November 1, 2017

It has become a tradition for me to post my first day’s NaNoWriMo output here on this blog. Some years I’m happier with it than others; this time around I’m very happy with the idea, but no so keen on the execution. Maybe ok for a first draft (and hey, isn’t that what NaNoWriMo is all about?) but I’ve done better. This has the makings of a quiet, personal story, but this is November so at any minute someone may transplant an alien consciousness into the cat and off we go.

I’ll try to do right by Max and Fucking Cat another time. Oh, and by the way, there’s some profanity coming up.

Max woke from a dream of a rainstorm of needles to find Fucking Cat tearing at his face with age-worn claws. He pushed the cat away with his left arm — his organic arm; he couldn’t afford any more repairs on the other one — but the creature yowled and dove for his abused face once more.

“Fuck!” Max said. He held Fucking Cat away from his face and it went to work on his thumb with its teeth while its claws tore at the flesh of his arm. “Fucking Cat, OFF!” The cat went limp in his hand. At least the voice commands still worked; the last time Fucking Cat had been hacked he’d had to find the hardware switch under its patchy fur.

His cluttered little cube was dimly lit by dozens of red and green status lights, casting crazed shadows on the walls as they shone between the wires, gadgets, and simple junk that cluttered every surface other than his sleeping palette and a plastic chair which had one leg replaced by a section of aluminum conduit. Old electronics running a little on the hot side, last night’s algae cakes, and cheap gin provided the smell that Max thought of as “home”.

He rose from the palette and wiped the oozing blood from his face and his arm with a scratchy towel and examined the dark-red dots. There had been a time when he could afford paper towels, and just throw them down the chute when he was done. He put the cloth towel back against his face and sat in the chair in front of his main console. The metal leg shrieked briefly as it shifted on the hard floor to accomodate his weight. The screen came to life as he sat, bathing the room in a serene, blue-white light. The cube raised other lights in the room, warmer light, the better to care for his eyes. His left eye, at any rate.

It didn’t take long to find the information he was looking for. The virus that had infected Fucking Cat was called SUPR DReD PeeKaBo01 (pronounced peek-a-boy), and had first surfaced thirty-six hours before, somewhere in the home system, possibly even Terra itself. Max snorted. Rightly or wrongly, Luna would be blamed in the end. That’s how it always was with Terra. If they couldn’t blame Mars, they could at least blame Luna.

His research complete, Max turned to the portal for The Pet Smith, and found the expected announcement about SUPR DReD PeeKaBo01. He muted the corporate yammering of the stupidly-attractive representative, no doubt selected for him based on a marketing company’s databse of images Max lingered over just a little longer than others.

Ignoring the distraction, Max searched for the instructions to download the patch. They weren’t where he usually found them, and that’s when he noted the somber expression on the spokesman’s face. She wore the regrettable bad news face.
“Ah, crap,” Max muttered, and with his well-maincured right index finger he allowed the spokesman her voice.

The message began with the spokesman sitting at a table, wearing a conservative, her legs crossed, however, to display a shapely calf. “Hello. My name is Kiki Ventura. We at The Pet Smith are deeply troubled by this most recent attack on our most loyal customers.” A flash of anger crossed her face, her deep-red lips tight at the corners. “The latest viral threat attacks a positioning chip in some of our classic lines of companion animals. Unfortunately that chip set has not been manufactured in many years, and the manufacturer has not been able to provide a software patch to cover the vulnerability.” Here she looked almost heartbroken. “While we will provide tools to rid your companion of any current infection, we cannot guarantee it will not be infected again.”

Kiki raised a finger like a lawyer in court. “All patrons of The Pet Smith can be assured that SUPR DReD PeeKaBo01, or any attack like it, is simply not possible on our newer lines of animal companions. Later model positioning chips are self-contained and not vulnerable to outside tampering.”

One of Kiki’s eyebrows lifted, and she leaned forward in her chair just a little, forcing Max to appreciate her breasts. “For those many who have loved their classic companion animals for all these years, perhaps this is the time to move on. You will be amazed at the incredible range of lifelike behavior our Model 12 line exhibits, whether cat, dog, or less-traditional companion. As part of the transistion, at first your new companion’s behavior will be practically indistinguishable from your current beloved. And we will recycle your previous animal companion with all the respect and dignity it has earned after a lifetime of service.” A brief smile crossed her lovely face. “That’s seven lifetimes in tech years!”

Now an expression of hopeful earnestness. “For a limited time…”

Max silenced the feed again, sighed, and pulled up his bank statement. Enough to cover the deductible for a visit to the Alice, the local veterinarian. He looked at Fucking Cat where it lay in a gray heap on his desk, legs tangled, one yellow eye staring blindly into the corner of the room, the other closed.

The flow of blood on Max’s hand and face had slowed to a slow ooze; he put the towel carefully in the sink and sprinkled it with cleansing powder before turning back to the terminal.

The vet was busy, it appeared; he wasn’t able to get an appointment for several days. In a neighborhood like this one, most of the animals were what The Pet Smith would have called “calssic”. What they really meant was “old”. But having so many older pets in the area meant that sometimes there were solutions to problems that the manufacturers didn’t know about. Or chose to ignore. He made an appointment for Thursday, five days out, and set to work clearing Fucking Cat of his infection, knowing that as soon as he activated the beast he would be infected all over again. Max wan’t going to have anyone to talk to for a few days.

On Wednesday afternoon, Alice called him.

“Max,” she said with no preamble, “I think you should cancel your appointment tomorrow.” Her voice was tired, carrying the weight of decades of delivering bad news.

“Why’s that?”

“Your warranty company has dropped coverage of FC’s model,” she said. She didn’t like the name Max had given his cat. “I’ll have to charge you full. And on top of that, I don’t have any fix for PeeKaBo01. You’d be wasting your money.”
“You can’t fix him?”

“It’s hardware. You could put a new positioning chipset in, but standards have changed. You’d have to upgrade the feedback bus and get way faster-responding actuators to support the clock rate of the new chips.”

“How much would that cost?”

“Several times the price of a new cat.”

By now Max had curled Fucking Cat into a ball and closed his other eye, so it looked like he was just sleeping, the thinning gray fur of his tail wrapped around his nose. “I don’t want a new cat.”

“Max, I understand what you are going through. Really I do. But maybe it’s time to let go.”

“Can you deactivate the chip?”

He waited while Alice composed her answer. “I could, but…” Max kept waiting, and finally she continued. “That chipset is part of a feedback mechanism that constantly recalibrates FC’s movement. Without that system, FC will gradually become clumsier and weaker, until finally he won’t be able to move at all.”

“How long would that take?”

“In a cat as old as FC, probably a few weeks. Maybe a little longer. It’s… not how you want to remember your Fucking Cat. Not for just a few extra weeks.”

“You want to hear something funny, Alice?”

“This isn’t going to be funny at all, is it?”

“My arm has the same positioning chip set. My eye probably does, too. I got lucky on the leg and the fingers. I won’t ask you to shut down Fucking Cat’s positioning chips, but I’d be grateful if you’d teach me how to do it.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Alice said. “You can pay me in chickens.”

“If I had chickens I’d kill them for their chips,” Max said.

Alice smiled sadly. “You know what I mean.”

“I have to go,” she said.

“Why?”

“It dosen’t matter. I have to go. Can you look after Shadow? You’re the only one I trust.”

“I don’t want a fucking cat.”

“That’s not fair! He likes you!”

“It’s a fucking cat. It doesn’t like anyone. It pretends to like me to make you happy, because it pretends to want you to be happy.”

“What a mean thing to say!”

“It’s not mean if it’s true.”

“Just take him. Please. I won’t be gone long.”

“All right.”

“By the time I get back, you’ll be best friends.”

“I said I’d do it. You’re selling past the close.”

“You’re a good friend, Max.”

“Just fucking go if you’re going to go.”

1

Basking in my Own…

A long time ago I published a Chapter One here on this blog called Gravity. It was a little bit that I thought had legs. Eventually I devoted a NaNoWriMo to exploring the character, and today I read much of it. It has some pretty sweet moments, if I do say so myself.

A Jane Doe awakens in a hospital, and feels gravity for the first time. Everything is wrong, even though everything is empirically perfectly normal.

At the core is a battle between Liberty on one side, and Justice for All on the other (that’s how one side frames it, anyway). But it’s really a story of soldiers. Bitter rivals sharing a room, one crippled. Were she not crippled, Benji would have killed her and bragged about it later. But it was Jane’s own side that crippled her, that tore her down. They took her wings. And that is the only thing, the ONLY thing, Benji would never do. She was beautiful when she flew.

Though it would be irresponsible not to consider that Jane volunteered for this mission, confident that her own compass would never waver, even if her memory were erased.

Note: Benji and Jane never become a love interest. Seriously. You can discover respect without wanting to bone someone.

4

Facts? Bah!

I was pretty pleased with myself when I realized it was perfectly logical for my point-of-view character to be claustrophobic. After all, she was born in the ocean (literally) and lived almost her entire life on a raft. Sure they had canvas structures to keep the rain off their heads, but overall, the sky has been her ceiling.

So when she’s on a submarine, that’s got to be pretty awful, right?

I got to that point and realized that I know next to nothing about: a) claustrophobia, and b) submarines. After about two thousand words in this setting, I have finally dug up a cutaway of a typical attack submarine, and, well, the sub in my story has a lot more decks. Maybe that’s why the ceilings seem so low to her; the decks are only four feet apart to fit them in a 33-foot diameter cylinder.

But that’s what rewrites are for, right?

NaNoWriMo 15-day Checkup

November is half-spent, and I’m still pretty far behind on my novel, at 18.5 kilowords. I was even farther behind before this last weekend, but I fell into a good rhythm of 1000-word sprints — write a thousand words, take a little break. I have 32 more sprints to go, but honestly I’m not too worried; I’ve taken some time off work in the coming days to be around for an influx of home repair and new appliances, and I should be able to get in three sprints a day on non-work days pretty easily, and sometimes more.

Meanwhile the story itself has really just been an exploration of the setting, and the cultures of the people in what was once Miami. I’m getting a good feel for the raft culture, though sometimes I wonder if perhaps their traditions are too well developed — after all, there are people who can remember Miami before; has enough time passed for a navajo-inspired system of intermarriage to have evolved? Probably not; but if that’s the thing people pick out to complain about then I’ll feel all right.

Several characters have had “audition chapters”, in which I experiment with whether they would fit in an actual story. A couple of the scenes were pretty fun to write, others fell flat.

Fun idea: if algae blooms suck all the oxygen out of the water and kill off marine life (look up “dead zone Louisiana”), a few vegetarian air-breathing species might flourish. Some sea turtles are strictly vegetarian, for instance, and in the absence of predators (except of course for starving humanity) they might do well. Also, I may introduce manatee farming.

There have of course been some of those crazy first-draft no-time-to-go-back moments. There is a floor in one of the buildings that at first is empty, every sound resonating as a storm rages outside. Then, maybe half an hour later, that same space is crammed to the gills with industrial equipment and supplies. Perhaps that place is a portal to another dimension, but nobody in the story said, “Holy shit! Where did all that stuff come from?”

If things get tight around Nov 28th, that portal may reopen, and who knows what would come out. Just sayin’.

I’ve also managed to find a couple of little touches to communicate the magnitude of the disaster, to go along with the skeletons of fallen high-rise buildings. An Igloo cooler sitting on the seat of a submerged utility truck, with a lunch packed inside that would never be eaten, things like that. Jaqi, who dives into the wreckage and into the past, usually isn’t affected by them; things have been like this her whole life. But when she is separated from her raft/family, those old clues of the humanity of those who died can touch her.

Will I have an interesting yarn at the end of this exercise? Honestly, probably not, though it does have moments. But I think I’ll have a pretty good place to put a yarn, and a few interesting people to play the parts.

Friday Afternoon, Way Behind

This has not been a good week for my writing mojo. This weekend I want to poop out a few thousand words of Glass Archipelago and also get a draft of the next episode of Knives to near-ready status. That’s a lot of writing.

To improve things and give myself a shot at a moderately productive weekend, I’m going to continue what has been very relaxing tactic for the last two days: no Facebook. Although it might appear that I’m over there, rest assured that my presence is really that of a robotic doppelgänger, taking my words from here and gluing them into my feed over there. Jerry the human will not be appearing until he has caught up a bit. If Jerry the human finds himself happier as a result of the exercise, he may continue it.

Keep in mind, then, that at least for now comments you make to my posts on Facebook WILL NOT BE READ BY ME. If you click “like”, I’ll never know. If you want to comment on my words, do it here on the blog. If you think they’re sweet, there’s a button for that, too.

Now, back to the task at hand.

1

November 1st, 2016

It has become a tradition for me to post my first night’s work here on the inaugural day of NaNoWriMo. This may not be all I write tonight, but it’s a good size for an excerpt.

Jaqi broke the surface with a gasp. “Four divers up!” Smokey called from the raft, his raspy voice carrying over the calm water. As Jaqi tread water, panting, she allowed herself a little smile. Last one up, again. Once the firefiles cleared from her vision and her breath slowed down she turned and swam to the raft, where her friends were already being pulled aboard. She passed her arm through a hoop welded to one of the steel barrels that foemed the floats of the raft, and waited until someone could pull her up. It would have been an easy climb, had she not just spent four minutes holding her breath.
After a few seconds Aaron’s sunburned arm reached down and she took his hand and let him pull her up.

Madre,” she said, and laid down on the sun-hot planks, feeling the heat of the sun on her skin. Someone handed her a tin cup with fresh water. Aaron had retreated to the sheltered section of the raft, heavy canvas supported by a steel frame cast half the raft into shadow impenetrable to her light-adapted eyes, but she could hear the children in there, doing their lessons with white-haired Annabelle, while young, gangly Alex no doubt watched over the cook fire. In the sun to her left Big John cursed steadily while fussing over one of the guy lines that held the mast in place.

“Anything?” Smokey asked. His dark hair was showing gray now. He had never been a big man, but now it seemed like a puff of wind would carry him back to his home in Cuba. He had threatened to pilot the whole raft there, one of these days, but Jaqi had heard that they were shooting new refugees there now. Sparrow said they were eating them, but Sparrow said lots of things.

Jaqi shook her head. “Fuckin’ South Beach,” she said. She sat up and looked down at the water, reading the gentle waves as they revealed where buildings stood below the surface. To the east, the rolling waves from the Atlantic broke over a reef that had once been the hotels and night clubs that lined Ocean drive, now just a jumble of broken, twisted beams and slabs of concrete breaking the surface, discolored by a slick layer of algae.

On the other side, the towers that lined Alton Road had also fared poorly when Henrietta had struck, the storm surge toppling two while undermining the rest. The Icon still stood, damaged when the Murano Grande went down, but only a few crazies lived there, distilling the brevetoxins from red tides into a substance they called “Brevelicious.” What they didn’t consume themselves, they sold to the archipelago. Sparrow knew a couple of them, he even said he’d spent the night there once, but Sparrow said a lot of things. At night the screams of madness from the Icon carried over the water for miles, while lights flashed wildly only to go abruptly dark

Jaqi lay back down, her black braid still dripping onto the deck. “Everything’s collapsed down there,” she said. “Your fuckin’ wine bar is gone, acere.”

Smoky looked up along the darker blue stretches that announced a streets lay below, forming a neat grid. “It’s around here somewhere,” he said.

Javy stood and spit over the side, his brown skin perfect in the sun, his lean frame starting to fill out with muscle. He almost caught Jaqi looking at him. “Either someone got it already or all the bottles are broke. There’s nothing left this close to the towers,” he said. “Fucking scuba dipshits were all over this.”

“We got time for another dive?” asked Jaqi.

Aaron frowned and looked at his phone. “Satellite says weather’s comin’ in.”

“Don’t look like it,” Javy said, making a show of inspecting the horizon.

Smokey shook his head. “Those are the worst ones. Barometer?”

“Dropping,” Aaron said. “But not much yet.”

“One more dive,” Jaqi said. She hated coming up empty-handed.

“You haven’t had time to recover from the last one.”

“I’ll make it a short one,” she said. “We’ll be heading for the towers in five minutes.” Already she was taking deep breaths, hyperventilting to fill her blood with oxygen.

Smokey sighed. “Anyone else want one more?”

Javy shrugged. “Sure.”

“You just said there was no point.”

He shrugged again.

Rosa said, “Fuck it,” and took her t-shirt off. Jaqi watched Javy watch Rosa adjust her bikini top. Jaqi busied herself with her fllippers and her mask. Short dive. The building she had tried to find a way into her last time down might have had retail space on the bottom floor. If she went straight at it, found an opening, there might be something worthwhile inside.
“Three divers,” Smokey said. “Get ready.”

Jaqi moved to the edge of the raft, and fiddled with her own one-piece suit, almost dizzy from the oxygen in her blood, but still breathing hard.

“Divers go,” Smokey said, and Jaqi dropped from the edge of the raft into the cloudy tropical water.

Holy Crap, It’s September

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResAnd September is almost October is almost November and November is NaNoWriMo. Some years I dread it, other years I look forward to it. This year I’m starting to work up a pretty good stoke about the month. I’ve been pondering the setting I described in my description of a plausible-future Miami. I’ve had tons of ideas for characters, and lots of thought on how to enrich the world. Along with the algae harvesters and whalers who work outside the towers, there are divers. People who take a deep swim into the drowned suburbs looking for things that still have value in this world. Swimming through a structure that was not meant to be underwater, and spent years being pounded by waves as the water line rose, is not terribly safe. Most of the houses have collapsed.

There are business parks, too, and some of them are still standing, but there’s not much in them that’s of interest anymore. The big stuff was moved out in advance of the rising waters.

Some of the divers don’t have citizenship in any of the towers. They are rafters, pulling the islands they call home from place to place, scouring the world beneath the waves. When the storms come the towers allow the rafters to tie up in the lee of the buildings, and let them sleep inside. How much raft is left when the storm has passed is a crapshoot.

Plot? Hm… kinda stuck there. Diver meets tower-dweller and the violins swell? Maybe as a side thing. Diver finds something game-changing? Promising… but what? I’ve done a NaNoWriMo with a flagrant ain’t-gonna-tell-you macguffin, but that isn’t the right thing here.

Ooo! Another enriching detail I just thought of that doesn’t help me at all in discovering a plot but I want to put it here so I don’t forget: the city-towers follow a strict set of codes above the water, but below the surface, where none can see, there is a quiet, bubble-free war going on. The best skin divers are valuable assets, but no one talks about it. That would explain why the towers let the rafters tie up during storms.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this episode is mostly just me thinking out loud. But if you’d like to chime in with ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Let’s think about the whales for a minute here. I’ll have to do research and whatnot, but it’s quite possible that before the Lucy and her locking knee that cetaceans were the most intelligent creatures on the planet. (Hominids’ brains started biggerizing at an appalling rate once their hands were free to do mischief.) Whales, meanwhile, couldn’t use tools or light fires. What if there were an equalizer? Something new to give tech to whales… But I don’t want to write some “whale messiah” or even “whale whisperer” story. My whole background idea with the whales was that some algae-eating species of whale would know prosperity in a way they never had before, and this would give them an opportunity to organize. I don’t want to mutate them.

Meanwhile, carnivorous marine mammals are pretty much screwed, along with anything with gills. So long, we’ve run out of fish. Warmer water and massive nitrogen boost from fertilizer runoff has restored algae as the king of the sea and, at least in temperate climes, the oceans are anaerobic once again.

So anyway, what I’m looking for is something that lies beneath the surface of Miami, (Ooo! Maybe something in the sewers? Beneath the ground beneath the water? Cool idea and dangerous for divers but alas pretty farfetched.) Probably simplest to just make it something worth an enormous amount of money — enough wealth to change the balance of power between tower-cities — but something with a larger significance would be awesome. I just don’t know what it might be.