Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Fairies Under Glass"--Adolf Attacks

Krasimir angrily paced the floor of his Sanctum.
    His whole plan for the Phantasmian creatures had been simple. First, get a museum to display them for a certain sum of money. Charge another fee for tours and special favors. A surcharge here, extra bonus there, marginal profits everywhere, and presto! A fortune is his for very little cost.…

    Then along came that cheeky blighter, Rankin! Krasimir scowled. It was all his fault Krasimir now had a basement full of stiff creatures no longer fit for public display! His fault that Krasimir, on top of losing the income generated by the exhibit hall, now had to pay damages out of his earnings to repair the museum! How had the boy done it? How had he gotten involved? Surely he did not know before today that the exhibits he was always sweeping around were live creatures…did he? He had always been skittish, but more, Krasimir noted, of late it had been increasingly obvious that he suspected something.

    “But what could he suspect?” Krasimir asked aloud. There was simply no explanation. Krasimir dismissed the lad from his mind. He had more important problems to deal with, such as, now that the general public knew he had possession of live fairies, a giant, a unicorn, and a gryphon, what could he do with them? Should he return them to Phantasm? Ha! Krasimir snorted; not while there was money to be made!
    “Old Man Guillroy thinks my artwork is a circus, eh?” he muttered, “I’ll give him a circus! Adolf!”
    The werewolf did not answer. Krasimir waited a moment and was about to call again when he noticed Adolf’s lean figure standing at his elbow by the fireplace. “Adolf, are there any carnivals in the area?”
    “There is one, Master,” answered the knowledgeable werewolf, “owned by a man named Zachary Storm, just outside the town.”
    “Perfect,” Krasimir grinned. His smile, however, disappeared when he remembered exactly why he was now searching for an alternate venue beyond art houses and museums.
    “Adolf,” he pensively stepped a few paces away from the fire. “What happened today?”
    “The Phantasmians, Adolf; they came to life, there in the sight of all mankind. And you, transforming into a wolf right there in public! What sort of magic could have the power to overcome the paralysis techniques and the drugs? Could you explain this phenomenon to me?”
    Adolf furrowed his brow deep in thought. “The only part of Phantasm powerful enough to do what you describe is the Phantasmagyth, Master.”
    Krasimir frowned, “The what? Oh, you mean my—“ he pointed to the case and froze.
    The Gem was gone!
    “WHERE IS IT?” Krasimir barked; his face transformed into a truly terrible scowl. He was livid. “Where is my jewel? Did you steal from me, Adolf?” He advanced upon his henchman.
    Adolf flung up his hands in honest fear, “Master, you know I was with you all day. I did not, and I would not steal from you. Perhaps the Underworlders did it in your absence.”
    Almost before Adolf finished the suggestion, Krasimir burst out of the Sanctum and fell upon the unsuspecting goblins in the corridor, bashing heads, pulling noses, and twisting ears in his fury. Adolf assisted him by menacing the squat creatures with his savage teeth and ferocious growl.
    “You have stolen from me!” Krasimir bellowed. “Who has it? Who has my jewel? Tell me now or I will kill every one of you!”
    The goblins could not answer. None of them had ever been in the Sanctum. They could not have taken it.
    Krasimir suddenly halted his onslaught with a goblin’s ear in his hand. He looked at Adolf.
    “The boy!” he gasped, “He knows!”
    Krasimir tossed the goblin aside and race to his bedroom upstairs. His mind raced. If Casey Rankin knew about the Phantasmic jewel, then he had been the one who revived the creatures! But how—Krasimir reached his doorway and stopped.
    There on a cushion at the foot of his bed was the Phantasmagyth! Well, at least it meant that Casey didn’t have it after all, but how had it traveled from downstairs locked in a case, all the way up to his room? Adolf approached behind him.
    “Adolf,” Krasimir said quietly, lifting the precious stone, “I want you to find out how much Casey knows about this gem, and I want you to find the source of its power before he learns any more of it! Use any means necessary, just get me that power!”
    “Yes, Master,” Adolf replied.

Adolf was an excellent security guard. It was almost like he could stand at one end of Krasimir's Circus and know everything that was going on at the other end. He had the sharpest eyes, the best nose, the fiercest scowl, and the strongest ears of anyone I knew.

He gave me the creeps.

I was really happy that Mr. Storm allowed me to work at the Carnival. He was a kind man, sort of reminding me of Mr. Guillroy.
Mr. Storm called me into the trailer that served as his office on my first day.
"Rankin," he said, "I want to warn you about Adolf. I understand how nervous he makes you, because, frankly, everyone's nervous around him. Everyone but Schlimme, that is. Lord knows I didn't want him anywhere near the carnival, but Schlimme insisted, and, well..." Mr. Storm shrugged, "you know, when Krasimir Schlimme insists on something, it must be done."

I nodded sympathetically. Mr. Storm continued, "Just move around all areas of the Carnival picking up the trash and the litter and emptying garbage. I've talked it over with Schlimme, and he says you can empty the garbage cans in the Circus, but for whatever reason he doesn't want you picking up garbage there during the day, only emptying the garbage cans at night. He seems suspicious of you. Did you give him trouble or something?"
Alarm bells went off in my head. Did Mr. Schlimme suspect that I had anything to do with the fiasco in the museum? "I don't recollect any incidents," I told Mr. Storm, "Mr. Schlimme has been wary of me from the beginning. I have no idea why."
Mr. Storm shrugged. "Well, all right. I'll let you go now, Rankin. Welcome to the Carnival!" He swept the door open with the air of a ringmaster, and I stepped outside.

The Carnival was a popular place. People were everywhere, and they littered awfully! I was busy going around all day at the Carnival, I didn't even worry about going into the Circus. With an hour left on my shift, though, I realized that I probably should empty the six garbage cans in the Circus. Before I did so, though, I stopped by the mobile unit labeled "Employees Only" and peeked into my locker.
"How is it going?" I whispered into my duffel.
"Great!" three voices hollered back. "Are you done yet?" Sheerya called.
"Almost," I replied, "I just need to empty the garbage cans in Krasimir's Circus and that's all."
"Can I go with you?" she immediately wanted to know.
I hesitated, but I confess I was beginning to enjoy her company. "Ok," I said, "but stay out of sight! I'm still on-duty!"

Everyone else whined about how unfair it was that she got all the privileges, but I had learned a thing or two about fairies. They shared everything. I knew that Sheerya would re-enact every little thing we did in such exciting detail that the others would feel like they had been there, even the folk I didn't bring with me to the Carnival.
She tucked herself deep in my pocket, and I went to work.
It was later in the evening, and the tents in Krasimir's Circus cast long shadows. I emptied the first three cans around the edges, and started moving toward the middle.
I had just barely felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise, when a gravelly voice demanded, "What are you doing here?"
I jumped and whirled around, "Oh, Adolf," I sighed.
He glared at me like he wanted to snap my neck. What had I done to antagonize this goon?
"I'm emptying the garbage cans," I told him, "it's my job, and I have permission from Mr. Schlimme."
His piercing eyes suddenly snapped upwards. He sniffed. "Do you smell something?" he snapped.
For some reason, my pulse raced, but I shrugged nonchalantly and said, "Nah; I've been around garbage cans all day. I don't smell a thing."
"I'm going to go check it out," he said, and slipped noiselessly into the shadows.
"Who was that?" a small voice erupted from seemingly nowhere, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
"GAH!" I screamed; then I remembered Sheerya. I sighed. "That was just Adolf, Krasimir's security guard," I said as I turned to wheel my trash-cart to the next can, near the big tent.
"There's something not quite right about him," Sheerya noted from my pocket.
I nodded, "Boy, you've got that right!" I could hear Krasimir's voice as he was exhibiting the Phantasmians still in his possession to the paying throng.
"No, I mean, I don't think he's even hu--"
"Shh!" I shushed her. Krasimir's words came to me very clearly as I stood just outside the tent flap.
"...and on the other side of the size-spectrum, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the fearsome GIANT!!"
I heard the cranking of gears and the roar of the crowds.
"Sheerya, go find out what he's got in there," I whispered.
She obediently flew out of my pocket and into the tent. I knew she was all right, because with the bright lights and the spectacles already on display, people wouldn't even notice her. I sat down to wait for her return.
"What are you up to?"
Adolf's raspy voice and his strong, hairy hand both jerked me to my feet. His face was very close to mine, and I could smell his breath--the smell reminded me of roadkill--and hear him smelling mine. He was weird...and scary.
"I--I..." I could hardly get the words out! He'd caught me completely off-guard. I struggled to remain composed. "I'm just emptying the garbage. I just sat down for a break."
"You'll get a break when you've finished your work, now get on with it!" He shoved me away with surprising force.
I decided I didn't want to make him any angrier. "Ok, fine, I'm going," I said, moving around the tent.
I emptied the last garbage can and returned to the big tent just as everyone was leaving.
"Sheerya," I whispered. She moved the oak leaf she'd been hiding under, and fluttered her wings so I could see her. 
Sheerya nestled in my collar, and I ... stood and straightened my jacket. "I have a few more things to do. Go back to the backpack, I'll be there in a bit. Stay out of sight!"
"Okay," Sheerya replied, and flew away, wrapped in a leaf so her light couldn't be seen. I stood for a while, watching her disappear.

I turned around and Adolf was standing behind me.
I gasped, but tried to remain innocent looking; his eyes seemed to glow in the moonlight. "Oh, hi, Adolf."
"I found the smell," he said.
Unexplained fear gripped my windpipe, but I tried to keep my voice steady. "O-oh, oh y-yeah?" I stuttered, "Wh-where was it?" I could have slapped myself. What sort of question was that?
He answered it anyway. "It was.... here," he said pointedly.
"H-h-here?" my voice cracked, and I began backing away with the cart.
"Yeah," his guttural voice was still flat and emotionless. He had me pegged and he knew it. What was he going to do now? "Smells like..." he sniffed for emphasis, and his lip raised in a snarl, "fairies."
"Oh snap!" I cried, and ran back toward the Carnival.
With an angry, animal snarl, Adolf took off after me. His eyes beamed red in the moonlight.
The open spaces were void of people as I ran, the only light being the moon, and the huge lamps that lit the place till dawn. I could hear Adolf's heavy breath right behind me. Something grabbed my leg and I landed on the ground hard. Something flipped me over and pinned me by my chest. Adolf! But not just Adolf the scary guy.

Adolf was a werewolf! He glared down at me, snarling and snapping, edging closer to my throat. "So YOU'RE the one who's been letting everybody go! How did you do it? Where did you get the power?" He was going to do something terrible, I just knew it! But I had no weapon... or did I? He wasn't pinning my arms, so I frantically groped in my pockets for something. My hand grasped the Chain. It wasn't much, but it was the most I had.
I swung the Chain around and caught Adolf right across the eyes. He yelped and leapt off of me, and I got up and started running, the chain still dangling in my hand. I knew Adolf saw it.
"The Chain!" he howled, "He has the Chain!"

I kept on running, hearing the thud of heavy wolf paws behind me getting closer with every step. If I could make it to the bus stop, I would be safe... safer than running, that is, but who knows how well Plexiglass holds up against a werewolf?
A flash of light erupted near my eye. "Why are you running?" I heard Sheerya's voice.
I couldn't talk very well when I was running for my life and my heart was firmly lodged with the rest of my insides in my throat. "Adolf...werewolf..." I gasped, "Chasing me! Get help!"
"Right away!" and Sheerya was gone.
I had been running for five minutes solid, and it occurred to me that I didn't hear Adolf any more. I stopped. I was now in the Carnival. I ducked from arcade to arcade, staying in the shadows, trying to detect any sort of movement around me.

"RAWR!!" Adolf sprung at me from the side with a growl. He knocked me over, but I grabbed the nearest object--I have no idea what it was-- and shoved it on top of him. I heard a crash and a yelp, and kept running. Meanwhile he chased me, now making a bit more noise as he crashed indiscriminately through tents and walls, trying to get at me.
I saw a huge light and immediately ran toward it. It was a crowd of fairies! I ran into their midst, realizing about halfway through that I was also running through elves in the grass. Most of them were armed, and they all attacked Adolf, the fairies crowding in his eyes and blinding him, and the elves slicing at his paws. I kept running till I got to the bus stop. I ran to the back of the bus and sat down.
By the time I'd gotten my breath back, it was over.

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Laurel of Andar" Excerpt--The Heart of the Elvenking

Laurel opened her eyes and blinked to clear the fog from her vision. Wherever she was, the light was dim, almost like candlelight. For some reason, her head hurt, her body felt heavy, and she could not make out her surroundings.
She flinched when she felt the cold, hard rim of a bowl touch her lips. A soothing voice said, "I am a nurse, and my name is Eurilla. Here, drink this."
Laurel opened her lips and weakly allowed the warm, savory liquid slip down her throat and felt it seep into her body, refreshing and invigorating her.
As her vision cleared, Laurel finally discerned that she was in some sort of room with earthen walls and floor, and directly across the room from the foot of the bed was a tunnel instead of a door. Laurel could hear movement and the steady hum of voices, but she could not see out because the tunnel bent a short ways out from the room.
She lay on a simple bed with white sheets and soft blankets; light streamed through a window on her right, and an Elf-maid dressed in the livery of the royal family watched over her on her left.
Laurel opened her mouth to speak to the maid, but all that came out was a soft moan.
Eurilla smiled gently, "Hush," she murmured, "Just rest, you don't need to speak."
"But..." Laurel struggled to continue, "who--"
"We are the Orvenness, the Faithful Andarians to the Elvenking. We have been waiting for you since the death of His Majesty."

Laurel shook her head; she felt stronger as the medicine worked through her tired, scuffed limbs. Slowly, with Eurilla's assistance, she eased to a sitting position. Once she was settled, she asked incredulously, "Why me? Why should you wait so expectantly for the daughter of a half-elf?"

The elf-maid's eyes snapped wide and her white hand flew to her smooth cheek. "Half-elf!" she cried, "Then you... You're the infant!" the outburst came with a look of shock, confusion, and horror. "How can this be?" Eurilla breathed.

"Trouble, Eurilla?" a voice not unlike Moraenor's inquired from the doorway.
Laurel looked up at the newcomer--an Elvish soldier-- as the flustered Elf-maid murmured, "No sir," curtseyed, and swept from the room without another glance at her patient.

The new elf smiled at Laurel and remained a respectful distance from the bed.
Laurel squinted at his familiar face, trying to place where she had seen him. After several moments, she remembered, "You're the Elf from the corridor!"
The Elf nodded, a bit apologetically, "My name is Imadan. I am sorry if I was too harsh. Our orders were not to allow entry without the password."
Laurel nodded benevolently, "Then you are not at fault, for you obeyed your orders. Sir," she continued, "can you tell me what this place is? Who prepared it, and why?"
The elf frowned, "You don't know? No one told you?"
Imadan sighed; obviously he was more comfortable fighting than explaining. "This, madam, is the Haven of the Faithful, designed here in Mt. Horbaroth by your great-uncle, Golon."
Laurel tipped her head. "I thought he was my grandfather."
"He raised your father, it is true, but you are the granddaughter of his sister, Jerynna, who died of the blight in Andar. She begged him to take her child, and out of love for her, Golon brought your father as an infant to Murinda. He wanted to be sure that you and any you brought with you would be safe in the event of Glastorian oppression or any other major disaster. When he fell on the field of battle, all the elves present--all of us--withdrew into this mountain to await your coming."

Laurel shook her head again, "But I don't understand!" she cried, "Why would you wait all this time for only me?"
Imadan shrugged, "I serve the Elvenking and his kin."

Laurel gazed toward the window pensively. "So do I, but what does that have to do with your serving me? Besides," She turned back to Imadan, "I always thought that the Elvenking died a long time ago, and he had no kin."
Imadan smiled strangely, "Oh, but he had kin, though none realized it." He straightened and said, "With your permission, miss, I would like to show you something in another room. Do you feel well enough to rise from your bed?"
Laurel moved her arms and legs. They felt a bit stiff and extremely sore, but her limbs were by no means incapable.
"Yes," she answered Imadan.
He offered his arm and escorted Laurel out of the room. The young Elf-maid received her first look at the Miselaithe Anoy Orvenness.

The sheer size of the sanctuary struck her first.
To see the outside of it, and indeed with the winding maze of mine-shafts all throughout the mountain, one would never expect much room to be left for a colony of Elves to live, but all around her Laurel saw the Elvish ingenuity. She did not feel one bit like she was inside a mine, nor very far inside a mountain, for that matter. Though the halls, walls, ceiling, and floor were hewn out of rock, everything had been polished until it was smooth as marble, and the odd shaft-tunnel incorporated into the design of the room. In addition there were windows everywhere, and not mere port-holes, either, but those of the large, bay-window variety. Laurel glanced at Imadan.
"Where in the mountain is this place, exactly? Because it would be very hard indeed to hide windows like these from the prying eyes of unwanted company! How have you kept this place from discovery?"
Imadan smiled ruefully, "You forget, ma'am, that this mountain has been considered haunted by the men and dwarves of Glastor since long before we came here. This haven is shielded behind the main peak of Mt. Horbaroth--the one actually called Mt. Horbaroth, as it is the only one visible from anywhere in Glastor--and many of the windows face into the center of the range. See?" he pointed out one of the windows, and Laurel saw only rocky peaks and crags. "Most of the windows have a view similar to this one; their design is to let light into the Haven."

They moved on, and Laurel eagerly drank in the wealth of sights: a glimpse of a kitchen here, a sewing room there, even a room full of drying herbs--and elves everywhere! They crossed from room to room, occasionally stopping to murmur to one another softly in what Laurel identified (with a little thrill) as Andarian. Elves, maidens, and elf-children abounded in this happy, fruitful place. Laurel felt that this was exactly the sort of place her grandfather--or rather, great-uncle, she corrected herself--would have wanted for her.
"All this, for me?" she gasped, trying in vain to take it all in, "Absolutely unbelievable!"

At last, Imadan led her toward a set of tall, ornate doors carved from the milky-white wood of the tree called houm. Two elves stood guard before the doors.
          "If you ever get tired of staring out the windows at rocks," Imadan explained, "You can come in here any time you wish and feast your eyes on this!" He signaled the guards, and they pushed open the doors as Imadan swept Laurel into the grandest sight yet.

A gigantic room of white rock produced an ethereal glow in the light of the midday sun. A giant, round, stained-glass window adorned the back wall. On the dais before it stood a plush-cushioned golden chair, but this was not the first thing Laurel noticed.
This room had only three sides. The fourth side, on Laurel's right, presented a large balcony. Laurel gazed breathlessly over it all. Imadan brought her out to the balcony. The side of the mountain curved inward around the right side of the balcony, creating a sort of cove-like seclusion for it. Just beyond the rock, the nether trees of Beilon forest grew around the edge of the mountain, bringing their branches close to the balcony.
           Now Imadan brought her to the center of the room, where a magnificent book lay on a gilded bookstand. Laurel gazed in awe at its bright crimson cover with the title in Andarian runes etched in gold. She read the runes aloud as she traced them with her finger. "Oy Djenjerod Anoy Rethanandaru."

Imadan looked as pleased as an Elf could. "You read Andarian very well."

Laurel blushed at the praise and smiled sadly, "Grandfather taught me to read it, and after he died father was the only one who would teach me to speak it. I know a little, but I am by no means fluent."
"Well, can you translate the title of this book?" Imadan inquired.
Laurel squinted at the runes, trying to recall the meanings of the words. "Um, The...something... of the... Elvenking."
Imadan nodded in approval. "That word, djenjerod, is literally "age"--that's djen, I'm sure you've heard that term before-- and jerod refers to a record or account. So, djenjerod, age-record; annals, basically."
Laurel's mother-of-pearl eyes sparkled. "The annals of the Elvenking?" she breathed. "May I read them?"

"Of course," Imadan replied easily. He opened the book, and Laurel feasted her eyes on the narrow, curling shapes of the Andarian runes. She scanned the pages, enjoying the magnificent illustrations and picking out words she recognized, asking Imadan about the rest. She saw the word krest  which meant war, and miche, which she knew was the word for sword, and of course, oft repeated was Rethanandaru, Elvenking, but she could not understand the rest.

On the opposite page was a superbly detailed and brilliantly colored depiction of a great sword, with a banner curling around its blade that read, "Raenna Anoy Rethanandaru."
"What does this page say, Imadan?" Laurel asked eagerly.
The young soldier solemnly read the text and translated it with a curious light in his eye. "It speaks of the Andarian rights of legacy, or, how the Elvenking chooses an heir. If he is wounded in battle, or dying of age or disease, he calls the one he has chosen for a private conference, and ceremonially passes the sword to that one. By this sword, the Raenna-An-Rethanandaru, or 'Heart of the Elvenking,' all shall know the Elvenking's heir."

Too bad he never had one, Laurel thought as she traced the lines of the sword in the picture. The ceremony Imadan described reminded her of when Grandfather had given her his sword as he lay dying—
Laurel's head snapped up suddenly. A sneaking suspicion seized her heart and almost stopped it cold.
Laurel gasped, "It can't be!" She scrutinized the illustration of the Raenna-an-rethanandaru. The sapphire pommel, the vermilion scabbard with its multicolored designs--it was Grandfather's sword!
"Then...why, that--that means--" Laurel was so stunned she could not speak, but could only rub her forehead in wonder. "But I thought... Grandfather, he's--he's the--"
She turned to Imadan, who immediately sank to one knee in reverence.
"Yes, Lady Laurelindolonorina, Raennalaerynn anoy Rethanandaru," he murmured softly, "Golon was the Elvenking, and you are his heir."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Coming Soon: The Officially Unofficial NaNoWriMo HotBlog!!!

Okay, so the Suggestion Box series ended.... but it's not gone yet!

Thank you to my lovely participants, I had a total blast writing from your Suggestions!

On to other matters....

Some of you might know that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Traditionally it begins at midnight on November 1, and ends at midnight November 30. In those 30 days (or 760 hours, whichever way you look at it) it is the goal of the writing devotee to compose a novel of 50,000 words. (Averages to about 1,670 words a day) There are writing communities devoted to this, meetups, forums, discussions, support groups, professional therapy sessions--okay that last one was a joke. (At least I meant it as a joke....)

Joking aside, it's really fun. I'd heard about it occasionally from various writer friends, but until 2010, I had never written anywhere near even 10K words in 1 month. I had no idea if it was even possible... That's why, in 2011, I decided to "unofficially" participate in NaNoWriMo. I did not register, only a select group knew of my "participation", and I set aside the projects in progress I had to focus solely on an idea that I'd brainstormed many years before but never wrote. I had a loose plan (which lasted me about 3 days of writing before I went ahead and planned it all out!) to work from, and I just wrote.
To my surprise, I actually achieved 36,000 words by November 30th, and it only took a couple weeks more to finish off the novel.
Once I had proved to myself that I could do it, it made the anticipation for the next year so much greater. So great, in fact, that in coming up with ideas to inspire my other friends, I ended up inspiring myself with a fantastic idea that became A Writer's Tale (Which, if you've been following me since March, you have seen already) and, without really intending to, I sat down and wrote it... over the month of October. So I had my NaNoWriMo2012 a bit early, so what?

This year, it's going to be epic. This year I have something that I didn't the last two years:

I have a blog.
And I have a Suggestion Box just brimming with fodder for a spectacular novel!

Yes, dear readers, I pooled all of your Suggestions from the past 13 weeks, and it's going to be a NaNoWriMo Extravaganza Extraordinaire! (Overselling much?) I've been plotting for about a month now, and I think I'm ready--are you?

I'm still debating whether or not to officially register on the NaNoWriMo site (those of my writer friends who are participating can go ahead and give me grief for that if you think I should!) But at the very least, I will be posting each day's installment here on my blog, along with a "Total Word Count" at the end of each post. Keep in touch to watch my progress, and please comment to encourage me in this challenge! I very much appreciate feedback of any sort!

Starting next Friday, only on the Upstream Writer!!!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Red Dragon of Wales" Excerpt--Rebooting Drake Ross

The customer who had called for the deletion was Assembly Member Clarence Greddych; he had been carrying on an affair with Miss Desyre Maloney, but with the upcoming election, he wanted to prevent her from coming forward about it, since family men had a better chance of reelection than philanderers. He had breakfasted with his wife that morning, and prepared to leave for work at 11:30, but when he had returned to the sitting room to bid her farewell at 11:15, he found her rigid and cold, the victim of neural paralysis as a result of involuntary receptive disconnect. Autopsy revealed that she had, in addition to the receptacle at her hairline—the high-fashion, subcutaneous sort so lately developed—she had a second one, an older model, though more recently installed than the first… secreted at the nape of her neck… named “Desyre Maloney.”
Adam LaRouge was tried for the collateral cybercide of Martha Greddych, since it was cybercide that resulted in her death. Since it wasn’t direct cybercide, and no one wanted to dredge up the info on Desyre Maloney, nor Mr. Greddych’s involvement, Adam was not officially convicted, only stripped of his credibility by the Head of National Security, Captain George Whitaker, and ordered to remove himself from the Cloud effective immediately.

“Come now, LaRouge,” The Captain said, grinning as he played with the cred card between his fingers, knowing there was little the man could do about the impending discredit process, “this whole situation wouldn’t have been so messy if you’d taken the time to know your subject’s face. Mrs. Greddych could hardly be mistaken for a common mistress!”
“You know well enough how blind the ambitious Members can be to status when someone gives them what they want, don’t you… Captain,” Adam growled.
Captain Whitaker winced; Adam knew he’d scored a hit. Now the Captain knew that Adam held secrets about his own life that no one else in the world could have access to; but where would a man like Adam hold such valuable information? Surely the card in the Captain’s own hand might contain links to the information, if the records themselves, whatever amount of detail, were too much to bear in a simple receptacle. What would Captain Whitaker do about it? Even the Chief of National Security was bound by restraints and parameters of the law. There was only one thing he could do.
With three quick swipes, Captain Whitaker had completely erased the credibility of Adam LaRouge. He stood, clenching and unclenching his hands nervously.
“Adam LaRouge, you are hereby stripped of credibility and banned from the aethernet. Should your name or information find its way into the General Network, you will be severely punished. You have permission to return home immediately and disconnect from the Cloud.”
Disconnection and banishment, the new form of “prison.” Without the connection, he was no better than a Streetwalker. He was worse, because at least the Streetwalkers shared the aethernet with the High-Flyers. Banishment meant that Security Officers would be regularly patrolling the aethernet from now on, and at the least mention that Adam LaRouge was still active, they had the authorization to commit cybercide, and if necessary, homicide with impunity.

A thin smile returned to Drake’s face. A detachment of Security Officers had followed him back to his house, and waited outside with receptivity monitors, tracking his connection strength as he disconnected his receptacle. For all they knew, once he disconnected, the vacant receptacle would send his brain into a series of seizures, and he would either collapse on the Streets below, or wander, literally empty-headed until exhaustion and starvation claimed him.
What they didn’t know—what brought the smile now—was that Adam LaRouge, who disconnected people for a living, had been preparing for just such a day. He had a series of safety measures in place, to allow him to live on, anonymously. The only thing he could not predict is whether he would be able to perform them in time…

The Security Officers watched the signal strength meter dip below the “WARNING” line, and continue to drop until the screen read, “NO SIGNAL.” It was usually at this point that most people would come wandering out their doors, where a waiting Descender would take their writhing bodies down to the Streets, where they usually ended up dead, fodder for the passing Streetwalkers. They waited, but Adam LaRouge did not emerge. The commanding officer sighed. Some, like this man, chose to remain in their houses—or were physically incapable of exiting, due to the force of the disconnect—unable to eat or control physical movement, until death brought an end to their quiet, insidious suffering. The Descender arrived, and the Security Officer led his detachment away, figuring that the House Cleaners would appreciate a vehicle to remove his remains when they disinfected the house for the next occupant. Adam LaRouge was now legally dead.

Inside the house, the nameless, identity-deprived occupant—once Adam LaRouge, and not quite somebody else yet—winced and tried to maintain consciousness in the pain and vacancy of a disconnected receptacle. In his right hand he clutched his last tether to this earth, a single multi-series memory chip. He struggled to his feet. The seizures were beginning, but the man had already trained his grey matter beyond them. Keeping his eyes focused on the front door, he laboriously tripped and stumbled his way through a rolling visual kaleidoscope toward the portal spinning and turning in front of him. At last, the portal evaporated to the twisting, swirling, over-stimulating view of the outdoors. A Descender dipped and wobbled, first below him, then directly at his eye level. Apparently, he had fallen, and now fought to roll himself onto the narrow platform without falling off it into the bottomless abyss below him. The looping, turning circles of light and movement above him as he descended were too much for his eyes. He tasted bile, and only realized after the fact that he had actually turned his head and vomited over the side of the Descender. His superficial nerves—the sense of touch, of pain, of hot and cold, of movement—were already desensitized. Even his hearing was fading already. He saw, through the warped haze of seizing vision, the movement and bustle of the Streets, but could not hear anything. He saw a pair of legs enter his line of vision, and his head elevated to about the same level as everyone else, but the two men carrying him—having received the prearranged signal just before Adam LaRouge “went offline”—did not register in the gaping wasteland between his ears.
Suddenly the sharp taste of soot and the smell of filth and trash disappeared, and the Disconnected Man knew that it was only a matter of time before he was completely and irreversibly dead. His fading and distorted vision kept him only partially aware that he was now inside a small room, sprawled on a couch. An unused comp-unit booted up—he saw the swirling spot of light it introduced to his vision—and he was aware of long appendages—arms—reaching toward his receptacle just before everything went black…

Drake sighed; the re-boot process had been more painful than he had anticipated. Every inch of his nervous system had reconnected with the force of a pile-driver. The sensation was like being re-born. Light was disorienting; he could not comprehend the sounds around him; voluntary movement was impossible for about three hours, then it was a long several months of re-learning how to walk, how to move, how to eat, how to bathe. The family who had saved his life, Hannery, his wife Gwynn, and their three children—sons Archie and Blaine, and daughter Eillwyn—patiently guided the man-infant Drake Ross through each stage of his recovery.

The re-boot had been Stage 1 on the memory chip. Once he’d resumed much of his normal human ability, Drake re-connected to his brand-new personal comp-unit and initiated Stage 2—Skill recovery. While he could not completely resume the identity of Adam LaRouge (that would forever remain stored in the digital files of his comp-unit), he could re-imprint the memories of his former self, the skill sets, the training, all into his—Drake Ross’—receptacle. It would take a few years to be able to transfer all that information into his reconstructed grey matter, but Drake did not care. As far as he knew, no one else in the world had survived a re-boot; he didn’t mind taking as long as he needed.
Once all that was accomplished, the newly re-created Drake Ross needed to complete one more task to seal his identity and begin rebuilding the credibility he had lost. On September 22, 2068, Drake Ross stood on the porch of Hannery’s hovel and breathed his first gasp of aethernet since the disconnecting of Adam LaRouge. He did not remember much of his old life, but with that gasp, he tasted hints and clues on his tongue. He knew his old name; the fact that his banishment resulted in a tremendous boost in Captain Whitaker’s credibility convinced Drake that he was destined to be a canker in the Captain’s side for the rest of his life. Captain Whitaker was the best Security Chief there ever was? Well, Drake Ross would be the best freelance Mercenary there ever was. Laws and restrictions were only minor details to be bypassed. Drake had been acquiring credibility and exploring already, as Adam; now that Adam was disconnected, Drake had merely to redeem the credibility from the Cloud that bore his name, and he received a new lease on life and a career.
Hannery found him a cement-block bunker slap in the middle of the maze of Streets, and Archie and Blaine were his “faces” to acquire the necessary equipment for Drake to resume business. He became an application junkie; no job was too dangerous or unlawful, and if it brought him closer to discrediting Captain Whitaker and his cronies, so much the better.

The Red Dragon had risen—and he would rain fire upon his enemy.