WIP 2: CYBERPUNK DETECTIVE

short story in progress

2: FOOD CHAIN

Shìchǎng is the largest market district in the center of Lower New Kowloon and Shao-Bei is its main drag, which means even this time of night, the street runs like the Mekong in monsoon season.

I stepped out of the alley into a torrent of people and traffic, all surging through a neon-bright canyon cliffed in steel and smartglass. Celebrities smiled down at the masses, endorsing hot ware that could sync and sex up anyone to be just like them. Holograms swam in a smog of bio-diesel and steam, spiced with curry and hot peanut oil, all buoyed on a hurricane of sound.

The Bank of Shanghai’s Neu-Deutsch Techno jingle announced a branch opening in district three. Ten-story tall Thai androgynes in Gosha Streetwear catwalked to West African Griot Folk Rap. A vendor stall next to me was blaring specials on cloned carp and sex dolls, while across the street, a bar’s window screen simulcast a cage fight in first-person view.

Bus stops flashed political ads and air quality notices. End-of-the-week sales floated past my face, everything from loom-grown beef to 3D bio-printed replacement organs. Shao-Bei Street was a valley of lurid consumer hallucinations.

Not only were the shops and stalls doing brisk business, the street species were in full bloom. Market center or no, a dark district is a poor district so the bottom-feeders had swarmed to nibble at the edges. I spotted beggars and buskers by the dozen, the thick shapes of grafted bodyguards herding intoxed corporate suits past burnt out wire-heads pleading for per diem memory courier gigs.

On the corners, missionaries from every faith competed with hookers of every flavor, all hoping to evangelize the wallets of the unwary one way or another. I spied a dozen grifters shadowing their marks.

Politicians who try to sound smart claim each district has a distinct eco-system, a unique civic biome subject to an arcane blend of location, economy, and residents only they can divine. I don’t know about that, but the sprawl certainly has a food chain. Step onto the street, you’re fair game.

It looked like everyone in the lower city decided to do their shopping here, tonight. Crowds like this, the only way to get where I needed to be was to find the right current and be carried along.

I felt the wind again just as the P.A. chimed the night sweat warning. It was misting already. A thousand holo-ads fuzzed as the oily drops started to fall.  I cut across the avenue under a sea of blooming, clear umbrellas, all seething with reflections – a riptide of electrified jellyfish – and joined a swarm of Japanese tourists.

They were headed my way, south, toward the electronics and ware boutiques in the Gray Market. I got a couple of sidelong glances but my virtual NKPD tags insured they didn’t linger.  No one wants the trouble that comes with police. 

I made it six blocks under borrowed cover with uncomfortable but polite Japanese salary men before I finally ducked down a side road. They bowed and waved goodbye. Relieved.

I tried to be, but my second thoughts bred geometrically with every step. I was going to see an illegal software dealer and even she thought my idea was bad. 

Two blocks off Shao-Bei, my low-light implants kicked in. This was the “other”Shìchǎng, the Naya Dalit slums where the Scrape, Scrap, and Shit gangs lived. Stuck here, two blocks from stuff they couldn’t afford, were the immigrants and refugees who worked underside repair, recycling, and sewage. Or any other filthy, dangerous, non-contract job they could find. No pretty lights and corporate jingles adorning these neighborhoods. Just teetering stacks of foam-crete apartments, salvaged fiberboard shacks, and cheap LEDs.  

The new untouchables are shackled by technology, not ethnicity. Or rather lack of technology. Some can’t even afford a neural chip. The rest simply can’t pay the monthly subscription fees. A domestic or dock worker with a basic Musk package can live in an edge district where they get a few hours of sunlight one way or another. Here in the middle of the Lower City, they’re in the dark and disconnected. 

“Casualties of the neural interface revolution,” one journalist once called them. Poor bastards stuck on the wrong side of the technology gap. It’s the latest version of an old story: without money they can’t get tech. Without tech, they can’t get money. No info-net, no social credit, no bank history, no identity – nothing to help them claw their way up and out of here.

Sunlight doesn’t reach this deep under the Terrace and with the girded underside of the Upper City squatting over their heads, Shìchǎng might as well be the fucking Mariana Trench.

No wonder these people riot every few years.

Or snap and start murdering their neighbors.

Lights from the Gray Market played on the buildings ahead of me but I turned onto Chatham Road South. I needed to make a stop.  

I ‘faced and called Loi Cao. She picked up instantly. Tense. “Zek. You coming or what?” she asked.   

“I’m three blocks away but I have to make a quick detour. Thirty minutes.”

A soft curse. I could hear her scowl. “Not a fan this ware.”

“Twenty minutes, then.”

Silence.

“Please?”

“Okay, Zek. Not a second later.”

“I’ll be there.”

“I’m serious. Not one second later,” she said, and hung up.

WIP 1 : CYBERPUNK DETECTIVE

new short story in progress

1: REASONS

I tripped over my own feet coming to the gate; my body stopped to let the surveillance mast read my chip the same instant my mind remembered I didn’t need to do that anymore. Everything was faster these days. Smoothed into the NKPD Net. I’d probably been scanned and approved a hundred meters back. The pause was an old habit – the muscle memory from other summer nights a decade gone.   

This stretch of wall had gone up in ’46 at the height of the water riots. It was a hot summer, a bad summer. Protestors had taken over the entire Shìchǎng district. The mayor’s council was worried the demonstrations would spread through the rest of the lower city, so the wall was constructed: a hundred-plus kilometers of interlocking ferro-crete slabs, five meters tall, topped with cameras and sonic turrets and loops of writhing live wire. Every secondary street was closed off and the main avenues sprouted checkpoints and steel gates overnight. The district went from street markets to triple max prison overnight. On top of that, half a dozen concealed access points were installed so undercover teams could outflank the barricades and conduct what officials called ‘containment operations’ to secure public safety and prevent civilian casualties.   

Not that the protestors had killed anyone. Sure, there were the usual torched cars and smashed shop windows, but mostly it was regular line up of popular demagogues, opportunist celebrities, day-swarms of idealistic cause groupies all hitching a ride to the moral high-ground on the backs of thousands of sick, thirsty, low-tier workers and their families who couldn’t afford another rate hike for clean water.

This particular access opened into an alley at the south end of Shao-Bei Street. My squad had used it every night for three months to slip in and do things I’d rather forget. Back then, the neighborhood was all cheap noodles, puppet brothels, and pachinko parlors. Now it’s shops and micro-apartments, tea houses and boutique knock-offs. LNK’s version of gentrification.

I pulled the hinged slab shut behind me, felt a shudder as the bolts thunked back in place. The turrets and wire were long since removed but the alley looked the same. Less trash maybe. I wiped slime and grime off my fingers, shook off a clutch of ghosts, and was back in Shìchǎng.

The night was young so the passage was empty, which was good because I was running late and this put me five blocks closer to where I needed to be. Plus it let me bypass a serious bar fight, an in-progress robbery, and a full blown raid. The bar fight was just another drunken brawl, police drones were already on scene at the ramen stand, and the raid… the raid was an omnishambles presided over by Captain Lee himself.   

None of them were my concern – there were no bodies – but the system would log me going through the perimeter, so I would need an explanation.

The bouncers would get the fight under control before it turned serious. It was highly unlikely someone would get killed in the ramen stand hold up. Fēng Niú, the local Red Pole, took a dim view of anyone messing with the revenue stream in his territory. Everyone in Sector Nine knew it and any junkie stupid enough to slot a shop owner would be dead before I ever chased them down. All I’d get was a courtesy email telling me where to find the body. So no real pressure there either.

The raid was a thing to avoid for a lot of reasons, most of all because it was nothing but dick swagger. Our fearless leader had requisitioned two tac-teams in a Norinco 6-wheeler to pay a visit to a new, gray market cyber-ware clinic. Lee’s official reason was the place might be a front for HK separatists. In reality, our district captain was killing two birds with one sledgehammer, intimidating a new business with a welcome wagon while reminding everyone on the street he was still a big kid in the neighborhood.

Hunu, one of my CIs, said the clinic was mostly legit, specializing in geisha-mods and copycat Faberge cyber limbs. That it was backed by the Macau Triad, no less. Then again, she insisted one of her regular johns was an alien from the Andromeda galaxy, so on the off chance she wasn’t full of shit and ‘Phoria, Captain Lee might lose serious face – and maybe a finger depending on who he pissed off. If not, he’d be a few thousand e-Yuan richer when the doctor paid the ‘licensing’ fee to operate in this part of Lower New Kowloon. 

Maybe I’m thick, but it seemed to me twelve heavily armed ninja trolls backed by a Pacification droid was a bit over the top for a chop shop micro-surgeon and a pair of cloned nurses fresh out of Chiba City. A polite ‘meet and greet’ at the station would have sufficed. But what do I know? I’m just a homicide detective with just enough sense not to stick my hand in the middle of that mess. Either way, smart money said the clinic would reopen this time tomorrow.

The captain would grill me at roll call in the morning, but I had reasons – seven, bloody, dismembered ones – that would save me the worst of his scorn. Even he realized he needed to get ahead of this mess before the stink reached higher up the chain of command. Or worse, the newsfeeds got wind of it. Between the noxious election rhetoric, the latest SARS outbreak, and rumors of another hike in electric rates, tensions in the poorer districts of Lower New Kowloon were high enough. No need to add ‘serial killer panic’ to the mix.

I needed to get ahead of it too. Not to preserve my reputation – too late for that – but because it was my job and so far I had seven bodies, not a single, solid lead, and only a really bad idea on how to get one.

There was a chill on my neck. The wind off the South China Sea had finally reached under the Terrace. I cursed for forgetting my umbrella, turned up my collar and started down the alley.

Zombie 6: new Mil-SF

MEDEVAC crew trains for emergency response

 

Bit of writing news for the new year.

I’ve decided to alternate fiction projects in 2017. My first and main effort continues to be the post-apocalypse fantasy novel Shattered Worlds,  (currently hammering out Act II, Into the Scorned Lands) while the second, ‘mistress project’, is a straight up military science fiction novella presently titled Zombie 6.

Focused on a spec-ops team ordered to support the embattled Colonial Administration Security forces on the mining colony Mèng Tiān, Zombie 6 will be offered free here on HSSJ as it progresses. I have added a tab to the top header menu. The first three chapters are up already and I plan on posting new ones bi-weekly. I’m getting a kick out of where the story is taking me and I hope you enjoy it as it develops too. Feedback is welcome and comments are always appreciated.

In other fictional realities, the second Eshu International book, Shift Tense is now available in print.  You can pick up a copy here at Amazon. For whatever reason, reviews for the Kindle version have not, are not, (will they ever?) carrying over to the print listing, so would some of you nice folks who have read Shift Tense fire off a few lines or Copy-n-Paste your Kindle review so it doesn’t look so forlorn there? Thank you very much.

SHIFT_TENSE_final_rgb_flatten_6x9inches_with_bleeds

Finally, thank you all for your continued support. The older I get the more convinced I am success is defined by creativity, community, and contribution more than anything else. I’m fortunate to have such excellent family, friends, and fans. Thank you and happy new year.

 

To Serialize or not to…

Serialize. That is my question.

Several thoughts:

1. I’m a Part-Time Writer
Full-time glass work commands a majority of my creative effort, on top of which comes family, friends, ministry obligations and Life’s usual responsibilities. I strive to write on a consistent basis. I’m part of a local critique group, a member of the Cape Cod Writer’s Center. I’ve got the obligatory notebooks in the car, in the workshop, on the bed stand to catch those random flashes, but fiction is more a pressure-relief valve than a job, and lately carving out time to get my head in a sci-fi space has been increasingly tough.

Serialization spreads out the obligation in manageable increments.

2. SHIFT TENSE isn’t complete yet
I know the second book is the hardest to write. People tell me I’m fussing with it too much. But the fact remains I’m still not happy with the novel’s end. I’m battering my head against the wall tying up the loose ends here. however, the first two thirds of the current manuscript are solid with all the major plot-lines firmly in place.

Serialization give me more time to work out in intelligent climax worthy of the story.

3. Serialization seems a better fit for e-books and the current spec-fiction market
See the earlier post on ‘Wool’ as an example. Serialized stories sell, hopefully build audience anticipation, and generally raise story/writer profile with frequent, compact, releases. With little additional expense/effort, I could release Shift Tense part 1 and 2 over the course of the next six months, release part 3 in the Fall, and have the full novel out at Christmas.

Serialization allows readers to sample the story and grants them the option to continue or cease with minimal cost.

4. Serialization kicks “Shift Tense” out of the house
I already feel like a schmuck, failing to keep my initial deadline. When I finished “Running Black” back in late 2010, I was positive my writing career would rocket into the stratosphere. (BRAAAAAAP! Wrong. Guess again, Pat.) Little did I know about the realities of self-pubbing, marketing, the writing process, juggling competing commitments, etc, etc. I still don’t know a whole lot but now I know more.

Serialization allows me to get the story out there to the readers who have been/are gracious enough to continue to buy my books.

Oddly enough, an early version of ‘Running Black’ was serialized in monthly chapters on Matakishi’s Tea House, a gaming hobby site run by an excellent fellow in the U.K. He formatted the text, added images, and generally made it look much better than it was. It wasn’t until a substantial chunk of it had spooled into the aether that I started hammering out the full-length novel. I have plot arcs and characters for several other novels in different genres clamoring from scraps of paper and Word docs, but I’ve been ignoring them, restrained – right or wrong – by the weight of obligation. I understand the brute reality of ‘work’ in art and creativity. This isn’t all bunnies, hugs and muffins, but I’d like to get back to the challenge and adventure of story telling – the joy of it – rather than treating my time at the keyboard as another chore, fencing with guilt because I missed a deadline.

In the end, if a serialization experiment fails, I can chalk it up to experience and move on. At the moment, the option is under serious consideration and I’m trying to figure out the logistics of such a move.

Any thoughts or experience here?

Thanks.