Saturday, November 28, 2015

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 28

Professional Integrity (Daniel)

“Quick, in here!” Carissa pushed open a door and waved them all in, letting it close and electronically barring the door after them. They seemed to be in a conference hall of some sort. The whole area was empty, silent, and dark after the bright chaos of the main halls. Daniel could still hear the screaming.
“We can wait in here till the rampage is over,” Carissa announced.
Aaron was still scoping out the numerous exits--that could also be points of entry to anyone or anything outside the room.
“What makes you so sure the robots won’t find us in here?” he asked dubiously.
“They’re probably programmed to scan for signs of life, right? And their processors can probably access security feeds, which is how they’re hunting down all the others.”
Harry scanned the corners of the room. No telltale flashing lights winked back to tell him there was any kind of surveillance system at all. Realization dawned as he looked back to the grin on Carissa’s face.
And,” she added, “these doors are impervious to their thermal sensors. There is no way they can find us.”
Daniel allowed himself to relax a little. He turned to thank Carissa for her assistance--when something cracked on the far side of the room. Daniel turned to look in the same instant that Mike yelled, “Duck and cover!”
More bullets ripped through the room, and a whole contingent of the weaponized killer robots blasted through the doors.
Daniel quickly knocked over the chair nearest him and took refuge from the bullets under the table. “Carissa!” He called over his shoulder--but Carissa wasn’t in any capacity to follow him. He saw that the first bullet that had entered the room had struck her right between the eyes. A red stain unfolded from her face and dripped down her neck onto her clothes. Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and curled up into a ball, tucking his knees against his forehead.
“PLEASE STAND BY,” intoned the digital announcement from the robot as it flipped over the table and exposed Daniel hiding underneath. “YOUR DEMISE IS IMMINENT.”
Daniel raised his gaze. The robot sent after him was an ARIC--an Automated Response Incendiary Component. These types he knew were typically used in mob control situations, since they could be programmed with a set of recorded responses, in addition to the weapons used only in case of resistance. Daniel remained as he was--in essence, obeying the robot’s command. The ARIC didn’t fire immediately. Instead, it began repeating the recorded message, “PLEASE STAND--”
Daniel stood to his feet before the robot could finish the phrase. The weapon-arm lowered, and the assault in the room ceased. Daniel watched the robot--all a mass of pistons and wiring, with one glowing audiovisual sensor at the middle of the head. Servos whirred as the machine awaited his next move.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked.
The ARIC’s central computer hummed a moment. “YOUR QUERY IS INVALID, CANNOT COMPUTE,” it said.
“It’s a machine,” Mike’s voice whispered, as he stood next to Daniel. “You’ve got to think the way the programmers would, figure out just the right question to ask to get the answers you want, to override the protocols.”
Daniel stared at the robot. As long as he wasn’t behaving in a threatening manner, the robot waited in relative silence. He thought over every word before he spoke.
“Why has President King issued the executive order for the annihilation of the technicians and consultant personnel?”
The blue light pulsed. “ACTIVATING ORIGINAL DIRECTIVE RECORDING,” ARIC announced. A faint rustle of static preceded the sound of President Chad King’s voice, and that of another consultant, issuing from the speaker system.
Well? Did it work?” His voice sounded strained, still laced with agitation from the recent nightmare.
“I’m sorry, sir, but it appears that the program did not receive adequate information.”
“What more do you want?”
“The program needs a prompt to begin reproducing images from the dream. Perhaps if you could remember at least one element of the dream--”
“You call yourselves dream technicians? Don’t you specialize in fashioning dreams from people’s memories?”
“Yes, but according to the information received by the program, you haven’t indicated any memories.”
“That’s your job! I’m warning you, if your program can’t recall my dream, I’m shutting you down and getting rid of all the consultants and technicians associated with this department!”
“Sir, you are asking for a level of telepathy that no machine has ever--”
“What about the prediction machines? What about the star-gazers and spirit-readers? You’re telling me all your claims about predicting the future and knowing someone’s fate are false? You are all of you useless frauds!”
“No! I’m done listening to excuses! We’re done! I believed you, I trusted you--and you have failed me! Every last one of you! Activate the ARICs! The Mystic Department must be eliminated!”

Daniel pondered his options as the recording finished. Still, the ARICs scattered around the room stood and waited as the four friends stood peacefully and assessed the information they had just heard.
“ARIC,” Daniel addressed the robot, “Requesting permission to stay the execution.”
“Termination of what?” Aaron whispered to Harry.
“I’m guessing it wants a deadline--as in, if we fail or if we take too long, we’re literally dead,” the young man replied.
The trio watched Daniel carefully as he answered for all of them, “Give us twenty-four hours, my friends and I, and then you may escort us to President King, and we will have the answer he seeks.” He paused as a small smile played around his lips. “Are these terms acceptable?”

Friday, November 27, 2015

Fall Reading List

Left Stack: Dragonfly in Amber [unread], Well of Ascension [unread], Only Time Will Tell, You're Never Weird On the Internet (Almost), DodgerRight Stack: Fairest, Physik, The Fate of Ten, Raven Boys, Uprooted
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
This was my first experience of Terry Pratchett. He’s famous for his rambunctious style, he’s quoted all over any writing group anywhere… And after reading Dodger, I wonder why I didn't get into him sooner.
A young boy grows up in the gutters and sewers of London, having run away from the workhouse where he had done a lot of growing up, and he’s a “tosher” known as Dodger, he lives with a grubby Jew named Solomon… And one stormy night, he happens to encounter a botched abduction and a journalist named Charlie Dickens who seems very protective of young Jack. This story was sheer delight from start to finish. From facing off with Sweeny Todd to navigating British politics with Benjamin Disraeli, Pratchett delivers a pleasant, entertaining adventure! A thrilling mystery, action-packed scenes, and hilarious dialogue comprise a perfect combination from a master storyteller. 

Only Time Will Tell (Clifton Chronicles #1) by Jeffrey Archer
My grandma who reads a lot recommended Jeffrey Archer to me, and though I don't much go for historical fiction, I was encouraged by Pratchett and the recommendation.
What I got was a whole lot of cliche, slow plot. There wasn't a character I found particularly interesting, there was a whole lot of “Noble Poor Boy Befriends Lonely Rich Boy And Everybody Takes Advantage Of Him.” Coupled with the “Parents of Two Random Schoolmates Have A Secret Past That Is Dramatically Revealed When One Is In Peril” cliche. All action was centered around the singular hero, and all events directly affected his life. Situations became predictable, and even though there was a valiant effort at a “game-changing plot twist” at the end… to be honest, I never really found anything compelling enough in the story, and by that point, I didn’t really care what would happen to the hero. So if you enjoy good historical fiction and don’t mind uninteresting characters, then you just might enjoy this book, but I have to admit, I didn’t.

You're Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
Jumping jiminy, this book wins everything. It’s the second memoir I’ve read this year, and the first non-fiction book I’ve actually purchased since graduating college. Getting to meet Felicia Day, though, and have her sign my book… now that was bonus material! Though I can’t say I’ve been a “longtime” fan of Felicia, having only discovered her when I started watching Eureka back three years ago or so, I was immediately smitten with her acting caliber and I couldn’t help noticing that every time she guest starred on a show I was watching, her character was always instantly my favorite. I started following the community based on the business she started, Geek & Sundry, and so when I heard she was producing a book and she would be coming to Portland on tour, I instantly wanted that book, and I wanted to meet her. I was acquainted with some of her TV work (actually, not “The Guild,” which was essentially her show; but she was the main reason I started watching Supernatural…) but the thing that always impressed me most was the way she presented and carried herself around others, even in non-scripted, “reality TV” settings. She’s a born-and-raised homeschooler (like me) and a total introverted nerd about her obsessions/interests (mine is books, hers is gaming) and I observe her really treating her fans and other professionals she works with in the same congenial, cordial way. Her memoir is awesome, it’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s raw, it’s witty--for those of us who can relate to having a lot of “friends” whom we would have never met or stayed in touch with if it weren’t for the Internet… Felicia is our spirit animal, our comrade-at-arms in the stuff of life, and you should read her book.
*Unread: Dragonfly in Amber and The Well of Ascension
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
I’d seen it “trending” on Goodreads and it got fairly high ratings, so when it showed up at the library, I decided to give it a chance. Boy, am I glad I did! After the loveliness of Cameron Dokey and the splendid “storyweaving” of Marissa Burt, I had been left wondering if there would be anybody coming up with something new in the field of fantasy. Friends, readers, fellow lovers-of-fantasy, rejoice! Naomi Novik delivers a stunning masterpiece that is part Rapunzel-in-the-tower, part Beauty-and-the-Beast, part Eastern-European-Folk-Tale, and every bit as awesome as the classic tales of early cultures! A magic-wielding wizard known as The Dragon comes to choose the maiden who will be forced to spend a year with him, as payment for the fact that his magic is all that is keeping the haunted Wood from overwhelming their village. This time, he chooses Agnieszka, the narrator of the story. Turns out, she has a spark of magic in her too, and she dares to challenge the dark magic of the wood, dares to defy his assumed mastery over her--and from there springs a whole new brand of peril such as the land had never seen before. It’s beautiful, enthralling, and majestic in its execution. I loved this book.

The Raven Boys (Raven Boys #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
This book was recommended to me by a friend while we were waiting to meet Felicia Day. I made the decision to start reading it… and right away, I received assurances from several other friends that “Everything Maggie Stiefvater writes is magic!” To be honest, I spent the first ten or so chapters thoroughly confused about what exactly  was going on. Blue and her family are all pagans who interact with spirits and do fortune tellings and whatnot, and there were these boys supposedly trying to find ley lines and their search had to do with a king who died several centuries prior.... But then the two groups crossed paths--and Ms. Stiefvater cast her spell, plied her trade and OH HEAVENLY FREAKING PLOT TWIST. I am totally, 100%, irrevocably hooked. I found it amusing that Barnes & Noble shelves it under “Teen Romance”... but this is not your ordinary Twilight novel. Her characters are vivid and her prose is engaging. Romance novels have this stigma (at least to me) that makes it seem like the author wants the reader to start fantasizing over one or the other of the characters, but I found the unfolding relationship between the main character Blue and the titular Raven Boys to be highly entertaining from an observer’s standpoint, not as a participant. It’s wonderful, and I am totally reading the sequel; not because I want more romance, but because the adventure they’re on is so darn compelling that I need to know what happens next! 

The Fate of Ten (Lorien Legacies #5) by Pittacus Lore
Speaking of compelling story arcs… 
In 2011, a movie-based-on-a-book was released… but the premise was completely unique, and--as with, say, the Alex Rider series--we had not known of the book till the release of the movie. (Incidentally, the same actor starred in both Alex Rider and I Am Number Four) The movie turned out rather mediocre, but I started reading the book and found it compelling, thorough, and very well-done as an adventure. Best of all, the series kept going. The Fall of Five, The Rise of Nine, The Revenge of Seven… I didn’t even know what title to expect next till I saw “The Fate of Ten” on the bookstore shelf. Of course I read it. The plot arc that was set up in the first book had been twisted and complicated and extended and threatened over the next three, that I was sure I had finally made it to the resolution of the matter. *SPOILER ALERT*: IT AIN’T OVER YET! I don’t know whether to cheer or cry, but I am DEFINITELY hoping that the next book will be the last, or, yes, I just might cry. It is teetering on the brink of insanity, the way the action in this series just keeps piling up. It’s fantastic, it’s innovative, it’s definitely far from “overdoing” anything. The authors under the pseudonym “Pittacus Lore” (of course it’s a pseudonym! Pittacus is a character in the book, a historian) have spread across five (going on six) books a plot arc that a beginner writer would have probably compressed and truncated into just two volumes, but I have always felt the forward momentum in each book, and at no time does it feel like the authors are rehashing any previous scenarios just to fill the space. I just hope I don't have to wait too long for the next one… But that will probably be the case, since this one was fairly new-released. It’s good, it’s really good paranormal sci-fi.

Physik (Septimus Heap #3) by Angie Sage
As if I hadn't read enough this season already… Yes, I am still following the Septimus Heap series. It’s fascinating stuff, for a middle-grade novel! Each book deals with Septimus acquiring the titular charm (Magyk, Flyte, Physik, etc.) and learning how to use it, in his quest to fulfill his destiny and become an ExtraOrdinary wizard. Sage doesn't use authentic-sounding Latin phrases or special names for her charms and spells; the spoken magics are cast with rhyming couplets, and the names are denoted with the archaic spelling and a distinct typeface. The entertainment value is solely in the quality of characters and plot she designs. And that quality is pretty high! She’s no J.K. Rowling, but Sage gives us a group of heroes worth rooting for, and a world with values we can believe in. Still worth the time it takes to read! Perfect for your voracious young fantasy-loving reader!

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
I had always known in the back of my mind that Gail Carson Levine was the author of Ella Enchanted--but I had only seen the film adaptation of that book, because when a movie is starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, and Minnie Driver, you do not turn it down! So naturally, when I was browsing the shelves and I happened on at least this book by her, I decided to give it a shot. “Fairest” is a sort of a retelling of a little bit Snow White and a little bit of different popular fairy tale tropes, along the vein of “you may think you know the story, but this is what really happened.” It is a potentially unique premise that simply tries too hard to “stand out”, while at the same time using a blend of rehashed material, so that the effect is rather “slightly-above-average.” It was neat, but she’s no Shannon Hale.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith
Methinks Jo Rowling is having far “too much” fun in her Robert Galbraith persona. 
After the devastation of “The Silkworm,” I admit, I was a bit taken aback (both positive and negative) when I suddenly saw a third novel when I least expected it. Apprehension ran high as I peeked at the first chapter… 
To my relief, this third one, while grisly and disturbing in its villain, ended up more along the lines of the first one, Cuckoo’s Calling, as opposed to the outright vulgar subject material of The Silkworm. The respective personal lives of Cormoran and Robin have progressed and developed further, based on events in the last books. Plenty of continuity adds a sense of familiarity, allowing the reader to really get to know these constant characters that we’ve been following since the beginning of the series on a much deeper level than just a name on a page. Rowling shows the same care in developing her characters as she learned to do over the course of the Harry Potter series, and she is still pulling out of her “infinite handbag” of surprising revelations and pertinent information from their pasts that has largely shaped them into the sort of strangers they were when we first met them. Three hefty books, and there is still so much we don’t know about Cormoran and Robin, as sympathetic as we are to their plight. “Career of Evil” is definitely a dark, twisted book, and should not be undertaken by the squeamish or faint of heart. But if you enjoy a good thriller, and you enjoy “Galbraith’s” style, then it’s definitely a sequel worth reading.

*Not Pictured:
Sevara: Dawn of Hope by Damien Wampler
If an ebook is free I will very likely download it. Bonus points if I actually enjoy it. This one was free one day, and I really liked what I read in the sample, so I got it. Verdict: Poor life decision. Don't get me wrong, it was a highly-inventive world and the premise was awesome… Then any moral sensibility in the book or its characters fizzles, and the main character dies. This isn't a spoiler because it’s only the “first act” of the book, and I feel like the only reason she would have died was for dramatic effect gone very wrong… Certainly it detracted from the story more than it added. After that it dragged on, getting progressively darker, more “social activist propaganda,” and more angsty, till it finally came to a not-quite-ending. Devastating failure. So much promise, trifled by a book that ended up pulled in far too many directions that had to keep killing off and resurrecting characters to keep itself going.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
I have decided that I don’t really like Scott Westerfield. I wasn’t all that impressed with Uglies, in spite of how much others seemed to like it, but I felt sure that maybe this one would be different, since a lot of people had said that “Leviathan” was the book that introduced them to the steampunk genre, which I have read several other books and enjoyed immensely. I tried it… and didn’t like it very much. Don’t get me wrong, the idea that there were those who believed that inventing machines was better, and those that chose to “evolve” animals to suit their needs was reasonable enough… if only they didn’t call each other such obviously suggestive names like “Darwinists” and “monkey Luddites.” I just couldn’t get past the novel feeling like the inventive circumstances were being purposely used to push an agenda, rather than simply telling a worthwhile story. And the fact that nobody seems to realize that this amazingly impressive, smart, lithe, brand-new recruit is in fact a girl trying to pass herself off as a boy, because apparently, even in a society where artificial evolution and biological manufacturing is alive and well, sexism is still a thing and “girls can’t be soldiers”... but at the same time, there was a lady scientist who was super-special because she was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin himself... so what the heck, Westerfield??? Did not appreciate the overriding agenda. Fail.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher
So last year, I read an indie novel that ended up being my absolute favorite book-of-the-year, and apparently the author was hugely inspired by Jim Butcher and the Harry Dresden novels. Having never read them, I couldn’t compare very much, but finally, I decided to pick up the first Dresden novel and see how much they were actually alike. Verdict: I am sold. And if you’re already a fan of Butcher, follow the link at the beginning of this review for my review and a link to that book that I loved so much! Lesser fanboys may run up a novel that reads more like an overly-devoted fanfiction, but I can assure you that the above rendition is completely unique and highly entertaining! (and best of all, a sequel is forthcoming!) 
Anyway, back to Butcher. Harry Dresden is a wizard, and very casual about it. He’s sarcastic and witty by turns, the NYPD uses him on some of their more obviously-magic-induced cases, and he is desperate for income and doesn’t take kindly to amateurs misusing magic because they don’t consider the residual effects beyond what they want to happen. Plus, a malevolent entity is using the cover of the “wizard wannabe” to specifically target Dresden. I really liked the characters, intriguing plot, and it’s a series I could really get into!

Reader's Note: Yes, there were two books I had planned to read, but I haven't finished them yet, so I pushed them off to next season. The reason that they're still in the pictures is because by the time I realized I wouldn't be able to finish them, I'd long since returned that first "bevy" of books, so I couldn't retake the photos. Forgive me if I'm a little too optimistic about my reading abilities... and that's all the more reason to keep an eye out for the next Reading List!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 5 Part 1

"One drop does not think itself an ocean, but the ocean cannot be, without water..."

Previously: <Prologue> <Chapter 1> <Chapter 2> <Chapter 3> <Chapter 4>
The Resistance Operatives sat in empty contemplation, idle fidgeting, anything to keep their minds off hunger. The last of their stores sat untouched, the ever-present fiend of impending doom. Once the last bit was gone, it seemed, all hope went with it.
Laurel gazed around at these people who had so willingly thrown their lot in with her, even though it now meant a slow death by starvation.
The army ruled the streets now, and they were out for the blood of the resistance. Somehow, the soldiers had lost the necessity of wyrts—instead, they were behaving as mindless, slavish wyrts themselves. It seemed that at one touch they could tell the Resistance fighters from the rest, no matter what disguise they tried. Their movements were as regular as clockwork—until any of the Resistance fighters ventured beyond the front gate of the Marketplace. In minutes, they would be surrounded by soldiers. The last attempt to gather food had gained Atis a gash in his arm, Barmier's ribs were bruised by a soldier's boot, Gorrmunsa sustained several deep wounds, and Sverana had almost killed herself trying to protect Scander, who made it through with mild cuts and bruises and one black eye.

The wounds had nearly healed, but Carsius had forbidden anyone from even considering venturing out again until he could figure out a way to do it safely. Ergo, they were almost out of food. They still had running water, since they were tapped into the city's water system via the lone sink, and no one considered shutting it off because they could not figure out where all the water was going. 

Laurel sighed and closed her eyes. The first few successes had invigorated her each time, but now she found it difficult to summon the strength. The last fight against the mother-mind had worn her out almost completely. She could manage little more than semi-wakefulness and slow conversation. How was she ever going to find the strength for the next battle, if it was ever going to happen?

Augustus and Carsius discussed the problem. They were not yet to the point of finding a solution, since the activity of puzzling over it kept their minds off their stomachs.
"Well," Augustus groaned, "at least it's not much of a puzzle which pillar of control we ought to go after next."
Carsius snorted, "Yes, but this will be the first time we aren't dealing with wyrts."
"True," Augustus mused. "What do you suppose they did to the soldiers to make them all that way? I swear Gorrmunsa and I watched their movements for three days straight without even blinking, and yet the instant we set foot outside the door, it's like they can sense we're there without seeing us."

"It does seem strange," Carsius agreed. "I've been asking myself the same thing."
"It's downright creepy, that's what it is!" Augustus shuddered.
Carsius was watching Laurel. "Poor thing," he remarked. "I cannot imagine what she goes through every time."
"Do you think, if she survives, we might convince her to return with us and train other operatives to do what she does?"
Carsius shrugged, "If she survives," he echoed significantly. "There's no telling whether it's an acquired skill or a genetic predisposition."
Augustus nodded, "That's true; if it's the latter, I guess it wouldn't matter if she were willing or not, would it?"
"Anyway, if we can't get at the soldiers the normal way, how can we even talk of training others?"
Atis approached the pair as Carsius spoke, flexing his scarred arm experimentally.
"Who says we can't do what we normally do?" he asked casually.
Carsius nodded to him. "How is your arm?"
Atis shrugged, "The scar has finally formed, so it's holding together. Barm is still sore, but he'll mend."
Augustus raised his hand, "What was that you were saying about getting them normally? I mean, without the wyrts it's impossible to tell what they're using to maintain control."

"Not so, my friend," Atis wagged a finger. "There are ways; observation, for one. Think: there are still wyrts, aren't there? On the people, on the walls, on anything with eyes. Therefore the mother-mind must still be active and manipulated by the Elitinati. The soldiers seem to possess some form of that influence." He displayed before them a data-screen with graphs and figures. "See, here I mapped out some anomalies in the remains of a soldier recently killed."

Carsius looked at him sharply, "What remains?"
"That's beside the point," Atis blustered quickly. "I found something very interesting. See what it is?"
Carsius peered at the screen again. "If I understood any of that, judging by your demeanor, I probably would."
Atis pointed to where sets of figures matched.
"This is the genetic coding for a wyrt, and this... Is a chemical duplication of the coding, combined in the blood of the soldier."
Carsius blinked. "A serum?" he asked Atis incredulously. "They've injected the soldiers with wyrt DNA?"
"No way!" Augustus gasped. "They've made human wyrts out of them!"
Atis nodded, "Apparently so; that's why the soldiers go about their business while we're in here, but respond so quickly when we show ourselves, because they are directly connected to the neural network with the wyrts by the chemical compound in their blood."
"And you still think the standard course of action would work?" Carsius queried.
"Well, no guarantees," Atis admitted. "The way I see it working, the althraxine and the analthraxine should affect only the wyrt compound, not the rest of the person. The althraxine will cause it to overload, creating a discomfort and allowing the body's own immune system to clean it out while the new idea sets in, and the analthraxine can ensure that any remaining vestiges lose their potency—but like I said, this is only conjecture."
Carsius sighed, "At this point I'm willing to try anything. We'll see what everyone else thinks in the morning."
Atis nodded.

Later that night, long after the last person extinguished their candle and went to bed, Laurel lay awake, staring through the gaps of missing roof material at the clear night sky full of stars. She felt something brush her arm. It was Ra'dith.
"Where did you come from?" Laurel whispered.
"Hush," Ra'dith's tone and manner were positively matronly as she straightened Laurel's blankets and adjusted her pillow with deft hands. "You have carried a weight far too burdensome. It is not right for you to bear it alone."
"But I can't help it!" Laurel protested. "No one else can do what I do!"
"One drop does not think itself an ocean, but the ocean cannot be without water."
"What do you mean? Oh Ra'dith, I don't want to think any more. Tell me plainly! Are you saying that I am the water, and the team cannot exist without me?"
"A spark alone is easily snuffed; but it flourishes, invisible, in the midst of a fire."
"What fire? I feel like a lonely spark right now."
Ra'dith withdrew some ointment in a small vial she carried in a pouch around her waist. She spread the ointment on Laurel's forehead, and immediately, the Elf-maiden felt the soothing coolness of the balm seep right into her mind.
"Oh, that feels good," she sighed, "Now I think I can....really...slee..." She slipped out of consciousness before she finished the word.

In her dreams, Laurel saw a single candle surrounded by darkness. Then another flame sprung up, then another and another! Soon it seemed like all the candles combined into a burning tree. The leaves burned and the branches broke off and fell, igniting the ground as well. As the flames spread and revealed more of her surroundings, Laurel saw that the tree stood upon a mountain, and it didn't take long for the whole mass to burst into flame.

The next thing Laurel knew, it was morning.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 25

The Remnant Resonance (Ruth)
 The telephone rang. Ruby ignored it, wrapped up in the grips of the novel she was reading. She habitually didn’t answer the phone, since most often it was for Nora or one of the boys. It wasn’t till she heard Ophelia’s voice answering the phone that Ruby suddenly remembered with a violent wrench of her heart that Charlie and Martin wouldn’t be answering the phone ever again--and Ophelia didn’t know.
Is this some kind of joke?” Ophelia growled, and slammed the receiver back in its cradle.
Feeling guilty, Ruby tiptoed to the doorway and poked her head through. Ophelia was scowling darkly at the telephone, as one would defiantly stare down an enemy.
“Who was it?” Ruby asked, attempting in vain to keep her voice casual, even though she knew exactly who it must be.
Ophelia pursed her lips tightly. “Some joker passing himself off as a doctor from the city morgue. Said we had an appointment to identify the bodies of Martin and Charles Burke this afternoon.” She smirked. “I didn’t fall for that line, though; they’re not due back till next week.”
Ruby felt that she couldn’t deliver the news standing up. She quickly dropped into a chair at the table next to Ophelia.
“Fee…” she began slowly. “It… it wasn’t a joke.”
Ophelia snorted. “What, you expect me to believe that our husbands somehow died without our knowing?” She chuckled. “You know, now that I think of it, Nora did mention something about a surprise coming the other day.” She playfully cast a knowing look at her friend. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you? Something like, we go down to the morgue, and they are hiding under sheets, and they jump out and scare us? One of the ladies down the assembly line was telling a story like that, only her husband arranged with the doctor to do it a few weeks ago, on Halloween. Seems a bit out-of-season to do a trick like that now, wouldn’t you say?”
“Fee, it’s not a trick!” The longer it took to get the news out, the harder it became. “We were meaning to tell you. Nora and I went down to the train station to meet Charlie and Martin--”
Ophelia shook her head. “So you were all in on it together! Taking advantage of the fact that I’m always the last to know, eh? So tell me, do you think they’d mind if I just didn’t react when they jumped? I bet they wouldn’t expect that!”
“Ophelia, stop!” Ruby begged, feeling the hard lump forming in her throat. “It’s not a trick, the boys aren’t at Harvard… they wanted to come early… that was the surprise…” Ruby could only manage a phrase at a time.
“What are you talking about?” Ophelia frowned. “Of course it’s a joke! Could you imagine such a freak thing as both brothers dying at once?” She picked up the receiver again. “I bet if I recalled that number, it will be something completely different.” She dialed the operator. “Yes, could you connect me to the number that just called a few minutes ago?” She held the receiver away from her ear so that Ruby could hear the voice as well. Ophelia grinned as the thready voice spoke.
“Harlem City Morgue; who is speaking?”
The grin vanished. Ophelia slammed the receiver down so hard that Ruby worried she might actually be strong enough to break the cradle.
You shut your fool mouth!” she screamed at the phone, as if it had been the source of the revelation.
“Ophelia,” Ruby reached toward her. “I tried to tell you--”
No!” Ophelia shoved her hands away and retreated to the far corner of the kitchen. “It’s not true! It’s not real!” She began sobbing in heaving, open-mouthed wails. “Stop! No! NO!”

The Astonishing Adventures of Jonas Crow (Jonah)
The comic issue had opened to a page near the back of the book he had never seen before. Frantically, he checked the front cover: B.Y.B.L Issue #37, one of his “legacy” comics, an issue he’d received early on in his development of the “hidden message” conspiracy. It should have been one he knew by heart, but the pictures on this particular page were entirely unfamiliar. It was a segment called “A Prophet Arising,’ and Deus had called Remus in to tell him of a new mission and a new figure he was going to recruit.

“Here is your new mission,” said Deus, looking more shadowy than usual. “I’m going to let you uncover more intel about the true identity of Nixon Seatent.”
“What will you be doing while I’m out of the way?” Remus asked.
“I need to stop by and visit a friend of mine,” Deus replied.
“The Prophet?” Remus asked.
“Some would call him that.” The artist had drawn a wide grin on Deus’ face--at least, the lower half that was sketched and not blacked out for dramatic effect. “I have a very important mission for him.”
“Why not give me the mission?” Remus asked. “If it’s so important. I feel like you’re shuffling me off to the side.”
“The difference is that you already trust me,” Deus stated, “while The Prophet still needs to learn how to do that.”
“Can I ask what sort of mission his will be?” Remus inquired.
“You certainly may, I don’t have secrets from you. I have decided that he will be the one to deliver my message to The Siren, that she needs to relinquish her power and return to the cave from whence she came, or she will face my wrath.”
“He’s not going to like it,” Remus remarked.
“I know,” said Deus. “But he’ll have no choice.”

Jonas felt his scalp prickle as goosebumps stood up all over his skin. The Prophet? Deus and Remus--they were discussing him! “The Prophet still needs to learn how to trust me.” Was that the reason Deus was sending him to Vegas? Jonas shook his head.
“What am I thinking?” he mused. “Going to Vegas? Ha! That will never happen, unless I get a sudden death wish!” He chuckled to himself and got up to pull the leftover pizza out of the refrigerator.

Monday, November 23, 2015

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 23

Deus Maximus: Do you trust me, Remus?
Remus Hemptor: Trust is not the same as blind faith. Everything in my experience has been fallible.
Deus Maximus: Even me?
Remus Hemptor: Just because your missions have gone exactly to plan doesn’t mean they always will. But I still trust you to have answers to all my questions when I ask them.
Deus Maximus: Then I accept your trust. You have a new mission.

Jonas jerked awake and flailed weakly at the air. His eyes popped open--only to fill his photoreceptors with blinding sunlight. He yelped and snapped his eyes shut again, seeing the flashes still behind his eyelids.

That’s when it registered that there had been a familiar shadowy shape in his apartment, where there hadn’t been one before. Jonas rolled over and slowly opened his eyes.

Something between an animal snarl and a girlish shriek ripped itself out of the young man’s throat as his body convulsed so hard, he practically fell off the couch he’d been laying on. He sprawled in a heap on the floor--right at the feet of a shadowy figure in a trench coat.

“Well, good,” said a rumbling voice from the deep shadows around the man’s chin. “Saves me the trouble of waking you up and hauling your ass off there myself.”

Jonas flinched and opened his eyes at the sound of the voice. He knew that voice! He looked up. He couldn’t see the man’s face very well, underneath the fedora. The shape of the chin, though--the cleft in the middle rang in his memory, but he couldn’t tell where he’d seen it.
“W--who are you?” He stammered. “What do you want?” Syrien Corp heard about my prophecy and sent a guy here to kill me! His paranoia screamed.
The man stayed where he was, peering around the apartment in barely-concealed disgust.
“I came to talk,” he mused. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you.”
Jonas winced; in his bleary, newly-awakened state, he really couldn’t be blamed for anything that inadvertently made it out of his mouth. “I didn’t--uh,” His brain registered just in time, and he quickly eased himself up onto the couch. “Who did you say you were?”
The man finally located one of the two chairs Jonas possessed--and it was stacked with magazines. To the young tenant’s chagrin, the stranger swept the whole pile off with one hand--yet they didn’t scatter like he expected them to. Instead, the comics seemed to defy gravity itself, floating down and settling on the floor still in that same neat, organized pile Jonas had kept them in. The man settled into the chair.
“Ah, that’s better.” He sighed, giving the apartment another once-over. “So, is this a squat or do you actually live here?”
Jonas frowned at the unusual reference, but he understood: the man wanted to know if the apartment was merely a temporary “safe zone,” like the various hotel rooms Remus Hemptor maintained. He referred to them as “squats” in the comics, too.
“No, no, this is my home,” mumbled Jonas. “I live here.”
The man gave a dubious glance to the clothes piled every which way around, above, and on the tiny hamper in the corner of the living space.
“Do your parents live here too, or is it just yourself?”
“Uh, what? Oh, I, uh, live by myself.” Jonas squinted at the face before him; he could see the man’s features clearly enough in the daylight--but still, only that chin stuck out as familiar. He didn’t recognize the rest of the face at all.
“Ah.” There was no underlying judgment in the tone, that Jonas could tell.
He was getting less worried about the man’s origins (if he were an assassin, Jonas would be dead by now, not watching him judge his laundry habits!) and more irritated at the way the man seemed to care more about extending the conversation with menial observations and awkward pauses. “Look,” he finally said, fighting (no, praying!) to keep his voice low and mature-sounding, no matter how badly his vocal cords wanted to snap into the “high and squeaky” register. “Would you mind telling me who you are and why you’re here?”
The man chuckled. “Why, no, Jonas,” he mused softly. “I wouldn’t mind at all.”
Jonas felt his body go numb all over. “Y-you know my name?”
The man gave a dark chuckle. “See? Now we’re getting somewhere. I know a lot about you, Jonas. I know where you live, obviously; I know that you’ve been pretty popular of late, because of one prophecy that you made last summer that ended up amounting to something.” The man slowly began pulling off his gloves. “I know that you haven’t been able to predict anything like that since. I know that you’ve been invited to the convention in San Diego because of that one prophecy… and I also know that it’s probably going to be your last con for a while, if you don’t find something new to get the network buzzing again.”
Jonas sat on his couch, watching this mysterious man talk, while his brain scrambled to figure out where he had seen or heard him before. “You know about the cons?” He asked. “How did you know? And for the last time, who the heck are you?”
The man still grinned. “You know who I am, Jonas.”
Jonas shook his head. “No, really I don’t.”
“Yes you do; you’ve been trying to remember this whole time, when the answer’s right in front of you.”
Jonas scanned his immediate vicinity in confusion. The only things around were his B.Y.B.L. comics. His eye fell on a familiar-looking fedora. He picked up the comic. It was an issue from the series Deus Among Us, when Remus was busy and another crisis arose, so Deus himself actually left his office and went looking for recruits. He wore a grey fedora and a camel-colored trenchcoat… Jonas felt his brain stop working as he raised his eyes to the man in the camel-colored trench coat and grey fedora sitting in his apartment.
“Y-y-you…” He didn’t want to say it; what if he said it and it wasn’t true? “You’re… Deus Maximus?