Month: July 2014

The Bazaar: Chapter 18

Number Nine

Fulton was still out cold when the guards came for her.

Emily briefly considered making a commotion. She figured she might be able to put one down if she caught them off guard. But two? Two would be tough.

And anyway what was the point?

If you are captured, Number Eleven, you will endure torture. They will beat you. They will rape you. There is nothing you can do except take it, and, given the opportunity, escape so you can pay them back a million times over. Otherwise all you have to look forward to is them pissing all over your bloody, faceless corpse.

The cell door slid open.

Emily got to her feet. She tugged on her over-sized coat to straighten it.

She would go quietly. With dignity.

It was cold in the prison but Emily refused to show it. She learned this skill on the street, in the first winter, which was one of those winters where you could put on as many layers as you liked but the cold got through anyway. It got under your skin and worked its way into your bones where it pooled like an iced-over lake till the spring thaw. In The Program Emily related to the readings about the cold. The ones about Napoleon in Russia. Later the Germans. The Russian winter could freeze a man’s piss in midair. General Winter, they called it. Emily got a taste of that in Grozny.

So a drafty, filthy prison wasn’t all that terrible.

A pair of guards waited outside the cell. They actually smiled at her. Politely, without leering. Cheerfully, as if to make a good first impression. If you dressed them up in red vests they’d pass for valet parkers.

When Emily stepped outside the cell one prodded her with a pistol. They prodded her all the way down the corridor.

She expected catcalls and whistles.

She’d suffered far worse, just in the first stages of the Voluntary Rehabilitation Program (V-Hab, they joked). For Phase One they were prisoners housed in large, open cells based on military barracks. Men and women lived together, just as they trained together, fought together and would eventually die together.

Of course the men attacked the women. Every woman busted a goon’s head during Phase One. Otherwise she washed out or dropped out.

Number Nine came for Emily. He was over six feet tall and weighed in around two hundred. A mountain of a man with a squared-off jaw and tattoos all over. The feature piece on his back showed a pair of mermaids tonguing one another. Funny thing about it was that if she’d met him on the street she might actually have found him attractive. Unfortunately for Number Nine she’d been clean going on a year and in peak physical condition.

He came at her in the shower, that is to say with her in the shower, him wriggling out of his tan prison onesy as if she would throw her hands up and submit to him.

Number Nine was big but his size was a liability. He was used to everyone on the street being afraid of him. He was slow (she knew that from drills, where he lagged behind, further back than Emily and even some of the other women, despite the length of his stride).

He lunged at her using both arms like a pincer, trying to wrap her up in a bear hug. Plenty of strength in it but much too slow and clumsy.

She slid back, skidding along the wet shower floor.

Number Nine tried to extend his reach by lurching forward. He threw all his momentum forward without considering how he would keep his balance on the wet tile, and in that moment he lost the fight.

Number Nine went face first into the tile. Emily kicked him in the head with the ball of her heel as hard as she could, driving the sharpest, boniest part of her anatomy into his bald-ass goddamn wannabe rapist skull.

Again.

Again.

And again.

Eventually she stopped keeping track and just watched his blood swirl down the drain.

Emily was no longer afraid of much of anything. Certainly not a few catcalls from second-rate, third-world hustlers. Not that it mattered. The block was deserted except for her and Fulton. Every cell empty. A dead security bot sat at the far end of the corridor, its head hung with thick layers of cobwebs spread across its treads.

Whoever designed the prison built it like a bunker. The walls were solid concrete, probably to bombproof the place. Lighting was minimal. The corridors all looked the same. If you managed to escape your cell you’d lose yourself in the labyrinth long before you found the exit. Unfortunately the averge narco jailbreak involved overgenerous bribery instead of high explosives — the place was probably obsolete before it was finished.

Eventually they reached a solid metal door at the end of a long, featureless corridor.

One of the guards unlocked it. The one with the pistol motioned for her to enter. He smiled politely as he did it.

Valet parkers for a torture chamber. For a second Emily thought she might laugh out loud, but the sound died long before making it to her lips.

She crossed the threshold.

A white man sat behind a flimsy metal table. He wore a tan suit with a white shirt and pastel tie. He was clean-shaven and well-groomed, his hair neatly gelled and styled, as if he’d come here straight from the sales floor of some uptown boutique.

“Hi Em,” he chirped.

“Hi, Pritchard.”

The guards slammed the door behind her.

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The Bazaar: Chapter 17

Better Than Memory

Fulton braced himself for torture.

The military police kept him and Emily together in a holding cell. For furnishings they had a broken toilet and bunked metal beds. No mattresses, just bare wire mesh.

A single MP stood guard outside. He smoked continuously. As he approached the end of one cigarette he set a second between his lips and lit it. Not a moment went by where he wasn’t sucking down nicotine. As he finished each cigarette he ground the butt out beneath his boot heel. The pile accumulating at his feet looked a bit like flattened shell casings.

From time to time men came by to gawk at Emily.

They stared openly, but remained careful to keep plenty of room between themselves and the bars. Not unlike children admiring an exotic animal in a zoo. Rationally, cognitively, they knew they were safe. Yet this animal had such a reputation for brutality they couldn’t help but wonder whether the cell would actually hold up in a crisis.

It didn’t seem to bother Emily. She sat on the edge of the lower bunk with her face in her hands.

“How is this place on prisoners’ rights?” Fulton asked. He lay on his back on the top bunk, tracing cracks in the concrete with his eyes.

Emily laughed a laugh that made Fulton think of marbles striking pavement. “Depends on the prison,” she said.

“One like this, say.”

“They do general beatings. They break fingers. They may put cigarettes out on you, unless prices go up or the Finance Ministry is threatening to take away the tobacco subsidy. Then they won’t waste them of torture.”

“You know I don’t think I’d stand up under torture.” Fulton figured he might as well come right out and say it. Coping with physical discomfort had never been one of his strengths. A man who found wet socks unbearable was hardly cut out for the depravity of a third-world prison.

“Try meditating,” Emily said.

Fulton rolled his head to left so he could actually see her through the cot’s wire mesh. She hadn’t moved. Just stared at her hands.

“Is that your secret?”

Emily didn’t answer.

“May I raise a practical question? Since we seem to have the time?”

Silence.

“Why did you want to go after Jefe? Better yet, what possessed you to do business with a man like that in the first place? It all comes off a bit like The Quest for Saddam’s Nukes, if you know what I mean.”

“Executive decision.”

Fulton tired of watching her. He rolled his head back to face the ceiling and flipped on his lens. Unbelievably, the prison had network coverage. Probably leakage from the administrative wing. Too weak for any heavy lifting, but a minor miracle its own right.

Fortunately he had Reese for amusement. Here, lying in this cell, awaiting his fate, he finally had a chance to do the job they’d paid him to do in the first place.

Better than memory, the Datadyne adds claimed.

A chip did not forget. The images, sounds and sensations it recorded did not degrade with time. Ironically it was the adult entertainment industry that pushed the technology hardest, in the early days at least. Tech-savvy porn directors had long dreamed of fully-interactive skin flicks. They’d gotten halfway there with the old interactive DVD features that let you choose from a menu tree of prerecorded positions and actions, from foreplay down through the money shot. The key feature the old DVDs lacked was tactile feedback. A chipset provided unmediated access to a person’s full range of physiological responses. One porn maven had described it to Fulton thusly: with one of these rigs you don’t have to imagine Lana Lipstick licking your shaft, you’ll actually feel her tongue on your balls.

Indeed, “Advanced Market Penetration: Adoption of augmented systems within the adult film industry,” was one of the livelier papers Fulton ever presented.

He went back into the Zone, back to Reese’s hotel.

Again the Claire-Spider welcomed him.

Again she led him to the corridor, where they traveled in place for a while before stopping outside the door to room 13, when it cracked open and cast a familiar sliver of light into the corridor.

Inside, Reese lay slumped over his desk. Dead. Just like his suicide, but different in important details. There was nothing on the note and the gun wasn’t the right kind. It didn’t look like any gun Fulton had ever seen (not that he knew anything about guns in the first place). Really it was a placeholder – a generic gun where a gun was required. Reese might not even have owned the real gun when he coded up the app. This might have been a fantasy suicide, or a trial suicide — an idealized version of the final production.

How long had he spent coding this?

How long had he lived with absolute certainty he would press some gun to his temple and splatter his brains all over a motel desk?

Fulton sat down on the edge of the bed. He rubbed at his chin.

The real Claire had blamed herself for Reese’s death. Fulton remembered her crying at the funeral (it was a small funeral), mascara running down her cheeks in spidery black tendrils, hiccuping softly to herself. She made a show of forgiving him, whispering sweet nothings with a hand on the edge of his coffin. Awkward enough Fulton actually looked away. Reese didn’t give a damn about Claire’s feelings. He certainly wouldn’t have felt any need to beseech her for forgiveness. Even then the joke was on Claire. This app was proof.

“Hello?”

Fulton clapped his hands.

On the desk Reese twitched. He lifted his head and turned it slowly till he faced Fulton. He ported an ashen complexion and a bullet hole in the center of his forehead (not quite the right spot, as it happened). He’d turned himself into a ghoul from an old black and white horror film, a ghost made up in greasepaint with red corn syrup trickling from a wound in the center of his forehead. A nod to old horror flicks: Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, etc.

This, Fulton understood, was Reese’s idea of a joke.

“Hello.”

It was Reese’s voice, exactly as Fulton remembered it. Gravelly from the accumulated wear of, booze, cigarettes and horse tranquilizers.

The rational part of Fulton’s brain knew that this was just a recording. Reese wasn’t really speaking. Not in the present, not off the top of his head and certainly not to him specifically.

Yet still Fulton felt as if someone punched him in the stomach, not with a flesh and blood fist but one carved out of lead. His jaw went slack. He worked it up and down a few times while struggling to regain his composure. He disliked surprises, almost as much as he disliked wet socks.

Reese, of course, remained unperturbed. “Thanks for dropping by. I was getting a bit lonely, truth be told, counting off the seconds with my brains trickling out of my head. Not to upset you or anything.” He said it that mischievous hint of a smile that made it perfectly clear that was exactly how he intended the viewer to feel. “While you’re here there’s something I’d like to show you.”

He swept a hand toward the wall behind him. The wall collapsed backward. Behind it lay a star field.

“The cosmos,” Reese said, putting on his best Carl Sagan voice. “Fancy a stroll?”

“Fast-paced sci-fi action”

The first of the three reviews of “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell” I mentioned recently is now online. This one is from Brigit at Escape Inside the Pages. Her review is on the short side (fitting for a short story!), but it really captures the essence of “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell:”

Vampire Brides from Planet Hell is definitely unlike anything you have encountered! It is a fast paced short story filled with scifi action and death at every turn. The storyline pulled me in from the start.

Drakken III provided for a thrilling setting that was equally paired with the narrator. You don’t even have to learn his name to appreciate and be thoroughly entertained by his point of view! The dialogue was witty with just the perfect amount of humor. And the ending line could not have been more perfect! Vampire Brides from Planet Hell was a quick fun read! Too bad it was a “short” because it would have been wonderful to see what happened next!

You can check out the original review here.

The Bazaar: Chapter 16

Results

Faisal felt seasick.‭ ‬His guts lurched from side to side.‭

His chipset’s motion cutoff routine hurled him from the app back into his jungle shack,‎ ‏where Don Carlos had been shaking him by the shoulders for god only knew how long.

“‏Turn that fucking thing off and talk to me,‭ ‬huh‭?”

Faisal dialed down the tags so Don Carlos would no longer see tiny lights winking on and off in his eyes.‎ ‏It drove the man straight out of his mind to see a hacker zoned out mid-conversation.

“‏I could have killed you,‭ ‬you know,‭ ‬spacing in front of a client like that.‭”

“I’m not paid to charm clients,‎” ‏Faisal said.

“‏Don’t be‭ ‬a smart ass.‭”

They were alone.‎ ‏The narcos had gone and Don Carlos‭’ ‬men with them.‭ ‬Suddenly,‭ ‬without the dozen stinking guerrillas taking up space Faisal’s shack seemed spacious as a banquet hall. The gas generator hummed steadily in the background.‭ ‬From time to time it hiccuped.‭ ‬Whenever it did the bare light bulbs suspended from the ceiling flickered.‭

“Where’d they go‎?” ‏Faisal asked.

“‏Outside.‭”

“They’re shit scared of the drones.‎”

“You take care of the drones,‎ ‏remember‭?”

“Yeah,‎ ‏I guess.‭” ‬In fact Faisal spent about two hours a day literally keeping the camp off the drones‭’ ‬radar.‭ ‬An easy fix.‭ ‬He just tweaked the AI pilots a bit to distract them.‭ ‬Kind of like dropping a titty mag in front of a security guard,‭ ‬except here it was machines he got feeling all horny and nasty.‭ ‬Faisal turned them on to something other than guerrillas‭ (‬frequently jungle rodents‭)‬,‭ ‬which kept them occupied away from the actual camps.‭ ‬The only way a human ops supervisor would figure it out was if he dug down into the actual code.‭ ‬That’d never happen‭ – ‬military men couldn’t code for shit.‭ ‬In Faisal’s experience even terrorists made lousy programmers.‭

“But they’re‎ ‏still‭ ‬shit scared of them,‭” ‬Faisal added.

‏Everyone who’d ever gone up against Americans knew drones worked best at night.‭ ‬They ran quiet.‭ ‬They were decked out with sound snooping and night vision gear.‭ ‬Drones scared the narcos and rebels shitless partly because their own night fighting gear consisted mostly of antique,‭ ‬battery-operated night-vision goggles out of North Korea.‭ ‬Those were hardly going to pick out a drone cruising at ten thousand feet.‭ ‬With gear like that you wouldn’t get a hint of trouble till you had a missile lodged halfway up your ass.

‏Don Carlos lit one of his Turkish cigarettes.‭ “‬They’re tired of waiting.‭ ‬I told them we wouldn’t bother them again until we had results.‭ ‬So now what I want from you is to know when we will have some results.‭” ‬Smoke drifted from the corners of his mouth.‭ ‬It formed a dense,‭ ‬low-hanging cloud in the humid air of the shack.

Shit’s fucking‭ ‬demonic,‭ ‬Faisal thought.‭ ‬Out loud he said,‭ “‬if they’re off the grid they’re off the grid.‭ ‬When they pop up I’ll fix them.‭ ‬It’s not my fault this place has got a dead zone.‭”

“It will have to be big.‎”

Don Carlos should have gone into entertainment.‭ ‬Entertainment management.‭ ‬He could have been a circus ringleader.‭ ‬With Don Carlos bigger was always better,‭ ‬especially if it ended up on the AP feed.

‏In Grozny Faisal turned the contractors‭’ ‬drones back around for some blue-on-blue action.‭ ‬In the DRC he’d really unleashed his creativity.‭ ‬A handful of custom-built AIs convinced a whole unit the place was haunted,‭ ‬to the point where HQ committed them to a special‭ ‬military hospital en masse.‭ ‬Far as Faisal knew they were still rotting in straitjackets.

‏Yeah, he’d come a long way from Palestine.

‏Another thing about Don Carlos was that he never slouched.‭ ‬He stood ramrod straight with his shoulders back and head up.‭ ‬Never perched on the edge of a table.‭ ‬Never leaned into anything for support.‭ ‬Faisal’s father would have liked that about him. ‬Good posture.‭ ‬Firm handshake.‭

“You know this job isn’t about the money,‎” ‏Don Carlos said.‭ ‬His tone made it seem like he was thinking out loud.‭ ‬Faisal rarely heard him speak like this and it confused him.‭ “‬This is home.‭ ‬The prodigal son returns.‭”

Faisal knew very little about Don Carlos‎’ ‏past,‭ ‬other than that he’d come from here.‭ ‬Not‭ ‬here,‭ ‬exactly,‭ ‬but somewhere in the Free Trade Zone.

‏It wasn’t like Don Carlos ever sat down with Faisal and explained his life story.‭ ‬He wasn’t that kind of boss.‭ ‬Nor was this your typical start up IT gig where the boss was basically obligated to lay out the back story in the interview.‭ ‬Where the idea came from,‭ ‬how it was destined to change the world,‭ ‬a rough time line till IPO,‭ ‬equity options,‭ ‬etc.‭

What Faisal did know about Don Carlos he’d culled from rumor and speculation,‎ ‏most of it digital.‭ ‬There were a range of different stories.‭ ‬The most common went something like this:‭ ‬once upon a time Don Carlos was a middling military police officer.‭ ‬After years and years of confiscating piles of cash he got to thinking the drug biz might be a more lucrative career path.‭ ‬So one night he ripped off the evidence room and went into the drug business for himself,‭ ‬becoming so wildly successful that instead of killing him the‭ ‬Ninos bought him out.‭ ‬Another story alleged that Don Carlos once had a wife and kid.‭ ‬The military police accidentally killed them during a raid.‭ ‬In that version he joined up with the narcos for revenge and took special delight in bombing police barracks.‭ ‬And again a buyout made him big.

‏Faisal didn’t care which story was true,‭ ‬or if any of them were true.

‏What he took from the rumors was Don Carlos was ambitious.‭ ‬Also exceedingly competent.‭ ‬As time passed his ambition grew, from local to national to global.‭ ‬Don Carlos aspired to more than pushing dope.‭ ‬He wanted a piece of the global insurgency industry,‭ ‬to be War Incorporated.‭ ‬Not a brown man pushing dope but a brown man helping other brown men fight white devils on their own terms.‭

All for a modest fee,‎ ‏of course.
‎ ‏
Yet suddenly Don Carlos couldn’t care less about the money.‭ ‬It was starting to look to Faisal like he’d spent all these weeks in a hot,‭ ‬humid jungle hammering away on a shit connection just to feed his boss’s ego.‭ ‬He didn’t pretend to understand people’s psychological needs.‭ ‬He wasn’t good at it and he didn’t care much about people’s ‬feelings.‭ He was a hacker,‭ ‬not a therapist.‭

‏Faisal’s stomach turned over.‭ ‬His throat dried up.‭ ‬He realized he felt disturbed.‭

He straightened up in his chair.‎ ‏The hair on the back of his neck stood on end,‭ ‬as if someone had come right up behind him and begun breathing down his neck.‭ At first he took this to be another symptom of his general level of disturbedness.‭ ‬But as the feeling intensified he remembered the physio alarm he’d set earlier,‭ ‬for when the professor and lady merc popped up on the grid.

“‏What‭?”

Faisal slapped at the back of his neck.‎ ‏The alarm cut out.

“‏What the hell is wrong with you‭?” ‬Don Carlos asked.

“‏Mercs are back on the grid.‭”

When it rains it pours (and sometimes that’s a good thing!)

smirking clown

(I simply couldn’t resist using this photo)

When it rains it pours. I guess that’s usually a bad thing. Can it pour instead of rain in a good way? Like if you’re living through a drought, maybe? I rather think it can. See, I logged into my email this evening to find that not one, not two, but THREE different websites are interested in reviewing “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!”

Not only is this a boost for my ongoing promotional efforts. It also validates the quality of the product I’ve put out  — at least where first impressions are concerned. I assume these reviewers took a cursory glance at my cover, sample pages and blurb available on Amazon. If so they found it all compelling enough to say yes to my request. I will post links to all three reviews on this blog (probably Twitter, too) once published, as I did with The Extremis Review’s piece on “Vampire Brides.”

Meanwhile, I’ll recap a couple valuable lessons I’ve learned about indie book story marketing.

Mainstream indie book review sites may not be the best places to take genre fiction — particularly when it comes to a niche like golden age pulp. I’ve had much more success narrowing my focus down to sites and reviewers who limit themselves to speculative fiction, science fiction and/or horror. A marketing guru would probably say, “duh! You ass. Obviously you’re got to get more granular.” But remember I’m learning as I go. And learning as you go has its own rewards.

A more general, but equally difficult, lesson I’ve learned over the last couple months is that platform building will be a long, hard slog. I think my initial expectations were for too much, too soon. I didn’t even come close to meeting my initial sales goal. Probably because only a miniscule number of readers have ever heard of me. With that in mind I am setting a new goal to sell 210 copies of “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!” by December 31, 2014.

If anyone else has any marketing success stories (or horror stories, for that matter) I would love to hear them in the comments.

The Bazaar: Chapter 15

Schwerpunkt

Emily was just coming down off the rush as the soldiers piled in through the door.‭

It wasn’t a proper stack.‎ ‏No one swept the room clear.‭ ‬Just a dozen men trying to squeeze into a confined space as quickly as possible.‭ ‬Then her,‭ ‬Fulton and that scrawny fucking weasel‭ ‬Jefe‭ ‬were staring down the barrels of a dozen rifles.

‏The part of Emily’s brain still soaked through with endorphins wanted to hose the lot of them down with‭ ‬.45‭ ‬caliber hollow points.
‎ ‏
She hadn’t been trained to react like this.

‏They trained her to keep cool,‭ ‬breathe deep and make a phone call.‭ ‬That’s how HR wanted her to handle it when a narco syndicate tried to rub her out in a brothel.‭ ‬That was the fully-compliant way of doing business,‭ ‬the way the Senate Oversight Committee wanted to see it written up.

‏But that wasn’t how they did it in Syria.‭ ‬It wasn’t how they did it in Grozny,‭ ‬Islamabad or Sri Lanka.

‏In the field you directed maximum violence at a‭ ‬critical point before the enemy could consolidate and regain the initiative.‭ That’s why they made her read all those books in The Program,‎ once they got done kicking the shit out of her in basic.‭ ‬In that phase the shit-kicking subsided just a bit.‭ ‬Except instead of sleeping at night she got to study:‭ ‬Clausewitz,‭ ‬Sun Tzu,‭ ‬then theories of asymmetric and open-source warfare.

‏Emily knew from those books she was standing at the‭ ‬schwerpunkt.‭ ‬This was Clausewitz come to life.‭

Her gut churned.

‏Here she was Paulus on the shores of the Volga,‭ ‬Napoleon bedding down in the charred ruins of Moscow.‭ ‬She’d been‭ ‬so very close to achieving that vital breakthrough,‭ ‬only to find herself over-extended,‭ ‬watching everything collapse around her.

‏Her skin caught fire.‭ ‬Blood simmered in her veins.‭ ‬White hot rage burned her up from the inside out,‭ ‬same as it had on the street all those years ago when that weirdo junkie put his knife to her throat breathing sewage into the shell of her ear‭ ‬(I’m gonna fuck you with this next‭)‬,‭ ‬when her thoughts turned to white noise and the next thing she knew she was covered in blood standing over a faceless corpse.‭

But that was a dark alley with no witnesses.

‏Here she stood in front of a firing squad.

‏Emily tossed the PDW onto Jefe‘s stacks of cash.‭ ‬The gun hit the money and went over the edge,‭ ‬taking a couple grand with it.‭ ‬She reached into her coat,‭ ‬into the inner jacket pocket and produced her Green Card.‭ ‬She held it out at arm’s length for inspection,‭ ‬the way Compliance taught her.‭ “‬We’re licensed contractors working with your government,‭” ‬she said.

‎ “‏…And we surrender,‎” ‏Fulton added.

A marketing mistake to laugh at

I couldn’t help but laugh at a mistake I made recently. You see I am still soliciting reviews for “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell.” In doing so I have developed a review request template. I copy, paste and customize it as necessary. Perhaps needless to say, the most important part of the customization process is changing the name at the top.

I sent in a review request the other day. Today I received a curt reply along the lines of “my name is Lisa, not Ted, and no, we’re not interested.”

I mention this for two reasons:

  1. If you’re going to use a review request template, REMEMBER TO CHANGE THE NAME! It could torpedo your chances of getting a review or guest post.
  2. If you DO forget to change the name, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.

Indie publishing can be an exhausting, dreadfully serious process. It’s important to keep things in perspective. I write because I love to write. In the end it doesn’t matter if I strike it rich or get famous. I will continue to write fiction whether or not I make  money doing it.

If you’re not enjoying writing you’ve got no business writing in the first place.