Saturday Fiction: Maja’s Lesson a Tri-Star Story

A year ago I thought of creating an RPG setting… again. I started work on the world, but like many times before, I stopped when I realized I had a setting but no system.

Recently I created a plan for my fiction and short stories. I decided I want to create a collection of short stories all in one setting, and the Tri-Star setting was the perfect choice. It is varied, has chances for ‘legendary moments’, and is nice and strange sci-fi. So here is a story now, Maja’s Lesson.

Trigger Warning: Ridiculous sci-fi names.

Maja’s Lesson

“This is foolish, and you know it.”

Maja was looking back toward camp. She could hear Chan, but she didn’t want to look at him, not now. Instead she looked at her tribesmen. Dark shapes moving in and out of tan tents against the grey and black backdrop of the rock hills. They were moving fast because of her, making last moment preparations and calculations.

“Give it another moon,” Chan said, “there is still more to learn. You are throwing away your life for nothing.”

She was wearing a tie sealed suit. Maja could feel the material biting into her neck, ankles, and wrists. It all felt heavy, like a full pack before the journey. In reality, the only load she carried was a small brown bag at her side.

“Please, Maja,” Chan said, putting a hand on her arm, “give me more time.”

Maja took a deep breath, “What is Rake’s lesson?”

She could hear Chan’s gloves as his free hand squeezed tight.

“Ignorance now, breeds strife.”

She turned, but she looked past Chan to the towering doorway before her. Though calling it a doorway was her own biased response. To Chan, it was a deathtrap, laid out for Maja and their team.

It was tall enough to drag the great monument of Dainus through. Wide enough that the whole team, twenty strong, could walk through side by side with ease. The edge was some shimmering crystal, brighter than anything she had seen in her life, swimming with shades of blue that were unheard of across the world. In the center of the circular shape was a shifting reflective surface. At some angles you could see through to the opposite side, and others you would be looking back at yourself. It moved with time, slow motions that their study had yet to explain.

“I’m going through,” Maja said, “That is the end of it.”

Mayen’s Mirror, that is what they called it. Named after the one and only god, the crafter of the raw. The ambient energy that poured out of it was greater than any other artifact, and yet it did nothing. Nothing came out of it, and objects thrown in did not return. They prodded it with tools, and they returned unscathed.

They didn’t know a lot, but what they did know spoke volumes: It gave off the energy of god, there was no air to breath on the opposite side, there was no sunlight on the opposite side, there was no soil on the opposite side. Animals immediately returned when forced through, but any that were forced far into the Mirror, did not return at all. Whatever they saw, spooked them enough that they couldn’t be returned to herd or pack.

“He is coming,” Chan said. She could hear the depression in his tone. He was having trouble hiding his feelings on this matter.

Maja turned and saw Chief Lohae and his entourage walking toward them. Two men on each side, speaking rapidly, reading off information from notebooks.

The man himself was the perfect picture of importance. He was taller than his aides, his back straight and his eyes focused ahead. His tunic was old, weathered, with patches of rare colored cloth from past rulers. The red band of Chief Jaem. The blue trinket of Chief Tayaj. His headress has color to it as well, as it sweeps down around shoulders.

Maja and Chan both fall to one knee when the Chief stops.

“Maja,” He says, “I am proud to be here today. When I heard that your team was finally going to reveal the secret Mayen left behind the Mirror, I knew I had to be here personally.”

Chan spoke, his head down, “We don’t know what will happen today, Chief.”

She could see the Chief’s aides move aside as the Chief turned.

“Chan,” The Chief began, “You doubt this expedition? I heard you were Maja’s most trusted hand?”

“He is,” Maja said, looking at Chan out of the corner of her eyes.

“Which is why I have to voice my disagreement,” Chan added. He matched her angry glare.

“The time for indirect observation is over,” Maja said, “We cannot wait here forever. What we don’t know, can very well kill us.”

“Ah,” The Chief said with a note of appreciation, “Dainus’s Lesson.”

When the small men of the past lived as scattered tribes, scavenging for whatever they could find, they thought they could live their lives day by day. Then a storm came, a dust storm that ravaged every tribe known and unknown. It was Mayen’s judgement for their stupidity, their ignorance. One Chief, Dainus, did not fall to ignorance. His tribe studied the storms, and learned how long they would last, how harsh they would be. Mayen’s wrath was Dainus’s opportunity. When the storm ended, the Grand Expedition rode out, and in five years time, Dainus had more land to his name than any Chief before him.

“We just need more time,” Chan said.

“I disagree,” Lohae said, “Maja, I am glad you have volunteered to do what others refused to do. You are going to change the face of this tribe. I await your return.”

Then the Chief turned, and walked back toward the camp with his entourage in tow.

Maja stood, and realized her team was standing back in wait for the Chief to leave. They came forward with equipment in hand, setting up far enough from the Mirror that they could get accurate observations.

“What about the smaller mirrors?” Chan said as someone came and wrapped a metallic rope around her waist.

“I’ve heard,” Maja said, “Their discovery doesn’t change our focus.”

The rope was slipped tight, and the girl tying it, Talia, repeated their agreed upon instructions, “Tug three times if you wish to return.”

Maja nodded, and Talia went to check the anchor.

Chan snapped to get her attention, “What if the small mirrors prove volatile? What if the beasts that don’t return go past some threshold we haven’t seen yet? This is all worth researching.”

Another expedition found a smaller version of Mayen’s Mirror. In total, there were four of them, and the news surrounding these smaller mirrors was disturbing in comparison to the sleeping giant that was the Mirror proper. It kept her up at night, knowing others may study them first.

“And we will,” Maja said, inspecting the inside of her pouch, “When I return.”

He put his hands on her, squeezing at the shoulders, “Maja, please don’t go. I need you here, you know that.”

She looked him in the eyes, the black pupils scanning her face for any sign of agreement, any weakness. She couldn’t show it. It would shame her parents, her team, her tribe. In one moment, she could lose everything if she let Chan have his way.

“Confusing your wants and your needs leads to loss and starvation.” Those were the words of Injo, not hers.

“You and your cursed lessons,” Chan said turning his head away. He let her go, and reached into his bag. He pulled out a blue orb, glowing with energy. It fit into the palm of his hand.

“A tear?” Maja asked as her eyes widened.

“Take it with you,” Chan said, “It may come in handy.”

“It could be lost!” Maja shouted, “Don’t give that to me, do you know what the tribe would do if you lost it?”

He held the orb out, and she could feel the heat radiating from the jewel-like orb, “Don’t lose it then.”

He was an idiot. But that was why he was here.

She grabbed the Tear of Mayen, could feel power flowing through her arm, then placed it in her side bag.

When she turned back, Chan had her helmet in his hands. He leaned in and kissed her. It was meant to be calm, simple, but she could feel him trembling as they touched. Then he pulled the helmet down over her head. It was metal, with a cloth drape to tie to her body and seal it closed. A tube fed into the back, her air that could hopefully cross the barrier. She could see out through a small window of glass in the front, but already she could see that her vision would be limited, her periphery blocked by the rest of the helmet.

Chan waved at her to see if she was okay, and she waved in return, then turned to the mirror. Another teammate was standing there, doing a last check. He gave her the okay, and she started to walk.

The helmet was heavier than she believed it could be. With everything else, it was also hard to breath. It felt like she was siphoning from the tube directly. Though in reality, it was possible her nerves were to blame.

She got close to the Mirror, and through the window she could see a moving reflection of herself. A woman in layers of brown cloth, her dark helmet looked out of place, like something from a children’s story. She was a cautionary tale.

She reached her hand out and touched the surface. It broke at impact, like shattering glass that refused to break apart. But it didn’t resist her anymore than walking into a leather tarp. She pushed forward, and the break continued outwards, her arm swallowed up, and her body getting closer to the surface.

Maja noted to herself that it was cold on the other side.

When her face pushed through, she had to force her eyes open. It was awful, a swarming wall of light and color that almost turned her on the spot. It was like looking down a cave tunnel, but the walls were crystal.

She pushed herself through to the other side, and took a deep breath. She expected to be blind, but there was more than enough light to see. It wasn’t coming from behind her either. The walls of the tunnel, they were giving off their own glow, or reflecting something else. Maja could see streaks in the surface, lines of light that spiraled on and on away from her and toward her and crossing where they could.

No wonder the animals turned to leave, it was a terrifying beauty.

She took her first steps, feeling out each one before she put her weight on it. The ground beneath her was solid, and didn’t seem to be the same crystal as the rest. It was like a path, and it was wide and sturdy. If they wanted to, a full expedition could walk through.

Maja looked ahead, and saw that there was a point of light in the distance. She decided to move faster, she wanted to know what god was hiding right in front of them.

As she walked, she put a hand out to the wall. She wanted to know if the crystal was the same as the crystal outside, that framed the Mirror itself. As she got closer, it felt warm, like the surface of heated stove. It was energy, maybe even pure.

Her first guess was that this was a door into the raw, that chaotic energy that god used to craft everything. If that was true, just the prospect of it being true, had her both giddy and afraid. That was the material no man should forge. It held the secrets of power itself. If she was right, she was just on the other side of a crystalline membrane from ultimate power.

She made contact with the wall, and a jolt of pain went through her arm. Electricity? No, raw energy that sent her reeling until she fell in the middle of the tunnel. Her arm was wracked with pain, and her heart was pounding. It was hard enough to breath without the sudden shock, but now she felt like she was suffocating.

Maja got back to her feet, and looked back the way she came. It seemed dark, distant, and growing ever dimmer. Still, the portal she came through was a point of light, like the one ahead.

She put the pain behind her, and continued forward. Every journey begins with the pain of loss, not every journey ends the same; Pachi’s lesson.

Maja caught sight of something in the corner of her vision. A shadow, moving along the crystal tunnel. She didn’t think before to look for her own shadow. When she looked around her feet, she didn’t have one. All the light coming into the tunnel from outside was distant, ephemeral, and left no sign that she was even there. She looked to the tunnel wall, and saw it was more than a shadow. It looked like spilled ink, trailing its way toward her.

Her heart skipped a beat when she looked to the opposite wall, and saw a matching mark, shifting shadows that were following behind her from outside the cave, reaching out to her. She looked ahead, the point of light was becoming clearer, she didn’t have far. She could examine this later.

She walked, looking to her sides every few dozen steps. The darkness was following her, and worse, swallowing up the light behind her. She could barely see her own side of the Mirror, the place where she left Chan, and her team.

When she looked closer, she almost thought the shadows were trying to get through. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she took a step closer, trying to focus on the otherworldly crystal that surrounded her. As she watched, a small corner of the crystal broke, and a needle like point of shadow reached in. It pointed at her, grew longer by the second, but stopped well short of her.

Maja stood up and took a step back, then looked behind her. Was this same darkness all over the tunnel? It was no mere shadow, it seemed to have a will.

She looked ahead, and pressed on faster. The weight of her suit was getting to her, and even moments of this jogging pace made it hard to breath or concentrate. Maja bent down to catch her breath, and saw something by her feet, a reaching bit of shadow. She gasped, and started to run, or try to run.

It was impossible to ignore now. Even from ahead of her, the tunnel was growing dark. Pouring in from the walls were long points of darkness, reaching for the floor, sliding out toward her. Seeing the crystal itself was growing impossible, small regions of rock in a growing wave of black. There was no mistaking it, it was coming for her. The shadow was making it impossible to see, there was nothing ahead, nothing behind her. It was just her, and the oncoming evil.

Evil, that was the word she was afraid to label it with before. She could feel it, a malice to the shadows that were now forming a wall around her, reaching out like a wall of knives that was waiting to make that fatal strike. Then there was nothing to see, no gap to get light, just darkness.

Her line, she didn’t think about it. Could they even feel her at this point? was it even connected? She tugged on it, three hard yanks on the taut metal rope. Nothing happened.

She could feel a pinprick on her right shoulder, and shifted left only to find another waiting for her there. It was closing in on her, going to crush her. She was going to learn the fate of those animals they sent to their death. Children would learn of Maja’s lesson, the woman who vanished in her haste. The woman who lost her tribe the favor of the Great Chief, and lost an artifact of god.

Maja whispered, “The tear.”

She felt small cuts across her arms as she reached for her bag. When the strong was loosened, a light poured out, the light of Mayen. She could swear the darkness screamed. It backed away, enough to give her space to move. Maja reached her hand into the bag, and pulled the orb out, watched it glow with that blue light she had never appreciated enough before.

The shadow, the darkness, it fled from all around her, fled back through the crystal walls. She could see, the path, the crystal, those streaking lines of light outside. Maja could see the other portal, it was so close now.

Through it, she could see something strange, alien. It was green, distorted visions of hills, a bright blue sky.

Mayen the deliverer. They sat there for so long, wondering what Mayen could be hiding behind the mirror. He hid the one thing the tribes of Ceti wanted most, paradise.

Then Maja was yanked off of her feet. She held the Tear close as she crashed to the ground. At first she didn’t understand what was happening, then she realized she was being dragged back.

She wanted to stop, she wanted to tell them to let her go to the other side. Instead the green hills faded away, as she was pulled through that odd place back to the bleak and dying lands she had known her whole life.

Maja came through the portal, and it wasn’t until they pulled the helmet from her head that she realized how labored her breathing was. She looked around, her vision was blurry, and her whole body felt chilly.

“You’re okay,” She could hear Chan saying, “Thank god you’re okay.”

He hugged her, comforted her, but the atmosphere was all wrong. There was no sense of celebration, just tension.

She pulled herself to her knees, and looked to see why.

Chief Lohae was in attendance.

“Maja, you have done it,” The Chief said, “Amazing. My men and I wanted to be the first to greet you when you returned.”

“I’m grateful, Chief,” Maja said as she tried to calm her heart, “The journey was as fruitful as I expected.”

She caught a glance from Chan, she couldn’t tell what he was trying to tell her. It was possible it was nothing but concern for her, but she was now safe, though not unchanged.

“Is that so?” The Chief said, “Tell me, what is beyond god’s Mirror?”

Lying wasn’t an option. This was her leader, the man who made her research possible. She took a deep breath.

“There was a tunnel, awe inspiring in its beauty. It was strange, and it was terrible.”

“And?” Lohae said. He looked like a man waiting for his meal, hungry for what he absolutely needed.

“And,” Maja said, “There was another mirror, one that didn’t seem to lead to any place I have seen.”

“Excellent,” The Chief said, “If that’s true, then you really have changed everything.”

“It was dangerous as well,” Maja said, speaking so fast that the Chief gave her a stern glance.

“I’m sure you, of all people, know Gohai’s lesson.”

The greater danger holds the deeper truth.

Maja looked down at the dirt, “Chief, something is in there, something dangerous.”

“Which is why we will explore it,” The Chief said as he turned and began to walk away, “Call for warriors from the local villages, we will start an expedition immediately.”

Maja stood, and when she teetered, Chan supported her. She watched the Chief and his entourage, walking back toward the camp.

They couldn’t understand what they were dealing with. Even thinking of the darkness, that evil, made her skin prickle. Still, there was something there, and she knew that when they reached it, she wanted to be the first to step foot in paradise.

“Are you okay?” Chan asked.

Maja looked at him, and she put a hand on him, “Yes, thank you. We have a lot to talk about though, and even more to do.”

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Daily Write: The Last Author

I’ve had this idea for a while, but I didn’t get far on it today. I’m trying, as hard as I can, to avoid ‘boo hoo, poor English major’ writing here. For one, that really limits the audience to other poor saps with an English degree. There are plans for tension, and if I was kind, the story would inflate to something quite dramatic.

The Last Author (A section of the opening)

He shook off the rain from his jacket, and set his hat down on a table in the break room. Tyler was there, like always.

“Hey Bill,” Tyler said as he stirred his coffee, “What is on the agenda today?”

Tyler never knew what was on the agenda until he sat down at his desk. That was one of the hard parts of being an editor. At least, that is what he told himself. When something crossed his screen, he did what had to be done, and then moved on to the next item.

“I imagine,” Bill said as he folded his jacket, “something covering the peace talks in the Middle East.”

Tyler shook his head, “Always something with those people right? Seems like it is always something.”

Bill shrugged, “Always.”

Tyler reached for the stack of coffee toppers, and waved on his way out the door. That was Bill’s cue to put his lunch away, and head for his desk. The mornings were always roughest, Chomsky put out content overnight, which meant that Gail would be on him hard until he caught up.

The halls of the building were barren, each door signifying some department or another. Bill rarely checked what the other rooms were for, their names were complicated jargon, like Sophistication and Adaptation department, or Integration, Reintegration, and Deintegration offices. He passed them all, and found his own door, Poetics Diagnostics.

He opened the door and found two more doors, one to the right, and one to the left. Both were unmarked, and he mindlessly moved to the right door. It opened to a small office, one large tinted window facing the desk and monitor, space enough for two additional monitors and a box for his belongings.

Bill hit the switch near the wall, and waited as everything lit up.

“Hello there, Bill,” Said Gail over an intercom, “You’re right on time, like always.”

His computer monitor came on with words already spread across the primary screen. He could see that it was a news article, the headline said ‘The Hope For The Talks in the Middle East.’

Bill smiled to himself. He put his case in the box in the corner, with his jacket, then sat down at the desk.

‘The Hope For The Talks in the Middle East’
by Emmanuel Levy

‘Today begins the fifth day of peace talks between the powerful nations…’

‘…while fighting in the streets have made the exchanges difficult for diplomats and fighters, the people still have hope for a peaceful solution…’

‘Part of the tension is laid at the feet of insurgents, lead by a powerful and enigmatic cleric named…’

Already Bill could see the small mistakes he expected out of Chomsky. The computer, affectionately named after the former philosopher and activist, was one of half a dozen authorship machines in the West. It output poignant and researched political articles on every topic imaginable, abortion, theology, war, medicine, and all without missing a single deadline.

Once it was explained to Bill that XKK-3754, or Chomsky, could complete over two dozen articles for, against, and in criticism of a topic in the time it took live writers to draw up an outline. This meant that with minimal maintenance, and a light diagnostics staff (that was him), they could move creative assets to other parts of the business.

At least that was what they promised when Chomsky was first being integrated into media offices. Then came the layoffs.

“Are you ready to begin?” Gail said in her formal tone.

Bill pressed the button on his desktop, “Yeah, go ahead.”

“I’m going to drop the screen now, wave hi to me.”

It was the silliest part of the day. He looked up over the monitor, and the tint of the window faded away, revealing a young woman opposite of him. Black hair, glasses, nothing exotic. Still, when it was the face you saw once a day, every day, it left an impact on you.

She waved at him without a word, and he waved back. Then the window’s tint went dark again. She was gone for another 24 hours.

“We will start with catch-up articles, and should make 10am quota. Nothing complicated is expected.”

Bill nodded, and looked over the peace talks article again. He saw the mistakes, not only grammatical, or stylistic, but factual. He wasn’t an expert on the situation, but reading Chomsky’s articles meant that he knew enough to make sure the program was staying consistent.

Still, words echoed in his mind. “Bill, you aren’t a writer.”

It was Gail’s reprimand when he submitted a heavily edited article that came up in his queue.

“You aren’t a writer, and you should be thankful.”

It made him remember when the Poetics Diagnostics program first opened at his university, in the last year of his degree. Finally, the fear was alleviated. So many students had resigned themselves to unemployment, the marketability of their degree crumbling around them. They had an escape, and Bill took it.

Now he was a poetics diagnostician, but everyone still called him an editor. He was the last mind before Chomsky’s automated stories hit the internet. Which meant he was necessary to save the company from any mistakes Chomsky might make.

He took to the article, weighing each problem against the whole. The fighting in the streets made life dangerous for diplomats and ‘civilians’, the media had taken to using the title ‘imam’ instead of simply calling them clerics, small mistakes that Chomsky would repeat until correct enough times that whatever algorithms were in place would figure it out.

Bill fought himself over one last edit. He was already up there. Regardless of the size or nature of the edits, the program took them as a raw value. Too much altered from the original caused trouble.

It was the sixth day of peace talks, he was sure of it. Bill double checked the previous articles, and was validated. He made the change, then hit submit.

A second passed before a dialog window popped up in front of him.

‘Suggested changes exceeds per-submission quota. Please limit changes, and try again.’

He felt a small pinch in his gut, but didn’t let it get to him. Often, this was easy to solve. He removed a change, and then submitted again, only to have the article bounce. He didn’t want to think it was anything in particular, so he changed it again, and it bounced again. Bill took a breath, then changed it back to the fifth day. When he submitted it, a new article appeared in front of him.

Giving the world the news it needed was as easy as that.

Daily Writing: BAIT

I have wanted to write something like this for a while. An FBI series, but also a series about supernatural creatures. A bit of comedy, but also some serious creepy. I don’t know how much I will actually do, but here goes the rough.

He took a deep breath, and dropped the file on the cluttered desk.

“Special Agent Parker reporting in,” He said.

The middle aged man sitting behind the desk didn’t look up from his newspaper. They were at the end of a long hall in the Seattle branch office of the FBI. The door was open to the office, enough space for a few desks crowded together, every wall covered by cheap metallic bookshelves. The desk was just as cheap, a faded blue paint over what probably belonged to a teacher before.

Parker tried to maintain his calm. First impressions meant everything, and moving to a new state, moving into a branch office, there was a lot that could go wrong.

“Where are you from?” The man asked.

“Chicago,” Parker said, “Well, in the area.”

Parker tried to read the man, see if he could even sit down or relax. The man took a sip of his mug of coffee, pulled back his lips as he let out a sigh, and then turned the page of the paper.

The desk said his name was Unit Chief White. He looked calm and in control, but the dimple in his brow said he had the ability to get angry. As he sipped his coffee, Parker could see that he knew how to smile as well, from the crease at his cheeks. He had fought before, his build said he didn’t play sports before joining the force, same for the military.

“So they sent you all the way out here?” White said, his eyes looking up from the newspaper just long enough to meet Parker’s.

“Yes sir,” Parker said, straightening his suit.

White smiled, “You seem excited to be here, agent.”

Parker didn’t know how to respond to that. Sure, Seattle wasn’t his first choice. Seattle wasn’t exactly known for mob activity, or murders, hipsters and computer programmers weren’t your common investigation targets. Still, it was something.

“Let me guess,” White said, pulling his chair straight and putting his cup down, “High marks at Quantico, over achiever, studied for every test well in advance, asked to be assigned to the best units you could research. Maybe asked to be BAU, like that skinny kid on TV.”

Parker gritted his teeth, “Dr. Reid.”

“That’s him,” White said with a shake of his head, “Can’t believe they let that little prick carry a gun.”

Parker shrugged.

“Was I right?”

He looked down at the floor, “I wouldn’t call it overachieving.”

White laughed so loud it made Parker freeze. He didn’t know if he should expect to get laughed out of the room, or laugh along. Who welcomed someone like this?

“Sir,” Parker said, “I’m still glad to-”

“Did they tell you what we do down here?” White interrupted, “did they explain that much at least?”

Parker opened his mouth, then closed it. It took a few minutes to even find an agent in the building that knew which direction to point him. This little office was off in the corner of the satellite office, down a creepy hallway, past the vending machine and across from the janitor’s closet.

“We’re the B.A.I.T.” White said, shrugging his shoulders.

When Parker didn’t immediately reply, White pointed to a framed sign on the wall. It read, ‘Bigfoot Anomaly Investigation and Tracking Unit.”

“Bigfoot?” Parker said, his eyes closing as he felt a wave of nausea coming over him.

“Sasquatch, gigantopithecus, yetis are different though, so don’t mix them up.”

“You hunt Bigfoot?”

White opened his newspaper and leaned back in his chair, “Hell no.”

Parker put a hand out, “Then… but…”

A whole FBI unit dedicated to bigfoot? Parker didn’t know why they would waste government resources on something like that. Not unless there was some big secret they were hiding.

“Did they make you do the thing, with the black box?” White asked out of nowhere.

Parker looked down at the unit chief, and the man’s eyes were focused, suddenly more serious than he had been the whole meeting.

“The black box?” Parker repeated.

“During training,” White said, “Near the end.”

Parker stood up straight, “Yeah, of course.”

“They didn’t tell you the result?”

Now Parker’s mouth felt dry. He felt like this conversation wasn’t about him anymore.

“No.”

White relaxed again. Whatever the man wanted to know, he wasn’t going to get it out of Parker.

“We don’t look for Bigfoot,” White said, “We stop yokels and survivalists from looking for Bigfoot.”

“Sir?” Parker replied, “What do you mean?”

“When someone calls the police saying Bigfoot ate their mom, or a demon is possessing their mailbox, we get called in to prove its a hoax,” He dropped his paper, “As long as it’s a federal offense.”

Parker felt a knot in his stomach. If it wasn’t for his need to make a good impression, he would have splattered his lunch across the loose papers on White’s desk by now. He was assigned to the FBI version of ghost hunters. All of his hard work, all of his training, and the best he could hope for was to shoo off the Washington branch of UFO hunters.

“Ask me the next question,” White said.

His brow furrowed, and he thought what else he could possibly want to know.

“Is it always a hoax?” Parker asked.

White shrugged, “Pretty much.”

Meanwhile, in Ellensburg Washington.

“Oh that is just gross, man,” Special Agent Garcia said through his pinched nose.

Special Agent Nguyen scratched at the gray stubble on his chin, squatting over the pool of blood and bones behind a decaying wood shed.

“Maybe you better call White,” Nguyen said as he nudged a jaw bone in the dirt, “we might have something here.”

Fiction Excerpt: “More of that brother MMO thing”

 They say you have to write every day. I had the urge, so I decided to blindly continue a piece I previewed here last year.

snowstorm

 

“I just don’t get what I’m doing wrong,” I growled.

 

Everything was white around me. The hills were dunes of snow, blowing away and reforming with the wind. The sky was a slight shade off, shifting as wave after wave of fresh powder hit the ground around me. I could pick out trees, but only because their trunks were a distinct earth tone against the rest of my surroundings.

 

“You’re waiting too long,” Gritty whispered to me, “I’ve never seen someone react as slow as you.”

 

I moved a little closer so I could see over the hill in front of me. I couldn’t tell if it could see me, but I didn’t want to risk being outsmarted a third time. It was a stupid animal, this wasn’t supposed to be difficult.

 

There it was, against the snow, something like a deer. I say like a deer, because it was relatively wooly, like a shaggy llama. Also, whoever thought of those horns needed a lesson or two in overdesigning. Each of its horns was like a tree on its own, arcing up, splitting off in branches that were also burdened with snow.

 

Gritty moved closer, and I wondered if he wasn’t going to just go after it himself. I still didn’t know why he was helping me. Lord knows I didn’t deserve it. I hefted up my spear as if ready to throw it, pointed at the woolbuck.

 

The wind picked up in a burst that nearly tossed the spear from my hand.

 

“Shit,” I whispered. The woolbuck turned this way and that, and for a moment I was afraid I spooked it.

 

“Yeah,” Gritty said, “That’s the last warning. It’ll get dark soon, which means we need to get back to the island.”

 

That was what he insisted on calling the starting area. Either that or some other demeaning combination of noob, land, ville, town, or shitter. I tried to ignore it. I was new, I deserved the insults, especially if I couldn’t down a simple animal in the woods.

 

Gritty told me that first night, “If you don’t kill, you don’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. Sounds obvious, then 50% of new players die once in shitter town and never play again.”

 

I saw the other players in the noob town. The game had a way of displaying hunger on a character. You could see their faces under their furred hoods, stretched then and turning blue. Some of them gestured wildly, trying to get the attention of any other character they could. They begged with what little breath they had, for food, money, trades. The other half were quiet, standing like statues that turned more stoney by the minute.

 

I refused to die. I told myself I would play the game, find my brother, for his sake. It wasn’t a matter of life or death, rather a case of ‘maybe I can figure out why my brother can be such an ass.’

 

It was important to me.

 

“If you’re going to throw it,” Gritty said, “Do it. I’m not going to get dead because you can’t click a button.”

 

“Shut up,” I said.

 

“I’ll give you a hint, if you see it lower its head, you already fucked it up.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“You can just save me a spear that way.”

 

I creeped up closer, and readied the spear again. I could see my character test the heft in his hand, and I knew it was primed. Another step up, and I was in range. I needed to close a little distance, and build up enough strength. One step, arm up. The woolbuck ducked down, but the spear was already in the air.

 

It turned toward me, eyes hidden by fluffy tufts of white fur. With one motion it twirled on the spot, dodging the spear, and then ran through into the hills.

 

“Wow,” Gritty exclaimed, “Just wow. It’s like you hate food. Are you vegan? You can tell me.”

 

I grumbled to myself. I didn’t need him to know how mad I was, how much I wished I even had a chance of taking a tick out of his life. How John made it through being this week was beyond me. Maybe my little brother was used to that, people seeing him as the little guy, but that wasn’t me.

 

“Are we going back?” I asked.

 

My character was standing tall now, no spears left to throw, and nothing left to attack.

 

“Better,” Gritty said. He pulled out a spear of his own, clearly of a better make than mine. While I had spears made of a long thick branch, and the sharpest rock I could find, Gritty’s looked like an actual weapon. The wood was straight, balanced. The spearhead was still self-carved, but it wasn’t the awkward rock slapped together with some rope like mine.

 

“Here,” He said as he threw the spear to me, “In case you need it.”

 

I caught it, and Gritty took the lead. The horizon was shining purple, we were running low on time.

 

“You really think someone would attack this close to the island?” I asked.

 

Gritty didn’t answer for a little. It either meant I was going to be ignored, or he just hadn’t noticed me. Either way, it didn’t make me feel safe.

 

“I would,” Gritty said, “Only thing keeping it safe is people like me.”

 

The idea made me tap my toes. Was that true? While in town, I saw the occasional message about players saved by town watch. I always thought those were non-player characters. Was Gritty part of the watch? Why bother? It couldn’t be lucrative, was it fun? This was a game after all, wasn’t fun the point?

 

On the other hand, I knew exactly why other players would attack new players, noobs. Knowing the kind of kids that kept playing these games, knowing John, that was no surprise at all.

 

“Stop,” Gritty said, “You hear that?”

 

I hadn’t heard anything but the howling wind, and  the artificial sound of crunching snow as we walked. I readied the spear.

 

Keeping up with the Joneses: Getting Told No

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When you go through a creative writing program, you will often hear authors talk about the process of being denied. You might have heard it just from looking on the internet for tips to get published, or tips for writing. Authors get used to being told no, or they don’t make it. That is the prevailing wisdom, and I assume it is true. 

Those writers that came before sometimes talk about having drawers full of rejection letters from magazines and publishing houses. That sounds amazing, because who writes letters anymore? More so because being told you aren’t good enough that many times would break the average person. Unfortunately, it seems to be the way things go. There are only so many publications out there, and there are more writers out there than you can shake a badly organized portfolio of fictional works at. 

Needless to say, I’m one of them. I’ve briefly been on the other side of the rejection situation, when I got to intern on the editing team for my school’s literary magazine. Even in that short time I realized there are too many stories, and too little time. Something good could sink to the bottom, because there is so much dreck out there that you might catch a first reader at a bad time. I’m sorry guy who had a touching story about the death of an elderly woman, I just got done reading a story about a woman watching her dog lick its balls, I’m sort of in a bad way right now.

Now I’m getting my rejections. Well, I’ve been rejected before, but usually it comes in the form of an email. It isn’t a huge deal when I get an email saying that my story isn’t going to be taken. It will sink to the bottom of the archives, and I will never see it again. This rejection though took on a whole new monstrous form. It was a contest, for an award at the Bellingham Review, and entering the contest guaranteed me a copy of the magazine. So not only did I not get in, now I get to read what made it in instead of me.

I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemy. It is hard to imagine a psychological torture more foul than seeing other works you know were deemed superior to yours. I immediately started asking why. was it this intro paragraph? Is it because of this colorful diction? Is it the flow of the plot, or the random additions here and there? WHY!? WHY!? WHY!? 

My ego could have used a victory, and instead I have grim motivation. I have to look at other stories that I was sure I could beat out, and know that I’m still not good enough. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go cry into a cup of hot coffee while I turn the page.

Fanfiction and Me

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For those of you who are somehow unaware, fan fiction (often changed into one word), is writing stories using established characters from another work of fiction. I don’t do that.

I could end this here, but I always feel the need to explain why I don’t. You could imagine that I’m uptight. I admit that my time in college included several courses on keeping a stick lodged firmly up your rectum, but I don’t think that is the reason. 

While in courses at school, we were instructed almost exclusively on writing ‘literature’. That is, we were supposed to ‘elevate’ the subject matter. It is the highfalutin way of saying that the writing shouldn’t be so much about the subject, and more about the characters involved. That is a summary of course, but it has colored everything I’ve done since then. 

When I was a wee lad, I had a lot of stories that were easily explained as ‘ELVES!’ or ‘SPACE SHIPS!’ or even ‘SUPER HEROES!’. I prided myself on writing stories for my friends using characters or situations they imagined (because unlike drawing pictures, this was the only way to get people to actually look at my work). These were definitely ‘genre’, that is, the world and plot were the most important aspects. Mighty heroes ignored their own story so they could rescue the McGuffin from Totally-Not-A-Trap tower. 

Through my time in school, I didn’t get to write a lot of that because, well, it just isn’t proper. 

I’m getting off track. Fanfiction is near-universally genre. It is the brainchild of every instance of someone going ‘what if Harry Potter did X’. Anytime we imagine those silly scenarios, someone has likely written it, and plastered it on the internet for someone else to consume. Fanfiction.net is one of the biggest repositories of fiction around. The readership of Fanfiction have untold power, moving authors to change the path of their stories, inspiring websites, arcs, art, and goofy musical episodes.

Amazon has even launched a website where fans can release and sell fanfiction in certain worlds. That’s right, you can get bonafide cash money for publishing your Gossip Girl fanfiction. If this blows your mind, it shouldn’t. Fanfiction is a huge deal, and even when it isn’t making someone money, it creates audiences. Famously, 50 Shades of Grey started out as a fanfiction for Twilight. Christian Grey stopped being a vampire, but nothing else much changed.

So why don’t I do it? Well, I’ve just never felt comfortable writing in the world of others. Even when I was young, I would write ‘similar’ characters. I was a kid, I had my ORIGINAL CHARACTER DO NOT STEAL phase where I made sonic characters and spider-man characters. But I never put them with Spider-man, or had them run alongside sonic. I couldn’t, felt opposed to it. I figure this has to be the worldbuilder in me. I had to put them in their own worlds, with their own rules, and their own characters. I didn’t want to just insert my OC, Original Character, into another ongoing story. Why not just set up my own villains and heroes? 

Even now, I see worlds that I love, and I can’t bring myself to even try it. Even when it could be useful, or lucrative. Certain franchises are known for their ‘sanctioned fanfiction’, like the extended universe of Star Wars. Some of the greatest Star Wars stories had nothing to do with the movies, or even characters who appeared in the movies. 

I hope to get over this affliction, soon maybe. I know there are a lot of worlds out there I love, and if I need anything I need practice. 

I Wrote a Novel Once

I had to make a decision yesterday. 

I started editing a previous Nano novel of mine, and the novel is a strange creation. When I made it, my assumption was that I would never try to publish it under my name. Because as I began November that year, my plan was to write a ‘Romance’ novel. It was going to be sappy, have bad relationships, and there would be ‘lewd’ content.

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Except, the idea rammed into another idea, driving at a million thoughts an hour. Being an atheist and all, I figured I could also make the romance novel all about religion. Genius right? I’ve read religious romance novels before, and fantasy romance, I even had a blog dedicated to reading bad romance novels.

Of course, I couldn’t just go with that concept. If I had just written a novel about some christian girl and her not quite christian enough boyfriend, I could be a bestseller on Amazon right now. Instead, I wanted to do some worldbuilding. 

I built my own religion. Altered Earth history, redefined society. In the end, the Nano novel became some strange animal. It still had lewd content, but it was from a male focused point of view (this doesn’t happen outside of gay erotica), it was first person, and the main character doesn’t just trip into a love triangle. I tried to write a romance novel, and failed miserably.

So I started editing my novel yesterday (I should get back to the subject of this post), and asked myself… is this still going to be about lewd content? I wanted to be fair to the lewdness, it is pretty nice. I can write one mean scene of a phallus entering a vagina. The story, as it were, became so much about the religion of the main character. The point was that he took on a special place in society, giving up the right to exist within the normal social order, to perform special rituals in his religion. So does it need the sex?

The answer I came to? Yes. I decided to own up to the sex I wrote, even if it means the novel never goes anywhere but my own computer. The decision was easy after I started editing, and looked at the opening lines. Knowing what I knew, about the main character, about the path he takes and why he does what he does, I found myself enjoying my own opening lines. Here, I’ll copy paste it here.

I grabbed her by the jaw and squeezed hard enough to make her wince. Her mouth popped open, and I leaned down low enough to take a look inside. It was exactly what you would expect, rows of perfectly brushed teeth. She was healthy, as far as I could tell.

“Move your tongue,” I told her. To make sure she got the point, I squeezed my fingers even tighter.

She let out a sharp sob and moved her tongue to the left, and then to the right.

Still needs some work, but I instantly returned to the character I wrote now years ago. More importantly, that he was a complete dickhole. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a character so hard to like. 

So I followed my plan I made before. I read it, made an outline of it, I will edit the outline, and then I will rewrite the same scene blind. Then I will mash the best parts of the original and the new one. Here is the first outline I ended up with.

Mosi helps the Jelani house after the man’s death, and hears that Nia has moved in.

A. Introduce the main character at the Jelani house.

     I. Mosi inspects Zora physically. Harassing her to keep up the image of a Shaman.

     II. Jengo says a new family moved in. Mosi notes this.

     III. Jengo asks what to do, and Mosi gives instructions for a ritual.

B. Mosi goes home and checks his messages.

     I. Notes the details of his room. Boring walls, the big wood mask, bookcase.

     II. Checks messages, discovers message from Wilhelm. Realize Nia is here.

C. Mosi heals house Jengo

     I. Returns to Jengo house in Kifo outfit.

     II. Speaks to Jelani, and Subari. Notes Subari’s apprehension.

     III. Meets Zora in room and performs Kifo ceremony.

          a. Begins with bowl and incense.

          b. Says words to Kifo, and notes the goddess.

          c. ‘invokes’ the goddess with beak mask, fallen crane.

          d. Sleeps with Zora to help her connect to dead Jengo.

 

It felt weird boiling down about 11 pages in word into one little outline. I did it so often with essays, but I’m not an outline maker when it comes to fiction. Hopefully this won’t slow down my progress in this editing adventure. I want to stick to it this time. Because for some reason, the time that it is worth going all the way, is when I’m writing about a dude who goes all the way.

 

#NaNoWriMo Day 30: Running Backwards

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I knew that the holidays would make it hard to update, but here I am on the 30th. Hope you didn’t miss me too much.

Nanowrimo was… a success! 51,000 words later, my 5th (5th? I think 5th) National Novel Writing Month novel has been completed. I got myself so far ahead of the curve, it was simple to come in for the finish. As for the content of the story… well that is a different story.

Let me tell you a little something.

When I first decided on my Nano novel, I based it on a short story that I actually posted here on The Little Tower. It was called Panopticon, and I wrote it in the aftermath of reading the novel Neuromancer for the first time. I was excited, I wanted more, and I definitely wanted to do cyberpunk for my Nano. So I wrote my novel these past 30 days, with Panopticon in mind.

Small problem, and a spoiler, one of the characters in Panopticon doesn’t make it out with their life. Which means, the short story was going to come at the end, or I would have to edit it. Since I usually Nano by the seat of my thumbs, I got close to the end, and realized that I wanted to shove Panopticon at the end of my novel, Corpfall.

Oops, this is a dumb idea. I mean, in general it is an okay plan, I’m sure it could work, if you actually plan around it. Corpfall got so far ahead of me, that I didn’t have enough time to establish some of the elements that would make Panopticon an awesome set of closing chapters. Instead, this plot twist rises up out of nowhere, like a terrible creature from the Black-guy-can’t-write lagoon.

How bad was it? Well the two main characters weren’t even partners anymore when I started shoving a final story arc into their face. For shame, I felt terrible the whole time.

Then I was finished, then I didn’t feel terrible. I felt very relieved.

Lesson learned, either way. Plan ahead, unless you don’t, in which case power through it as fast as you can and forget it ever happened. That’s my life motto, at work, in writing, in the bedroom, wherever it works.

I’m glad though, Corpfall can join my previous Nano stories (The One With The Black Cloak, Update, Shaman, and … that one about amnesia…), where it will collect dust until I figure out what to do with it.

Well, if I edit it and try to do something with it, you guys will be the first to know. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving (unless you are from Canada, in which case this is too belated to matter), and I will see you folks in December.

#NaNoWriMo Day 19: Your Creativity Only Goes So Far

Isn’t that the greatest lesson of Nano? It seems harsh, but I’ve been at this for 5 years, and I think that has always been my realization as NaNoWriMo goes on. You may think you had a great idea, you may think that your plan could burn through 10 books of information. You would be wrong.

Because our imagination isn’t a book, or a movie, or a one season television micro-series. What you have in your head is something different from what goes down on paper, and the difference between that exciting image, and the cruel reality, can be painful for the uninitiated. 

I think my clearest memory of the difference between imagination and reality relates to an amazing video game called Ice Hockey. It was for the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, the original Nintendo. In my head, this game was the holy grail. The controls were tight, the graphics amazing for their time. When I found another copy of Ice Hockey, I could feel the memories rushing. I knew exactly how it played, I knew the game by heart. Well, my imagination’s version. The real game is still fun, one of my favorite sports games, but the sentimental value definitely outweighs the… gameplay value.

This difference, this cognitive dissonance, works with art as well. When I originally wrote a NaNoWriMo, I was adapting a story about a man who woke up without his memories, in a world where the same happened to everyone. The idea was chaos, just getting down the block would be tough, some people had gone nuts, others tried to adapt and communicate despite not even knowing how to speak a language.

In my head the main character had a long path that would easily fill the 50,000 words. He would save a woman from a man who managed to take over a supermarket. He would find a community and they would find educational material to help relearn the world. Then he would fall in love with the lady he saved, a beautiful final act that would conclude my masterpiece.

I burned through all of that in about 15,000 words (of 50,000). So, suddenly I had to figure out what else I needed to do. I thought my story idea could fill the world, and instead I barely created a few chapters of a book.

I pushed the story on further, created deeper characters in the community they put together, created new conflicts besides the lack of memories, gave my characters real goals. Over time, things changed, grew bigger, and the story went from a flat concept to something worth writing about. The silly story I thought of a few nights before November, became a 50,000 word novel that I remember fondly.

Of course, I never would have realized how long it was, if I hadn’t tried. That is the real goal of NaNoWriMo, it shows you what you can think, and what you can truly create. The difference between the quaint idea, and the concrete reality. The worlds you want to create can stay memories, ideas that give you a tingling feeling, and for many people that is good enough. The idea, as small and undeveloped as it is, can fill the space in your brain as if it were the real deal. For me, Ice Hockey was the game of the year, and if I had never played the game again, it would have continued to hold that positive space in my mind.

For some of us, leaving that memory be is impossible. The idea has to find an outlet, and if it isn’t as a 50,000 word novel, then maybe it will be a 10,000 word short story, or a 2,000 word flash short. It has to come out though, or it will pester you, prick at the back of your brain, remind you that it is not reality. 

So you have to make the choice. An unrefined reality, or an unreal image. 

Thinking About Cyberpunk

I’m a tentative fan of cyberpunk as a genre.

For clarity, cyberpunk is described as a postmodern science-fiction genre. Usually it focuses on a high amount of technology that somehow hasn’t made life all that much better. You get worlds where you could get a new eye installed on a street corner, but the food you’re eating is a noodle paste, and if you lack the proper credentials you could be killed in the street and no one would blink an eye. So its like having the technological might of a future Japan, with the violence in the street of current Syria. 

So it may seem odd that for the longest time, I never read a cyberpunk book. I played cyberpunk video games, Deus Ex being an amazing example where your character is progressively modified while standing in the center of a transhumanist revolution. I’ve even watched cyberpunk shows, like Ghost in the Shell. By far my favorite bit of cyberpunk is the cyberpunk fantasy RPG, Shadowrun. I enjoy the grit, the desperate lifestyles, and the questions it asks about what it means to be human, the boundaries between human beings, and the limits of technology.

But despite that, it took me forever to read a cyberpunk book, and I really only count myself as a tentative fan.

Why? I think the genre feels a little archaic. Likely, this is just because of the sources I tap, but it always feels like cyberpunk is a future that emerges from the same 1980s sensibilities that spawned it when William Gibson started the sprawl trilogy in 1980. 

Why is she always dressed to go jazzercise?

It is also circling the libertarian feed bowl, with futures that include personal armies, corporations having complete control, and individuals only having as much personal freedom as they can pay for.

These are great for a gritty setting, but it gets dry after you see it enough times.

My favorite parts have nothing to do with jazzercise, or Ron Paul wet dreams, I love the connecting points between advanced technology and base humanity. I love the idea of a human being trying to dominate technology with his mind, but finding a greater intelligence there ready to combat him. I love the expression of today’s ideas of decaying privacy, technology growing beyond the speed that we can control it, and information being in the hands of anyone who wants to look for it.

I think I used this picture before.

So I have to ask myself, when NaNoWriMo comes around this year, and I embark on another journey to write a novel, what am I going to do? I have this month to plan, and then I will have to write about 1,600 words per day, for 30 days. I’ve done it before, plenty of times now, but every experience is a little different. 

I have my ideas of what to do with my cyberpunk setting, and I doubt they will be new or unique. As I did previously, I’ll touch on themes that I enjoy, like skepticism, privacy, and advanced AI. Wish me luck.