Parallax Update #12

Yep, another Parallax Update, and this one is on the heels of breaking the 90,000-word mark for a total of 91,682 words or 367 pages if you prefer. As always, enjoy:

On the surface, the procedure was fairly straightforward. A special helmet fitted with miniature surgical tools was slowly placed over Pratt’s head, the full-color screen rotated by the surgeon for the most optimal angle as anesthetic spikes were inserted into his skull. Other than a slight tingling at the base of his neck, he felt nothing.

The Surgeon, a young woman with a deft touch and a calming voice behind her surgical mask spoke to him while she used the screen to direct the tools of her trade. Covered from head to toe in a white surgical suit except for her pale eyes, her gaze never left the screen as she spoke. “So, Lieutenant, the rumor is that you’ve spent some time with The Locknar. That must have been interesting.”

Pratt fought to keep from moving his head. “It had its moments, Doctor.” He felt his right eye twitch. “Everything okay, Doc?”

“Not to worry.” She replied. “Your passenger is making it difficult to get a lock on.” Her breathing quickened as she fought to tighten down a set of cross hairs on her target. She turned to her assistant watching from a nearby console. “Bill, adjust the Lateral Servo Sensitivity by Point-Oh-Three. There, that seems to have done it.” She frowned. “Damn it, the thing just detached from the cell wall and is about to become a floater.”

“I’m picking up increased thermal output from the object, Doctor.”

Pratt’s eyes moved as far right as he could make them go. He felt a tingling behind his eyes and his voice pitch rose. “Doctor, is there a problem? The back of my head feels funny.”

“Bill, I need you to adjust the anesthetic another 5 points.” Another nurse gently swabbed around her eyes as her sweat began to leak out from under her head gear. “Damn you.” She muttered as she worked her controls. “Be nice and let me snag you.”

Pratt stiffened in the chair as his right eye’s vision went dark. “Doc? Would this be a bad time to tell you that I’m blind in my right eye?”

“I was afraid of that.” The Surgeon adjusted her controls and his vision resumed as normal. “Your little friend is trying very hard to thwart my efforts to get a capture beam on it. I apologize if I cause you any unnecessary discomfort.”

“Look Doc, if you have to cut into something to get that thing, do it.” Pratt felt his irritation rising. “But do me a favor and leave the Flight School lessons and some hand-eye motor control. Drool is not attractive in a cockpit.”

The Surgeon’s dance with the tracking device went on for several more minutes before she finally grabbed it. “Bill, what are the thermal readings?”

“Still rising. If you don’t get that out of him within the next sixty seconds, the heat’s going to start cooking his tissues. I’m also reading elevated ketone levels in the surrounding tissues.”

She leaned over next to Pratt’s left ear. “Lieutenant, I’m going to need you to remain perfectly still while I extract the object. I have reason to believe that it is reacting to my capture field by inducing ketosis in your brain and neural tissues.”

“Doc, ketosis creates acetone. Are you saying that this thing trying to turn me into a spontaneous combustion bomb?”

The Assistant looked over, his eyes filled with caution. “The evidence would appear to suggest that, Lieutenant. Doctor, I recommend we sound the Bio-Hazard Alert and clear this section at once. If he explodes before you finish-”

“The explosion could blow out most of this section.” The Surgeon reached over and hit a large red button that sounded an alarm. Pendrake ushered the rest of the medical staff and patients out as two large blast doors came down behind her, sealing the room from the rest of the station.

She turned back as alarm volumes rose exponentially to an ear-splitting level. The tracking device, now grown to the size of a pea with six small grabber legs, was trying very hard to pull itself free of the magnetic field that held it fast. She caught a fruity odor coming up from the surgical site and shuddered. If the acetone levels were strong enough to emit such a strong scent, she didn’t have much time. She began pulling the device away. As she did so, she noticed the beginnings of light tissue scarring left behind. It didn’t look very serious, but as one of the device’s legs broke off, she worried about retrieving it and applied a second field. The device began to pulse, its matte black casing visibly flexing in an out as it left Pratt’s skull and into a sealed specimen jar along with the broken leg fragment. “Bill, grab that thing and eject it into Space while we still have time.”

The Assistant froze. “You want me to do it?”

“Jesus Christ,” Pratt swore. “I’d do it if I wasn’t otherwise occupied.”

The Surgeon grabbed the jar from the machine and ran to a small ejection port. She pulled open the chute door and flung the jar inside. A couple of key presses and they watched the jar floating away from the station before it exploded in a bright flash that cracked the armored windows. The crack expanded for several more agonizing seconds before a set of automatic shutters came down and prevented the inevitable breach.

She heaved a sigh of relief and returned to her assistant. “You picked a hell of a time to show how cowardly you can be, Bill.” She pointed to his console. “Get over there if you can manage that without falling apart.”

After double-checking her work, she applied a sealing paste to Pratt’s skull before closing the skin. “I believe I got all of it, Lieutenant, but I would like to keep you here for observation to make sure there are no lingering after effects.”

“How long?”

“Three or four days is standard for this type of operation.” She said. She turned and glared at her assistant. “Shut off those damned alarms. The Danger’s past now and notify maintenance about the window breach.” Her voice softened as she removed her mask, revealing a not-unattractive woman with strong and slim African features and a quick smile that she favored him with. “You need rest, Lieutenant.”

“What I need is to get out of here if someone would get this thing off my head.” Pratt retorted. “No offense, Doc, and I appreciate what you did for me, but I’ve had my fill of people poking, prodding, shooting, stabbing, and climbing around inside my fucking head.” He threw his hands up as far as his restraints would allow. “I’m done and I fucking quit.”

“Fair enough.” She raised the surgical helmet from his head and released the restraints. “Once I clear you for Duty, you may leave.” She placed a hand on his arm. “Oh, and watch the language. I may appear sweet and kind, but I will tear you a new one if you provoke me. Do I make myself clear, Mister?”

It was at that moment that Pratt noticed the silver eagles on her uniform collar. He gave her a perfunctory attention stance. “Very clear, Ma’am. Permission to leave?”

She smiled. “As soon as the blast doors are cleared. Have a seat.”

Parallax Update #11

Kicking off September with an update on Parallax is a special joy of mine. Here is where we stand on the story:

1) Word Count: Parallax is now at 87,916 words, or 352 pages if you prefer. This is significant because it now exceeds my original target length by almost 500 words and keeps climbing. I am anticipating another 8000-9000 words until the story is complete and ready to go to Amazon.

2) Deadline: I’m well ahead of my September 30 Deadline and I couldn’t be happier. It’s no secret that I detest deadlines, but I’ve come to regard them as necessary inducements to achieving the results that I want, namely the completion of this project and on to the next story I want to tell. The end justifies the means.

3) Sequels: Yes, there will be sequels. The original storyline was way too much to cram into one book and I’ve decided to spread it out over three books.

That’s the Big Three and now on to an excerpt:

“I’m not buying that mystical stuff he layed on me back in M’Tat.” Pratt replied. “He told me that the device was disabled for a short time.” He tapped his wrist. “Tick Tock.”

“I don’t understand.”

Pratt rolled his eyes. “It means that we’re wasting time while this joker is about to make their escape.” He looked behind them. “I see an access tunnel behind us that looks like it links all of the escape exits. I’ll go at him from the front, while you circle around through the tunnel and catch him if he gets past me.”

Zeoko nodded and disappeared. Pratt took a deep breath. “Jack, my boy.” He muttered to himself. “It’s now or never.”

He was careful not to get too close to anyone, else his disguise come undone. Koren and The Hegemon were still debating below as he made his way toward the exit to block The Traitor. A part of his mind observed dispassionately how the scene reminded him of old movies where the Good Guy raced against Time to beat the Bad Guy and save the day. He reached the exit and blocked it.

“Sir, I think you should remain to hear the end of the speech.” He said, hoping that the disguise would enhance his voice to match the facade. He raised his hands, remembering too late that holographic claws were very different from real ones as he looked up. “I insist.”

The Traitor, Sartung, snarled and raised his claws. “Out of my way, Fool, do you know who I am?”

The words jarred Pratt and something inside his mind snapped. “I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are, Pal. All I know is that you caused a great deal of misfortune to come down on my friends and I won’t allow that. Turn around.”

Sartung lunged forward and although Pratt dodged the attack easily, one of the Locknar’s limbs came into contact with his holographic disguise and disrupted it to the point of shutting down.

The whole room went deathly silent as Zeoko appeared and attached a restraining collar around Sartung’s neck before he could struggle free. “Jack, I warned you.”

“Koren consorts with our enemy.” Sartung shouted, struggling against the collar’s influence. “He is the real traitor, not me.”

Koren shook his head. “I did not want to reveal John Pratt’s being here in this way. However, he is here and has been helping our people fight the unknown enemy hiding amongst us.”

“This is a severe breach of Protocol, Lord Koren.” The Hegemon said. “Tread carefully because your words and actions are suspect from this moment on.”

“I will make my case.” Koren turned and looked at Zeoko. “Bring him down here. Jack, you come with her. I need you.”

The Hegemon stopped the guards from detaining Pratt. “This human is very brave to come here. Let us hear what he has to say for himself.”

“Great. No pressure.” Pratt muttered as he followed Zeoko as she guided Sartung down the stairs with a handheld controller. As they passed the other delegates, Pratt realized from their expressions that many had never seen the face of who they had been told were their enemy. He kept his expression neutral. I wonder if this is one of those moments that go down in History, he thought to himself. He looked down at his clothes. If so, I hope the historians will embellish a little because I look like crap.

The tension in the room was fast reaching manic proportions as all eyes turned toward the spectacle happening below. I need to do something, Pratt thought. Then it occurred to him and he crouched into the start position for the Ritual of Greeting. His movements were a little clumsy, but competent as he swept through each step. As he finished the last step, he noticed Koren nodding his approval. The Hegemon blinked and gave a grudging nod.

“You have studied our ways well, Human. Your diligence and bravery in both learning Protocol and coming here speaks well of you.” He tapped the claw on the floor twice. “However, despite you impressing me, you are still an enemy of the Locknar Hegemony and must be dealt with.”

“He is the Lion of Pegasi.” Koren stated for the benefit of all, making Pratt cringe. “Let him speak.”

“Koren, for Hades’ Sake.” Pratt sighed. “Your Majesty-”

“Hegemon.”

“Whatever.” Pratt said. “I have guns pointed at me so semantics mean squat at this point. Sir, I was a member of my military until an encounter with The Signiferians put me on a new path.” He walked over near Sartung but just out of reach. “I can’t speak for this gentleman’s motivations but for me, I’ve learned to recognize my enemies.” As he spoke, Pratt noticed a muscle twitch under Sartung’s neck scales. It was imperceptible at first, but it didn’t match Sartung’s defiant body language. An idea came to him and he decided to run with it. “Zeoko, restrain his arms. I want to check something.”

“Hegemon, the human lies.” Sartung yelled. “Our intelligence on him shows that he is an officer in the United Earth Union Navy. What is the word of a man who has a history of murdering our people?” He snarled as Pratt drew closer, his fangs gleaming as he bared them. “Get away from me, Human, or I will bite you despite this twice-damned restraining collar.”

“Jack, I advise caution.” Koren said, holding himself back. “The restraint collar is not a foolproof device and Sartung is well-regarded for his martial prowess.”

“In for a penny, in for a pound.” Pratt muttered as he avoided Sartung’s snapping jaws and gently bent the Locknar’s head to one side to expose the neck scales. Once an evolutionary nod to an amphibian past, the neck scales became vestigial coverings for ancient gills. He separated the stiff scales with his hands until he found a spot at the base of the green skin. The spot had turned the skin around it to a sickly gray and he felt Sartung wince as he gently probed the wound site with a finger. Something hard moved under the skin. He released the scales and stepped back. “This man has been implanted.”

“Impossible.” The Hegemon stated. “My people outlawed the use of control implants long ago. You must be mistaken.”

Pratt pointed to Sartung’s neck. “Then how do you explain this?” He then pointed above them as Signiferian ships once again made their way down to Planet Chaos. “And this?”

The Hegemon’s wizened face darkened. “It took a human, of all the aliens in this galaxy, to undermine such a perfect plan.” He raised his claw. “I commend you, Lieutenant Pratt, on your powers of observation. I can see our mutual foe’s interest in obtaining you.”

“I don’t follow.”

“First thing’s first.” The Hegemon thrust his claw into Sartung’s abdomen and gave it a twist, severing the spinal cord and dropping him to the floor in a bloody heap. He pulled it back out and wiped it with a red cloth. “Sartung was a loyal subject, but he thought much as you do.” The claw’s point still had flecks of Sartung’s blood on it as he turned it on Pratt. “He didn’t understand that I enacted a compromise with The Signiferians in exchange for them to leave us alone when they were finished with us.”

“You struck a deal with them?”

The Hegemon nodded. “It is my duty to protect my people, even if it is to make an agreement with our most hated ancestral enemy.” He raised the claw. “They don’t really need all of your intact, Lieutenant. They only require enough of your cellular structure to complete their work and under the circumstances, I believe that a little of something is better than all of nothing.”

“My people will be jumping into orbit within a few hours.” Pratt said. “Your plan will not succeed nor will I agree to be sliced and diced for someone’s science experiment.” He watched Koren stir but didn’t allow that knowledge to register. “This will end badly.”

“Indeed.” The Hegemon’s neck gave up a familiar twitch. “As we speak, Signiferian ships are arrayed in orbit. They have a wonderful arsenal of devices capable of capturing ships of all classes and types. When the Earth Fleet arrives, they will be captured and convinced to aid the Signiferians. The war will be over, Mr. Pratt, but not the way you probably envisioned.”

“The Gorashto Invasion was a ploy to get us in your territory.” Pratt replied. “Damn, I would have never expected that given the level of resistance you put up.”

“Seal the Assembly Chamber.” The Hegemon commanded. “No one is to leave until our business is concluded.”

From the corner of his right eye, Pratt could see the glint and glimmer of several blades pulled from discreetly concealed scabbards and sheathes among the captive delegates. None would make a move toward the guards, but the tension in the air made it abundantly clear that it wouldn’t take much to instigate a riot.

The Hegemon lunged, with more strength than Pratt would have given him credit. Pratt dodged the thrust and caught the battle staff that Koren tossed to him. Staff met Claw with an audible crack, knocking it away and giving him several opportunities to land return blows. A stray swipe from The Hegemon’s Claw caught him across the abdomen, tearing across the fabric and leaving a small red stripe of blood behind. The wound wasn’t serious, but much too close for comfort.

The Hegemon smiled while wiping a thin stream of blood from the side of his head. “You’re quite good, Mr. Pratt. I won’t underestimate you again.”

“Talk is cheap, Sir.”

They readied themselves to go again when a loud commotion on the other side of the room brought them to a halt, breathing heavily as they began scowling at each other. The High Master strolled into the Chamber, limping slightly and leaning on a staff of his own.

“Q’Sok.” The Hegemon said. “This is a long way from M’Tat and you are interrupting matters of state. Take your leave.”

The High Master raised his staff and detached it into two separate pieces. “I know exactly what I am interrupting. You forget, Sen, that my position is more than a religious distinction.”

“Yes, yes, you are The Overseer to The Throne.” The Hegemon dismissed the proclamation with a wave of his claw. “I suppose you feel you must take Lieutenant Pratt’s place in his duel?”

“I will do as I must.” The High Master put a hand on Pratt’s shoulder and with surprising strength, moved him away from the fight. “End this now, Sen, or it will be a very short fight.”

“You know the rules. Once blood has been spilled, a duel cannot be suspended. That is Protocol.”

“You have been corrupted by those who you wished to accommodate.” The High Master removed his cloak and badge of office and reverently set them aside. The next few minutes were a blur as The Hegemon seized on the moment and lunged. The High Master spun and blocked the attack, flipping The Hegemon over his left shoulder and ramming both ends of his staff into the monarch’s chest cavity. He studied the fallen leader with sadness and regret for several seconds.

“Mr. Pratt is right.” He noted. “Talk is cheap.” He turned to the delegates. “Send a message to the Stellar Alliance and copy it to our military. Tell them that we are wishing for an end to all hostilities.”

One of the delegates found the courage to stand. “High Master, are we surrendering?”

The High Master let out a tired sigh. “No, we are reintroducing sanity in a universe suffering from dementia by warfare.”

Another delegate stood. “Our people will not understand this unexpected change in attitudes.”

The High Master reconnected his staff and turned to face the speaker. “Then make them understand.” Reassuming his cloak, he turned to the guards. “Release them. All of them.” Without another word, he walked over to The Hegemon’s seat of power. “Be at peace.”

Pratt, Koren and Zeoko followed him and began peppering The High Master with questions. The High Master raised a hand to silence them. “My Children, this is but one ending to one part of a very long story. I will take over as Regent until a new Hegemon is selected.” He waved his hand. “My duty is to manage, not to rule.” He turned to Pratt. “Mr. Pratt, it has been a singular pleasure to meet you once again, but it is time for you to go. Koren, would you please return him to whence he came?”

Koren bowed. “It would be my honor.”

The trip back to Koren’s ship took less time than anyone had expected. As the skies of Mitalum faded to now-familiar nebular colors, the trio took some time to relax and enjoy a few moments of relative peace. The Cease-Fire News spread across interstellar comm channels with a speed not even the original designers could have foreseen.

“You look troubled, Jack.” Koren noted as he watched Pratt finish up some work on the ship’s computer.

Pratt swiveled around in his chair. “The Locknar are some of the strongest, most proud warriors I have ever dealt with, and yet they were co-opted by an alien race that they knew hated them. I can’t wrap my brain around that.”

Koren brought two small black equipment cases over and set them at Pratt’s feet. “Political concepts are ephemeral things. These are gifts to you and your people from me and mine.”

Pratt opened the cases and stared at the rows of neatly spaced data chips in foam container trays. “Data chips?”

“I had two copies of the mining station’s data records prepared. One set is for your use and the other is for you to deliver to your government.” Koren explained. “My people will be working very hard to root out and eliminate the Signiferians in our space. Your people need to be made aware of the threat that has undoubtedly made its way to your home.”

Pratt nodded, closing the cases. He stood and began walking from the cockpit.

“Where are you going?”

“Well, with all the commotion gone.” Pratt said. “It occurs to me that I haven’t visited a bathroom in a long time.” His pace quickened. “Excuse me.”

Parallax Update #9

Today’s regular articles have been pushed back until later so that I can share this new excerpt from Parallax, Chapter 18, in honor of breaking 80,000 words. Enjoy.

“My God.” Pratt said as they walked to the Command Center. “It’s even worse down here. What the hell happened?”

“I do not know.” Koren replied, his jaw clenched as his tail twitched behind him. “We have very strict protocols for clan conflicts, but we do not attack civilian population centers. The force fields are designed specifically to protect from such a thing. I believe that whoever attacked us was not a Locknar.”

“Not a Terran either.” Pratt replied. “Even one of our largest fusion bombs would have had trouble penetrating your force field. I’ve noticed that other than the force field perimeter, there was almost no damage or radiation to the surrounding environment. To me, that says that someone else fired on your people, Koren.”

Before Koren could continue, Zeoko ran up to him and gave a quick bow. “Koren, Thank the Universe that you weren’t attacked upon your approach.”

Koren accepted the bow. “Zeoko, what has happened here?”

Zeoko swallowed hard as she caught her breath. Once she had composed herself, she straightened her uniform cloak. “We were preparing for your arrival when these ships appeared in the sky and began firing on the compound. We had never seen such ships and initially thought they were the Terrans. However, the weapons they used were unlike anything the Terrans could have developed. The force fields were like nothing was there. Some sort of beam weapons with tremendous kinetic force potential. They targeted and fired on everything within the compound area. Males, females, younglings, no one was spared. The lucky ones were vaporized on contact. We lost over one hundred men, women, and younglings, before we could get them to shelter. For hours, this assault continued and we lost all of the surface scanners. They attempted to bore through to the underground, but then abruptly stopped and departed.”

“Black ships?”

Zeoko looked at Pratt. “Yes.”

“Shaped like spikes wrapped with curved stone?”

Her crest began to raise. “Yes, how do you know this?”

“The Signiferians.” Pratt said. “They must have gained access through your defensive network and attacked from orbit. This was a terror attack.”

“But how can you be sure?”

“They were looking for us.” Pratt said. “Or more specifically, for me. They knew I was heading here with Koren, but with the tracking device temporarily disabled, their timetable got screwed up. They may assume that I’m dead.” He sighed, his heart yearning toward the wounded. “But I wouldn’t make that assumption. Koren, this situation is spinning out of control.”

“I concur. We must assemble our forces and head to M’Tat at once.” Koren turned to Zeoko. “Have you brought support?”

Zeoko shook her head. “The Stellar Alliance has launched a new offensive based out of Zemna.” She looked at Pratt. “Your people call it Gorashto.” She didn’t wait for him to respond. “Yes, despite your excellent disguise, I figured out who you were within a few minutes.” She bowed. “Any friend of Koren’s is a friend of mine.”

Pratt returned the bow. “I am honored.”

“Our forces have been recalled to reinforce several key systems around Zemna is order to contain the Alliance advance. Koren, you and Mr. Pratt must be successful in bringing our conflict to an end. I have received reports that Alliance Forces are constructing several large scale Hyperspace Jump Stations in Gorashto. Once they are completed, they will be able to transport entire fleets into our territory as groups without warning.”

“I never thought I’d say this.” Pratt remarked. “But we need to resolve this issue before my people show up. A Terran battle fleet out for blood will be difficult to stop.”

“No time to lose.” Koren said. “We can’t take my ship because once we’re airborne we will be vulnerable. Zeoko, have you secured us ground transportation?”

She nodded. “I managed to offload one of our ground crawlers before my ships were called away. It’s going to be just the three of us going to M’Tat.”

“It will have to do.” Koren turned to Pratt. “Jack, I know you’ve been trained for this, but if you have the slightest hesitation about coming, I will understand.”

Pratt blinked. “Are you kidding? I didn’t come this far to stay behind. Let’s do this.”

The crawler lived up to its name. A matte green walker with six large legs protruding from a stout pod equipped with two bubble canopies at the front and a large turret in the center midsection, the vehicle was unlike anything Pratt had ever seen outside of ancient horror videos about monster Earth insects. The closer he walked to it, the larger it became until it dwarfed him by several feet. He reached out a hand and touched its scaly side armor. He jerked his hand back as he felt the vehicle’s skin move under his fingers.

“What is this thing made of?”

“It’s Locknar Reactive Armor.” Zeoko explained as she supervised the loading of several crates through the crawler’s open mouthed forward hatch. “It is designed to respond to most forms of force.”

Pratt gave the vehicle and light pat before allowing himself a slight shudder. “No wonder your ships were so hard to kill.”

“I wonder what you will do with the information you’ve learned once you return to your people.” Zeoko commented. “They will, of course, expect a full report.”

Pratt stared at her, open-mouthed. He took a deep breath to compose himself before closing his mouth. “Ms.

Zeoko, I can assure you that what I have learned here will never be divulged to my government. Military Intelligence only applies to the enemy and The Locknar most certainly are not my enemy.”

Zeoko nodded her approval and gestured to the open hatch as the workers departed. “Well then, Friend, shall we depart? The High Master of M’Tat is expecting our arrival and he is anxious to meet with you.”

“The High Master?”

“You’ll understand when you meet him.”

Pratt followed them to the mouth of the vehicle and climbed up a set of small steps made up the floor of the pivoting lower hatch jaw. The crawler’s interior was larger and wider than he expected and as he passed between the two control stations that Koren and Zeoko took their places in, he noted several transparent sections along the floor. In many ways, the inside of the crawler reminded him of Terran Lifter craft he had flown back on Earth. Same compact instrument clusters along the wall, same emphasis on space economy. He allowed himself a moment to explore further to the rear to discover a cargo area piled high to the top with boxes. Several equipment racks with weapons lined both sides of the rear walls while intricately packed equipment cases rested in shelves built into the ceiling area. He saw no evidence of the drive mechanism as he made his way forward, climbing up a small ladder into the upper turret. At least here, he felt useful.

“Jack, if you are finished your inspection, I would like to get going while we still have stealth on our side.”

Pratt familiarized himself with the turret controls and tapped a small white crystal that glowed when Koren spoke. “Just getting the lay of the land.” He settled into the too-big chair that wrapped itself around him with restraining tendrils that gave him more than the usual share of The Creeps. “Your restraint system leaves much to be desired.”

“You will become accustomed to it.” Koren chuckled before he signed off.

The Crawler rose up on its thick mechanical legs and moved out of the compound.

Pratt didn’t expect such a smooth ride as they traveled along a well-worn paved road past rolling green hills toward a mountain range in the distance. The rolling green soon changed to a mottled purple color as the crawler passed beyond Koren’s territory and passed the borders into M’Tat. He made a note to learn the regional names as long as he was here.

He touched the intercom crystal. “How long until we reach M’Tat?”

“A few hours at our present speed.” Koren replied. “I would take advantage of the time to get some rest. The High Master is known for testing all who seek his knowledge. Have you taken your injection?”

Pratt blinked. “Has it been 24 hours already?”

“You of all people should know that even with Hyperspace, there is a small amount of time dilation.” Koren said.

“Best to be safe and take it.”

Pratt nodded, unseen, and reached for the injector. He pressed it against his neck and gave it a squeeze, fighting off the urge to cringe from the device’s texture against his skin. “Okay, done.”

“Good, now rest. I doubt we will need to use the defensive turret here.”

“I hope you’re right.” Pratt leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. His stomach rumbled an hour later, waking him and prompting the turret’s built in food dispenser to issue him an appropriate snack. He opened the packet and found a substance not unlike a corn husk, but with a flavor similar to that of chicken. Why does everything unfamiliar seem to taste like chicken? He shrugged and ate, feeling his meal slowly expand to fill him. Locknar food was unusual, but at least it was compatible. He disposed of the packet and turned his attention outside.

M’Tat’s slate gray mountains rose in the distance over a purple plateau where the town’s geodesic domes and tall treelike spires could be seen. Pratt wasn’t accustomed to so much time on the ground, but he was learning to appreciate the unique vistas that could be seen planetside. They clanked along for several miles past rolling prairie grass that gradually transformed into thicker foilage before flattening out at the base of M’Tat’s plateau.
Koren brought the crawler to a stop and vehicle’s jaw lowered to the ground. As they stepped out, the cool mountain air of M’Tat filled the cabin as they stepped out onto the ground. The air smelled sweet from the fragrance of some unknown Mitalum flower. The gray soil crunched beneath their boots as they crossed a purple forest of bulb topped trees that bordered their stopping point. They walked toward a crowd of Locknar that were assembling nearby to listen to another speak on a floating platform. No one turned to notice them as they walked past, heading toward a tall gray temple with ornate markings adorning a large bronze colored set of double doors with heavy knockers on either side.

“The High Master does well for himself.” Pratt said.

“Don’t be disrespectful, Jack.” Koren admonished him. “This is a sacred place among my people. The High Master has counseled many of our leaders for centuries.”

“Centuries?”

“That is no exaggeration. It is said that the High Master’s lineage is blessed with extremely long life. It has often speculated that he himself was around during the time of The Great Exodus.”

“That sounds like an exaggeration to me.”

“Silence yourself until spoken to and then speak with the utmost respect.” Koren said as he reached for both knockers and gave them a shake against the doors. They heard an echo from the other side of the door.

“Maybe they’re out to Lunch?”

“Jack.” Koren warned.

“Okay, okay, I’ll behave.” Pratt noticed Zeoko stifling a grin in his direction as she watched the exchange. He turned away and studied the town behind them, pausing to watch a few mottled clouds migrate across the sky.
The Temple doors without a sound and a Locknar barely Pratt’s height appeared in the wide doorway. The purple-robed man appeared older, more ancient than any that Pratt had seen up to now. A large medallion hung around his neck on a thick chain, yet its weight stooped him over not a bit. He bowed to Koren and then turned to Pratt.

“It is good to see you again, Young Warrior. My many thanks to you for your efforts.”

“My efforts?” Pratt asked. “I think you may have me confused with someone else. I don’t believe we’ve ever met before.” He thought for a moment. “You must be whom they call The High Master.”

“We have met before.” The High Master spoke with such certainty that Pratt was tempted to believe him. “But not yet.” He gestured inward. “Please come inside. We have much to talk about and Mr. Pratt, you may turn off your projector. Locknar power sources have long lives, but even they will run down when used for extended periods.”

“But how?”

Koren turned to him. “He is The High Master. His knowledge can transcend much of our understanding.”

“Transcend my-” Pratt caught a glance from the priest and switched off the projector after following the others through the doorway. The heavy doors closed behind them with authority. “Of course, after you.”

Parallax Update #7

Hey Guys,

No excerpt this time, just a few announcements on where I am with Parallax.

1) Word Count: Broke 70,000 words earlier today from a projected target of 87,500. The final count will most likely be higher but this translates down to approximately five more chapters left to go before the current draft is complete and I can start editing and rewriting.

2) Indiegogo: I started the campaign to raise funds for a professional editor and cover designer. The first campaign raised a few dollars, but the current one isn’t doing squat. That’s okay though because nothing ventured nothing gained. I won’t put my books on hold because I can’t afford an expensive editor and cover designer and won’t put myself in extra debt unnecessarily. I have experience in editing and will make the most of what resources I can provide. The stories cost me little to nothing to create and I’ll upgrade as they start to pay for themselves. You can check out the campaign at: Parallax Series Editor and Cover Designer

3) Deadline: I made a vow that I would publish four books by the end of 2015. So far, I have put out three novelettes on Amazon (Still counts), and Parallax is almost finished. I’m currently in the Third Quarter of the year so I don’t have to get Number Four completed until the end of September. My plan is still to get Parallax done by July 31 so there’s still some wiggle room, time-wise.

Well, that’s about it for now. Thanks for your time and feel free to leave comments and suggestions. 🙂

Parallax Update #5

Just broke 60,000 words on Parallax today and I am excited about where the story is going. It is gratifying to see that which was previously just an idea in my mind coming to life on the Blank Page and I am over the Moon right now how everything is coming together so well.

So, in honor of this particular milestone, Here is an excerpt from Chapter 16 for your reading enjoyment:

Chaffee Park was just as he remembered it, though it was a far cry from where he knew he should be. One of seven converted agridomes that ringed Earth Station One’s spindle shaped main section, the wide domes supplemented the station’s life support systems with oxygen from the botanical gardens as well as providing crew and visitors with an often needed reminder of life back home while presenting a breathtaking view of Mars’s Northern Hemisphere, complete with a snowy icecap courtesy of terraforming efforts.
Terraforming efforts? He thought as he felt grass crunch under his shoes. Wait a minute, that was almost a decade ago, when I stopped by for a visit prior to graduating from the Academy. Back then, he was just a guy with a Bachelor’s in Physics and overbearing naval officers for parents. Crap, I’m still in the simulation. Still, the attention to detail was extraordinary, he noted to himself as he slapped at what felt like an insect bite on his neck. He stopped at a red faux wood railing that ringed the base of the geodesic dome windows and looked out at Mars while clusters of small lights suspended on overhead cables added a subtle of twinkling lighting effects.
He felt another insect bite, this time through his blue cadet uniform shirt. His memories ticked over, comparing what he knew then with what he knew now. The automated microbots that tended the agridomes were designed to maintain pollination, not bite visitors. He sensed a pause in the simulation as the operating system detected new data and adjusted itself accordingly. The insect bites stopped, but his clothing fabric felt rougher as it moved over his skin. Tricky little bastards.
Still, the view was nice after so long out on the frontiers of Union Space, so he allowed himself to drink in the vista and lose himself in the moment. As he put his hands on the railing to lean against it, he felt a prickly sensation go up his spine and spread across his lower back like centipedes on a forced march. He suspected that They were doing something to his real body, out there somewhere separate from the consciousness they were trying to pacify with pretty flowers and meadows.
“Quite a view, eh?”
Pratt turned to see a security officer dressed in a gray two piece uniform standing next to him. The officer didn’t turn to look down at him, but he could tell the man was of hardy stock and apparently well armed by the oversized sidearm he carried in a shoulder holster strapped across his right shoulder. I don’t remember this guy, he thought, but what the hell. I’ll play the part for a while. “Taking leave on Phobos Station was definitely worth the Union Credits.”
“Indeed.” The officer turned to face him, his face eerily familiar as he spoke in a low rumbling voice. There was something familiar about the way he spoke. Something very familiar. “I understand that on a clear day, you can see the ice miners working at Planum Australe. It can be most breathtaking if one allows their emotions to have sway.”
“Planum Australe? But that’s the South Pole.” Pratt started and caught himself. “Oh, I see. Yes, I would imagine that it would be quite interesting.”
The officer nodded with a sly smile, tipped his cap, and strolled away.
So, there is a way to throw a monkey wrench into this system, Pratt thought as he busied himself by pretending to stare out the windows. Now to make this work for me.
Time, he learned, had no meaning in this place. Even the digital clocks that normally proclaimed the local time in brilliant block letters appeared to him as clear squares and ovals showed only a jumble of numbers and letters, making them useless for timekeeping. He already figured out that his thoughts dictated what appeared so he experimented on small yet simple objects that he hoped wouldn’t appear out of place to his captors. His first attempts at directly influencing the system met with failure as the simulation paused and adapted, frustrating his efforts once again.
“I’m stuck in a god damned computer game.” He muttered as he took a seat in one of several that ringed the center of the park, shaded by specially grown and planted fruit trees. Frustrated, he bent over and pulled at his hair, feeling it longer than he imagined. He plucked out a hair and was surprised at no sensation of pain. There should be pain. God damn it, he thought, the bastards won’t even allow me some self-inflicted pain. He felt a flush of anger flow through him and although the simulation paused, the pause was longer and brought everything around him to a complete stop. Strong emotions, he thought, could it be that simple?
Two medical technicians dressed in long white uniforms, shiny black boots, and red crosses on their sleeves appeared in front of him. Their faces were covered by surgical masks, but they came overly equipped with medical trauma kits and a stretcher on wheels. He looked up.
“I’m fine. Go away.”
The taller of the two looked down at Pratt. “We received a call of a medical emergency here. Are you feeling all right, Sir?”
Pratt nodded. The system was confused by his new inputs and was using its own constructs to deal with it. “I said I was fine.” He raised his hands. “It’s a beautiful day, not a care in the world.”
“Would you come with us, Sir? We would like to give you a checkup to be sure.”
Pratt pointed to their equipment. “You have half a hospital strapped around your necks. Why don’t you use that?”
“Please come with us, Sir.”
Pratt’s anger rose, making the simulation flicker to the point where large patches of scenery were being replaced by large black squares. He jumped to his feet and raised his fists. “Why don’t you make me?”
The taller of the two medtechs stepped up and placed a hand on Pratt’s shoulder, earning an arm around the back and a push away for his trouble. The second got a lesson in acrobatics as he rushed forward and found himself flipped over Pratt’s back to land heavily on the other side. More and more medtechs appeared and Pratt found himself in an ever increasing brawl that was approaching epic proportions. The fighting fueled his anger and more importantly, the simulation was becoming a vast dark void with him at the center and growing angrier from each encounter. He began to hear a ringing in his ears as the simulation ground to a complete halt.
He opened his eyes and heard alarms ringing all around him. He was in an isolation tube, similar to a Quarantine Pod, but connected to bank of alien electronics that he had never seen before. He ripped out a large collection of connecting tendrils and punched and kicked at the sides of the tube until, by pure blind luck, he managed to hit something that flung the front of the pod open. He climbed out of the pod and found himself confronted by a pair of cloaked aliens. His first punch landed solidly on the lead alien’s head and he felt the bones in his right hand creak as they struck something solid and very unyielding. During the struggle, the cloak’s hood came down and revealed an expressionless metallic face made of a material that reminded him of liquid metal as it turned its head to grab hold of him. He was soon overpowered by the pair and as they tried to forced him back into the pod, he spied a power cable that ran from the pod and only a kick away. He struggled free long enough to give it a good couple of solid kicks. The cable broke free from the pod and began to flail about like a wild fire hose before coming into contact with the flooring. Pratt swung his legs up as the cable’s power surge passed along the floor and completed a circuit with his two opponents. They immediately released him and reached for the offending cable as their internal circuits melted and fused. Eventually, the cable finished discharging its contents and the pair fell inert to the floor. Pratt swung himself down and surveyed the damage.
“The Signiferians use robots.” He observed. “Another question to add to the list.” He straightened his clothing, rubbed some feeling back into his sore hand, and went in search of Koren.
Even in suspended animation, the Locknar was still defiant with claws outstretched and pressed against the pod’s door. It took a few minutes to figure out how to open the pod, but once Pratt got it open, he reached inside to rouse his comrade.
And got a large clawed hand around his throat for his trouble. Choking and gasping, Pratt shook Koren as best he could.

Plug and Chug

When I was in college, not so long ago, I got to know many of my professors very well. One in particular, a Social Science Professor, used to share with me during Office Hours his particular frustrations regarding writing academic papers on days when the energy level isn’t very high and inspiration is in short supply.

The expression that he frequently used with me was “Plug and Chug”, which basically meant that you keep writing even though you may not particularly feel like it because when you push yourself, you achieve results whether you believe it at the time or not. As Writers, we often want to write when we feel that rush of creative passion, but if you wait only for those passionate times, the end result is a lot of unfinished stories and many many blank pages.

Hey, even Hemingway once said that all First Drafts are shit, but anything written can be rewritten and in my personal experience, once you start on it, you will eventually jog something loose in the Old Brainpan that kickstarts your creativity.

So, grab your coffee, smoke if you got em, and fire up that word processor. Ever Forward.