkill of UN and Corporate forces in pitched, six-day battle with the Series Seven main contingent at Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River.

By then, humiliated field commanders had convinced their bosses the clones were so lethal and unpredictable their existence was prohibited by a unanimous United Nation mandate. The in vitro labs were razed, the surviving science team divvied up among the Corporates, and the gene-template destroyed. Extermination orders were issued. Even harboring a Seven was an international felony.

Tam and I had just founded Eshu International. One of our first contracts was as a protection detail for a small, mom and pop maritime transport firm out of Barcelona.

The four of us – me, Tam, Alejo and Carmen – had found the Triplets starving, shocked, and near-death in Eritrea. After a couple hair-trigger moments, we snubbed the bounty and smuggled them to safety in the hold of Al’s boat, the Balius. The Triplets weren’t pets. Or property. They were friends, and they’ve been half of Eshu International Private Security for eight years now.

This, though, was a major screw-up. Tam and I were so used to our Killer Bunnies being silent, loyal, and deferential that we never considered to ask them, let alone thought about what it would be like for them to go back to where they had been bred, fed into a meat-grinder of a war, then hunted like animals. A real brain-dead move.

The three of them were looking at me with a simple confidence. I crumpled a little bit. I mustered a bit of false cheer, and mumbled a few words congratulating them on forward thinking. “No worries. A little rumble in the jungle, and we’ll be back home in no time.

“We’re not worried,” Cottontail said. “Where you go, we go. Where you die, we die.”

I clapped him on his bowling-ball shoulder and felt even more shitty.

I was about to radio Tam again when the three of them snapped their weapons up, their heads swiveling like laser-targeters to port.

“Contact left. A thousand meters,” Poet9 murmured half a second later. “Surface vessel on parallel course.” He looked up at me. “Coming early to the party. Looks like someone had the same idea as us.”

Tam’s voice. “They being loud and rude?”

“If they’re stupid.” Curro interrupted “How come you’re not giving me a weapon?”

“Gimme, gimme never gets…” Poet sang. “They’re running sneaky-devious like us, but I’ll have one of our Falcos keep an eye on them. We’ll know if they wander into our yard.”

The Falco Evo UAV was an old Italian-made aerial drone we had bought from a Pakistani connection. Kashmiri separatists and Indian military incursions had made the Pak military wild for robots a few years back. Guess they got tired of foot patrols in the Himalayas. At the time, Finmeccanica robotics were all the rage, and Rome had flooded the international arms market with thousands of military drones. Now the Pakistani Armed Forces were addicted to robo-tech, dumping old gear at bargain prices every eighteen months, fiending for the latest, shiniest model. We had a dozen of the things in storage back in Belfast. Poet9 called it ‘Mafia-surplus’. No matter, that kind of gear was perfect for this mission. Old, rugged, nothing fancy enough to arouse suspicion.

Poet9 tapped his screen. “The pair can only stay on station another five hours and then they have to land at Ji Jiga.”

“Turn-around time?” Tam asked.

“Twenty-four hours.”

“A full day?” I exclaimed. “A day without God-view is like a day without sunshine. What the hell? Ji Jiga is just over the Ethiopian border.”

He shrugged. “Be happy we got them down to twenty-four hours. That was another ten grand.”

“Snake charmers and cattle thieves,” I muttered.

Our big motors cut to trolling speed about two hundred meters from the beach. I could hear waves now. We fell silent, flipped on our Oakleys and crouched even lower. Tam and I scrutinized landward, paying special attention to the scrub line that ran along the stretch of dunes above the beach. Curro and Poet9 scanned for sensors, robots, mines, good old fashioned human beings. The Triplets had weapons up and ready for the slightest twitch of hostility from the other boat.
We waited the obligatory five minutes, then brought the Stiletto forward in little squirts, waiting and watching every few meters to see we had stirred anything up. Another twenty minutes of that, then the hull rasped on gravel.

Tam and I waded ashore. Poet9, Curro and the Triplets started off-loading our gear.

Forty minutes later, five little Polaris four-wheelers were lined up on the shingle, chunky with gear and weapons. We were ready. I signaled to Stiletto to autopilot to a new position: ten klicks out from Berbera. It would power-down and ride a sea anchor waiting for a call. Its solar arrays would keep its systems charged and if our little misadventure went south, it was our taxi out of a bad neighborhood.

Curro sat on the back seat of one of the ATVs fondling the submachine gun Tam finally gave him. I spied Poet9 slipping his Walther 10mm into a shoulder holster. Gold winked at me. I looked again. “What did you do to Grace?”

“Ooooh. I thought you’d never ask. Feast your eyes on her now.”

He handed me the big black gun, only it wasn’t all black any more. Someone had engraved the flat metal of the pistol’s slide, covering the top and sides with a delicate tracery of computer circuitry, then inlaid it with gold. If that wasn’t bad enough, the bright razor-thin lines twisted into two tiny angels whose robotic wings enfolded the muzzle.

“Jealous, huh?” he grinned.

“I’m speechless.”

“Esse, Life’s too short to shoot an ugly gun.”

He took it back, wiped it gently with his sleeve before tucking it in under his arm.

“We’re good to go.” Tam called out. ” Let’s get to the rendez-vous before the other ship off loads and this clam bake gets too crowded.” Motors purred, and the seven of us climbed the dunes south east toward the Somaliland border.

Latest Review at StuffWhatIWrote

Writer/Reviewer Mozley runs a WordPress blog in the U.K. and he graciously did a Read and Review on RUNNING BLACK.

Here’s the link: RB REVIEW

For the folks who worry about me not writing “Christian” stories, I found it interesting he commented on the novel’s ‘religious themes’.

* Image by the ever-talented wOlly at RebelStarStudios.

What’s in a name? “Eshu International: Discreet Security Solutions.”

Eshu is the Yoruba spirit of Chaos and Trickery who directs traffic along the Road of Life from his abode at the Crossroads of Fortune. If you’re faced with an important choice or a powerful opportunity, he can offer assistance to swing things your way. A messenger, he carries complaints to the Gods, questions to the spirit world, and messages to any living thing. Also known as a personification of death, he is often identified by the number three, and the colors red and black.

While big name private security firms are hired to guard critical infrastructure and babysit top-tier personalities, governments, global corporations and well-funded private concerns always have demands beyond the pale of legal discourse. Translated in the vernacular, that means espionage, sabotage, kidnapping/defection, clandestine transportation, assassination… Black Contracts. That’s exactly where you’ll find mercenary teams like Eshu International.

They live, fight, and die at the sharp end of their employer’s dirty little secrets.

Two combat veterans lead the Eshu crew: a former North Korean commando Tam Song and former Canadian Special Forces Operator Jace Manner. The former left for dead in the disastrous attempted invasion of Taiwan in the winter of 2035, the latter drummed out of the service for Gross insubordination after a classified incident during the Detroit-Windsor-Cleveland Metro Riots in 2043.

The cyberware/drone specialist is Devante Perez, alias “Poet9”. A former gang-banger and hacker, he grew up in the Mexican City Sprawl surrounded by the brutal poverty and constant gang violence. He is fitted with an advanced, military grade, cybernetic interface unit acquired during indentured service to the Mexican National Bank.

Three lethal combat-clones round out the crew. Never given names, they are known as the Triplets, or “The Killer Bunnies”: Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. They are the last of a series of heavily modified, illegal clones created by an insane African Dictator to be the deadliest soldiers in the world.

Given the nature of their business and varied histories, Eshu seemed the appropriate icon and patron.

Currently on retainer with the massive Dawson-Hull Conglomerate, there’s no love lost between the members of Eshu International and their corporate masters, but each one of them is a fighter, a survivor. Banding together, they do what they must to stay alive in the treacherous world of espionage and intrigue.

Eshu International

It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
-Sun Tzu, the Art of War