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Science Fiction Ramblings


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Bathroom Uber Alles

It’s been a while, but I am still here and still writing. Today’s oddly prophetic word prompt (http://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/) was “housework”.

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I used to joke with my mom about the toilet brush being the scepter bestowed upon the Queen of the House. I imagined a shaft of platinum crusted with emeralds to match the shower curtain in our bathroom. I imagined diamond-tipped bristles glittering in the sun.  Now, take all that glitter and add function. It’s not just a toilet brush; it’s the Singing Toilet Brush! A device that when touched, leaps into the air and plays music while whisking around the bowl by itself. Or if automation is impractical, perhaps I should settle for the fabled Brush in the Stone, complete with fancy inscription: whoso pulleth out this brush from this stone shall claim the throne. Or at the very least, clean the throne. But verily, I am unworthy of such an honor and like Cinderella shall be condemned to a lifetime of picking lentils out of vacuum cleaners or whatever it is she is doing these days. Until I stand up and declare, “Fuck the legumes sisters, time to graduate to something bigger.” I reach for the brush, wrap my hands around its glowing metal shaft and pull. One day, it will spring free, and I will wield it like a mace to crush the skulls of my enemies.

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Five is a Sexy Number

I have a confession to make.  I love Task #5! (http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/6-tasks-youll-love-yourself-for-checking-off-your-nano-pre-writing-list/).   I mean if Task #5 and I were both single, I’d be tempted to marry him/her/it.  Oh sure, I felt an inkling of attraction to Task #2 (a.k.a. brainstorming), but now I’m totally committed to #2’s dreamy older sibling (a.k.a. finding plot points).  It’s THE task for the plot/planning averse person that I am.  I loved it so much that I even started writing again.  Not much, just a little scene dealing with the wider world out there beyond Mud City.  The world my characters need to explore in act three of this mess.

Featured image shamelessly stolen from a post on Pinterest.  For a blast from the past see the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnHcjna0RaA.  This breaks my rule of wanting to use only free stock photos for this blog.  In my defense, try finding free art dealing with the number five.

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FIRST ACT

In this exercise, I learned about the concept of a hook and realized that I didn’t have much of one. My novel opens with a sci fi thief looking for a job. Eh. So what? Would it be more interesting if the hook was Persephone’s commercial?   Assuming the story is going to be around 50,000 words, I need to slip this so-called hook into the first 500 words.  Start with the commercial presented as if it was an action sequence. You can replay the entire 30 second advert and then have the call come in from Arch. The advert can show off Persephone’s skill set and her promise of “no violence”. It’ll make her reference to her commercial later on in the story more fun. And you can have her thinking dismal thoughts about how she just spent her next three rent checks on producing the ad.  Finally, it’ll give you a chance to show the audience what the character looks like.

Inciting event – This happens at the 12% point (so 6000 words in). Arch introduces the job and his interest in using the tech to get off planet at around the 2100 mark. Even if I am re-tooling the beginning to include a scene with the commercial this only pushes the inciting event to about 3,000 words in.  Maybe I should jazz up the scene where Persephone goes to the old space port? I’m not sure I want to squeeze in 3,000 words of action sequence just to delay the job offer.  Might be better to leave it where it is.  How standard does this whole plot business need to be?
First plot point – At the 25% point (12500). The bombing of the Albion compound (or the loss of Japeth’s home?).   Depending on how to you decide to present this.   I think you may want to keep the scene at Japeth’s house since that’s a better way to show off the fact that monsters are lose in the colony.   And actually, this point is placed reasonably well. 11,500 mark and since you’re adding to the beginning, it will be at the 12,000 mark.

SECOND ACT

The First Pinch Point – Agent Hixton’s warning of doom? This is occurring around the 16,000 word mark. A little early? The estimated placement is at 37% (18,500).

Second plot point (Midpoint) – In the current version of the story, this is when the agents chase the characters, they turn the tables and get the H-craft. I think you need to make this into the first plot point. I want the chase scene to come earlier. Make the second plot point the explosion at the Albion compound. Ooof. Painful restructuring, but it makes a lot more sense. You wanted to move the flying scene to the first act anyway. This is a story about hover craft and you should have your characters flying around in them as soon as possible.

The Second Pinch Point (planned but not written) – Japeth’s family is threatened, one of them used as ‘fuel’ (and the rest of them kidnapped to be used as hostages/fuel later on). 62% in. This would be happening at around the 30,000 mark in the current story. Turns out I’m spot on with the placement of some action points.   I just have the damn things in the wrong order…..

THIRD ACT (Entirely Hypothetical)

While Arch and Persephone are planning their expedition to the eXime base, you need to establish the fact that more people are disappearing (when eels attack).

The Third Plot Point – As Persephone approaches the end of the story, she reaches a moment of apparent defeat. She and the rescue team have encountered the hazards of the colony world (weather and attacking fauna) and have become lost! Now how the hell do they get out of it and find the eXime base?

Climax – The battle at the eXime compound. Discovery of Myra’s crazy launch plans for getting off world. The realization that there’s an orbiting station (which in Myra’s religious parlance is probably called something like Purgatory).

Resolution – The government strike force is called in to clean up the base. Realization that the creatures eXime designed and released into the environment are going to be a continuing threat to the colony. A plan is initiated to see if the “technology” can be safely harnessed to get people off world.


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Eel Meet Girl

NaNoWriMo has arrived and I’m still in the midst of my pre-planning tasks (http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/6-tasks-youll-love-yourself-for-checking-off-your-nano-pre-writing-list/).  It’s a good thing I’m not planning on producing 50,000 words of new text this year.  Although, I got curious and did a breakdown on the amount of text that I’ve been spewing just by working my way through the various exercises.  So far, I have devoted 384 words towards developing a story premise (Part 1), 2646 towards identifying plot holes (Part 2) and now 1309 (Part 3) towards character development. This gives me a total of 4339 words and I’m only on task three of six.  Honestly, I’m just glad that I’m back to working on it.  It’s given me plenty of ideas on restructuring the first part of the book, but I’m not going to touch any of that until I outline and write the scenes required to finish the story.

All of my featured images are free stock photos.  This one is from https://stocksnap.io/.

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Task #3: Do your Homework on your Characters

Part 1 Backstory

I was instructed to consider three interrelated questions.

  • What events in the character’s past caused the Inciting Event?
  • What shaped the character to make her respond to the Inciting Event as she does?
  • What unresolved issues from her past can further complicate the spiral of events that result from the Inciting Event?

I guess this means that I need to know what is meant by the inciting event. I went back over the first two steps in the suggested planning process and didn’t come across a point where I was supposed to have that idea sketched out. This is okay. I am assuming that the inciting event means whatever pulls the protagonist into the story. (Spoiler alert! I skipped ahead and learned that the inciting event is actually discussed in detail in Task #5. Turns out I’m not alone in my confusion….) But returning to trying to hash out this idea on my own, let me think about the Star War example from Kate’s blog. In the case of Luke Skywalker, the inciting event would be his Uncle buying the droids. Or is the inciting event where the protagonist becomes committed to the story? For Luke, that would be the point of no return (when his home is burnt down and family killed). In the case of Persephone, the inciting event would be the job offer from Arch. And the events leading up to that would simply be Persephone’s career path.  Her mother worked for Dete and gave her an ‘in’ for her first job.   Her mother’s role as a good little secretary is what got Persephone interested in robbing corporate entities. This little snippet of background probably affects how Persephone interacts with other women. She subconsciously underestimates them perpetuating the sexism of the targets she likes to hit up. She’s bristly about gender roles, but at the same time curiously blind to her own prejudices. This could definitely lead to her underestimating Myra. Neither she nor Arch has a great family situation. I believe Persephone’s mother is deceased. Was it self-inflicted? I did a little writing that implied that her mother (like many people on the colony world) suffered from depression. I think Persephone’s dad is still kicking around. I don’t believe it was the guy at Dete though. I think the guy is a ecologist/biologist and the match was one of genuine affection. It didn’t work out due to mom’s issues. I think daddy could crop up in book two when they need to come up with an approach for creating a safe tech for escape purposes.

Part 2: Character interview

Background

Where does she live? There’s only one city on the colony world. She lives there with everybody else. I suppose we could split hairs and say that she operates out of several apartments (one in the East Bay section of town) the other  somewhere else. Should I sit down and work out a town map? I’ve been throwing out names for the dock regions and the city center is divided into districts (mostly based on the company compounds). I don’t know if I care enough to sketch it all out in nauseating detail.

What does she do? She steals things. Information mostly.

What does she know? I think I may need to dig in a little here. Her skill set is too vague (and she should be better at her job than my writing seems to indicate). I think I may need to add a scene at the beginning showing her being successful breaking into something. That way, when things go south on her job, it’ll look more like just bad circumstances instead of a poor performance on her part. She has excellent physical skills (jumping, running, flexibility, and martial arts skills), lock picking, con skills, programming, electronics. She also understands colony politics, knows who has power and how to lean on at least some of them.

Outlook

How would she describe herself? Fast, thorough and sharp as a tack.

What does she believe in? Persephone would say that the only thing that she believes in is herself. She worships ethical professional behavior (client confidentiality, on time performance, and on time payment). At her core, she believes life is sacred (hence her reluctance to use violence). I need to highlight the fact that there are so few people on the colony (and the birth rate is so poor) that murder is a particularly heinous crime. Also, the aftereffects of the trade wars mean that the population is tired of violence.

What haunts her? Mommy issues. Gender issues. She fears looking weak.

Physical Appearance

5’ 2”. 110 lbs. Medium length blonde hair. Grey eyes. Heart-shaped face and dimples.   Likes to wear skin-tight black latex (a la Black Widow) and uses her boobs to distract the unwary. Her mouth is the only feature that doesn’t match the “sexy ninja” look she’s been cultivating. She has thin pale lips. Doesn’t smile a lot.

There were additional headings for Characteristics (strengths, weaknesses, fears), Interests (favorite book, movie, music etc.) and Attitude (what makes her laugh, makes her angry etc.) as well as a list of 100+ interview questions to use to flesh out a given character. Hmmm….I feel like I have a pretty good handle on Persephone and Arch without having to know what kind of things they like to read. Mercifully, I was also instructed that a character’s backstory only matters insofar as it affects the main conflict. I think I have enough on both Persephone and Arch to inform their reactions. What I should be working on is coming up with a backstory for Myra (so that I can work her in as an antagonist). I need to know what Myra is trying to achieve and why. Way back in the first scene I tossed out the idea of the Church of the Stellar Ark just because I liked the name (and I was throwing in random flavor text in order to build up the setting).   Also, it was an homage to Alistair Reynolds (think Redemption Ark) although my story sure ain’t Reynolds-esque. No matter. I’ve been wondering about COSA ever since I tossed out the name. It’s going to be their belief structure that motivates how Myra acts.


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My Story is Full of Plot Holes

I’m still working on my NaNo pre-planning tasks (http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/6-tasks-youll-love-yourself-for-checking-off-your-nano-pre-writing-list/).  Task #2 was described as “Identifying Potential Plot Holes”.  To do this, I was instructed to first write down everything I know about my story.  When I read that bullet point, I nearly blanked out.  Everything?  Really?  If I write down everything I know about the story, isn’t that well…writing the story?  Or maybe it just meant making lists?  A list of characters, a list of locations, a list of themes?  Do I have themes?  Aaaaaaagh!    Maybe I can skip over bullet point one and move onto the rest of the points?  Yes!  Bullet point two sounds totally doable.  Highlighting and asking questions?  Bring it on!  I decided to do a Q and A on my existing scenes. Now that I’ve gone through this process, I should be able to apply this kind of technique to additional unwritten scenes.  So maybe that’s what bullet point one meant?  Writing down a list of possible scenes?  Neglecting doing this kind of listing and brainstorming might be why I run into problems with plot.

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Eels Q and A

Scene 1: Rendezvous at the space port. Laying the foundations for the job.

Questions: Why does the Albion company want to steal this technology? Albion doesn’t. Arch is working alone, but claims to be acting for his company. Allright, why does Arch want this technology? To eventually use it to get off world. Why? To impress/outdo his dad. Arch’s motivation boils down to a not so great relationship with his father. So this just a giant cry for attention? No. The colony world is pretty miserable/limiting. Many people would like to get off so achieving this goal would be a big coup for anyone. Why does Persephone take this job? Because money (also excitement). I think that comes through in the first scene. She’s bored. What would happen if she refuses to take the job? Arch would go in on his own. Could need rescuing. This would trash the first five or six scenes, but might make a more interesting story. Perephone rescues Arch? Could make Persephone more appealing.

Scene 2: Visit to the H-craft track. Persephone gets an initial impression of the tech.

What happens if there’s a wreck at the track? Perhaps one of the eXime craft? Breaking and spilling the engine compartment would quickly reveal the creatures inside and that’s something I’ve been trying to keep mysterious. Although honestly, with the title of this story, there’s no way to be cagey about it . The mystery is how and why they work and what can be done with the tech.  And while I’m at it, how exactly do the eels work? They run on meat, blood, tissue containing iron-rich heme compounds. Hence the disappearing rats. Also, native life forms aren’t a good meal since they don’t contain enough iron. I set up a metal-poor world with a different biology for a reason.  So if the things get out during a crash, do they maul someone? I didn’t think of the eels as being particularly effective predators. They rely on people to dump in their next meal.  eXime engineered their engine components from a small local worm that uses levitation as part of its breeding cycle.  What happens if Arch is driving (instead of injured which is the way I wrote it originally)? Could Persephone end up in the race? It doesn’t make much sense from a practical perspective to have ‘passengers’ in a race vehicle, but it would be fun to experience this from a cockpit view instead of from the stands. What if the police do more than just toss Persephone out of the arena? They rough her up or arrest her? Arch comes to the rescue? Or bails her out? What happens if Blondie isn’t just a nobody race car driver? Or maybe it’s not Bondie who’s doing the driving. Maybe it’s the orange-haired woman from scene 3? Perhaps she’s gay so Persephone’s little fan-girl act could still work. The rendezvous at the bar could be jazzed up a bit as well. Maybe turned into a chase scene where the orange-haired woman notices Persephone in the bar and tracks her. Or maybe the orange-haired woman (for the love of God, give her a name!   oh…I gave her a name. Myra Holloway). Myra is much more interesting than Blondie (who was after all, just a throw away character that Persephone was using to get at the janitor).

Scene 3: The break in caper.

And what about Mr. Adams (the janitor). What happens if he realizes that Persephone is researching him?   Or perhaps he realizes someone broke into his apartment? He’s likely the one that called in the agents that show up at Persephone’s place in scene 5. Do we really need to invoke some random maintenance guy at all? It might be easier for Persephone to get in if she can get a higher level access pass. This gets us back to Myra again. She’s a wily and worthy opponent (who just happens to feed people to the eels if she catches them). During the caper itself, what if Persephone decides to go after the craft (instead of or in addition to the plans). Maybe she is unable to get the engineering schematics and has to escape in a stolen craft? How does she hide the craft? Can the Albion people reverse engineer the “eels”?   What happens if Arch goes in with her? or after her? Again, a much more interesting scene with potential for thrilling heroics on someone’s part.

Scene 4: Interlude out in the Floats

What happens if Arch takes the injured Persephone back to the Albion compound instead of to Japeth’s place out in the floats? We have a chance to meet daddy, Quentin and the rest of the Albion family. Also, Persphone and Arch will be in the compound when the retaliatory strike comes in. A potentially much more interesting event than watching the building burn from a distance. Might be the instigating event that really gets Persephone on board.  Where and how does Japeth fit into this story? She serves as a foil for Persephone (as well as a ‘rival’ for Arch’s affections). She also could be an eXime agent? Or turn on her friends at some point in the story (likely because Persephone finally pisses her off to the point of no return). In short, I think we still need Japeth (just like we need Arch’s family) to reveal aspects of our main characters. And while I’m pondering characters, is this Persephone’s story or Arch’s? Should I switch to Arch’s viewpoint? No. Persephone is a useful viewpoint character because she is outside of the corporate rivalries that make up colony politics. Arch is more of an insider and thus not as useful. What if eXime staff (maybe Myra) show up instead of just the mindless tube-fish? And what if the tube-fish aren’t really mindless? Or maybe they’re a bigger version of the levitating creatures used to power the H-craft? Hmmm….flying predators with gyrating mouth parts. Now we’re talking. I think I need to re-write the attack scenes. What if Persephone brings the stolen H-craft here? And she and Japeth end up in a chase scene. Neither character really knows how to drive (but maybe Persephone got a primer from Arch back at the track).

Scene 5: Interlude in Persephone’s Apartment.

Why did Arch break into Persephone’s apartment instead of just getting in touch by more normal means? I guess he could be worried about electronic surveillance, but it seems odd to me. His family was just attacked, his brother died and Arch is testing his con-man skills? I do want to set up a feeling of competition between Arch and Persephone, but this probably isn’t the place for it. Yeah. Really have to rethink this scene. What if it’s not Arch in her apartment? Maybe Agent Hixton? However, I was already questioning the roll of the government in this. Hixton could appear to give Persephone a friendly little “hand over the stolen data (or stolen car) or a lot of people are going to die” talk. The government should be trying to shut down eXime operations by now because their bio-engineered critters are a public safety threat. And eXime and Albion are actively shooting at each other. Persephone doesn’t initially believe agent Hixton, but witnesses something Myra does that convinces her of the danger of the tech? Or maybe just enough people die in the trade war? I think the plot arc needs to be something like this. Protagonist warned of danger, rejects warning due to ambition. Through research and experience realizes warning was accurate. Finds way to harness technology safely. Gets off planet. Runs head long into the bigger mystery of the missing trade empire.


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My Drawing Board is Full of Eels

It’s obvious by now that I’m not much of a blogger. I fell out of rhythm and didn’t feel like posting anything, so I didn’t. It was a question of intent. I was unsure and am still unsure what I want this site to be. I like writing and I want to talk about it, but I’m not convinced I have much to add to the noise. After all, there are plenty of blogs of writing advice out there and many of them are excellent. Also, putting up raw, unedited writing snippets was starting to feel like walking around in my underwear with all my bits hanging out. First drafts are ugly little things and the pundits suggest you keep them locked in a closet until they are suitably domesticated. For the most part, I think that wise, but keeping raw text invisible doesn’t help beginning writers (a.k.a. me) follow a refinement process. So, I’m back. National Novel Writing Month is approaching and I plan to use it to finish “Eels”. I don’t expect I’ll be churning out 50,000 words this year, but I do hope to have a complete story by December. One thing I have learned in three years of NaNo is that I can’t fly by the seat of my pants. Oh, I can churn out some good bits, interesting characters, fun dialogue, general weirdness, but I’m consistently unhappy with my plots. So, this year, I’m doing something unusual. I’m pre-planning. A writer and friend of mine (https://www.facebook.com/Andyfixwriter) was kind enough to point me to one of those aforementioned excellent blogs (http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/6-tasks-youll-love-yourself-for-checking-off-your-nano-pre-writing-list/).   I’ll try it. Hell, at this point, I’ll try anything.  So instead of raw text, I give you exercise #1: Write Your Premise Sentence.

Featured image assembled from free clip art (https://openclipart.org).

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Concept: A colony world is left stranded when the galactic trade empire collapses for unknown reasons.

Who is the protagonist? Persephone Rae, science fiction “thief” for hire.

What is her starting situation? Jobless in mud-city, mud-world.

Objective? Her superficial objective is to survive and maintain her perceived “status”. Her subconscious objective is to find something more meaningful to do.

Opponent? The government and eXime.

What disaster ends her normal world? The failure of her break-in attempt (perhaps). This is a weak area. I have 30,000 words written and the character doesn’t feel committed to any cause larger than herself.

What is the conflict? On a superficial level the conflict is a race between the eXime faction and our heroes to gain control of the antigravity tech. Will it be used for good or ill?

Premise:  Persephone Rae, detective and sometimes thief for hire (situation), wants nothing more than to pay her bills (objective) and eke out a comfortable existence in the only city left on a crumbling colony world. But when a job goes badly (disaster), Persephone is drawn into a city-wide conflict (conflict) between corporate factions and the government over control of a novel antigravity technology, a technology that might either save or destroy the colony. Persephone must race against the clock and the forces of the mysterious eXime corporation to save the colony.

 


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My Hovercraft is Full of Eels: Part Nineteen

The original title of this piece was “Short Attention Span Theater” and the document is still saved under that title. I should probably change that, but before I do, here’s some unrelated news. I am waiting to hear back about a piece of flash fiction that I submitted to “Every Day Fiction” (http://www.everydayfiction.com/) and I’m work shopping a short story via the Critters online review site (http://www.critters.org/). Critters is a lot of fun. If you write science fiction and are hungry for feedback, give it a try. Squirrel! Seriously, here’s a cute squirrel. Better enjoy it, before it vanishes.

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Persephone lifted the net with her left hand and watched the water. Her first cast came back empty, her second snared two plastic bottles and the third a wad of cloth that turned out to be a dirty, but intact t-shirt.

“I thought you said, if it moved, it was a rat?” Persephone threw the balled up shirt into the bilge.

“You need to learn the difference between floating and moving.” Clara grabbed Persephone’s net before she could toss it at another bobbing object. “Be patient.”

“Sweet!” Clive interrupted. “Old Sol logo and everything. Bet it predates the metal riots.”

“Can I get the net back,” Persephone muttered. “I mean so I can continue to help improve your brother’s wardrobe?”

“Shh,” Arch said. “You feel that?”

It was a tap on the hull. A big tap. The boat rocked from the impact, but slowly stilled. Clive stopped smiling, put the t-shirt down and reached for his bag.

“Like I said, there’s a lot of stuff in the water.” Although Clara didn’t sound quite so sure this time.

Clive pulled a flashlight out of his bag and turned it on. The beam made a milk-white streak in the mist and painted a pale circle on the surface of the lagoon. Persephone could make out a few inorganic angles and curves. Clive moved the beam over the pile of floating garbage and was rewarded with a flash of red eye shine.

“Rat!” Clive shouted.

“Rats!” Clara corrected. There were multiple pairs of eyes now. “That’s a lot.” She flung Persephone’s net towards the cluster. She missed, swore and hauled the dripping net back into the boat. “Get me closer!”

Clive lunged towards the oars and nearly bobbled the flashlight. The garbage pile dimmed into an indistinct grey mass.

“Damn it, Clive! Light!”

“Do you want me to row or hold the flashlight?” Clive shouted.

Arch solved the problem by grabbing the torch. He swept the beam out over the water. Clive hauled on the oars.

“Poles at the ready! We’re nearly there!” Clara shouted.

They were nudging the loose pack edges of the garbage pile. The boat pushed aside small debris, but jerked every time it hit something larger. There was one particularly big thump, a knock on the bottom that made the small craft heel to port. Clara swore and grabbed for the gunwale. Clive struck something with the left oar and pushed off, tipping them back. The boat nudged to a stop and Arch steadied the flashlight.

“They’re coming out of the water.” Arch said.

The rats were and quickly, scraggly little black bodies shining in the flashlight beam, swarming over the island of loose plastic.

Persephone grabbed a boat pole and tried to slip the loop over the nearest rat. Clara had been right. It was awkward with one hand, but probably wouldn’t have been much better with two. The things were nimble and not inclined to walk into a noose. Her target sidestepped and scampered out of range of the flashlight. Clara wasn’t having much luck with the net either. She could get it over the animals, but the creatures simply dropped into the crevices between the floating debris and popped back up again once they were safely out of the net.

Persephone was trying another pass with her pole when the light went out inducing a stream of profanity from Clara.

“Shh,” Arch said. “Loud noises. Lights. No wonder they’re running. I killed the light to get them to calm down. Net them when the stampede stops.”

“If I can see them,” Clara grumbled. Though it wasn’t entirely dark out. The alleyways let in light from the barrel fires. It was a dim orange light, but enough to make out movement. Persephone could hear the scratching of tiny feet on plastic and the occasional splash, details she hadn’t noticed with the flashlight on. She readied her pole and flailed at one of the moving blobs. She hit something and managed to pull back on the rope with her splinted arm.

“I think I got one!” She shouted. There was definitely something small and alive twitching on the end of her boat pole. Unfortunately, there was also something large and alive in the water. It knocked against the hull, nearly tipping Persephone overboard. She swayed half-in, half-out of the boat, but managed to keep her grip on the pole. Arch grabbed her collar and they both crashed down between the seats. Something black and slick groped over the gunwale and retracted. Seconds later there were five more tendrils gently snaking over the side.

“What the hell are they?” Clive didn’t wait for an answer. He swung an oar at the things.

“No!” Persephone shouted, but Clive had already chopped the nearest one. The boat shook, rocked by dozens of grasping arms and the water seethed with countless more.

“What they are is poisonous. Other than that, I don’t know. Anyone have a rope and a grapnel? We need to get off this boat and I don’t fancy a swim.” Persephone rolled off Arch, got to her knees and reached for the back seat. It did double duty as the lid for a storage compartment. “You have anything useful stashed in here?”

The tube fish were engaged in a tug-of-war with the boat, giving Clara and Persephone time to pull out two life vests, a roll of duct tape, an anchor and a flare gun. Arch grabbed the gun and aimed at the water.

“Is that a good –“ Persephone’s question was cut off by the pop, hiss and splash of the flare. It burned as it sank lighting up the murky water, but other than the garbage there wasn’t anything to see out there. The tentacles had vanished.

“Take that you bastards!’ Clive shouted.

“Umm…less shouting, more rowing?” Persephone suggested. Clive grabbed up both oars and sculled them towards the nearest alley. Persephone untied the rope from the anchor weight.

“We’re good. They’re gone. What are you doing?” Arch asked.

“Getting prepared.” Persephone picked up a life vest.

“For what?” Arch asked.

“That.” Persephone tossed the vest overboard. It floated astern where it was grabbed and dragged down by a tentacle. Clive rowed faster Persephone tied the roll of duct take onto the anchor rope.

“Is it the movement? Should we try to sit still?” Clara suggested. Clive snorted and worked even harder on the oars.

“They probably feel vibrations, but I think smell’s more important.” Persephone said.

“They track the smell of plastic?” Arch tapped the polycarbonate hull.

“No. Me,” Persephone said. “They got my scent during the break in. I touched the net. That probably brought them running when I used it. I touched the life vest. Hell, I even had my feet in the water when they came and pulled down Japeth’s apartment. Smelled me all the way from center city.”

“You sure?” Arch asked.

“What else could it be?” Persephone’s question was punctuated by a loud scrabbling from the bilge. Clara grabbed the remaining life vest, Clive readied an oar and Persephone prepared to sling her makeshift grapnel at a nearby building. Arch flipped on the flashlight and aimed it down into the boat.

“Rat, maybe?” The rodent was still attached to the boat pole, but had managed to drag itself under the center bench. It was now trying to chew its way out of the noose that Persephone had looped around its chest. Arch picked up the pole, whisking the animal through the air.

“Hey. Careful with my rat,” Persephone protested.

“Just trying something.” Arch dangled the squirming animal near Clara. “Deploy operation rat decoy.”

Clara hesitated for a moment, but then her face brightened and she held up the life vest. Initially, the panicked animal just snapped at it, but quickly decided that clinging to something was better than hanging in mid air. It sunk its nails in and tried to run. Arch let the thing scurry over the orange fabric for a couple of seconds than pulled it back. Clara threw the now rat-pocked vest as far as she could. It landed with a splash and an eruption of tentacles. During the apparent feeding frenzy, the group made their escape.


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My Hovercraft is Full of Eels: Part Eighteen

That temporary fling I was planning on having with a short story turned into a month long writing mess.  The thing sprawled out to over 10,000 words before I beat it back to a somewhat manageable 7,900.  But I’m done working on ‘Tick’ (a.k.a Horton-Hears-A-Who-In-Space) and am itching to get back into some juicy eel action.   But before you run off to your favorite Sushi restaurant and/or weird porn shop, let me get you caught up on my brand of eels.  Our protagonist Persephone Roe has been hired by the rakish Archimedes Albion to steal the schematics for a new type of hovercraft.  She achieves this, but can’t make sense of the plans before the government of Mud City Mud World shows up to confiscate the stolen goods and issue a stern warning!  Some serious scolding here and some dire hints that the technology might be dangerous to Mud World itself.  Meanwhile, a trade war erupts over the theft pitting the Albion company against the mysterious eXime firm.  Buildings blow up.  More scolding ensues.  eXime attempts to kill Arch by sending agents to wreck his hovercraft.  He and Persephone turn the tables and manage to steal one of the eXime craft, but it has hardly enough fuel to get back to the city!  The driver reveals that the creatures that serve as the engine for the craft require rats.  All caught up and ready for the next installment?  I now proudly present, THE GREAT RAT HUNT.  But first, some crashing and relationship stuff.  I wish my characters would stop trying to date each other.  😛

Featured Image:  This image originally posted on Flikr was obtained through WikiPedia on 5/29/2015.  It is sharable with attribution to Suzuran Japan Foods Trading Pty Ltd, Camberwell, VIC under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  Suzuran has no affiliation with and does not endorse the contents of this blog.

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The driver hesitated. “You won’t believe me,” the driver said, “but it’s rats. The boffins feed them rats.” She reached for the yoke. Persephone tensed, but Arch just looked stunned for a moment and then tossed back his head and laughed, big gulping hysterical laughs. “That’s so ridiculous, I almost believe you. “

“Why would I lie? I want to live.   That’s what I I know.”

Arch continued laughing, but released the controls and stood up. “So much for Q and A industries. Get ready for Lab Rats Incorporated.” He continued laughing.

The woman ignored him. She scrambled back into the driver’s seat and toggled the altitude lever. They dropped out of the clouds and plummeted all the way to a cruising height of 4 meters. Then she fired the thrusters and sent them rocketing back towards the city. If she’d been lying about the fuel reserves she did a pretty convincing job of faking desperation. They were swooping in over the Floats in under five and a half minutes. The racing stadium was in view.

“No,” Arch said. “Not there.”

“Racing craft aren’t legal in the city flyways. We need to go back to the pits.”

“Where your friends will club us over the head. No. Take us into the slums.”

“That’s the same thing as handing this thing over to the police. You know they have visuals and radar on us now.”

“You shot at us. You wrecked Arch’s boat. Agent Hixton will lock you up,” Persephone said. She’d never had faith in the law before, but her pain seemed to have a clarifying effect.

The driver smirked at Persephone, but her smile was short lived. In one fluid motion, Arch flicked open the door, grabbed the driver’s collar and tossed her out. Before the splash had even reached them, Arch was in the seat and steering them into the Floats.

“But… She…” Persephone spluttered.

“She looked like a better swimmer than Boyce,” Arch said. He reached out and yanked the door shut.  “And anyway,” he gestured at the skyline. “They’re already coming out to get her.”

Persephone had a brief glimpse of a police tow boat pulling away from the East Bay docks before they were surrounded by floating hovels.

“You’re driving awfully fast,” Persephone said.

Arch grunted. He avoided a strip of shacks by driving through someone’s laundry.

“They think this stuff is gonna dry out here?” He muttered.

“And we’re awfully low,” Persephone said.

Arch pulled up on the stick, but the craft barely responded. They skimmed over a wide support raft, missed the apartment, but flattened the attached out house.

“Come on baby. Just a little further,” Arch murmured.

“Where are we going?” Persephone asked.

“There!” Arch pointed. It was another floating line of shacks. There were people outside, pointing, yelling and then ducking for cover as the H-craft bushed over their deck and fell into the adjacent canal.

The eXime machine was clearly better than the Abion one in all respects, including crashing. Persephone didn’t even black out this time. Arch popped open the door and waved.

“Japeth!”

The dark-haired woman stood up on the deck and crossed her arms.

“You have rope?”

The woman shrugged. The craft settled a little deeper. Apparently it was superior to the Albion craft except in the area of sinking. It was going down faster.

“Persephone’s hurt. A little help?” Arch said hopefully

Japeth turned very slowly, picked up a hitching rope and tossed a loop in their direction.

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“Seriously. You had to come here?” Japeth and about twelve of her cousins had gotten the H-craft tied up and draped a tarp over it.

“We were low enough coming in that the police shouldn’t be able to track us. And they had to stop to pick up the driver.” Arch smiled proudly and then winced. “Do they know what they’re doing?”

One of Japeth’s elderly Aunts snapped Persephone’s arm back into place, drawing a yelp from the woman. Then a teenage cousin closed in to wrap Persephone’s arm with electrical tape.

“They have a basic medical training.” Japeth watched her family offer up pain pills, water, and a flask of booze. Persephone waved off the latter and moved unsteadily towards the H-craft.

“That can wait,” Japeth called.

Persephone twitched off the tarp, popped the hood and studied the interior for thirty seconds before tottering back towards Arch.

“No surprises. Two tanks. Muddy water. Full of eels. Seemed awfully sluggish. Hope you didn’t kill them.” Then turning towards, Japeth. “You have any rats?”

Japeth raised an eyebrow. “You need to lie down, honey?”

“No. She’s right. It’s a fuel source. Call it Vitamin R for antigravity critters. If we can find a few, we’ll be out of your way.” Arch said.

Japeth walked over, closed the hood and twitched the tarp back into place. “When it gets dark, just call for a tow.”

“The engine might literally be dead by then.” Persephone said. “I mean how often do these things need to eat?   And why two tanks? And why the hell did you need to dump the driver?”

“She didn’t know anything,” Arch said.

“But Boyce might have! It’s really why I have a ‘no kill’ policy. Loss of resources,” Persephone grumbled.

“And here I thought it was just your strong ethical upbringing,” Japeth snapped. “Listen. I’ve already lost a house and been arrested. I’d like to make sure nothing happens to my family. Best way to do that is for both of you to leave.”

“Sweetheart,” Arch murmured. “I mean we were good together, right?” He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t you want to introduce me to your family?” His smile practically lit up the houseboat.

Japeth’s expression remained neutral until one of the younger cousins started to giggle. Then Japeth’s face collapsed into a slightly pained smile.   “Fine. Fine. The one laughing like an idiot is Trisha. But if you want to go looking for rats, you should get to know Clive and Cora. Trisha couldn’t catch a rat even if one walked up and bit her on the ass.”

“Did you mean to say ‘grabbed my ass’?” Trisha sassed back.

Japeth sighed. “Ignore her. We all do. And come inside before they start running some drones over the Shanties.”

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“You really shouldn’t play Japeth like that.” Persephone whispered.

She and Arch were in a boat with the twins, Cora and Clive, the family pickers. They trolled the canals with nets and gaffer poles and brought back whatever they could find. Rats weren’t their usual quarry, but the twins sometimes followed the critters to find edible salvage. Persephone remembered the chicken she’d shared with Japeth a while ago and tried not to gag.

“She has a soft heart,” Persephone continued.

“Like I’m sure that eXime driver had a soft heart.”

“Who? That woman you tossed out?”

“Oh-my-god! Oh-my-god! I’m your biggest fan,” Arch mimicked a high and breathy squeal.

“I don’t sound like that,” Persephone said. “And anyhow, Blondie was different. I had a job to do. For you. And need I mention that its one you haven’t paid for yet?” Persephone didn’t consider stock options in a non-existent company to be payment.

“Has it occurred to you that I like Japeth? And was genuinely honored to meet her family?” Arch said.

Persephone didn’t have to think too long about her answer. “No. You’re not the type.”

“What type is that?”

“The type to settle for a working-class woman from the Floats.”

Arch whistled softly. “Did I hire you to do quality control on my love life?”

“You? This is about you? What about Japeth?”

“Yeah. You’re right. She could use a better friend.” Arch turned away.

Persephone opened her mouth, but her reply was cut off by the swish of a net landing at her feet. “That’s yours,” Clara said. “You,” she jerked her chin at Arch, “Man a pole.”

Arch slid towards the prow, settled next to Clive, and picked up a boat pole with a loop at the end

“Why does he get the pole?” Persephone couldn’t say why, but that suddenly seemed like the better job.

“Cause he has two working hands,” Clara said. “You wanna chase rats with a broken arm, you get a net. Wait until they’re close.”

“Right. Don’t fire until you see the white of their eyes,” Persephone muttered and scooped up the net with her left hand. “You ever done this?”

“We’re improvising,” Clive grinned back at her.

“Shh.” Clara said. “We’re getting close to one of the dead drops.”

Garbage from all city zones got dumped wherever was convenient.   Some of it dispersed some of it swirled up and collected in the so called dead drops. Areas where circular slow moving currents would pile it up into loose islands. In the Floats, the stability of the dead drops made them popular shopping areas. This dead drop consisted of junk-filled lagoon surrounded by a floating circle of pubs. Clara’s “Shh” seemed ridiculous. Persephone could no longer hear the dip of Clive’s paddle over the music and drunken babble. At least visibility was good. The afternoon’s rain had turned into evening mist.   Perfect weather for a barrel fire outside one of the bars. Perfect evening to yell and throw beer at passing boats.

“Lovely,” Persephone muttered and ducked a can.

“Free samples. Increases business,” Clive said. He waved and paddled them into one of twenty liquid alleyway. The noise and light dropped abruptly. Persephone cold hear the silt lapping against the walls. Then a strange noise, almost a slurp as they popped out of the alley into the central lagoon. The boat twitched slightly, felt like something had knocked against the hull.

“Was that normal?”

Clara shrugged. “All sorts of things down there. Mostly plastic.”

“Now what?”

“Now, we wait. You see something move, throw your net at it. Rats are the only things that’ll be paddling around on the surface.”