Lights and Shadows Update #11

Note: This will probably be the last of the L&S updates for a while. I have to leave some mystery before the actual book is released later this year. Enjoy. 🙂

Finch unslung her rifle and checked the ammo supply in silence as they walked, her thoughts in a turmoil. She had accepted Matson’s leadership as a matter of course, but was he needlessly reckless? Granted, she didn’t think that things could get worse down here in Tarson’s planetary bowels, but who was she to judge his methods? Every situation she had experienced with him thus far had turned out in their favor. Okay, a few bumps, bruises, and a few cuts here and there, but nothing overtly life threatening. She wondered if Monroe was just being a coward.

“Stick close and do what you’re told and you have a reasonable chance of getting out of this alive and in one piece,” she told him. “For God’s Sake, grow a pair, will you?”

He grunted in response as the group stopped at the airlock exit.

Matson peered through the door’s rounded window. It was dark on the other side, which eased his guard not one bit. “I wish I knew what was on the other side of this door.”

“When we started exploring, all of our initial scans indicated a hollow geologic space for about one hundred and fifty meters in all directions,” Burke supplied. “There were indications that the eastern portion led to a tunnel, but we never had time to explore it fully.” She looked up at Matson. “I suppose now is as good a time as any.”

Matson didn’t hear her. His ears were perked at a faint beeping from far behind them. Three beeps followed by a longer tone and then repeating. He turned to Finch. “Remember what I said about not being out of the woods yet? I think the forest just decided to dump a load on us.”

Finch turned and watched the cylinder antenna housings flash from green to red. “Sequoia sized loads,” she reached for the door controls and began punching in access codes. “Damn it, open you recalcitrant piece of-”

Despite himself, Matson smiled at her. That’s it, he thought, express that inner rage. We’re going to need every ounce of that anger and fight because as much as I want, I can’t hold this all together by myself.

She looked back at him. “What the hell are you smiling about?”

Matson blanked out his expression. “Nothing, nothing at all. Please continue.”

Finch tried every combination that she could think of including connecting her data tablet and using its code-breaking software. Her efforts met with succeeding red access denied lights and a mounting frustration that caused her to strike the control panel with her fists until he gently restrained her. “Everything I know is useless against this thing, Zack. I don’t know what to do.”

Matson looked from top to bottom as the beeping crescendoed. “There has to be a way to override that panel.”

The closest cylinder to them matched its comrades in red and the beeping pattern reached a fever pitch. The tunnel began to heat until they heard an explosion from the other end. A few minutes later, it was followed by another and then still another. The metal walls began to crack and twist as metal fatigue combined with explosive force began to take their toll. Clouds of dust filled the air as besieging dirt broke through, slowly clogging the way behind them. The chaos inched closer.

Matson ran over to the closest cylinder and checked the antenna assembly. His heart sank as the sealed unit allowed for no external access and even boasted by design that any attempt to countermand the explosive sequence would result in an immediate detonation. “If any of you,” he looked at Burke and Monroe. “Have any suggestions, now is not the time to be shy. We’re about in a situation between choosing between suffocation, vaporizing through explosion, or being crushed by the rest of the planet coming down around our ears. If you can do something, do it.”

Burke and Monroe traded looks before she moved Finch out of the way and punched a long series of numbers into the keypad. The explosions were growing louder as she worked. When she finished, the last cylinder had stopped beeping as the airlock door swung open.

“Don’t wait for a parade,” Matson shouted. “Get through.”

They crowded through the doorway and pushed the door shut as the last cylinder exploded. Matson and Monroe hastily dogged down the secondary latches as the door window filled with dirt and debris. A few cracks appeared in the glass, but it held back the advance.

Matson slumped to the floor and wiped a mixture of dust and sweat from his forehead with a sleeve.

“I think we should take a rest now,” he offered Monroe a hand. “Good job.”

Monroe smiled and accepted the handshake. “Thank you, Sir, it seemed the right thing to do.”

“It was the only thing to do, given the circumstances.”

Burke and Finch watched them bond and for a moment, did a matching set of eye rolls. “I hate to interrupt your male bonding but we should find a better place to make camp for the night. There’s a small supply cache that the Union Corps of Engineers left just ahead.”

Matson struggled to his feet while helping Monroe to his feet. When he had found his footing, he looked ahead of them. “I’m going to assume that we’re heading into unknown territory,” he held up a finger to Finch. “Don’t say it.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, though your action affects both you and me.”

He stumbled slightly, using the closest rock to steady himself as an invisible Torquemada went to work on his left leg. He hoped the pain in his left ankle was merely a sprain but he worked to keep his full weight off it as he led the way.

Finch came over and tried to examine his ankle. “Okay, Hero, you can stop for a minute and allow me to check out that impressive limp of yours,” she looked around at the flat gray soil with multicolored rocks embedded among it that glinted in the portable lights that ran the length of their path. Tarson was known for its mineral wealth but to see so many precious and semiprecious stones just there for the taking made her want to carve out a gem for later. She put those thoughts aside as he shook her off. “Zack, you’re obviously in pain. Let me help.”

He shook his head. “When we stop to make camp. I’ve got a bad feeling about this place and I don’t like our tactical options.”

Finch looked around. “We have no tactical options other than the fact that we’re moving down a limited access way.”

“You’re going to bug me about my ankle until I let you do something, aren’t you?”

“I think we both know the answer to that.”

He stopped and sat down. “Fine, but make it quick. I don’t like the idea of something jumping out at me while you’re poking around down there.”

She bent down at his feet and ran a medical scanner over his ankle. “The good news is that it isn’t broken.”

“What’s the bad news?”

“It’s going to hurt like hell and if I give you a painkiller, I’ll have to immobilize your whole leg. The past few days have put a lot of stress on the joint and the more you work it, the closer you’re going to get to a complete break.”

He sat up, keeping his voice down so that the others couldn’t hear them. “Understood, Marla, put a ring bandage on it and I’ll deal with the rest. I trust you.”

Finch removed his foot from the boot while taking a ring-shaped bandage from her first aid kit. Tearing open its protective bag, she unfolded the bandage, slipping it over his foot and into place around his ankle. When she removed a small cotter pin, the bandage inflated to form a flexible cast that held the weakened tendons and bone in place while she helped him slide it back into the boot. “This will hold you for a while, but it’s still going to hurt.”

He gritted his teeth as he zipped up the boot and tested his weight. The pain was still present, but negotiable. “I’ll deal with it. Marla, we need to be careful around these two. I don’t get a good vibe off them.”

“You and me, Partner,” she said, steadying him. “If you need to lean on me, feel free.”

He patted her hand and smiled. “Good to know,” he gently pushed her away and took a step forward. “Come on, let’s get moving.”

40,000 Words! Lights and Shadows is Officially A Novel

I’m pleased to announce that I broke 40,000 words on Lights and Shadows today and I couldn’t be more pleased. I could, but that won’t be until The First Draft is done and I start editing. I’ll admit that the lag in getting this beast tamed is mostly due to me being distracted by promoting my other books on Amazon and my soon-to-be-ending obsession with studying the sales rankings to see how they are performing.

I’ve known for a long time that I perform best when I ignore outside advice (which often turns out badly), stop fixating on what others are doing, and generally do my own thing. I don’t write by consensus and never needed anyone to tell me how to write. Point of Fact, selling books (or not) isn’t my main focus. It never has been.

I write because I love to write. Period, end of story. As long as people know that I’m putting out new stories, that’s enough for me. Yes, of course, I’d love to make a living at it, but I’m not a storytelling machine and I don’t care all that much about making money at writing. I’ll worry about the money aspect when I start to make enough at it to make it an issue.

Anyway, back to the grind. I’ve made some serious progress and I want to keep that momentum going. Thanks for your time. 🙂

Lights and Shadows Mini-Update #9

Note: Chapter 12 begins here and I kind of like this opening:

Closing the inner airlock door behind them triggered a fear response within Matson that he fought back with a ruthless intensity. It wasn’t the danger; he had wrestled with that particular angel plenty of times in the past. No, this was different. An inevitability of change unlike anything he had ever faced before. And he didn’t like it.

Lights and Shadows Update #8

Note: The story is getting to within a few thousand words of the 40,000-word mark, or as I like to put it, The Point of No Return where it becomes a novel and would be a crime not to finish it. Anyway, enjoy. 🙂

“It’s not,” Matson walked around the terminal and faced the orb. “What we encountered was a different sort of entity. This object looks like a plasmonic communication device, probably being operated from the surface and using the station’s communication array to carry the signal. But who sent it?”

“My vote is on Stein.”

“Mine too,” He held up a finger to silence her and then mouthed the words ‘Play along with me’. After she nodded her agreement, he cleared his throat. “Okay, whoever you are, do you have two way communication capability?”

The orb fluctuated, bending and twisting until it formed a transparent man shape. “Your powers of deduction are impeccable, Agents.”

“Cut the crap, Stein. We’re stuck down here and we’re locked out of the outpost computers.”

The image firmed up. Stein looked around and nodded. “Yes, it would appear that you’re in quite a dilemma,” His image flickered before stabilizing. “It will take time to reestablish your access, but I must request that you leave the pods alone. A rescue team is preparing to come and get you out as well as recover the pods.”

“There’s a Category Theta Sandstorm topside,” Matson stated. “We both know that it will take days for the storm to pass and the outpost structure is already compromised by seismic tremors. We’re also cut off from our survival gear and I believe that those two in the pods are our best chance in finding a way out of here,” he shot Finch a glance as she opened her mouth. “How do we get them out?”

Stein crossed his arms.

“Be glad that you aren’t physically here,” Matson went out to the laboratory for several minutes, returning with a large bladed ax. “I’m going to get those people out, one way or another.”

“Those pods were designed for deep space containment,” Stein said. “Hitting them with a ax will barely scratch the paint.”

Matson raised the ax. “Who said I was going to hit them with it?” He stalked over to the closest pod and jammed the blade where the magnetic clamps met the pod’s skin. He brought his weight down on the handle until, with stereo pops, the screws securing the clamps broke free and the controller housing fell to the floor. He forced back the remaining edges and found a small lighted control panel inside. “Well well, look what I’ve found.”

“Agent Matson, I insist that you stop what you are doing immediately.”

Matson reached inside the gap and pressed two small white buttons on the control panel. In response, lights appeared along each pod’s door and mist vented from concealed vents, lending a hiss to the air. He stepped back and watched as Stein’s frown changed to a scowl.

“Stein, those people are coming out and they will answer every question that we put to them,” he turned to face the hologram. “I suppose if you don’t like it, you can always come down here and stop us.” He paused, his eyes boring into Stein’s electronic counterparts. “Or me.”

Stein turned and brought a fist down on the conference table, frustrated as it passed through the wood and metal surface. “I may not be able to physically stop you but rest assured that my authority in this matter will be respected and your actions will have consequences.”

“Yes, yes, whatever,” red lights appeared at the top of each pod. “Finch, what’s happening?”

“I was afraid of this,” Finch said, her fingers dancing over her data tablet. “I’m registering a power surge coming from the pod communication system. Someone is trying to short circuit the life support systems before the revival program can complete. Their vital signs are fluctuating.”

Matson whirled on Stein. “I knew there was a reason I didn’t trust you at our first meeting.” He dropped the ax and went over to the terminal and began typing.

“I told you that it would take time to reestablish your accesses.”

“Blow it out your ass,” Matson gave a few quick taps on the terminal keyboard and pressed enter. The overhead lighting brightened and status boxes popped up on the monitor.

“Activating Protocol 49 now.” He entered more commands into the keyboard. Stein’s image winked out of existence with an angry pop and the pod lighting faded to a somber amber. Both doors hissed open and the occupants slumped to the floor.

Finch didn’t bother to hide her grin as she grabbed the nearest first aid kit and tended to the injured. “I had forgotten about your duplicate access account. But how did you manage to hide it from Stein? That would have been the first thing that I would have looked for when tapping into the network.”

He busied himself by removing the cushions from a pair of conference chairs and arranging them on the floor as a makeshift bed. “I nested my account under the Chief Engineer’s and set it to overload the reactors if someone attempted to delete it without the proper codes,” he tapped his forehead. “The codes only I know.”

“Clever,” she replied, using the first aid kit’s scanner to assess for injuries. “How did you get rid of Stein?”

“He probably redirected the energy pulse back to the Comms Array,” the woman sputtered and coughed her suggestion until her airways were cleared. She brushed aside a lock of well-coiffed brown hair from her forehead. “The Array is probably in pieces topside.” She waved off Finch’s attempts to minister to her and sat up on a shapely elbow. “Aren’t you a little tall to be a cop?”

“I’m as tall as my daddy made me, Doctor Burke,” Matson replied, his blue eyes matching her honeyed browns in silent character assessment. “Are you well enough to answer a few questions from myself and Agent Finch?”

Burke stretched out like a cat, accentuating her slender figure and long legs within the confines of the beige jumpsuit that hugged her in all the right places. She nodded her approval and broke off the contest. “So, what do I call my rescuer?”

“Agent Zack Matson,” he said, silently fuming that Burke was avoiding his question. “The person trying to render first aid to you is my partner, Agent Marla Finch.”

Burke smiled and waved off Finch’s attempts to continue. “I’ll answer anything put to me, Mr. Matson.”

Finch turned her attention to Burke’s companion. The officer was dressed in an Alliance blue naval uniform but with all the unit patches removed from the shoulders but he wore blackened Captain’s bars on his collar, something that the Ground Forces favored. The mishmash of uniform items was confusing. His thick-lidded eyes fluttered as he waxed and waned through consciousness, but his pale skin, thin red hair, and general boyish looks were distinctive enough to make her run his image through her facial recognition software. The result came back with Scotland but the software was never completely accurate. She prepared a stimulant dose and injected him. Eventually, he gained a foothold on consciousness to open his blue eyes and nod that he was awake. “Captain, do you remember where you are?”

Monroe looked up at her and nodded, his accent confirming her software. “It’s Lieutenant, actually. Outpost 19, Fuller Foundation Research Facility,” he brought a scarred hand up to his forehead. “Ugh, my head. Are you guys the rescue team?”

“Not exactly.”

Monroe sat up. “If you’re not the rescue team, who the hell are you?”

“Alliance Investigative Service,” Matson interrupted. “We were sent to find out why contact was lost with Colony Control.”

“Just the two of you?” Monroe slumped back onto the cushions. “Oh great, we’re doomed.”

Finch examined his hand. “Lieutenant, how did you get these scars?”

Monroe looked over at Burke, who gave him a nod. “We were running a high energy experiment when one of our generators overloaded. I suppose we mis-calibrated something, but the overload caused a cascade effect that spread throughout the outpost’s power grid,” he pointed outside. “When the emergency protocols failed to engage, I manually disconnected the main power connection and got a burn for my troubles.”

Finch sprayed a bandage over the wound. “You’re lucky that infection didn’t set in. This should keep it sterile for a while.”

“Do you mean to say that the entire outpost staff was killed by a power overload?” Matson wasn’t buying the explanation. “We’ve found evidence that something rampaged through this facility. In fact, we’ve had several run ins with a holographic creature during our investigation. Would you care to explain that?”

Burke held up a hand. “Okay, Mr. Matson, we were working with creating holographic simulations with the capability to act as replacement emergency structures. Imagine how useful it could be to program a holographic projector to create a working generator using solidified light? The benefits of such a process would be incalculable.”

Matson shook his head. “Holograms by their very nature are unstable and prone to fail under a number of circumstances. No, what we’ve encountered so far is using solidified light to kill and destroy. The last time I checked, Doctor, Murder is still illegal in our society.”

Burke took a deep breath, weighing her options. Her shoulders slumped in defeat as she looked up at him. “It’s my fault that this all happened.”

Matson crossed his arms. “Go on.”

“I came here to run an experiment; I won’t deny that. The experiment was supposed to explore the possibility of creating an AI that could adapt to its environment. At first, we were making progress but then something changed. A virus appeared in the software and all hell broke loose,” she turned away. “I must take full responsibility for everything that’s taken place.”

She’s leaving something out, Matson thought. Something very important but she sounds very sincere.

Matson’s thoughts were interrupted by flickering lights and a tremor that toppled the empty pods and broke equipment away from their floor mounts. “We need to get out of here and fast. I saw an door built into the outer shell. Do you know where it leads?”

“Yes,” Burke replied. “When the tremors first began, our seismic scanners indicated that the substrata had broken through to an underground cavern. The outpost engineers surveyed it and found it contained a breathable atmosphere so an airlock was installed. We had barely begun exploring it when our problems began.”

“Let’s go,” Matson said. “This place is about to come down around our ears.”

Lights and Shadows Update #7

“No, I think I’m okay.”

“Wrong answer.” He yelled back, making his way through the equipment. The ceiling collapse had done a moderate amount of damage to the laboratory, but not enough to block his progress. When he stepped inside, he was surprised to see how little this room was affected. It didn’t take him long to find Finch busily studying the pods and breaking a laundry list of procedures in the process. She’s young and enthusiastic, he thought as he reached into a belt pouch and tossed her a pair of latex gloves.

“Listen, if you insist on recklessly touching things before making sure they are safe, at least take some precautions.” He said, tapping a small pin on his left shirt pocket that was blinking in a steady blue and white rhythm. “There’s still a lot going on down here that we don’t know about and I don’t like how our biohazard sensors are going off.”

She looked down at her shirt before nodding. “Sorry, this is just so fascinating that I wasn’t thinking. Why would they put themselves in a stasis pod?”

He bent down and examined the equipment connected to the pods. “It looks like they intended to hold up in this room until help arrived. The question becomes why.”

“I don’t think we’re going to get anything out of them in their present state.”

He straightened and brushed some dust from his trouser legs. “Agreed. The next question becomes how to wake them up without killing them. Whoever put this configuration together knew what they were doing.”

“Well, with the way back up out of commission, we have plenty of time to figure out our options.”

“Perhaps.”

On the surface, a lone flyer, buffeted by the fierce sandstorm, held its position over the facility grounds while depositing a trapezoidal box on the ground. The box unfolded a set of legs and skittered around the main building before coming to rest at the communications array. The legs buried themselves in the sand while connectors extended from the device’s body and made contact with the array’s antenna and power supply while a small antenna with a flashing blue tip rose from its top.

“I miss my old job,” Matson remarked as he connected a y-shaped cable between the two pods and a portable terminal that they had wheeled in from the lab. “Chasing bad guys was infinitely preferable to stalking places like this, never knowing if something creepy was going to jump out of the shadows any minute.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Finch replied, smiling as she booted up the terminal. “After all, you have an advantage over the rest of the Galaxy.”

“Which is?”

“Me.”

He made a show of throwing his hands up in mock celebration. “Watch out, Milky Way.”

“Just when I think I’m starting to know you, you change gears on me.” The small grin dawning on her face betrayed the sharpness of her criticism. She set the data tablet aside as the terminal’s screen lit up with a full colored status display. “Okay, the data connection to the pod systems is online and transmitting telemetry. Man, this is some complicated stuff.”

Matson took a moment to admire his handiwork. “The trick will be to vent the bio-suspension mist without shorting out the entire life support system in the process.”

She blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Whoever set this up used a containment protocol that hasn’t been in use for at least twenty years. The reason that mist suspension systems were phased out was due to their unstable reactive properties when exposed to electricity.” He waved a hand. “They went out of their way to isolate themselves from the rest of the outpost systems.” He noticed her jaw drop. “What?”

“Nothing, I’m surprised that you have such a grasp of high-tier electronic systems.”

He smirked. “Yeah, I’m full of surprises.” He steadied himself against the conference table as a tremor shock wave shook the walls around them. “Have you figured out the revival protocol yet?”

“I’ve almost got it.” Finch frowned as she worked through a series of combinations. “The layers of encryption they used here are astounding and I mean, astounding in a pain in the butt kind of way. Decrypting the station logs was easier by far.”

“I’d say to work faster, but there’s not much point to it.” Matson sat down at the conference table and put his boots up. “Well, at least until the walls start tumbling down around us.”

“Your optimism is reassuring.”

He leaned back in the chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “I prefer to do my ranting and raving from within the confines of my own head. Outside of that, I’m all about calm and collected.” He pulled out a small cloth sleep mask from a belt pouch and put it on. “Wake me when you make some progress.”

“You’re taking a nap at a time like this?”

Tilting up the mask from his eyes, he shrugged. “We need to conserve our strength since we’re cut off from all our supplies and trying to climb up an unstable elevator shaft isn’t wise.” He stole a glance at the doorway. “On the other hand, there is that door I found in the stasis pod room. Obviously, it leads somewhere, but I’m not inclined to try opening it without more information.”

“So, you get to sleep and I get to work? Is that what I’m sensing here?”

He replaced the mask over his eyes. “I’m liking you already.”

Finch growled to herself as she turned back to her work. “Just wonderful.”

Time passed before he was jolted awake by another tremor that shook loose the overhead acoustic tiles and sent them down to the floor in a dusty rain of broken composites. He coughed as he brushed the dust away. A quick check on his watch showed that only an hour had passed since he first closed his eyes. Angered, he stood. Finch was still hard at work at the terminal, caked in tile dust mixed with sweat. Watching her determination at solving the problem softened his attitude. She’s a good kid, he thought as he watched her work. She doesn’t deserve to be in a mess like this so I need to make sure that she comes out of it in one piece. Of course, she’ll never know how much I value her abilities and that bottomless reservoir of cheerful optimism she carries around.

“If you’re going to stand there behind me, you may as well do something useful.” She said, her eyes not leaving the screen. “Tell me more about that door you found in the stasis pod room.”

“Not much to tell.” He replied. “Someone cut and mounted an airlock door into the outer wall. As far as I know, there’s nothing beyond it but bedrock and dirt.”

“So, it could be a way out?”

He nodded. “It’s a possibility, but then again it could lead nowhere.” Another tremor rattled their surroundings. “On the other hand, if these tremors keep up, eventually the power’s going to fail and take the life support system down with it.” He paused to listen to the walls creak as the stress to their structural joints mounted. “This may be a converted space station hull, but even nano-welded steel has to give way to the physics of metal fatigue.”

“Well, we can’t just leave these two in stasis while the station collapses down around them,” Finch said. “It’s just not right.”

Try as he might, Matson couldn’t find a flaw in her argument.

“All right then, we need to figure out how to revive them and then find a way out of here.” He studied the stasis pods. “Whoever designed these things never made the Off Switch easy to find.”

Finch looked up. “What did you say?”

“I was making a facetious comment about the lack of an easy to find Off Switch.” Matson circled to the pods’ rear sections. “It would be ridiculous to not include a manual override in the design configuration.”

Finch slapped the side of the terminal. “Of course,” She exclaimed. “That’s why I’ve been chasing my tail trying to figure out the software module. It doesn’t do anything other than provide an exercise in futility. It doesn’t actually do anything. This entire facility seems to be configured to misdirect and confuse anyone who isn’t part of the staff.”

“That’s about par for the course for Alliance Intelligence,” Matson said. “They never tell the whole story. A piece here, a dollop there, but never more than enough to piss you off or make you go elsewhere. Plans within plans.”

“I, for one, am tired of playing this particular game.” She joined him. “Any ideas where the real control modules might be?”

Matson shook his head as he crouched to study the cable connections. The plug fittings were standard issue, but as he traced a finger under the smooth base, he felt a thick coat of enamel paint that felt out of place. Why paint over a perfectly good cover material? He moved his finger along until it stopped at a small depression marking a perpendicular seam. He reached for his belt pouches, but the knife he was expecting was missing. Damn it, he thought, I must have dropped it during one of our elevator shaft climbs. “Finch, do you have your knife handy?”

She handed him a small flattened black rod. The rod was covered in a spongy material that molded itself to his grip and when he pressed a single button on its midsection, a double-edged silver blade popped out. He scratched away the paint around the depression until he had cleared enough to insert the tip. A quick twist and a cover section pulled free from the housing, revealing a small control panel hidden inside. He set the piece aside and motioned to Finch to repeat his action.

“This isn’t what I expected,” He said as he examined the controls. “Simple toggle switches with status lights and a few digital meters. Blatantly low tech considering what they were working with.” He flipped a switch, watching for a response. When none came, he let out a small sigh. “More window dressing.”

Finch opened the other pod’s control panel. “Zack, I found a small wireless controller in this one. I think whoever set this up intended for the pods to talk to each other, but I can’t see the purpose behind it.”

Matson smirked. “More tricks. What were they guarding against?”

Finch shrugged as she continued her examination. “I couldn’t tell you the answer to that. All I can say is that they created a closed loop system independent of the outpost systems.” She flipped a switch and received the same result for her trouble. “Well, that went nowhere. Any change over there?”

He studied the control panel and noticed a slight flickering across the column of lights. He flipped the first switch again with no effect. “A slight flicker, but nothing significant. There has to be a pattern to this.” He stood and walked around the pods, taking note of the portable power generator. “Unless we’re supposed to simply pull the plug.”

“I wouldn’t advise it,” She replied. “Based on my readings, if the pods aren’t properly shut down, the power stored in their capacitors may spontaneously discharge and if that happens, I wouldn’t make any future plans.”

“Someone disabled the safety interrupts?”

Finch checked her readings again. “More like removed them completely. Why would someone do that?”

Matson started pacing in a figure eight between the two pods, his mind ticking over and over as he studied the equipment. Someone went to a lot of effort to not only isolate them from the rest of the outpost systems but also to make them nigh on impervious to tampering. But why? The corners of his mouth turned upward as he noticed Finch watching him from the corner of his right eye. He pushed the visual cues back down as another tremor shook the walls. He inspected the two control panels and the cable connections to the power generator. Nothing seemed amiss and although unusual, very logical in the placements. When he got to the wireless controller on the second pod, he stopped. The gray device was larger than he expected, filling up an eight inch by eight inch square section near the top rear of the pod and attached in place by magnetic clamps.

“I’ve already gone over that piece of equipment,” Finch remarked. “There’s nothing unusual about it.”

“Except the size.”

She shrugged. “It’s probably an older model they scavenged to put this system together.”

“Scavenged? Here? I highly doubt that.” He leaned in to peer at the controller’s casing. “No, there’s something else going on with this thing.” A set of scratches near the underside caught his eye. “Did you happen to notice these scratches?”

Finch turned her gaze back down at her screens. “I noted them, but I thought they were the by-product of a hasty installation. Why do you ask?”

“A good investigator considers everything as a clue until it has been ruled out.” Matson explained as he continued to study the scratch pattern. A chill shivered through him before he jumped away from the pods and began another search for hidden projectors. It was redundant, to be sure, but better safe than sorry.

“You’re turning paranoid.”

“I’m being careful.” He waved away a wisp of dust that shook loose from the ceiling and danced around his head. As he suspected, no hidden projectors, but the scratches had to come from somewhere. Perhaps something prior to the accident that befell the outpost. Perhaps in the next room. The pile of unanswered questions grew steadily by the hour and his patience dwindled in direct proportion. “You should learn to use your senses more and rely on technology less.”

“Spoken like a true Retro Man.”

“My upbringing is as it was,” He replied, tracing a finger over the scratches as he leaned in to examine them in more detail. The magnetic clamps caught his eye and his attention turned to their mounts. “This is strange. The magnetic clamps are screwed in place.”

Finch took a nearby magnifier and joined him. “Definitely a strange way to keep them from going anywhere.” She paused, her ear hovering over the controller. “No hum.”

“Trionic circuitry crystals resonate at a frequency higher than we can detect,” Matson said. “Only the Parans can natively perceive it.”

“It took interacting with humans to get them to travel outside of Pi1 Pegasi.” She replied. She paused, looking down at her data tablet as each active monitor blanked out in rapid succession to be replaced by a standard login screen bearing a spinning corporate logo. “The data links just went down.”

“Can you get back in?”

She typed on the keyboard for several minutes. “I’m trying, but the system’s not letting me back in. Try your access.” She moved aside to let him at the terminal.

Matson bent over the keyboard and typed in his codes. The screen acknowledged his inputs before abruptly flashing an access denied message in large red letters. He let out a grunt before placing his hands behind his back. “I had a feeling that this was going to happen.”

“You think Stein is behind this?”

“I’m practically sure of it. He probably set our access codes to time out. The bastard knew that we were going to be accessing sensitive data, but to be fair, he probably didn’t predict our current circumstances.” He looked over at the pods. “Getting those open just got a little more complicated.”

A glowing blue orb floated through the doorway. It paused in midair as if studying them before moving over and around the two pods. A couple of orbits later, it stopped in the center of the room.

Finch looked at Matson. “It couldn’t be.”

Metaphor Monday

Note: A special thanks to the folks at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/metaphor for the dictionary definition of today’s topic.

Oxford Dictionary defines the term Metaphor as follows:

NOUN

1A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable:

“’I had fallen through a trapdoor of depression,” said Mark, who was fond of theatrical metaphors’

‘her poetry depends on suggestion and metaphor’

1.1A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract:

‘the amounts of money being lost by the company were enough to make it a metaphor for an industry that was teetering’

That being said, on with today’s discussion…

Metaphors add flair to what may be otherwise dull and lackluster prose. Let’s face it, when you are trying to show and not tell, adding a little spice to your wordage can reap dividends when using dialog and exposition to their fullest potential.

In Corona, I use very subtle metaphors to foreshadow future events with the story and how my Present Day characters deal with events that aren’t very Present Day.

In The Three Safeties, I use a time machine not only as a plot device to move back and forth between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Worlds but also as a metaphor for changing perspectives within the plot.

In Vessel, the use of certain metaphors within the plot allow for my main characters to transcend their surroundings and explore new ways of thinking and acting.

In Parallax, Space itself is a metaphor for Life and each light-year traveled is a step forward for my main characters and how they must adapt to new circumstances and grow from each experience.

What are your thoughts on using metaphors? Feel free to add to the discussion with your comments and remember that all of my books are available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback formats.