I’m weary of discussions on Christian writing and writers. Wary too. I approach them like the Enterprise meeting an Klingon Peace Delegation: shields at full power. Seeing as I fall outside the norm of evangelical opinion on this matter, I’m braced for the inevitable salvos against my work, motives, and faith, along with the general blunt force trauma of religious weird-think. It’s all rather tedious and discouraging.
However, the movie Fury rekindled my interest in the debate. Rather it reinforced my opinion. Paid to see it on the big screen. In my view, the excellent script, pace, special effects and solid performances make it a worthy addition to the old-school war movies of my youth. I’ll own it on DVD – no question. (Three words: real Tiger tank)
That said, I think the film is also a prime example of credibly integrating faith (Christianity) into a plot. In my opinion, Shia Lebeouf’s character “Bible” comes off not merely the brave soldier and comrade, but a genuinely devout and human one as well. Bible’s faith is organic without being ham-fisted and contrived. By the time we reach the final scene in the turret, the 1 John 2 exchange is as relevant and natural as it is moving.
Let’s be frank though: Fury is not a “Christian” movie. On screen kilo-deaths, hints of off-screen sex, blood, mud and dialogue that red-lines the profanity-meter like soldiers do… we’re off the Christian Broadcasting programming list. It is however a good war movie that also has a devout Christian character and explicit Christian content. All the ingredients combine to make a fine genre film, but not a sermon. Which is my point here.
Loop back to the Christian writing/writers debate – I suspect much of the friction stems from poor judgment of Market, Medium, and Motives. Gratuitous violence, sex, profanity is just that – gratuitous – and inappropriate for the Christian market. I think it also makes a poor substitute for good wordsmithing. Explicit content – Christian or otherwise – may be necessary in the writer’s chosen genre or plot. A writer’s job is to show not tell and create a credible, consistent, engaging world in which the story unfolds. Those are the demands of the medium. To hobble any literary element in the name of religion is not only dishonest but dishonoring the vocation in the sight of God. “Work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work,” Dorothy Sayers noted. A pious hack is still a hack.
The judgment against a writer’s motives is the most tangled issue. As a stained glass artisan, is my work any less inspired, any less valid if I don’t incorporate the shape of a cross into every piece? Is my faith, my salvation, or even my testimony somehow diminished if I don’t? Same for my writing. If I don’t write what amounts to a dramatized sermon, complete with salvation doctrine, (choose your denominational flavor) alter call moments and a repentance prayer, is my work less “Christian”? If my non-Christian antagonists act and speak in non-Christian ways, am I guilty by association? In the minds of some, apparently yes.
In a religion-saturated, Christ-haunted culture, do artists and writers really need to be propping up the same old insular evangelical status quo? Seems a shameful play to cheap seats if you ask me. I rather believe we are tasked with being genuine artisans striving for mastery in our respective fields of labor, implicitly and explicitly expressing the reality of Jesus’ transcendence and redemption in our work, thus engaging our calling and audience in a spirit of honesty and excellence.
Dear God I hope so.
My latest book, The Barrrow Lover, will be released Oct 1st. A Celtic-flavored ghost story in time for All Hallows’ Eve, you can pre-order it for Kindle as of today. Also, I’m getting the trade paperback version ready through CreateSpace, so there will be a hard copy for those who prefer the heft and smell of printed matter. Special thanks to Michal Oracz for an excellent cover, G.L. Francis for her patience in tidying up the prose, and all the advance readers who took the time.
So please, if you enjoyed it, I’d be grateful if you’d post a link on your blog or FB page, tell a friend or three, and left a short, honest review at Amazon and/or GoodReads. Every little bit helps.
And please remember the Celtic Stained Glass panel Giveaway. The winner will be drawn at random from the first fifty folks who leave a review at Amazon. The two smaller second and third place panels are in process right now. (I’ll post pictures when they’re complete)
A thousand thanks.
Back when I was writing the first Clar1ty Wars collection – One Bad Apple – I’d post the stories here for free. Decided to get back into the habit. The first three in the next collection “Under Strange Stars” is now up. Pull down the Clar1ty Wars Excerpts tab up top. I’ll post more next week.
Thanks much and enjoy.
Atmosphere, character and dynamic…
I’d love to hire these guys to illustrate excerpts from my books. I only wish my word-smithing were on par with their artistic skills.
I recognize the beauty, power and value of well-crafted words, but think fitting visuals compliment the experience and potentially engage the audience on broader, deeper levels. I know we mustn’t judge a book by its cover, but I’ve heard the industry quip the cover is the most important page.
On that note – Michal Oracz just agreed to draw up the cover for the next Clar1ty Wars installment, Under Strange Stars.
Of the hundreds of ‘How to Write’ books, I suspect there are very few you actually need. “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”, Gotham Writer’s Workshop’s Writing Fiction workbook, and How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy helped me tremendously. Add in Steven Pressfield’s ‘War of Art’, and Stephen King’s Memoir on Craft.
But STORY by Robert McKee is dope-slapping me in the best possible way. I haven’t highlighted and underlined a book in years. This however is so perceptive and articulate, not only am I marking it up like a middle-schooler, I’m reading portions aloud to my wife. Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Looking back over the last four years, if I’d only read this first…
By way of example, here are excerpts for all the ideological writers. (that includes Christians) who weigh their stories to the point of painful contrivance.
When your premise is an idea you feel you must prove to the world, and you design your story as an undeniable certification of that idea, you set yourself on the road to didacticism. In your zeal to persuade, you will stifle the voice of the other side. Misusing and abusing art to preach, your screenplay (story) will become a thesis film, a thinly disguised sermon as you strive in a single stroke to convert the world. Didacticism results from the naive enthusiasm that fiction can be used like a scalpel to cut out the cancers of society.
Make no mistake, no one can achieve excellence as writer without being something of a philosopher and holding strong convictions. The trick is not to be a slave to your ideas, but to immerse yourself in life. For the proof of your vision is not how well you can assert your controlling idea, but its victory over the enormously powerful forces you array against it.
Story, Robert McKee. p 121,122
A novel is not a painting is not a symphony is not a film is not a sermon. Each discipline has its own requirements, opportunities, and boundaries. Be true to the one you’re called to. Pick this book up if you write fiction. Read it if you want to learn to write well.
“Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”
“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.”
― Flannery O’Connor
Jien stabbed at his maki roll. “It’s for your own good, babe.”
Seeb frowned for the tenth time that minute. A bad situation was turning several shades shittier and showed no sign of stopping. Her head understood going to ground meant changes, hassles, aggravation… Orbital creeps were shooting up city streets to kill her. A cheap two-room flat in A-Town, drab blend-in clothes, and a severe cut and bleach for her dark hair were a small price to pay for a hide-away package. But no Charm? No contact with Vasyl?
“Total blackout? No log-in at all?”
“Zero Grid,” Jien nodded. “Uncle Zhou said he wants you safe.”
Seeb snorted, started dissecting a wedge of nigiri on her plate. As far as she remembered, the Sun Yee On Dragon Head hadn’t said anything at all. Ten feet and four bodyguards away from the old man, she’d watched Jien blurt out rapid fire Mandarin, point at her, and bow. A lot. Finally, Uncle Zhou had glanced over and nodded. And it was done; she was under Triad protection.
Seeb batted her eyes and leaned over the table, letting her shirt hang open. “Not even the public terminals in the Mahjong parlor?”
Jien laughed. “Nice try. No. Dainty monsters on your trail, you’re Luddite ’til the storm passes. You don’t have to worry about a thing while you’re here, but no one, and I mean no one, can know where you are.”
“Frak.” She flicked rice off a sliver of salmon with one chopstick. “Guess my ‘damsel in distress’ needs calibration.”
Jien spread his silver, six-digit hands and grinned. “Or a boob job… but hey, it got you this far.”
Seeb huffed, gave the Hong Ying Rice Shop another once-over. In the middle of Drop City’s sprawling Asian district, the tiny basement restaurant was one of a hundred tucked in the concrete and holo-ad maze that was Shenzhen Street. Like hiding a wave in the ocean, the place was invisible. As was her fourth-floor walk up right across the street.
“Big Time here I come.” She waved at the chef behind the glass counter. “At least the sushi’s good.”
“Soba’s better.” Jien pushed his plate away and pretended to remember something. “Oh yeah… And you can’t go past Russo or Second.”
Seeb spocked one eyebrow. “You’re not serious.”
“As a heart attack, babe.”
She snapped her chopstick in half. “A three block leash… What am I, some Tween grounded for blowing my boyfriend?”
“Simmer down. It’s called security, Seeb. Remember running in the alley? Me with the almost hole in my chest? The Four Horsemen have major fa shu – major. And they’re voodooing after you. You need to stay off – their – frakking – radar.” Jien grinned and made a show of peering down her shirt. “Say, you weren’t serious about the bl—”
“Wángbā dàn, Jien.” Seeb shoved away from the table and stomped off.
“C’mon, I was kidding.”
Eyes front, Seeb raised one hand, flipped Jien off, then straight-armed the door with the other.
His tone changed. “Three blocks, Seeb. No joke. The sky is falling, and this shit will get worse before it — ”
She threw up another finger before the door jingled shut.
Outside, the narrow street was a riot of color, smell and sound. A dozen of the latest sultry faces pouted down at her, giant-sized on SmartGlass frontages, each panting deep, dark brand-name fantasies. Duly captivated, the flood of laowai shoppers flowed around her, in from the Green Zones for the day, chattering, laughing, laden as pack mules with designer-label bags. Directly overhead, a hologram green dragon blazoned with the Xiaomi logo flashed dagger-teeth smiles and discount wireless codes before huffing Disney flame across the rooftops. Delighted children screamed at every gout. And everywhere the saccharine thump of auto-tuned K-Pop and chili oil heat of street food.
Security my ass, Seeb fumed. More like gangland house arrest.
The apartment was small but clean. Two rooms with a scattering of sturdy faux-bamboo plasti-molded furniture. The front featured an ancient X-Box 20 console synced to a Toshiba flatscreen, and a kitchenette with a three quarter fridge, microwave unit. Cigarette burn hatch marks covered the grey corian counter, the cuneiform of twitchy confinement. No translation required. One window framed a stunning view of bricks, the other a scabby metal fire escape that went down into an alley and up to the roof- two options on the fast exit menu. Both windows had brand new roll down steel shutters.
A poly-foam futon and a shower/toilet stall filled the tiny back bedroom. A coffin of a closet held several sets of new but drab clothes, and extra linen. Celery green walls did little to fend off the minimum-security prison vibe.
There was one bright spot. The previous occupant had left gifts of a more pragmatic kind; a weighted carbon fiber tonfa and a karambit, the hooked knife favored by Indonesian street punks. In the right hands, one stroke could gut an opponent chest to balls. Seeb hefted it, the balance was odd, stroked her thumb gently along the crescent, razored edge. The image of Ferret’s head, lolling, his jacket, shoes drenched and sticky…
She bit down on the memory and dropped the karambit in her purse. The baton was too big to conceal, unless she counted shoving it up Jien’s ass, and she figured she was as likely to slice herself on the strange curved blade, but it was better than nothing. Although, if it came down to yanking it, the situation was pretty well frakked.
Seeb spotted her shadow that evening.
Jien had left a message in the restaurant, pleading urgent business and the promise to check in every day. Apparently, a xiǎodì – ‘little brother’- was to keep her company whenever she left the apartment. Subtlety an alien concept for most Triad rank and file, he threw the sneaky Asian/ninja myth off the roof faster than a police informant. He became a mute, tattooed, trench coat, mirror-shade Kua Fu forever six steps behind her. Seeb decided he made her previous bodyguard, Stepan, damn near a Mensa candidate.
The kid’s only claim to individuality was a red fauxhawk dyed the color of kimchee. She dubbed him Cabbage Head, and ignored him.
The only other person she saw with regularity was the little buck-toothed woman who sold fried bat and frosty bottles of Tsing-Tao beer from an ancient stainless steel pushcart.
The woman had several regular spots on the street, and she wheeled the heavy cart around its course single-handed, the batter-dipped, deep fried mammals swaying upside down around the rim of the sloped roof like sleeping tempura versions. Her sign had a grinning child with a bat-stick in each fist, inviting everyone to ‘Enjoy the crunch, crunch!’ Seeb figured if she had a kid – and she let him eat batsicles – she’d let him wash it down with a cold one.
Seeb made another discovery that night: she didn’t have to pay for a thing.
Jien had given her a list of stores for food, clothes, sundries, laundry, and such. If her fugitive status was secret, the shopkeepers sure as hell knew all about it. Her attempts to pay with from the stack of New Yuan Jien had left, were waved off with too-large smiles and lots of bows. Waitresses, owners, clerks were deferent to the point of obsequiousness. Maybe they were paying off debts, or billing the Triad later. Perhaps they took her for the Luckycat’s latest làmèi. Seeb couldn’t tell. Back at a corner table in the Hong Ying Rice Shop, she decided it wasn’t her problem, and ordered more crab and sake.
The fawning didn’t extend to electronics or Grid time. After tea and dessert, she sauntered into E-Ming’s Mini-Mart and tossed a prepaid Huawei charm, a garish thing with pink sparkles, on the counter with a pile of single-serve toiletries. The clerk plucked it out with a single apologetic shake of the head. She waved a wad of neon bills. Still no.
Seeb blushed up a bit of guilt, and gave him a shy ‘hey, had to try, didn’t I?’ shrug, then marched next door to a high end boutique and picked out an annual salary’s worth of knock-off Vestique outfits, including a reversible nano-pore leather jacket.
The bobbing salesgirl bundled everything in black tissue paper, then into a shiny white smart-bag with gold hanzi scrolling across the sides: ‘the beauty of freedom- the freedom of beauty.’ Fortune-cookie Confucius strikes again.
Cabbage Head held the door then fell in step behind her, Seeb humming along with the K-Pop all the way back to the apartment. A real Chinese proverb came to mind as she climbed the stairs. ‘A mountain cannot turn, but a road can.’
Seeb held that thought. In the apartment, she tipped the bag, black paper cocoons slithering onto the futon. She opened the reversible jacket first. Curry yellow under iridescent black-green.
“You bet it can,” she said to herself.
She followed Jien the next day.
They met for tea and fresh rolls, a Hong Ying lunch special, Jien alternately nattering on about cream he’d skimmed off a tech transfer to the moon colonies, and taking urgent messages on his Charm. His blue privacy haze fuzzed so many times, Seeb joked there was a cop car in the tiny restaurant.
Jien looked up and flashed his ‘I’m full of shit’ grin. “It’s nothing, babe. Forged Customs’ tags acting up… You know how it is – no matter how smooth you hack, some two-fifty fraks it up.”
Seeb made appropriate noises, half a fresh roll in her mouth. Made the effort to look interested and jealous, which she figured he expected. He had deflected all her questions about her stolen Charm and whoever was data-mining her Cloud. “It’s being taken care of,’ was all she got.
She accepted his bullshit with a smile, and played along. Jien was definitely strung tight – talking too fast, smiling too much – two tells she remembered from when they ran together. The bigger the job, the edgier he got. Way he was acting, he was neck deep in something tectonic. Fake RFID chips on desalination components had nothing to do with it.
Yesterday, he’d said the sky was falling. Seeb was damn sure the Triads weren’t waiting to get crushed.
She had flipped through the Toshiba’s NewsNets that morning. Aside a string of Clar1ty ODs on the waterfront – twenty-seven cases of Rapid Cerebral Hemorrhaging in the last two days – every channel featured a different specimen of former official, each one grimly speculating on the rising tension between the Orbitals and the Trade and Transit Authority. A number of prominent Senators were missing or presumed dead, and while conspiracies were waved off with contempt, there were nagging reports of accidents, explosions, and grainy video of gunmen. Fast, deadly, obviously trained gunmen.
The default demons were conjured yet again. Mention of Khalaf Jones and his Anachronists red-lined the threat level and brought phalanxes of Central Enforcement Armed Response units to Bradbury Space Port, Government Square, the mag-lev stations, ports and major intersections. Live-feed flashed across the screen; everything she’d seen in the KC vehicle coming in the other day, on steroids. One sequence even featured Kalkan Condotta private security guarding the massive Shumai hydro-plant, and the thought of Vasyl made something lurch in her chest.
That made up her mind.
She waved the screen off and immediately divided the entire stack of New Yuan between her purse and her pockets. Next, she double-checked on the wicked blade curled in her purse. Folded a plain black scarf beside it.
Then Vestique jacket, yellow side out.
“Color me gone,” she told her saffron reflection in the window.
Lunch ended, and after more lies and a kiss on the cheek from Jien, Seeb channeled her anger and dusted off some old skills. Been a decade since she had street-hustled, but some things really are like riding a bike…
First, she ganked a very nice, very expensive Bulgari charm from a woman’s bag in the booth behind her, then slipped a glass from the busboy’s tray. Both disappeared in the Vestique’s inside pocket. Seeb gave it thirty minutes before the woman noticed it missing. The DNA from the glass would be enough to activate it.
Following Jien was child’s play. Putting a reason to it was harder. Something to do with betrayal, proving to herself he was playing her. Maybe dig out the how and why.
Jien ‘Luckycat Wong’ Heng was too valuable to risk, which is why he stayed in A-town most of the time. What goes around comes around – unless you’re at the center. And Jien was definitely nestled in the core of the Triad universe, tight as a tick. He had bodyguards, but Seeb was confident they were watching him, not her. So she window-shopped down the crowded avenue after him, coy and careful until he ducked into an underground parking garage on the corner of Russo and Shenzhen. The very edge of A-town.
Even rusty, loosing Cabbage Head was simple: in with a department store mob, up an elevator, reverse the jacket to black, add scarf, then down and back on the street. She spied the kimchee rooster comb as she strolled out, darting around the first floor men’s wear. He’d lose a finger over it, or whatever it was Chinese gangsters did when one of their own fouled up. She gripped her purse strap tighter. Again, not her problem, she told herself as she crossed Shenzhen toward the garage.
Seeb stuck to the shadows, padded down the ramps. He likes to burrow, she reminded herself. Like his lair under the Go Hall. She kept going until she found him.
Lousy place for a tryst, a damp corner on the lowest level. Behind a concrete column, she was surprised to see Jien merited not one or two, but four bodyguards, none of them like Cabbage Head.
They stood with four other men whose high and tight haircuts and off-the-rack suits screamed ‘Central Enforcement’ louder than any siren. All of them clustered around the yawning rear doors of an unmarked white van. Inside, stacked boxes, the kind military or SWAT used for guns and gear. The dour cops appeared to be giving them to Jien.
Seeb frowned, studied the scene. A payoff? Some kind of trade? With Central Enforcement? What the —
A fifth man emerged from the van. Hackles rose on Seeb’s neck.
He didn’t so much step out as flow. Thin and pale, he moved like a water snake, insinuating himself into each location with the same lithe and poisonous motion. He was like the Grafters who killed Ferret. Only worse.
Seeb backed away, edging along the darkened wall like it was a ledge over a deep canyon. She didn’t know what she was seeing, but it was more than enough.
Another level up, she broke into a run, and didn’t stop until she hit the street.
On the sidewalk, she smoothed her scarf, jacket, forced herself to walk. Don’t draw attention, her heart pounded out. Nothing sketchy.
She hurried as fast as she dared until she found a narrow cut between two apartments. Tidy, color-coded trash bins lined the passage like giant plastic children’s blocks. The signs were English.
She was out of A-town.
Ripping the Charm out of the package, she pressed the glass on the sensor. There was a long sixty seconds when she wanted to scream before the LED lit green. She was on-line.
She waved up Vasyl’s private number.
“Who is this?” He answered on the third ring, his voice smooth and hard.
Tears welled up. “It’s me, krasavchik. Seeb.”
“Seeb? Where the frak are you? Whose number is this?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“What happened? Stepan said some Chinese guys—”
“I’ve had nightmares. Come get me, Vasyl.”
She looked around. “Near A-town. A block or two up from Russo, where Shenzhen turns into Aldrin. By some apartments. Look for me in a black jacket.”
There was a pause as he passed the information on to someone. “I’ve got people nearby. Hang on, lubimka. They’re coming.”
Tears threatened to spill over again. “See you soon, then,” she choked out.
She waved the call off and crumpled against a wall. Ferret’s murder, someone framing her, sifting her Cloud, then trying to kill her. And now Luckycat lying, dealing with the CE. And that man… Thing. What the hell was he–
“Ms. Gilani? Seeb Gilani?”
Seeb looked up. Two men blocked the mouth of the alley. Not Asian – Caucasian, with what looked like comms gear bio-mods laced around their heads, slipped into their ears. Definitely not off-the-rack suits. “We need you to come with us.”
The one on the left pulled a neural stunner, ice-blue tip glowing like a pinprick of lightning. The right one kept his hand under his jacket. Seeb guessed it wasn’t gripping a stunner.
She dug into her purse, wrapped her fingers around the karambit’s handle. The cool metal curled flat against her underarm. She let the purse fall.
The one on the left shook his head. Smiled a sad little smile. “Ms. Gilani, there’s no need for that.”
The one on the right chuckled. “Ma’am, that’s inadvisable–”
There was a coughing sound, slapping like stone skipping on water. The man on the right took a step forward, stains blooming on his shirt. He looked puzzled, crumpled to the asphalt. In the sudden gap appeared a stainless steel pushcart with a little bucktooth woman holding a rather large handgun.
The other man dropped the neural stunner, clawed at his jacket. The gun spit again.
The woman spoke over the two prone bodies. “You. Come with me, now.”
Seeb held up her hands, the knife more question mark than threat.
The woman shook her head, made the pistol vanish. “Come – now. No time.”
Seeb started forward automatically. The woman impatient, stepped around the pushcart, as if to grab her, urge her on. She was at the first of the crayola-bright recycle bins when there was a loud smack on the brick wall across from Seeb, a slam at the end of the alley behind her.
Seeb flinched, eyes darting back and forth as the little woman was thrown toward her like a rag doll. Something like a smashed melon was at her feet. A grimace of buck teeth and one eye. A single thunderclap roiled down the street a millisecond later.
Ice splashed through Seeb, some arctic level of terror, and she ran.
Charm in one hand, knife in the other, down the street, with a white hot spot between her shoulder blades taut and itching. Ready to burst. She ran until her breath came in ragged gasps and her heart pounded in her ears but she didn’t stop until she saw a large black jeep tearing down the street toward her, Kalkan Condotta shield on the door. Stepan at the wheel.
Story from the next Clar1ty Wars installment.
PROLOGUE: AN OCEAN OF STORMS
“– the Check-In at Gate E –“
The man in the deep padded leather couch studied the domes’ apex. Sixteen arched struts joined in a polished steel navel twenty meters overhead. He marveled: it was a flawless join – perfect welding. Not robotic, the man knew: human hands had drawn an electrogas welder over those seams. Some forgotten laborer in a cheap pressure-suit decades ago; skilled and conscientious despite appalling wages and the relentless hazards of deep space construction. An anonymous artist. A serf under a foreign sun.
And now, perhaps for the first time, surrounded by all the black and chrome minimalist opulence, someone finally recognized the only authentic achievement in the room.
The man stopped staring, surveyed the empty lounge. The Executive Lounge. He bristled at the title. More like executive waste. Here he was, one person in a bubble of light and warmth and oxygen that could easily house fifty. Oblivious, entitled, decadent, the Profligate wrung wealth from the sweat and air of thousands of people slaving in the outer stations – people like the nameless worker – then flaunted it in places like this. Profane is it was.
God damn them all.
The tall windows encircling the room swelled with deep, star-dusted black. The lights at the spaceport’s landing pads were bright enough to edge the rough gray of the crater lip in the windows on his right. Without a reference, he couldn’t gauge the distance, but the glass panels were so clear, he swore he could have stepped out one of the frames and bounded across the dark basalt.
He snorted. The electro-stat needed to keep this view dust-free for a month probably cost more than he made in a year. More squandering. He ground his teeth. His old suit, a few hours oxygen, a good ship, and he could be far away from this blight, this mockery, back where God spoke in the endless silence among the frozen dunes. Back where he belonged.
But no. Leaving wasn’t an option. The Prophet had declared a great and effective door was open – only for a season. They must move swiftly, at any price.
“– Jumaat please report to –“
And what a price. He tugged his shirt collar for the hundredth time. The tie was still tight, but not knowing how to retie it, he feared loosening it further. The jacket, with its smooth, iridescent silk, bunched under his arms and cinched around his waist. This mission must have cost the brothers dearly; the outfit, a new identity, a Movado Charm, this Shuttle ticket. Yet he had been assured even such extravagant sowing would reap a thousand-fold reward. How then could he refuse?
God willed it. He was coming home.
Drop City was below the horizon. He craned his neck nonetheless, hoping against reason the blue and white orb would peek into view.
He calmed himself. This was a layover – a minor delay. Lakshmi Lunar Station was one stop from the end of his journey; he’d be planetside soon enough.
If he wanted, he could watch the azure oceans and pearl-swirled clouds until they broke atmosphere. After all, Executive Class view screens tapped video feed from all around the shuttle, even the cockpit.
Fifteen years ago, he had been certain he was gone forever. Sentenced to permanent indenture to the biotech giant Genzyme, he been assigned to their deep-space arcology near the gas giant Zang Guo. That day, booster’s shuddering, he had elbowed his way to a bulkhead seat and stared for hours out a tiny porthole, first at the receding pale blue orb, then when the tears dried, at the stars.
There was so much light. He had been stunned to think of space as bright; a billion suns scintillated in the void. The farther out, the clearer they were. Sorrow begets revelation begets rebirth. This too was from the hand of the Almighty.
That was long ago and he was here now. Today.
A wall screen beside him pinged on. Twice his height, it blossomed in high-def color. Are they blind as well, that it needed to be so huge? At least the Auto-Serve had stopped pestering him about alcoholic beverages.
Two News Net personalities began blathering about a mega-storm south of Drop City’s equatorial land-chain. Massive oceans and twin moons conjured furious weather patterns on a gigantic scale, and Drop City’s southern hemisphere was particularly volatile. Oceanum Procellarum, they called it. An Ocean of Storms.
“– please report to the Check-in at –“
The broadcast’s satellite imagery flashed a cotton swirl arcing across a bed of jade-blue. The inane, frowning faces of the newscasters gazed thoughtfully at projected path icons and wind speed data as if they were divining arcane symbols of life and death. Raging thousands of kilometers wide, the storm churned northward toward the capitol.
He smiled at that. He realized years ago irony was God’s most common figure of speech. A storm was coming indeed.
“Will Mr. Tenuk Jumaat please report –“
He froze. Panic tingled down his spine. Why were they calling him? Had he missed something?
His cell leader had drilled vigilance into him: every step closer brought another level of surveillance. Threatened, defensive, the Orbital Corporations and their TTA lackeys layered it around their dens: soldiers, monitors, retinal scans, voice and facial recog-ware, chemical and biological sniffers… Paranoia revealed their corrosion, their weakness. He can never relax.
He glanced around without moving his head, checked the reflections in the glass. No CE uniforms burst in, no security turrets sprouted up, no micro-drones…
“Will Mr. Tenuk Jumaat please report to the Check-In at Gate E.”
He stood, swept his hair back, smoothed his jacket. Slender, with dark, delicate Malay features, he looked every inch the refined technocrat. The skin next to his eyes was still tender from where they lased the crow’s feet smooth. Spacer Squint would have been a dead give-away – something Mr. Tenuk Jumaat would never have.
No, everything was fine. He pulled disdain on to his face like a helmet visor and strode out the door.
Twin female TTA attendants, eerily beautiful in their bio-sculpted symmetry, perked up as he approached the desk.
The one on the left smiled as bright as an arc-light. “I’m so sorry to disturb you, Mr. Jumaat. We are personally informing all our Executive Class Passengers the storm system has delayed all in-bound flights to Bradbury Space Port. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
The one on the right checked her station screen. “TTA Control is re-routing shuttles as we speak, It shouldn’t be more than a twenty minutes before we have you on your way.”
Relief washed through him but he nodded thoughtfully, just like the newscasters on the wallscreen. “No worries. It’s the season for storms, right?”
“Exactly,” she said.
Figured I’d try this on you guys, see if you liked it.
Oh, and Happy Easter to K. Coble. – This is for her. 😉
Prologue: to Conjure Destiny
Ragnarok. Twilight of the Gods.
Whom the Gods destroy they first make mad… but when Gods purpose their own annihilation, what lunacy preludes that ruin? What malefic visions birth gibbering deicide?
Ragnarok… the end of all things.
It was an end, yes. But not final. A conclusion, not a consummation.
No one remembers how it began, only that the savagery raged for days. No realm spared as celestials expended their very essence to unleash the primal energies required to murder their kind. Continents heaved, oceans boiled, stars exploded. Time, space, day, night lost all meaning. Erstwhile allies and servants, our lives were abruptly incidental, insects in the scale of their grand self-immolation.
So while the Gods hurled doom across the three worlds – rending the Heavens, scorching the Earth, shattering the Underworld – we huddled and hid and dared not pray. Terror, woe, and havoc crashed over us like great waves of the deep. All turned to rubble and ash – an utter desecration – for when Gods make war, who can escape?
Then one day Ragnarok ended.
The Gods were dead.
We who survived blinked in horror at what remained – that we remained – and called ourselves cursed. Remnants of Men, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, scattered across the blighted landscape, fated to still draw breath, forced to sift meaning from desolation.
Minor deities remain, few, feral and precarious, their minds overthrown by pain, loss, and dismay at the hells they helped unleash. On themselves. On us.
We shun them.
Ragnarok… The word twines from two roots, their true meaning: ‘to conjure destiny’.
The Gods abandoned us, took their capricious favor, their lofty scorn to whatever afterlife Gods go to. If there is such a place.
The only destiny that remains is what we conjure from the remains.
One: All the time in this ruined world
Year Three after the Grim Fall
Addas had smelt it before he heard it: hoofs pounding out of the bleak half-light and swirling snow. Twisted aside, just barely. Damn thing still bashed the air out of his lungs, sprawled him down the hill. Last he saw was the ass-end vanishing in the gloom.
He stumbled and gasped his way into a tall clump of scraggle, pain spiking his ribs every step, every ragged breath pluming the frigid air. The bush weren’t much. Its desiccated branches rattled in the wind like finger bones, but bad cover is always better than none.
Warmth drooled under his shirt and he knelt, risking a glance were his hand pressed his chest; blood seeped through his thick fingers. Bastard’s horn had gashed clean through the armor rings and the jerkin.
God-cursed fecker near gored me, he grimaced. Add another scar to the batch – if I live.
Addas steadied himself. Peered out.
The storm had hunkered down to stay; ugly, low and leaden. Bitter winds howled out of the north, bringing a frenzy of large flakes the color of ash that burned skin raw, and the cold that froze boiling water in the pot. It was dumping hard, swallowing the landscape, dropping the view to a stone’s throw. Only a few shaggy humps of brush and black boulders jutted out of the icy slop.
The beast was nowhere to be seen. But not gone. It was still out there, stalking him. Addas could feel its hunger.
He cocked his head, listened under the roar of the storm. Nothing.
He jerked his hand away from the wound, hissed as the chill bit exposed flesh. Ignore it, Chalk’s customary advice rang in his head. Bleeding ain’t important now – living is.
Easy for you to say, Addas muttered. You ain’t here.
Warty brute had been in the dirt a month, and Addas almost missed him. Almost.
The old tracker had taken him out every day for three years, rain, shine, blistering summer, freezing winter, taught him every trick, trap, track and snare he knew. He’d beat the piss out of Addas every day for three years too, cuffing him at the tiniest mistake, bellowing, “World’s hard now. Get that in yer skull. You needs be harder.” Those lessons had started the scar collection, everyone a jagged little clue, a reminder of what was gone and what was now.
Filthy, senile, grueling, cruel, Chalk had been his savior – if you could use the word nowadays. He’d been the only one willing to take Addas in, half breeds being bucket scum even before the Grim Fall. Most of the other refugees from those days were long dead, so there must have been something to the cunning old fecker’s brand of schooling.
Addas’ bloody hand brushed the handle of the cleaver sheathed at his side. It had been Chalks. Wish me luck, he thought. Ain’t none left, he heard him grunt. Get on with it.
“Well shit, then,” Addas said to the wind.
He gripped the shaft of his javelin. One of his good ones. Pitted and rust-scabbed, the iron head still held a wicked edge.
Squinting into the gale, Addas froze still as a stone. He counted thirty heartbeats then reared up. “Come on then,” he roared. “Here I am.”
Good’un, he heard Chalk snigger. Charging the likes of you means it’s starvin’. So control the brawl. Make the ‘ungry bugger come to you.
You can shut up now, Addas thought.
Twenty more heartbeats. Nothing.
Then, snow scrunched, slithered on his right.
Addas shifted toward the sound, the javelin suddenly twig-thin across his meaty palm. Three fingers to steady, thumb and pointer to aim, like Chalk had taught. Coiled as a spring, he sniffed the wind ever so delicate.
The air was flat, hard as iron, but a sick-sweet hint of skin-rot spiced the back of his throat. Mange on the beast’s coat.
“Oh, you want me, doncha? You royal fecker,” he murmured. Addas slow-stepped forward, half out of the bush, and planted his boots deep and firm. “Come then,” he hissed.
At those words, a dark shape heaved out of the roiling squall like an avalanche. Head down, long horn straight as a pike, it fixed to skewer him like a hunk of meat.
Heart in his mouth, storm in his ears, time sludged, stretched like tar; a whole day in a heartbeat. Suddenly everything was chiseled, separate and new; each flake of snow, the twine wrap on the shaft under his fingers, the muscles rippling on the charging wax-white mass, the snort of fog from its nostrils. That spike tip was mere feet away, but Addas had all the time in this ruined world.
He drove the javelin and pivoted in the same moment, saw the iron head sunk deep in the beast’s chest as it blew past, heard its scream of pain and frustration. Another dozen steps, the front legs folded and it dropped like a sack of rocks, furrowing the snow out into the gloom.
Addas whipped out the cleaver. Crouched. Waited.
Over the wind, he heard it thrash and grunt, raging against Addas, against the blizzard, against death. The cries grew steadily weaker, and he crept toward it, heavy broad blade raised over his shoulder.
It was kicking its life out fifty paces on. The javelin wobbled and twitched in its chest like a dowsing rod, snow darkening to a bloody mush underneath. It rolled its eyes, jerked its long head trying to stab him even as it wheezed its last.
Now that’s how ya live another day, Chalk cackled in his head.
Beast was gaunt, ribbed as a washboard, but there was still some meat to it. He’d drag it back for eats, but that horn was his. It was scored and dirty, but unbroken. Rare and valuable thing, unicorn horn. Pierce plate armor, it would.
The reek of offal churned in the wind as its bowels let go. Addas watched the creature shudder, slump and go still. A gust blew the stringy mane over one staring eye.
Addas Dashag, hunter, tracker, rover, scavenger, half-orc from the Black Sands clan put his boot on the unicorn’s chest and yanked his javelin out. He wiped it clean, inspected it for bends or cracks. Satisfied, he strapped it on his back then he hefted his cleaver and set to hacking the skull to get at the root of that lovely horn.
Over my next writing project.
Do I hammer away at the next section of Clar1ty Wars shorts? The rather Evangelical modern horror espionage piece I started? The epic fantasy that’s been simmering for a couple years? The Eshu International backstory pieces? Or the Post-Apocalyptic fantasy that’s recently popped up in my head?
Anyone else wrestle with this problem?