A Question of Priorities

I use a system of priorities when determining what story gets worked on over another. Lately, my system has been a little wonky because I’ve been divided between generating more interest for Corona, Vessel, The Three Safeties, and Parallax in addition to working on Lights and Shadows and planning Parallax’s two sequels.

To tell the truth, it’s all starting to feel like work…

The New Direction was supposed to finalize the last major changes for my first four books, internalize and record the steps necessary, and then cut them loose in favor of the new material that needs to be worked on. By cutting loose, I don’t mean abandoning them. Instead, I am recognizing that every book has a limited shelf life out there and after a certain amount of time has gone by, it’s time to move forward.

Bottom Line is that I’m debating putting Lights and Shadows on hold despite the fact that it’s farther along than anything else I have going right now in favor of getting back to Parallax’s sequels or simply cutting down my book plan to one book for the entire year and seeing what happens. Nothing is etched in stone yet so I’m weighing my options while I still have a full head of hair.

In the meantime, all my books are available in Kindle and Paperback Formats on Amazon.com and Createspace.

Not Sure, But I May be Getting Tired of Sci-Fi

Don’t get me wrong because I love Science Fiction and especially love writing it. But lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about the days when I didn’t think about genres and wrote whatever turned me on. When I was but a wee lad of Ten Years, I had a fascination for US Navy submarines and their wartime exploits during World War II. I was so fascinated by it that I used to write my own fictional war logs for fun. I guess it stuck with me because years later, I joined the Navy. Didn’t make it through Submarine Training, but I did serve some time on a Knox Class Frigate that was definitely a learning experience for me.

My admissions here will have no bearing on the future of Lights and Shadows and The Parallax Trilogy. They will be finished by the end of December 2016 as I planned. I simply feel the need to write other stuff, stuff that doesn’t involve spaceships and aliens.

Anglerfish Underway

Perry Island was in a zone so restricted that it was listed on maps as a hazard to navigation when it was listed at all. An artificial island built near Andros, it had the distinction of being the only island in the Bahamas no one knew much about. Even the native fishermen knew to steer clear else they would be harassed by ever present patrol boats armed with large caliber machine guns. A blue and white Super Constellation circled lazily over the island’s airfield, her four engines droning a lament at the prospect of leaving the sky.

Lieutenant Commander Michael Hardy finished reading his orders for the twentieth time since leaving Miami and looked out of one of the Connie’s porthole windows. More palm trees and white sandy beaches, he thought as he placed his orders packet in his briefcase. I was on a fast track to one of the new nuclear boats before being hustled on a flight out of the States. A shame too because I was looking forward to meeting Rickover.

A MATS Stewardess stopped to remind him to fasten his seat belt as she made her way to the cockpit. Hardy nodded, clicking the harness in place and stowing his briefcase on the floor between his knees. The deck tilted below his feet and for the briefest of moments, he caught a glimpse of a submarine tied up at one of the piers, its teardrop hull painted a shade of bluish-gray that almost rendered it indistinguishable from the surrounding waters. The submarine banked out of sight and he heard the engines throttle back for landing. The shape reminded him of a Thresher, no Permit, Class boat. The change in class name was still new to everyone in the community, especially since Thresher was considered one of the best boats in the fleet.

The orders specified that he was not to arrive in uniform, so a tan suit and thin tie, white shirt and black dress shoes buffed to a glossy sheen were his uniform of the day. He still had his military ID but to any onlookers, he appeared like any other businessman on a business trip to the Caribbean. He watched the Connie’s landing gear make contact with the runway and the engines put on a burst of power to take the plane to the small terminal building. He collected his gear and waited for the plane to come to a stop.

He put on a pair of dark sunglasses, feeling very much like James Bond, as he stepped down the boarding stairs. He loosened the collar as he walked toward the terminal, the squat building holding up the control tower like Atlas, hoping for some respite from the tropical heat. A gray Oldsmobile Jetfire roared to a stop beside him, its US Navy markings stenciled in letters just dark enough to be seen at close range but not much further. The passenger side window rolled down and a voice called out. “Commander Hardy?”

“I’m Hardy.”

The driver’s door opened and a young man with close-cropped red hair jumped out and headed around to open the passenger door. “Petty Officer Simmons, Sir. Admiral Jennay sent me down to collect you, Sir.”

“Well, it’s about time,” Hardy said, settling in. “I was starting to think that I would have to call the base for a ride.”

Simmons got back behind the wheel and restarted the engine. “Good one, Sir.” He put the car in gear and turned toward the airfield’s exit. A press on the gas pedal and they were on their way.

May Ambitions: Old Storylines

Now that May is upon me, I feel the need to wrap up some old storylines that have been floating around the blog for a while. Most of them were one-offs to experiment with certain story segments that I wanted to practice. Some, however, were intended to go somewhere but for one reason or another didn’t. I’ve gone back and selected three that I will be finishing this month in between Lights and Shadows and the Parallax Sequels:

1) Academy Days: This is the prequel series featuring a younger John Pratt during his time with the United Earth Union Navy Academy. It seemed a shame to only write three episodes so there’s more to come.

2) Dark Ocean: Originally, this was a bit that I did as a free writing exercise that I did in my “Story Time” post and I left it hanging. I don’t like hanging scenes.

3) Leviathan Sleeps: I’ll probably change a bunch of things in it to reflect The Stardivers Storyline that I was fleshing out in my Idea Folder. I might even change the title, but I haven’t decided yet.

The original posts are still archived, but leaving those particular characters in Limbo never sat well with me so it’s off to the races.

Repost: Academy Days, Episodes 1-3

Note: I dug into the archives for this one because I felt that since Parallax’s release that this story series needed completing. I’ll leave it up to you when this takes place. 😉

Episode 1:

The TF-65 was universally hated by the cadets. One of the old lifter type aircraft, it was old, slow and prone to be grounded due to a complicated four-way gearbox system that often broke down for one reason or another. The bright blue aircraft skimmed over a field of white snow covered ground that extended below them in all directions, stopping only at the base of a tall group of snow peaked mountains in the distance.

“Ponderous piece of crap.” Cadet Fourth Class John Winslow Pratt grumbled to himself as he fought to keep the aircraft level as he, his fellow student co-pilot seated next to him waged her own battle with the secondary systems, and a flight instructor sat behind them taking notes. “We should be using newer equipment.”

“We don’t always have the luxury of the latest and greatest equipment when we are out in Space, Mr. Pratt.” Flight Instructor Marsh, a dour officer with an order of magnitude of experience on his blue jump-suited chest, admonished him. “You have to learn how to get the most out of what you are given.” He made a few notes on a clipboard as a gust of wind turbulence shook the quadcopter. “Which you are certainly not attaining at this point.” He turned to the co-pilot, an intense young woman with dark hair and darker eyes. “Ms. Pendrake, would you like to take the controls?”

Pendrake raised a hand. “Not just yet, Sir. I’m still working out how to bypass a short circuit I detected in the Number Four Rotor Array that’s throwing engine coordination out of sync. Clearing that up should make for a smoother ride.”

“I could have told you that,” Pratt muttered. “Teacher’s Pet.”

“We don’t get points for could have.” Pendrake shot back angrily. “Shut up and drive while I keep us in the air.”

“Teamwork, please,” Marsh said, his tone belying the potential for a laugh at their expense. “Always remember that your communications may be monitored in flight. Keep it as professional as possible.”

Pratt held the stick tight with his left hand while reaching upwards with his right to turn off the system’s auto-leveling system. “Xia, wait two seconds and then give me a manual reset of all flight surfaces.”

“Jack, we could stall at this altitude and we don’t have enough speed to recover from that,” Pendrake warned. “I don’t like the idea of becoming a pancake this close to Finals.”

“Who wants to live forever?” Pratt gave her a reassuring wink. “Trust me.”

Pratt watched Marsh from the corner of his eye. Marsh had put his clipboard down and was following his movement with great interest. A red light appeared on his console. “That short circuit has now become a system warning. We’re about to lose both Starboard engines. Xia, do it. Now.”

“This goes against everything the manual says to do.” Pendrake’s slender hands danced across her control panel. Outside the forward windows, the drum-shaped engine nacelles stopped their movements and for the briefest of moments, the aircraft traveled downward at an angle that made every stomach in the cockpit a few ounces lighter. “System restart in four point two seconds.”

The altimeter displays counted down the distance to crash while the airspeed indicators spooled upward. An automatic altitude warning indicator began to blare.

Pratt looked over at Pendrake. “How about having dinner with me later?”

“You’re asking me now?”

“Why not? It may be my last chance.”

“You pull us out of this.” She said. “And I’ll pick up the check.”

“Very well.” Pratt reached down and turned a small yellow T-Handle clockwise until they heard a click and the nacelles swiveled to vertical, slowing their descent to a halt.

“You bastard,” Pendrake said, her expression mixed. “You knew how to fix this problem all the time.”

“I took a chance.” He replied. “The manual said there was a manual bypass in case a system reset took too long.” He grinned as the automatic systems came back online. “I’ll tell you what, you can pay your own way if you want.”

“No, no, a bet is a bet.” She said, stifling a smile of her own. “I’ll meet you after class. Do you think you can get us on the ground without killing us?”

“Okay, Cadets, that’s enough for today,” Marsh said, raising his console into operating position and taking control. “Mr. Pratt, I don’t approve of how you work, but you and Ms. Pendrake make an adequate team. You both get an A for this session. Ms. Pendrake, please notify Anchorage Spaceport that we’re on our way back.”

Episode 2:

“I think we should have sex.”

Pratt almost choked on the salmon bite he was chewing. After a coughing spell into his napkin and several sips from his water glass, he managed to regain his composure. Thankfully, the restaurant they were in was in full Romantic Evening Mode with dim lighting, soft music, and candles adorning the tables. “Excuse me?” His collar felt a size too small and he loosened his tie.

The edges of Pendrake’s well-defined mouth crept upward for the briefest of moments before she adopted a mask of self-assured confidence to the point of being almost predatory. The small black dress she wore did little to dilute the effect. “Let me lay it out for you, Jack. You and I were paired because we were considered compatible personality types. Now, given that we’re going to be in close quarters during training, it stands to reason that sexual tension is going to rear its ugly head at some point.” She casually reached over and stabbed a piece of his fish with her fork. “It would be to our best interests to get that out of the way so we can focus on more important matters.” She pulled her catch from the fork and popped it in her mouth. “I think it makes perfect logical sense.”

“I realize that growing up on a space station meant adopting some alternative moral codes,” Pratt replied, fighting to regain some mental comfort. “But us Darkfallers usually like to observe some old fashioned etiquette beforehand.”

She reached across the table and took his right hand in hers. “You do like me, don’t you? In spite of my lack of subtlety?”

He smiled and gave her hand a squeeze. “Of course, I do, but you could let me take the lead once in a while.”

“If I did that, you’d wait until Graduation Day.” She gently took her hand back. “I hate wasting time.”

Before Pratt could respond, a group of male and female cadets burst across the room and surrounded the table. Heads turned to watch the spectacle until he raised a hand to quiet them. He wiped his mouth and set the napkin aside. “One at a time, please. What’s going on?”

A short, barrel-chested, cadet with close-cropped brown hair and sly piggish eyes elbowed his way to the front of the group. “Jack, the base just issued a General Recall. Something’s happened and all Liberties have been cancelled.”

“And the entire squad felt the need to come out and get us, Jenkins?”

“All the Squad Leaders are supposed to meet in the Company Commander’s Office upon return.” Jenkins said. “Since you’re ours….you know.”

Pratt turned to Pendrake while flagging down a robotic waiter. “I guess we’ll have to table what we were talking about.” Without waiting for her, he slipped his credit chit into the robot’s payment slot. “This had better be another surprise drill.” He took one final bite from his meal before standing. A small hand gesture later and he followed Pendrake and the rest of the squad out the door and into the night.

Episode 3:

The Company Commander’s Office was a circular room enclosed by transparent glass walls and nested with similar offices on a balcony level that overlooked a large indoor parade ground.

At First, Pratt thought he was late because when he knocked twice on the office door and walked in, he noticed that he and the gray-bearded Company Commander were the only ones.

“Cadet Squad Leader Pratt, reporting as ordered, Sir.”

Senior Chief Carl Polson studied the younger man standing at attention in front of him. Pratt was older than the average cadet at 26; that maturity giving him an air of authority that was hard to cultivate out of the gate. It also made it difficult to rein in Pratt since he had a tendency to agree to one’s face…and then do whatever he felt necessary. A trait that caused the issuing of more than a few demerits over the past four years. Still, the kid got results and was able to rein in Cadet Pendrake and keep her from being summarily booted out for conduct-related infractions. I must remember to ask him how he does it, Polson thought.

“At ease, Cadet.” Polson noted Pratt’s suit. “You’re out of uniform.”

“I was informed that my being being here was important.” Pratt replied, his arms relaxing into a Parade Rest position. “I didn’t want to waste any more time getting here than necessary.”

“Very well.” Polson picked up a remote from his desk and darkened the walls around the office. “Pratt, I have been tasked with providing an escort detail for a courier ship coming to Earth from Asteroid 2001AB. I can’t divulge the details, but Command feels that although piracy in The Asteroid Belt is on the rise, the mission is safe enough to be used as a training exercise.”

“May I ask what the courier is transporting?”

“No, you may not.” Polson barked. He cleared his throat. “I’ve selected your squad to rendezvous with the courier and escort them back to Earth. Your squad rated the highest test scores during the last flight simulation round and it’s an honor so don’t give me any of your grief.”

“With all due respect, Sir, no one in the Company has logged any significant flight time off-world.” Pratt said. “Wouldn’t an experienced team produce better results?”

Polson waved away the question. “Of course, but orders are orders and I doubt your parents would enjoy hearing that you’ve refused a job that would look good on your record.”

“My parents?”

“Apparently, they had a hand in this assignment. Commodore Pratt himself contacted me to urge your selection.”

“Damn it.” Pratt muttered to himself.

“What was that?”

“Uh, nothing, Sir.” Pratt said. “My team and I will do our best.”

Polson pressed another button on his remote. When he was satisfied with the result, he came over and leaned in close. “Jack, I understand that having parents like yours is a pain in the butt, but they’re still part of the Chain of Command. If I thought you couldn’t handle it, I would have selected someone else. Just follow your procedures and you’ll be just fine.”

“I understand, Sir.”

Polson clicked the remote again.

“Dismissed, Cadet, and Good Luck.”

Prelude

He touched her picture once through his fatigue shirt pocket as he finished checking his gear, the plane’s engines lulling him into a state not quite sleepy, but not quite alert either. The last order of business was the freshly oiled and loaded Thompson that he unslung from his shoulder. He gave the weapon a once over before replacing it around his neck. His .45 automatic side arm was safely ensconced in a left belt holster. It was dark outside the Skytrain’s windows, the people below using their blackout curtains to their full effect.

The craggy and scarred face of his platoon sergeant broke through his reverie. “Five minutes to Drop Zone, LT.”

He nodded, standing up as tall as he could in the cabin. He swallowed hard, clearing his throat to get attention. “Troops, listen up. We have a job to do so let’s get it done. The sooner we finish, the sooner we go home.” The overhead lights blinked once, then twice. “On your feet.”

He gave his parachute one final check as his sergeant opened the plane’s door. A whistling wind entered the cabin, teasing them with promises of glorious victory…or agonizing defeat. He stepped forward and placed his hands on both sides of the doorway and took a deep breath. Now or never, Virgil, he thought.

He pushed himself through the doorway and into the black.