Friday, September 28, 2012

For Her Pleasure

Something has always bothered me about condoms (ever since I started using them in the 6th grade).  Why are some marked "Her Pleasure?"  Doesn't that make all the other kinds seem like they should be labelled "To Hell With Her, Get Your Own?"

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Never Take Me to a Store

If you have a highly-evolved mind like mine, you'll have trouble dealing with the sloppy idiocy of the common person.  For example, you would rage at the following magazine cover:
Oh, how horrible!
No, it's not that, after over a decade, we're still obsessed with a dead ex-princess too stupid to wear a seatbelt during a high-speed chase.  It's the obvious:
Yes, it's the fact that we can't use punctuation properly.  Punctuation and grammar are the only things that separate us from, well, this guy:

Thank you, Crazy Chinatown Guy.
You know what else bothers us hyper-intelligent people?  Cereal boxes:

When did advertising characters become so scary?  Looking at them in the store, I was afraid to take them home and leave them unsupervised with my children.

Finally, I am sick and tired of Pixar merchandising.  I can live with the "Cars" pez dispenser, the "Toy Story" fruit roll-ups, and the "Brave" maxi-pads.

But the "Eve from Wall-E" as a dressed as a mummy for Halloween? That's going too far.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

California Proposition 37

I am against California's Proposition 37.

If you don't live in California (then you need to move) or aren't interested in politics (because thinking is too hard), you might not have heard about this one.  Prop 37 requires food manufacturers to disclose any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) included in the product.

The problem I have with Prop 37 is that it's fucking stupid.

No, I'm just kidding.  It's not stupid.  It's a bill.  Bills are just pieces of paper.  The people backing it are stupid.

I have several problems with 37.  First and foremost, it's part of the whole "science is evil" fear movement sweeping the nation. 

Because scientists are always looking for a way to rule the world.
Americans have always been afraid of scientists.  However, with the anti-vax movement, intelligent design movement, organic food movement, and the other bowel movements that are popular these days, we've taken things to a new level.  Fear of a scientifically modified food is just a new twist on the old ignorance.

Second, there is no evidence that any GMO has ever caused harm. 

Because seed companies are always looking for a way to rule the world.
Sure, you can find articles on the internet lambasting Monsanto for creating sterile seeds and stealing beehives (no, I'm not making that up), but nothing has ever been conclusively proved.  See, the government makes companies test food before it goes to market.  Yes, from time to time things slip through the cracks, like the organic lettuce covered in salmonella or the rice tainted with (all-natural) arsenic.  The government makes companies take things off the market when we find problems.  If you took food off the market before finding and verifying problems, the stores would be empty.

Third and finally, genetic modification isn't an ingredient, it's a method.  If you labelled all the methods used in making a food, it'd look something like this.
And that's fucking stupid, like the supporters of Prop 37.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Endeavour Flyouver

When I was a little boy, I wanted nothing more than to be an astronaut.  I planned to be a fighter pilot, I studied the diagrams of the (then unbuilt) space shuttle, I waited.  Eventually, they finished the shuttle, and I couldn’t have been more delighted.

Guess which one is me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Novel Sample Week: Voting Time

Now it's time for me to give the next two years of my life up to your whims.  Can you feel it?  Can you feel the power flowing through your fingers towards your computer?  Yes, you have power that nobody else has...

(Well, okay, my mother and my wife have that power, but I figure there's a 10% chance you're not one of them.)

The point is, I am ready to make a multiple-year commitment to working on the novel you want me to write.  Sure, I'll do the others some day, but you get to pick the one I do first.

If you haven't read all of the novel samples yet, here are the links:

Crossbreed - About several species being used as pawns in a game played by gods.
Waterfall Castle - About a young man realizing he is doomed to be killed by his brother.
Magnus and Malm - About a wizard's search for power.
James Herriot in Space - About a veterinarian living on a frontier world.
A Thousand Sorrows - About a supernatural researcher and the hero he is trying to uncover.

When you've read them all, pick one or two from the poll in the upper right.
Thanks for voting!  And get your friends and family to vote, too!  And your enemies!  And your neighbors!  And your dog!  Remember, you can't complain if you don't vote!

Results next week.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Novel Sample Week: A Thousand Sorrows

Last one!
A Thousand Secret Sorrows is the story of two men living in different worlds.  Keldin is an ordinary man forced to join a society of mystical researchers to find the secrets of the world's most important hero.  Em One is an orphan living on the streets of an underground world, and accepts the most dangerous job in the world to protect a child.

They heaved Keldin up and dragged him out of his room.  He was too weak to fight them; the shock and pain and loss of blood making his knees weak.  As they pulled him down the hallway, he tried to make a break free, but they were ready for him, and tightened their grip before he could even try.

They turned a corner into the dormitory wing.  The hallway was lined with small wooden doorways, behind each were rooms with sleeping Acolytes and Adepts.  There were no Masters in the dorms, but someone was bound to help him.

“Help!” Keldin screamed.  “Someone help me!”

The Acolytes holding him both struck at the same time, their wooden sticks cracking against his chest and stomach.  He bent over in pain and he nearly vomited again.

“Wait,” Price said as the two Acolytes raised their clubs to hit him again.  “Let him call for help.”

Already, a few doors had opened and heads were poking out in the dim light of the corridor.  Desperately sucking air in past the ooze that dribbled out his mouth, Keldin spoke again.

“Help,” he said, gasping.  “Please help me.”

More doors opened and people crowded out into the hallway.

“Yes, brothers and sisters,” Price called to them, “fellow Initiates!  Come and see our new supplicant.  This is the one you’ve heard about, the one who usurped Keldin’s robes and memories.  He has his nodes after only a week in the Brotherhood.  Who wishes to help him?”

All the doors were open now.  Dozens of eyes stared at Keldin.

“Please,” he said.  “They broke into my room.”

“You’ll have to do better than that,” Price said.  “They’ve all gone through this.  Each and every one of them was woken in the night and Initiated.  Your story is no different than theirs, but you ask for special treatment.”

“They beat me with clubs,” Keldin said to the blank faces of the crowd.

Price pulled back his blue hood and showed Keldin a scar on his ear.  “That’s part of it, too.”

Initiate Loran stepped forward.

“Price,” she said, “did you give him the choice?  Did you tell him he could leave the Brotherhood or go through the initiation?”

Price turned on her, his eyes full of rage.  “He made his choice!  Look at him!  We’re down here in the dorms, sharing rooms and meals, serving the Brotherhood with humility.  He has the nodes and the robes of a Master.  Gaylor waits on him hand and foot, filling him with knowledge that we spent years earning.”

Price grabbed the woman by the arm and made her look at Keldin’s face.

“He’s half your age, Acolyte Loran” Price said softly, “and he’s a Master.  Do you remember what you told me last week?  How much you wished you’d had children.  You gave up being a wife and a mother for the thousand sorrows because it was a ‘noble calling.’

He has a wife and a daughter.  This man before you never gave a thought to service or sacrifice.  While you suffered and slaved, he lived a life of luxury and joy.  Now he asks us to skip the initiation because it’s too hard.  What do you say, Loran?”

Loran stared into Keldin’s eyes for a moment.  He tried to speak, to tell her that he didn’t have a choice, that all this was thrust upon him, but no words came out.  Her eyes turned hard, suddenly, and she walked back into her room.

“Wait,” Keldin said, whimpering.  He began to cry.

One by one, every person in the hallway turned away.  For a moment, the hallway was filled with the sound of doors closing, and then an eerie silence.

“Let’s go,” Price said, and the Acolytes pulled Keldin to his feet.

They carried Keldin down stairs and through hallways.  They pulled him across doorways and into rooms.  He tried to memorize the route, but his head spun from the blows he received.  When they finally brought him into the last room, a dirty cellar lit with torches, he had no idea where he was.  They pulled Keldin to the center of the room and chained him to the ceiling with large manacles.

“Welcome, supplicant!” Price said from the darkness.  The words were calm, practiced, but spoken with a hint of contempt.  “This is the first step in your journey with the Brotherhood.  If you survive this evening, you will join us as an Initiate.  If you serve the Brotherhood well, your years of service may be rewarded with the rank of Master.”

The two Acolytes chuckled.

“At this very moment, however,” Price said, stepping into the light revealing a large knife in his right hand, “you are nothing.”

Price slashed at Keldin’s bedclothes and ripped them to the ground.

“Now you have nothing.  Now you are nothing.  From here you can only ascend, if you are strong.  Are you ready, supplicant?”

There was a long pause.  Price sighed and held his hand to his head for a moment.

“You’re supposed to say ‘yes,’” Price said.

Keldin stared at him, giving nothing.  Price shook his head and smiled.

“The supplicant has to want to become an Initiate.  Without that, there’s no tension, no fear of rejection.  Just a naked man hanging in chains.  Oh, very well, since you’re special.”

Price disappeared into the darkness and returned carrying a giant, burlap bag.

“Normally we’d do this part last.  You see, while there are a thousand sorrows, only twenty or so are truly terrifying.  During this initiation, we would make you face each of them.  It’s a way of preparing people for the challenges they would face in the service.”

Price began opened the bag.  It was heavy and seemed to squirm in his hands.  The Acolytes both edged away from him, hiding in the shadows at the corners of the room.

“The end of the ceremony is the worst part,” Price said.  “It’s where we make the supplicant face the last sorrow.”

Suddenly, he jerked the bag forward, spilling its contents out on to the floor at Keldin’s feet.  In the dim light it was hard to tell what had fallen out.  At first, he thought it was a rope, then it uncoiled itself, and Keldin heard a rattling sound.

“The last sorrow is death,” Price said, backing away from the light.

The viper slithered towards him.

Don’t move, he thought.  Don’t even breathe.  It’s more afraid of you that you are of it.

“This is a bushMaster,” Price said from the shadows.  “They feed mostly on the birds and rats in the area, poisoning their kills before devouring them.  We make young Initiates capture ones that live in the area so they don’t eat the game birds.  This one has been in the bag for over two weeks now.  I suspect he’s very hungry right now.”

The bushMaster was only a few inches away from Keldin, rising a full meter off the floor to stare at him with its unmoving, red eyes.  Keldin shook.  Sweat dripped over his naked body.

“Oh, stop being childish,” Price said, stepping out of the shadows.  He held a clear tube in his hand.  “We’ve got the antivenin right here.  Just make him bite you, scream a few times, and we can inject you.  Then everyone can go back to bed.  The ceremony has taken long enough already.”

Keldin looked from the snake to Price and back again.  Was it true?  Did he have an antidote?

“Did you really think we were going to kill you?” Price said, smiling.  “You forget, we believe there’s only one soul.  If we harmed you, we’d be harming ourselves. Just kick the stupid snake and we can go.”

Keldin fought against his fear, and pain, and fatigue.  He managed to lift his right knee up between him and the bushMaster.  The snake backed away, its tail rattling madly.

“You’ll have to twitch your foot,” Price instructed.  “It’s used to hunting birds and rats; you’ll have to move in a way that makes it think you are food.”

Keldin looked straight into the eyes of the bushMaster and twitched his foot.

In a flash, the snake struck, biting into the ball of Keldin’s foot.  It struck again and again before dropping to the floor and slithering away.  Keldin screamed and jerked madly at the chains, his foot leaving a bloody pool on the floor.

“Excellent!” Price said.  “Well done, indeed.  Acolytes!”

At Price’s command, the Acolytes appeared from the shadows at either side of the snake and set on it with their clubs.  The bushMaster never had a chance, confused and deprived of venom, it collapsed under the rain of blows.  Soon there was nothing more of the snake but a bloody mass on the floor.  Price appeared in front of Keldin again, holding a small syringe in one hand.

Keldin could feel the poison in his foot.  It burned like fire as it moved up his ankle.

“I did it,” Keldin said, his voice a squeak.  “I faced death.  Give me the antidote.”

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Price said, smiling.  “Can you feel the poison moving towards your heart?”

“Yes.  I do, okay?  I feel the death.  I fear it.  Just inject me already!”

“Oh, very well.  You’re quite the spoilsport you know.”

Price opened his hand and dropped the needle.  It clinked as it hit the ground.

“Oops,” Price said, smiling grimly.  He stepped on the syringe, crushing it under his heel.

A cold wash of fear poured over Keldin’s body.  He wrenched himself suddenly and tried to pull the chains out of their mounts in the ceiling, to kick Price, but he just managed to wobble.  Keldin screamed and howled as the fire in his ankle moved up to his calf.

“Our work here is done,” Price said, turning away.”

“You’ll never get away with it!” Keldin said, screaming shrilly.

“Oh, but we will.  We’ve been working on our story for weeks.  You just had an allergic reaction to the antivenin.  Died instantly.  Poor you.”

The door opened and light streamed in.  A man in red Master’s robes stood framed in the doorway.

“Price,” Gaylor said, his voice cold and menacing, “what have you done?”

“Acolytes,” Price said, not even hesitating, “escort the Master back to his quarters.  He’s old and frail.  We wouldn’t want him to trip and get hurt.”

The Acolytes glanced at each other for a moment and then advanced on Gaylor, holding their clubs in front of them.  When the two Acolytes grabbed for him, Gaylor reached up and brushed his nodes against their face face face was on fire as the bear bit down again.

I can’t move, I thought.  If I move or scream the bear will know I’m still alive.  If I hold still it will get bored and wander off.

Still it chewed, tearing off my nose.

I ran through songs in my head.  I did math problems.  Then, weak from blood loss and pain, I saw my brother.  His ravaged body stood and turned to look at me.  Blood poured out of the giant gash where his arm used to be.

“I slept with Janie,” he said.  “I knew you loved her, but I couldn’t help myself.  I’m sorry.”

I screamed.  It was a weak gurgle, but it was enough for the bear.  It roared and tore into my throat throat throat and collapsed to the floor.  The other Acolyte staggered backwards, screaming and flailing his arms at the bear in his mind.

Gaylor lowered his hands slowly and took a step toward Price, who held his ground.

“There are some tricks Masters don’t teach Adepts,” Gaylor said, stepping forward again.  “Give me the key.”

Gaylor extended his hand towards Price, the nodes glinting in the dim light.  Price dropped the key on the ground, then walked past the prone Acolytes to the door.

“This isn’t over,” he said, and was gone.

“No,” Gaylor sighed quietly.  “It never is, is it?”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Novel Sample Week: James Herriot in Space

I really hope I cancome up with a better title, but James Herriot in Space pretty much sums it up.  Like the All Creatures novels, the main character is a veterinarian who treats farm animals and the occasional pet.  He deals with quirky people, solves the occasional mystery, falls in love with farmgirls, and so on.  That's where the similarities end.  Farm animals are "spliced" (genetically engineered).  He rides around on a flying car.  Oh, and he's on a half-terraformed, frontier planet.
The Epstein family had worked hard for their claim.  They had endured the ridicule of the local farmers who were all growing the more prolific Tehwi crops (and, perhaps, were more than a little jealous of the Epstein’s holding) and were finally reaping the rewards.  Offworld imports of cheap flour were flooding the markets, already saturated with locally-grown grains.  Rumors abound that the Directorate were paying larger operations to burn their crops rather than completely shatter the market.  Meanwhile the few farmers who had specialized in Nork and Ercii were making a killing.
They didn’t have a bell to ring, so I knocked on the metal gate with my fist.
“Hello,” I called, “Is anyone there?”
I unhooked the gate and latched it behind me.  Officially, of course, I wasn’t supposed to enter a claim without a direct invitation, but there was no way of knowing if anyone had heard me from the distant barn.  A bad chicking could be a serious business, and I hated to waste time waiting around for an invitation.  In any case, I thought wryly, I was a certified company man now; if I got shot, Turabian would pay for my medical care.
There were six buildings on the Epstein farm: two large silos (one for each crop), the farmhouse (where the family lived), three small storage sheds, and the barn.  The buildings were based on Khanish architecture: rounded stone walls made of native rock topped with a dome of rigid silver syncloth.  As with all farms on Thirsk, the only way to tell the difference between the buildings was their proportions: the silos were tall and narrow, the sheds were short and squat, the farmhouse was wide and low, and the barn was the largest.
As I walked to the barn, which easily towered over everything else, its door opened and Mr. Epstein came out.  Brian Epstein was a tall man with piercing grey eyes and a wide-brimmed hat woven of faded blue Ercii-stalks he never seemed to take off.  I hurried over as he waved.
“Glad you got here so fast, Mr. White,” Brian said, his face lined with worry.  “She’s in a bad way.”
“Chick won’t budge?” I asked, shaking his hand.
“Yeah.  Better see for yourself,” he said, and I followed him into the blinding darkness of the barn.
It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light from the window slits in the roof.  My patient was a hen sitting on a bed of Nork cob; she could barely look up at me as I approached.  The stalls of the Epstein’s other Gryphons were ringed along the outer wall, surrounding her.  Their heads poked out over the doors and eyed their distressed comrade curiously.
Those of you who have never been to Thirsk are probably unfamiliar with Gryphons.  Gryphons are essential to every farmer’s livelihood on the planet.  After the problem with DropSeed had been discovered, Global Tap called in the best the Splicing Guild could offer to create a new organism to help.
Gryphons, on first inspection, are four-legged birds that stand three meters tall.  Cut one open, however, and you’d drop your scalpel.  While Gryphons are covered in feathers (more efficient insulation than hair), have vestigial wings (to radiate body heat when lifted and to preserve it when folded), raptorial feet (to stop blood-flow when cut by sharp rocks) and feathered tails, they’re not birds.  Gryphons have been spliced from a number of natural species, so it’s hard to say what they are, exactly.
Their heads come from parrots, giving them curved beaks to grab DropSeed plants and pull them up with the extensive, poisonous root system intact.  Once swallowed, the plant is digested in six different stomachs (spliced from goats and cows), each stomach performing a different process in separating out the poisons.  The toxic elements are then transferred to the gizzard where the Gryphons regurgitate them in the form large, yellow rocks (nicknamed “sulfur spit”) to be carted away from the fields.
It sounds like a slow process, but a healthy, adult Gryphon can clear a hectare of DropSeed a day.  Since the root systems of the plants are tough and spread over a large area, the Gryphons effectively till the soil as they go.  The average farm has five to ten Gryphons a piece, so the process of decontaminating the planet has gone incredibly fast.  The experts say we might be finished in a couple of generations.
The Gryphon hen sitting before me strained for a moment -- her tiny wings lifted, her head rose, and she made a small groan -- then lowered back down to the Nork cob in resigned defeat.  I knelt by her side, running a comforting hand over her flank, and she regarded me plaintively.  Although her eyes were open, her nictitating membranes still partly covered them, a sure sign of fatigue.  Her feathers were ragged and dirty.  I ran my hand up her neck to her massive head, leaving a trail of ruffled feathers.  She made a faint, appreciative noise deep in her throat.
“How long has she been like this, Mr. Epstein?” I said, not breaking eye contact with the hen.
“About three hours.  I would have called you earlier, but I didn’t realize it was so serious.”
I nodded and stripped off my jacket and shirt.  Three hours was actually a reasonable amount of time.  Since veterinary service was free on any Gryphon under contract, most farmers called us within seconds of finding the slightest scratch on their animals.
As I sprayed myself liberally with sterilimist, Mr. Epstein asked me something in a low voice that I couldn’t hear over the hiss of the applicator.
“What was that?” I said, applying a thick lubricant to my arms.
“I asked if Choco was going to be okay,” he said.
It took me a moment to figure out what he was talking about, but then I noticed the row of Gryphon stalls all had words stenciled over their doors.  The names “Winslow,” “Tinsdale,” “Lefty,” “Righty,” “Brandy,” “Thor,” and “Rusty” glinted in the dim barn light.  An empty stall labeled “Choco” stood at the end.  It wasn’t common practice for farmers to name their Gryphons (preferring, instead, to give them labels like APA-Male-3).  Most in the Youdin community felt spliced animals were soulless.  Others thought of Gryphons as organic machines.  I figure it’s easier to subject an animal to hours of difficult labor if you can think of an excuse.  Still, there were a few holdouts like the Epstein family who treated their Gryphons well, giving them the best conditions possible.
“Difficult chickings are unusual, but not unheard of,” I said.  “It’s a well-documented procedure.”
“It’s only that Choco is one of my favorites, you see,” he continued as if he hadn’t heard me.  “She’s a gentle old girl.  I’d rather put her down than see her suffer.  I’ll pay the contract penalty.”
I nodded, placing sensor nodes around the hen’s abdomen and trying to think of something comforting to say.
“Well, let’s just take a look, shall we?” I said, kneeling down into the cob, pressing the primary node into place, and switching it on.
The nodes flickered into life and projected an image of the chick inside the hen.  It was fully formed, with a healthy bone structure and beak.  I waved my hand, and the image panned out, showing the positioning.
“Hell,” I said, whispering.
“Problem?” Brian said.
I sighed and rotated the image so he could see.
“I’m afraid it’s a breech presentation, Mr. Epstein.  The head and legs are on the far side of the uterus.  What’s worse is the position of the neck.”  I pointed to the twist of the head around the body.  “An unborn chick has a very narrow carotid artery.  It’ll have been choked off by the contractions.  I’m very sorry.  It must have died hours ago.”
Brian lowered his eyes.  I slowly removed the nodes as I searched for something good to say to him.
“I can save the hen, that’s no problem, but I will have to dissect the chick before I take it out.  Then a quick cleansing of the uterus, and she’ll be on her feet in no time.”
Brian nodded his head slightly in a gesture I assumed was assent.  I quickly took the spool of saw-wire out of the equipment pack and cut off a three-meter length.  Mr. Epstein obviously cared about his stock as if they were pets; there was no need to prolong his anguish.
“I wish I had listened to Jeff Snow,” Mr. Epstein said, as I slid the wire inside the uterus and looped it around the chick’s neck, “He went with MLA stock because they’re egg layers.”
Years ago, Global Tap opened up their Gryphon splicing operations to competition.  MLA was one of four corporations (along with Turabian, APA, and Chicago) that still created and sold Gryphons on Thirsk.
“MLAs don’t have a good chick survival rate,” I said, grunting as I tightened the loop.  “The eggs are brittle and can crack before hatching.  Sometimes the hens become egg bound.  MLA said their next generation of Gryphons will have live births.”
I didn’t mention the rumors that MLA was going to live births to stem the black market trade in Gryphon eggs.  A chick immediately imprinted when hatched or born, making it impossible to sell to another farmer.  The companies had spliced that behavior in to force settlers to buy Gryphons from the company instead of breeding their own.  Whatever the reason, a rumor was a rumor, and my contract to Turabian forbade me from spreading gossip.  I kept silent.
The loop of wire tightened perfectly around the neck of the chick, and slowly slid my hand out of the uterus.  If I extended the teeth of the saw-wire while my hand was still inside, I’d lose a finger.  My hand brushed past the beak of the chick on the way out, and I felt a nip.  I sat up in surprise than hunkered back down on the Nork cob, reaching back in for another feel.  The beak opened a little more this time, and a tongue came out to explore the tip of my finger.
“Brian!” I said, shouting as I unhooked the saw-wire from around the chick’s throat. “We need help in here.  Someone strong.”
“What for?” Brian asked, dumbfounded.
“It’s alive!  The chick is still alive, but not for much longer.  Getting it out without hurting the mother is going to be a bit of a struggle.  We need another pair of hands.”
By the time I had sterilized the ropes and hooks, Brian returned with a dust-caked young man.  He couldn’t have been more than thirteen and wore overalls and a driver’s cap which held his curly, dark hair.
“What’s he doing to my Gryphon?” the young said in horror as he ran over to the weak hen.  Choco turned at his voice and nuzzled him.
“Yours?” I said, puzzled at the Gryphon’s reaction.  The corporations had spliced out the traits for affection; it was best if the farmers didn’t form an attachment to their stock.  Sure, a Gryphon would enjoy being petted now and then, but I had never seen one nuzzle a human before.
“Mine,” the boy muttered into the silver and blue feathers on Choco’s neck.  The Gryphon muttered back from deep inside its throat.
“My eldest,” Mr. Epstein said.  “Don’s been studying offworld.”
I smiled in greeting, but Don stared angrily at me, cradling the giant head in his arms.
“Studying offworld, eh?” I said as I tied the hooks to my chicking ropes.  “That’s pretty good for a boy your age.  What have you been studying?”
“Music performance,” he said, with resentment in his voice.  “What are you doing with those hooks?”
“The chick is facing the wrong way.  I’ve got to put the hooks into its beak so we can pull it around.”
Don’s eyes widened with horror.
“You’re going to put hooks into her uterus?  Are you crazy?  You’re supposed to give her Motorinithol to make the baby tumble into the right position.  Dad, where did you get this quack?”
I felt my neck hairs bristle.
“Now, hold on,” Mr. Epstein said to Don, holding his hand up warningly.  “Mr. White is a—”
“You hold on,” Don yelled.  “I don’t care if Turabian sends whatever pretty-boy vet is in the area.  I don’t want this milk-tongued idiot touching my Gryphon!”
At that, the hairs on the back of my neck rose so high I thought they would catch fire.
“Now you listen to me, boy,” I said, furious.  “I don’t care what school you went to, you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.  Motorinithol causes muscle contractions.  In Choco’s weakened state it could cause a heart attack.  Is that what you want?  To kill her?”
Don stared at me angrily for a moment and lowered his eyes.
“I’m not a boy,” he whispered.
“Then stop acting like one,” I said, still fuming.
Don’s whole frame seemed to shudder at my words, and I regretted them instantly.  I opened my mouth to apologize but decided it would be better if I just shut up.  Instead, I grabbed one of the hooks and pushed it inside the Gryphon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Novel Sample Week: Magnus and Malm

Magnus and Malm (not the final title) is a fantasy novel (last one, I promise!) about a man who desperately wants to become a wizard, so much so that he is willing to do some disturbing things to become one.  When he does get magic, he is thrust into the strange world wizards inhabit and becomes embroiled in a titanic power struggle.

For the last two hundred and fifty years, Malm had been almost entirely tongue.  In the complete darkness of his cave, there had been no need for eyes, so he had reabsorbed them.  Smells and sounds were nearly nonexistent, so he had let those go away, too.  He had kept his mouth, so he could chew the occasional insect that wandered down to him, and a lump of brain with which to tether his consciousness, but the rest of him was giant, bumpy, triangular, pink tongue.  Malm spent his days, slithering like a snake across the living rock, tasting every bump and crevice, reveling in the grit of sandstone, the mellow of obsidian, the sharp tang of the few stones of ore littering the floor.  Every few days he slept, curled in a wet, pink curl.

            When he felt the explosion, Malm wasn’t sure what it was or if he had just imagined it.  He had been poking in a crack that had widened from his probings over the last decade, and stopped to listen.  His brain had grown so small, he forgot he had no ears, so he waited for an hour, straining for sounds he could never hear.

After a few hours, he felt the barest vibrations, tiny shocks that came rhythmically through the rock to him.  He puzzled about them, what they were, why he couldn’t hear them, and in doing so his brain grew; tiny neurons pressed the tiny bump of his head outward.  Malm suddenly remembered lost parts of his past: who he was, the reason he had hidden in a cave millenia.  He remembered ears and made himself one, playing with the auricle’s shape until he decided on a simple spiral.

The sensations his ear made nearly paralyzed Malm’s tiny brain, forcing it to grow so quickly that it cracked his skull.  He grew a second ear and oriented on the sounds.  They were coming from a ledge high above him.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Footsteps.  They were the footsteps of a creature with two feet.

Malm puzzled over the sound, slowly realizing (with another burst of skull-cracking brain growth) the footsteps didn’t come from an insect, but a heavy, two-legged creature.  The last creatures with two legs that had come to him had been a trio of human miners who ventured into his cave hundreds of years ago.  Malm salivated all along his five-foot-long tongue at the memory of those miners.  He had had to corner them one by one, chasing them down with his nearly vestigial legs, but the result had been worth the exertion. The men were succulent and bloody, each of their organs popped with exquisite fluids.  Later, when Malm had realized the enormity of his crime, he had sealed the tunnel entrance and dropped down to this, lower cave, drawing inside himself in his regret.

Malm could barely remember that regret, but the luscious taste of human intestines was easy to recall.  He formed two visual buds on the top of his head and inflated them with vitreous humor until they became eyes.  He was rewarded with a sense of light coming down from above.

Another noise came, softer now.  Something had fallen down from the light and was caressing the cave floor.  Malm reached out to the thing and curled his tongue around it.  It was long and slender, flexible and rough.  It tasted like nothing he had ever encountered.  Eventually, he recognized it as a taut rope.  It twitched as he held it, and Malm realized someone was coming.  He pushed his eyes out on to eyestalks, then pivoted them up to see the light coming down the rope.

Malm slithered back into the shadows and waited.  After a long while (time was meaningless in the eternal black of the caves) a man crawled down the rope and landed heavily on the floor.  The man was stooped and scarred.  As he turned and looked around the room, shining the light from his backpack into the gloom, Malm saw he was blind in his right eye and was missing several fingers from his left hand.

A gurgle of hunger overwhelmed Malm, and he charged forward, forming a giant maw filled with teeth to devour this epicurean morsel.  Inches away from his meal, Malm was stopped by a jolt of pain.  Blue sparks swam in front of his new eyes, and he squinted down at the frail man rummaging through his pack, unaware Malm was behind him.  Then, Malm sensed it, the magic surrounding the man.  It was a protective spell, a kind of ward to defend against attacks.  For human magic, it was complex and powerful.  Malm formed an arm and swiped at the spell, popping it like a bubble, and leaned forward again to eat the man.

“Hello?” the man said, looking up from a map he had unrolled on to the cave floor.  “Is anyone here?”

Malm stopped again, sat back on his haunches, and watched.  The man listened as his own voice echoed back from the walls, and looked back at the map.

“No, this has to be right,” he said, muttering to himself.  “I’m in the lowest chamber of the southern shaft.  There’s the twist I passed yesterday and the blast marks from the lost team.  Hm.”

The man took a deep breath and cupped his good hand around his mouth.

“I say hello!  My name is Magnus.  I’m looking for…  Well, I’m looking for a bloody great demon.  No?  Nobody here but the rocks?”

Malm formed a voice box and placed it high in a crack on the cave wall.  Then he crawled back behind the man, leaving two sticky tendrils behind him.

“Why?” Malm said through his new organ, pleased at how deep and loud his voice came out from it.

The man jumped and turned to face the darkness.

“I met a man in the library who had merged with a demon.  He gave the demon the smallest finger of his right hand, and the demon became that finger.  The man and demon merged, became one.  The demon was the body, and the man was the purpose.  Can you do that?”

“Can I do that?  Do you know who I am?  I am Malm!”

Magnus gave a small smile that Malm, behind him, didn’t see.

“All demons are named Malm,” he said.  For the first time in nearly a millennium, Malm knew an emotion other than desire, but he was so unused to feelings, he didn’t know what to make of it.

“I am the first Malm,” Malm said.  “I am the progenitor of the demon race.  I crafted this world from nothing, shaped it as to my whims, and spat you frail creatures upon its surface to serve me.  You ask if I can do the paltry magic you describe?”

If Malm had been in front of Magnus, he would have killed the tiny man for the smirk of distain on his face.

“All demons say that, too,” he said, and Malm remembered the name of the emotion: shame.

“Yes,” Malm said quietly.  “Yes, I can do what you describe, but I didn’t sequester myself here, under a thousand feet of rock, for no reason.  I have a powerful enemy who would strike me down if she saw me.  So, once again: why?  Why would I risk my life to merge with you?  Why shouldn’t I just kill you and be done with it?”

Magnus jerked with surprise and peered into the gloom, sweeping his light back and forth across the living rock of the walls, but saw nothing.  Finally, he regained his composure and, heartened by the fact he was still alive, straightened himself as if giving a lecture and spoke.

Magnus had written and rewritten his speech and practiced it over and over again in front of a mirror, for weeks.  He spoke of power, of the feeling of control over life and destiny.  He spoke of respect and honor.  He spoke of bending the world into a better place.  Magnus’s practice paid off; he spoke with clarity and conviction.

Malm heard none of his words.  Instead, Malm heard about the world on the surface that he hadn’t seen since it was a rough and barren place.  He heard about the millions of people who now lived there, laughing, singing, eating, fighting, fucking.  He heard of towering buildings of glass and stone, sculptures of bronze and clay, countless beauties that made his newly formed eyes tear.  Malm could almost see this world that Magnus hinted at between his sentences.  When Magnus finished his speech, Malm drooled with desire and quickly shrank his tongue and pulled in his voice box so he could close his mouth.

“Do we have a deal?” Magnus said after a moment of uneasy silence.

“Yes,” Malm said through his mouth.  “We have a deal.”

Magnus, hearing the voice now coming from right behind him, spun around.  The light from his pack fell upon the demon, standing only a foot away.  Magnus gasped as Malm, huge, with enormous eyestalks and a gaping maw larger than his whole body, appeared from the darkness.

“Do you know what you are asking for?  What the process entails?” Malm said, stepping forward with one spindly leg.

Magnus backed away, but quickly found his back against a wall of rock.

“Yes,” he said, his voice a squeak.  “The wizard I met gave Malm, his Malm, his pinky, a little part of his body for a little magic.”

Malm sniffed Magnus with slitted nostrils.

“And what part of your body,” Malm said, “will you give me?”

Magnus swallowed drily.

“All of it.”

Malm smiled.  Then, snaking out a roughly jointed arm, he grabbed Magnus’s leg with one thorny paw.  Magnus yelped as he was hoisted high up into the air, to dangle upside-down above Malm’s open mouth.  As he looked down at the pincushion of teeth, Magnus stared in disbelief.  The teeth were moving.  They shuffled around in Malm’s mouth like shoppers in a bazaar.  Their shapes changed; some became thin points, others fat, jagged blades, a few twisted into barbed corkscrews.

For one brief moment, Magnus realized that the teeth had tailored themselves into a perfect instrument for utterly obliterating his body.  Magnus opened his mouth to scream, but, before he could draw breath, Malm dropped him in.

There was a crunch as Malm’s mouth shut.  He chewed for a moment, and then sighed with pleasure.