Saturday, December 31, 2016

Get Thee Behind Me 2016

What a year.

I don't need to revisit much of 2016, but I'm grateful for everyone who helped me help my folks this last fall. I'm grateful for everyone who read The Cold Distance. There's more to come this year. As well, there will be more Agent of DANGER in 2017 and the final (for now) installment of Evolver.

And I'm going to be trying some different stuff here, too. I'll focus on the things I enjoy reading, watching, and listening to. I want to make sure that we're as positive as possible but I will also comment on the state of politics in Kansas and the nation. My fear of what could happen has been overwhelming at times, barely balanced with the knowledge (really, hope) that it may not be as bad as I fear.

I'm coping with the loss of my mother by remembering all the cool stuff that happened. All the dinners with friends, the new friends, the stories I had the opportunity to write for absolute strangers. Good books, good music, and good films that all transported me away from the troubles of the day.

Definitely ready to move on.

For all that 2016 was awful, 2017 doesn't have to try hard to be better. Here's my wish that it will potentially be twice what this last year was. Here's my wish that we as a people will be more loving, tolerant and inclusive. Which is a mighty tall order given the rancorous tone the last few months, but it's what I hope for.

2017 doesn't have to be the greatest year ever. But it can be.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Separation Stages

Here we are nearing the end of the year and I'm glad. It's been rough but wonderful, terrible but enlightening, long and exhausting but fulfilling and invigorating.

Like every year, it's the mix of things that make it overall good or overall bad. 2016 has been a heady mix of extremes that I'm ready to leave behind me but which I've been improved by having experienced. Let me be clear, though: I'm as ready as anyone to leave 2016 in the dust.

But that means that I have to have a plan for next year. Regular readers may be aware, my plans for this year went up in a mushroom cloud at the end of July. I could whine and cry about my failures to achieve on a number of levels but what good does that do? No, I'd rather stand up, stretch, and renew my determination to be a writer. But plans have to be flexible and relevant.

The first thing I did was make a list of the projects that are in limbo at the moment but which need to be addressed. Here's the list:

  • Three parts of a four-part novel.
  • A juvenile adventure
  • Another juvenile adventure
Those are things that I had meant to have done and out in the world or almost out in the world by this point. I also have a list of things that have arisen over the last few weeks:
  • A collaboration on a novel
  • A short story
  • Another short story
  • A novella
Which really isn't a lot (maybe?) but it's the list of things on my mind currently. The collab novel has some some big ideas and a few notes to it and the novella is last on the list because it's the newest. The short stories are about half-written but need to be revised as I've seen a different ending for both. The juvenile adventures are plotted and have extensive notes and there's nothing really holding me back from writing them. AND there's another thing floating around out there but I'm not sure it's near ready enough, or that there would be enough interest in it to pursue to completion. We'll see.

And of course none of this accounts for anything new that presents itself. Nor does it include any of the stories I sent out for projects that for whatever reason failed to materialize. Maybe they'll see the light of day, maybe they won't. 

But I'm finding some enthusiasm again. What I've learned over the last six months is that I can't write effectively while grieving. And while the grief is still with me, I'm figuring out what I'm excited about with each of these projects. I'm realizing it's okay to be enthusiastic about my writing. It's confusing but kind of a relief, I suppose.

So - with all that in mind, setting goals for 2017 is foremost on my mind. That's seven projects up there. I started counting up the words I think would be needed to accomplish all this and if I can write 150,000 words in 2017 I will come very close to my goal of completing this list.

Depending on a few things moving behind the scenes this week, I'll set priorities and get started. After I'd written all of the above, I had to revise the outline for the juvenile adventures so those may rise to the top since they are fresh but I'm confident that I'm going to be able to juggle multiple projects. I need to get back to The Cold Distance and that collaboration is sneaking back into my head.

Finally, for those of you who don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, all my commissions going forward will support this charity, Catch A Break, which helps survivors of cancer. Because cancer doesn't just eat one's body, it eats all the money one has. All of it. These folks are pretty great and helped my parents a lot.

More later, less soon. 

Friday, November 04, 2016

What's Going On November 2016 edition

As expected, my political post didn't have many readers. We're all tired of the damned election and you don't come here anyway to read my political views. I get it.

So what am I up to? Hey, thanks for asking!

I'm NOT doing NaNoWriMo for the second year in a row. I've found it useful in the past to be around people who're writing away, who I interact with on the NaNo forums but this year I wasn't sure I could sustain the enthusiasm for continual writing. At least not for 1700 words a day or so. I just wasn't feeling it.

But I am cheerleading over on Twitter every day. Check there if you want someone who's done it a time or two (or five) to tell you it's going to be alright, that you should work hard but enjoy the work. In the end, NaNoWriMo is a satisfying experience if you immerse yourself in it fully. And in the end, you'll learn something about yourself and your writing.

I'll be opening up to do some Velocity Stories commissions soon. If you'd like to have a custom, hand-written story masquerading as a piece of art, stay tuned. I've been told they're "little slices of awesome" and the response to all the ones I did to help with my parents' medical bills was overwhelming. This round I want to limit the number of stories so that I can crank 'em out faster.

(Funny thing about a parent passing away: you don't feel much like doing the things that make you who you are for quite a while. I'm heading back to a point where writing makes me happy and I feel like it's okay to be happy for stretches of time now.)

I'll announce openings here in the next week so stay tuned. I'm playing with the idea of stories longer than 350 words, too. I think I've figured out how to make them a piece of art but I need to be sure I know what I'm doing before I get there. They may not be available for this round of commissions but look for them in the new year. (Damn, where has 2016 GONE?) Other stuff:

  • I'll get back to writing more of The Cold Distance. Dee has been very patient with me but she's anxious for you all to know where she's going next. I expect we'll start to see chapters around the end of the year. That may get pushed back depending on my critique group but it will happen sooner than later. 
  • I'm working a short story that I may not publish but it's cathartic in helping me deal with Mom's passing. It's something that I've had backburnered for a number of years but it's taking shape nicely. It fits in the world of The Cold Distance but you don't need to know anything about that world to read the story. We'll see how it goes. 
  • I'm hoping to get back to a collaboration that there are more than a few notes for. My co-writer is not waiting for me to be ready to write (because he shouldn't) so we'll have to work out scheduling but that book would be a fun thing for both of us, I think. List this one as tentative but with real possibility.
  • I need to revisit the outlines for books 2 and 3 of the Agent of DANGER series, get them re-approved and start writing. I must get those done in the first quarter of the new year. 
  • Finally, the third Evolver book is turned in. Haven't seen the cover yet but I've done all my bits for it. Hopefully it will hit the stands sooner than later, too.
I was supposed to have been done with all this by now. Goes to show that making plans doesn't always mean they get followed. But scheduling things is actually good for me. Bumping deadlines  and rearranging workloads is something we all have to do. It might be easier if my only job was to be a writer but the day job gets the majority of my attention at the moment.

Please accept my wishes for a lovely weekend, some good rest, and a dump truck full of the right words at the right time. You're awesome, you, and don't forget it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

A Political Post

I wrote a looong political post that amounts to this:

I voted for Hillary Clinton because she's the most qualified candidate. Because she's NOT the villain that the opposition and especially the Republican nominee have painted her to be.

Let's be clear that Mrs. Clinton has some deficiencies but not like the Republican nominee. He is racist, misogynist, dangerous and appeals to the worst of human nature.

The Republican nominee is not who he claims he is, either. He has not been honest, has not released his taxes and has actually threatened to jail Mrs. Clinton if he is elected. He has declared that he will not respect the outcome of the election if he is not the winner. He has exhorted people to 'monitor' polling places in a way that's an overt threat. This man is the single worst candidate the Republican party has ever fielded in the Presidential election. He has been endorsed by the official newspaper of the KKK. He is accused of defrauding people just like you through his university. He is accused of raping a thirteen year-old girl. He has looked at a ten year-old and exclaimed "I'll be dating her in ten years." This man is reprehensible.

He will not look out for your friends who are LGBTQ. He will exclude as many people as he can from a legitimate pursuit of life, love, and happiness. He has, since the beginning of his campaign, shouted about building a wall. He represents the party of Ronald Reagan who told Mikhail Gorbachev to 'tear down' the Berlin Wall. Do you see what kind of man the Republican party has selected? He is against EVERYthing that makes America free and brave.

Don't do this, America. Don't give him any advantage. DO NOT ELECT him to be President. He is a thin-skinned child who will do nothing for you. You will never have his kind of wealth or live in the style he does. He will see to that. He will put his foot on your back and keep you down 'where you belong'. Remember, he loves 'the poorly educated'.

Hillary is not the same, not by a long shot. She is NOT Dr. Doom or Mephisto and we do not live in the Marvel Universe. Don't get fantasy and reality confused. Think about your future, the future of the generation behind you, the future of our great country.

Please, America, DO NOT vote for the Republican nominee. We're much, much better than that.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Back to Normal: Let's Write

First things first, if you're still waiting for a commission from me it will be on its way to you by the end of the month. It should not have taken this long. I apologize.

I'm thankful for all the commissions I had to do. It allowed me to escape for a time here and there into worlds I hadn't needed to consider before. It also forced me to adopt a sort of formal layout for them. Since I'm done with conventions for this year I'm looking forward to opening back up for commissions for the Christmas season. I'll announce that when I'm ready.

I've been thinking a lot about what to write next. There are several short story ideas swimming around the brainpan, as well as two ideas that could be novels along with continuing work on The Cold Distance. AND a collaboration on another novel, where there are stacks of notes waiting to be reviewed and hammered into a plot of some kind. I dream about stories, I've got lots of scraps of paper in my work bag with notes for things I've started and ideas that are growing. All indications are that I'm ready to get back to writing.

But it can't be scattershot - do this one day then another thing the next. I'll need some organization to get things done.

Which is where I usually flail in desperation because I'm terrible at organizing my home work time. There are sooo many distractions. Like Netflix (Luke Cage held my attention after the first half, Black Mirror is terrifying and thought-provoking); or books (the new Caleb Carr! my about to collapse 'to read' shelf); comics (stuff I got at conventions this year that I have stacked).

One thing that's not on the list is NaNoWriMo. I want to do it but... there's too much else going on. Resetting one's life is difficult and expectations have to be lowered a bit to allow room for grief. What I'm learning is that I can't wallow. What happened happened and I'm not the first person it's happened to.

I went to hang out with my best friends last Saturday night. We talked, drank and shared stories as we normally do but it was different this time. Not that they were different with me but I recognized how much I needed to be there, to feel normal and to know that it was okay. In fact, it was good to be normal. Life must go on.

Skies are cloudy for a while but there's some blue peeking through now and then. I'm all right with how it's going because I know the sun is on the other side of those clouds. And I need sun to feel okay.

In the weeks since Mom passed away I've opened up a bunch of documents to start writing. Haven't gotten much done on any of them, but that's not the point. At least so far. Looking at what I've got in progress is part of getting back to normal. Typing a few sentences here and there is part of getting back to normal. Absorbing stories is part of it, too. All of this is building up and allowing me to feel like it's okay to get back to normal.

Watch this space. When I get back to it, I'll let you know. It's slow and I'm NOT going to rush it but it's happening. Flow will come and stories will result.

Thanks for reading, gang. Knowing you're out there rooting for me, even a little, means the world. I can't do this without you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sadness Sorrow Solace

There's some language here that may offend some, and talk about cancer and death. Heads up.

Life has been interesting the last four or five years. Lots of things going on professionally, my personal life has been and continues to be very stable over that time but there was a specter over everything for the last half of that time.

Cancer sucks. Fuck cancer. I understand now what deep anguish is and how it can affect me. No need for me to continue to wallow in self-pity/recrimination/immolation. Rather, I've been confronting the feelings of helplessness and despair as much as I can head on. The last four months in particular have been by far the absolute most difficult time of my life. However, there's been catharsis of late that came from working on so many commissions and more than a great deal of comfort from friends old and new.

In the time since I found out Mom was dying of an easily detectable and completely treatable colon cancer, I've worked hard. Not just at the day job but also at home and in my circles of friends. I've lost a few along the way to other life things but I think about them. I love them as much as I always have even though I don't reach out and make contact as often as I should. I ponder recriminations as to what I did to drive them away but it's not always me. They have life things going on too and they need to deal with them.

That's how I lose people more than anything else, just forgetting or not taking the time to send a card, an email, a text, make a phone call or anything that lets people know I'm thinking of them. Maybe it doesn't make much difference but I'll try to do better. At least where it concerns Christmas or holiday cards. And emails. I mean, I get a notification that someone has a birthday on Facebook and I don't click over to say "Happy Birthday!" when that's sooo easy. I tell myself I want to personalize it somehow, in some small way, give it a little kick like I would in real life.

And then it's gone and I'm on to the next crisis/task/whatever that demands my attention.

But I couldn't ignore cancer. I can't, going forward, either. Cancer is now a permanent part of my life and fuck cancer for taking my Mom. Fuck cancer for not having been cured.

I digress.

I haven't written on the novel since the beginning of August. My critique group is foundering a little but we'll get back in the groove. Everyone wants it to so I'm confident it will. I'm behind on a couple big projects at work but those will fall into place at the last possible second like they always do. This is Life. This is the messy stuff we should all put away when we get home so we can enjoy the best parts of Life. But often I confused it with living which it isn't. My wife has been the Rock I need, grounding me and feeding me and encouraging me. I doodle,  I've done a TON of Velocity Stories and I have a few more to go and I've batted around an idea with a buddy that could turn into something too.

There's a lot ahead but it's tinged with grief. I know it will lessen as time goes on and the hole in my heart will heal over eventually. All the little self-inflicted (imaginary) wounds are healing over bit by bit and I hope to reestablish certain valued friendships. It's an interesting time, one that could be pivotal.

Or it could just be a time that shit has happened and will continue.

It's up to me to do good with what I've got. There's love, friends, and lots of potential no matter what happens. That's the comfort available to me and I'm taking it. I know what living is, I know how to do it. I know what's important.

To everyone who has lost anyone to cancer, you are loved and valued and you're an awesome human. To everyone who has lost anyone for any reason, it will get better and there are things you can do to dilute the pain. Shutting out everyone who is still here and cares for you is not the right thing. Reach out to them, remind them you want to be included in everything. Go for it.

Mom always told me it was okay to try and fail at things. It's great advice. It's not license to be a jerk, it's permission to chase what matters to you. It's concession that you may not be ready for it despite what you think. As long as you don't hurt anyone in the process, go for it.

I miss my Mom but I have a lifetime's worth of memories. It's not the same but it's what there is.

We'll return to regular programming here soon. Thanks for your support, your words of caring, and the love you've shown me over the last few months. I mean it, you're all awesome humans.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Glad You Asked!

"How're the commissions coming?" - writer Nick Forristal

Nick's one of the good guys on the con circuit around here. We became friends a while back and we talk regularly. He's been a helluva cheerleader in keeping me on track getting all these commissions done for you guys. Do me a favor and check out his books. Buy some if you like. He'd appreciate it and so would I.

It's been a busy couple weeks between the day job and family stuff. Mom is hanging in there and so is Dad. There have been days where I couldn't focus enough to do the work and some days when I've been hyper-focused and getting lots and lots done. Up and down, the roller coaster goes round and round.

But that's the stuff that happens to everyone, it's nothing new. I know that well.

So, how ARE the commissions coming? I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I plan to work hard this weekend and through the week to finish up the run.

I can't thank you all enough. If you haven't heard from me, I'm heading into the home stretch. Everything should be going out in the next week to ten days. I'm trying to email everyone and I'm tracking stuff as best I can so I don't think I've forgotten anyone yet. If you ordered a commission and have NOT heard from me that I got it, hit me up here, on Twitter or on Facebook.  I've been posting scans and pics of the completed works there and sometimes on Instagram too. Follow along if you want to.

I'm getting some wonderful comments back from those who've already gotten their Velocity Stories in the mail, which makes me very humble. You all are so kind. Feel free to share pics on social media and if you want to use the #velocitystories hashtag, I'm cool with that. I'll look for them.

Okay, nose back to grindstone time. I'm going to have to fire up a newsletter as I've been threatening all year. And I'm going to be at Freestate Comicon on October 1 in Lawrence, Kansas, if you're in the area. That's my last scheduled appearance for the year and there will be a TON of wonderful people there and you'll be able to buy a con exclusive book that features sketches by the artists in attendance and a story by li'l ol' me.

So the next question is would any of you be interested in seeing a collection of these Velocity Stories? I've been toying with the idea on my daily commute. A pdf would be easy enough but maybe a print version would be cool. Let me know.

All right a couple things I've liked this week because there's too much hate out there right now: Star Trek TOS rewatch (I'm still in the middle of season 2); ARCADIA by Paknadel and Pfeiffer; the first volume of Matt Kindt's MIND MGMT (because of John Holloway's love for it) and discussions about coffee, whiskey and Baltimore.

Stay tuned. More to come. You're all awesome humans in my book.



Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Housecon Post-Con Debrief

Whew.

Photo by Mike Sullivan.
I spent the entirety of the Labor Day Weekend working on commissions that all you awesome, generous people have asked for. I made a good dent in them but I've still got a line to go.

If you were following along on Twitter over the weekend, you saw me make jokes about having panels with (I hope!) clever titles like: Mopping the Floors: Cats & Dogs; Washing the Dishes: How Long Can They Sit In the Sink?; and You Should Get Up To Move Around.

You also saw pics of some of the works in progress. If you're of a mind to be on Facebook, there's an album of them (also in progress) on The Jason Arnett Narrative. There are only a couple that are completely finished so I'll be doing the detail work this week before I send them out. None of them are perfect in my eyes but that's the charm of them, I guess. The little imperfections, the slight corrections you might not notice in an artists' sketch are a bit more noticeable here but that's okay. I created this on the fly and I'm only human. But I gave you my best. I even slowed down on the whiskey. (Though maybe that would've helped a little more...)

What you may have missed is that my brother from another mother Ande Parks has generously donated a sketch to the cause. It's currently up to bid on here. Feel free to share the link far and wide.

So #housecon was a rousing success as far as I'm concerned. It was a magnificent weekend where I did get stuff done around the house but I also got to spend the entire time writing stories.

If you all are interested I'll share the process another time.

But a couple more thank yous need to go out here. My friends over at Kansas City Comic Con (hi, Justin!) put the word out on social media and I'm grateful for them taking the time to do that. It means a lot. I just don't have that kind of reach.

To everyone who retweeted or shared the link to my original post, you're all kinds of awesome. I really had no idea so many people cared. I got several messages of support and sympathy and I hope that I'm gracious in my replies because I'm overwhelmed. There's so much love out there and so many great people. I am doing my best and I keep pushing to get better. I hope that's okay.

Finally, I told my parents over the weekend what I was doing. To say they were floored by the response to that post is an understatement. You guys, what you've done is give them some peace and a little security. I can't tell you how important that really is, but I bet you know. That's why you've done what you did. And Mom and Dad are grateful to you all, too. We all cried with happiness at how cool you cats are.

As for how Mom is doing at the moment: she's holding steady. She feels like she has the energy to get up and walk around and do things but it's near impossible because she can't keep her balance. But she looks good, still looks like my Mom though she's too thin and she doesn't eat much at meals. Dad is keeping the house running but also occupying himself with projects like installing new kitchen cabinets he's designed and built that Mom asked for over the last few years.

Their anniversary is this coming Sunday, the 11th. They'll be celebrating 49 years of actually being married but also more than 50 years of being together. I think she's strong enough she'll get there, especially with the love that's come from all of you.

Thanks for letting me be a little maudlin here. Thanks for your kindness and generosity and for spreading the word. You're all awesome humans. You can tell anyone I said so.

I'll continue to take commissions for the time being. Every little bit helps. See the original post for a convenient button to order one.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My Heart Is Full

Wow.

You guys. YOU GUYS are AWESOME.

If you're just joining us, I'm taking commissions to raise money for my parents' medical bills. All the details are HERE.

I'm taking a moment before diving into working on Velocity Stories tonight to say thank you for the outpouring of support these last three days. You've given me commissions to keep me busy when it would be so easy to give in to grief and despair; you've shown me there is a shared community between comics and prose; you've humbled me with so many kind words and your sharing of my last post.

As I write this over 1400 people have visited to read about my parents and how I'm hoping to help them. People I've never met and who had never heard of me have written to commission stories from me. I'm going to be busy for quite a while as a result.

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all.

Without going all mushy on you, these folks have my eternal gratitude:

R.L. Naquin, Rob Schamberger and John Holloway jumped right in and boosted the signal. They're all good friends and have said nice things about what I'm doing. So has Dayton Ward, a friend and one of my table-mates at local comic cons, who also wrote nice things. All of them are responsible for commissions coming my way, and interesting ones at that.

I would be remiss to not mention the social media staff of Planet Comicon and Kirk Chritton in particular. They boosted the signal an awful lot today by spreading the word across every platform they're on. This is huge and I'm much obliged to them for doing it. I will be there next April, for sure.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has bought a story or reached out both privately and through social media. This is not about me; it's about making sure that the people who raised me to have an interest and be active in the arts are reaching some level of comfort they don't currently have. I will keep taking commissions as long as I can, as long as you all will wait for me to get them out to you.

If you would like to help them by commissioning a story, there's a convenient button below. I will email you back to tell you how long it will take but it could be up to two weeks.

Anything helps, especially letting others know. There are so many wonderful humans in the world and you're one of them.



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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Writing in Agony

My mom is dying of cancer.

I've tried to write this post dozens of times over the last two months. It's time to write it down and get it out. It's a long story and I hope you'll stick with me to the end.

In May of 2014 I was summoned to my parents' house and informed that Mom had Stage 4 colon cancer that had already spread across her liver and her lungs. She was preparing to begin chemotherapy which would maybe beat the cancer into remission. Surgery was impossible. Mom was positive though, and certain she'd have a good amount of time left.

That December, Dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It was operable and in the spring of 2015 he underwent radiation treatments and surgery and was down for months. Mom cared for him day in and day out. All while getting chemo every other week. Her cancer markers dropped and dropped and she seemed to be doing okay.

Cancer doesn't care about that. Dad had been working - he hangs wallpaper and paints when people need a room or several redone - up until just before he started radiation. The last months before his diagnosis, Dad also found out he had arthritis in his hip, which explained the stabbing pains in his hip and back. He needed surgery for that, too. When he was healthy, he got his hip done and Mom took care of him then, too.

Mom has only ever raised me and my brother, kept house for her and Dad and worked for herself. Dad has been self-employed since the late 80s. They don't have insurance beyond Medicare because until Obamacare, self-insuring was more than cost-prohibitive.


So the bills were mounting. Flash forward to spring 2016. Mom's cancer markers started increasing again. The doctor decided to change her chemo cocktail to something stronger, to see if it would help shrink the tumors. Of course it made her sicker. Not cancer-wise but she got weaker and weaker on the new drugs. And they weren't helping.

Meanwhile her liver was starting to shut down, she started retaining fluid. The doc told my parents Mom needed a break from the drugs. He wanted to see if she could get some strength back. The fluid retention made her tired, kept her from getting up and around. The doc could only drain her once a week. Six liters at a time, sometimes more. Her discomfort increased.

In late July, the doc said that there couldn't be a return to chemotherapy. Mom was given weeks to live.

All they have is their social security. It's enough to pay the mortgage and keep the house running. They've put aside their pride and taken charity whenever it's been an option, but the bills are mountainous now. And Mom is nearing the end. As I write this she has great days where she's really strong and really engaged. She's the Mom I know and love dearly. She's the Mom who encouraged me to explore art and music and storytelling.

So here's what I'm doing to help them.

I write stories on demand at comic book conventions. I call them Velocity Stories. How it works is I get a prompt from the client - a phrase or just a couple of words - and then I run with that for 125 up to 350 words. I hand write the story on a 5.5"x 8.5" card emblazoned with the rocket logo. Or if it's a longer tale, it goes on a 9"x12" piece of Strathmore. There are two examples here on this post. On occasion I've added a drawing utilizing my poorer illustrative skills.

What Mom and Dad need is money to keep afloat. I'm looking for commissions to do in order to get them some much needed cash. The small cards (usually 100 - 150 words depending on the size of the sketch) are $15 including shipping and the large pieces are $30 including shipping. All proceeds go to help my parents. Send me an email (jasonlarnett&gmail.com [replace the & with @]) with 'Commission' in the subject line and your prompt in the body. I'll reply with a timeline and payment details. I like to work fast on these so unless I'm totally overwhelmed you should get it in two weeks or less depending on the mail. By the way, the two pieces shown here are for sale.


The other way you can help is to spread the word via social media with a link back here.

I understand we're not the only family going through this. Cancer affects more and more people all the time. Most of us know someone who's dealing with cancer. I hope that someday, with the right people in the right places, cancer can become a thing of the past. I hope that these pleas for assistance become unnecessary. Until that happens, any and all help is deeply and truly appreciated.



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Thursday, August 25, 2016

KCCC 2016 post con debrief

Photo by Nick Forristal
What a weekend!

First, THANK YOU to Matt Driscoll and Justin Cline for putting on a great show centered on Kansas City and the creators that abound here. You probably know how much it means to us all that you care enough to put on a convention like this. There just aren't enough words to express the depth of feeling.

Had a great time at Kansas City Comic Con this past weekend. August 12-14, 2016. (I'm woefully behind on so many things!) I got to share a row with good friends Holly Messinger, Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, James Young, Anita Young and a new friend in Jonathan Maberry. Across from us were buddies Nicholas Forristal, Thaddeus Nowak and A.R. Crebs. So many other friends were all around us that it felt like home for three days.

I scored a bunch of great reads, including Jim Starlin's Mystery in Space featuring Captain Comet (an old fave of mine) and the 1976 Howard the Duck Treasury Edition. I also acquired a collection of Marvel's Doc Savage comics from the 70s, but it was published by DC, who had the rights later on in the early 90s. I love it for the Ross Andru art.

Though I was only scheduled for two panels, I ended up doing three. My first panel on Friday got moved to Saturday due to some snafus in the airlines properly delivering Jonathan Maberry to Kansas City. Everything got rescheduled for the same time the next day and eventually he made it safe. On Saturday morning I moderated the writer's panel with guests Forristal, Nowak, Brian W. Peterson and new to the show writer J.B. Garner. It was lively and funny and the tables stayed on the stage this year.

Photo by Mindy Kinnaman. 
After the panel I was ready to leave when I was press ganged by the writers coming in after. They insisted I stay to moderate their panel. So the next writer's panel featured Messinger, Crebs, Bethany Hagen and Jae B. Wells. There were more attendees and the novelists talked about what it takes to be an author. It was livelier and entertaining and full of laughs. Seriously. Hagen is really funny on a panel.

Then it was back to the table to try and sell some books or hawk a couple of Velocity Stories for commission. Though I talked to a lot of people, not much moved off my table except for bookmarks either Friday or Saturday. I have to attribute it to the lack of new books written by me and the trends I see in my day job. Presidential election years are notoriously slow, with some parts of the population just holding on to money out of fear of whatever may come. New books will appear on my tables after the new year, at least three and maybe more, and the election will be resolved.

I pass no judgement on anyone but from an artist's point of view, it's frustrating. Luckily friends Kristofor Harris and Scott Drummond and C.W. Cooke were around to chat with and commiserate.


The gang at Arthur Bryant's, the BEST KC BBQ
But the high point of my weekend, and maybe my career at conventions, was the interview panel I had with Jonathan Maberry. We had messaged back and forth a little on Friday when it was clear he would not be in the building for the 4 PM panel but met early on Saturday. In preparation for the interview I read/listened to the first Joe Ledger book, Patient Zero, and the first book of his Rot & Ruin series. I'm not a zombie guy (Maberry is) but he told compelling stories with these horrors that made me a fan. After our panel together, and chatting off and on during the weekend, I'm a bigger fan of his. He's just one of the coolest cats you'll ever meet. Maybe I'll get to do more panels with him as I expand my catalog and con base. Buy me a drink and I'll share the stories with you.

There was a lot of BBQ involved, there was a great dinner on Friday with one of my oldest and dearest friends that's a KC convention tradition, and another dinner on Saturday with friends old and new, including Shannon Denton, Brent Peeples, Ande Parks, Andy Kuhn, Frank Barbiere and Bo Hampton.  I could not have asked for a better time. Justin and the team took exceptional care of me and the cohort in our row of Artists' Alley and I look forward to returning next year.

Hope you'll come out, too.

My next appearance will be at Freestate Comicon on October 1. Would love to see you there.

Friday, August 12, 2016

This Weekend at Kansas City Comicon

To everyone who's come by in the last month to read The Cold Distance:



THANK YOU.


I am humbled by the numbers of you that have popped in and appear to have read all the way through. I hope that you'll be at Kansas City Comic Con this weekend and we can chat about it.

Reasons you should go besides to see
me:


  • ALL the creators including but not limited to comics, animation, and authors
  • The events around the show
  • Chances to discover the next big thing
  • Rubbing elbows and getting pictures with media guests
  • Hanging out with like-minded people

This is the second year for this show and I had a blast last year. In the 1200 row (where I'll be hawking books and writing flash fictions for YOU) alone is enough talent to blow you away: Jonathan Maberry, Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Holly Messinger, James Young, Thaddeus Nowak, Nicholas Forristal, A.R. Crebs... I mean, you could spend MONTHS  being entertained by all their books and still only scratch the surface of their stories. 

The comics folk are brimming over, too. Scott Drummond, Josh Cotter, Travis Fox, Shannon Denton, Andy Kuhn, Ande Parks, C.W. Cooke, Christopher Priest, James O'Barr, Clay Moore, John Lucas, Kyle Strahm. Guys, these are the people who are making stuff you should read.

There are artists like Rob Schamberger and Hector Casanova and Ant Lucia that will be there. The guys from Worst Comics Podcast EVER will be there. Mike Sullivan, Arie Monroe, Ed Bickford, Joel Pfannestiel, Jared George, Kristofor Harris, Alex Maday, and Jim Mehsling will all be around. 

This is the creator-focused show you want to go to. Spend a little time with your favorite creators, explore the works of others and discover something you didn't know you needed.  There will be cosplayers, cool vendors and more special guests than you can shake a stick at.

I'll take as many pics as I can but don't hesitate to share yours with me via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

I'll check back in next week with an assessment of the show and fill you in on the plans for the next book of The Cold Distance.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Cold Distance : Chapter Eight

Welcome to the first adventure of Jugee & the Duchess:

Dee makes the hard choices, the ones that change people's lives. The result of her latest choice means she must put a lot of space between herself and her adopted home with the law hot on her trail. Her escape is cut off and she strikes a bargain with a mysterious alien and his companion to get off planet. 
As she learns more about her traveling companions, Dee must decide whether to join them or evade agents of the enigmatic Clave on her own. More hard choices are in her future and she has to make the right ones if she wants to live.

This is Book One, Way Out. It will run for four weeks from July 18th through August 11th. I'll be at Kansas City Comicon August 12th through the 14th where we can talk about it face to face if you like. Chapters will drop on Mondays and Thursdays at 7 AM Central Time. Feel free to comment here or over at my Facebook Page.  If you like it, please tell your friends. You know us writers are an insecure, superstitious lot.

Previously:
Chapter One 
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven

To Infinity and beyond!

CHAPTER EIGHT


“Wait, what? No. That wasn’t my second question!”
“Then you should pay more attention to your phrasing,” Alu said. His tone was dismissive but he didn’t send me away. 
I weighed my options and as if he were reading my mind, Alu continued. “I expect you to decide between Poosh and Leileu. You have been told the costs.”
There was an opening there and I dove it to exploit it. I wondered briefly if Madeleine would be proud that I learned something from her.
“Have you been honest with me?”
That took Alu aback. “Why would you think I have not?”
“You’re a thief. It benefits you to lie overtly and by omission. Perhaps you think you can bully me into making a hasty choice.”
“That’s enough,” Jugee said.
I didn’t hear him. “From the moment we met you have acted badly, ordering me here and there, interrogating me and offering nothing in return. Well, except for escape from the Clave and for that I thank you. You have demanded money, extorted is more the term, at a rate that is beyond unreasonable. This ship is efficient in design and function and it makes sense that with two AIs on board it is extremely efficient in its fuel usage.”
Nerves made me stumble over my words, caused me to be less effective than I had thought I would be in this kind of situation. I paused long enough to reset, pull in  a quick breath and let it out. Jugee took the opportunity to start in.
“Miss Holling, this is unacceptable in the -“
“Quiet, Jugee.” Alu gave me his full attention. 
It was obvious that Alu wasn’t going any further. He unclasped his hands from behind his back and folded his arms across his chest. Waiting for me to go on.
So I did. “You offered me transport before I had the chance to ask. You bullied me into it when you were showing off your deductive prowess. Which in hindsight shouldn’t have been as impressive as it first appeared. You’re a thief. You know things about the people you’re stealing from and you knew Madeleine, know her, well enough to be concerned that she’d stolen something from you when we got there. 
“You’ve done everything you can to keep me off-balance since we met. And - and, well, I’m tuned in now so it’s not going to be so easy. You’re going to have to actually deal with me - ME.” I slammed my fist against my chest for emphasis. “I don’t appreciate the treatment and you can go to Jommua if you think I’m going to stand for it one minute more.”
Silence rushed in to fill the void. I could feel the thrum of the ship’s drive under my feet and hear the hum that went with it but that was all the sound in the room for a full minute.
Until Alu burst out laughing.
“Jugee you owe me ten thousand ferune!”
Bewildered, I watched the Symbi’s smile widen, his eyes crinkle. “I don’t - understand.”
Alu took a breath and said, “I told you she was like her adoptive mother.” He burst into another round of guffaws that sounded like barking. Reaching out for his couch, Alu pulled himself down and reclined so he could laugh more deeply.
“Funds are transferred,” Jugee said, petulance creeping into his voice around the edges. In fact, his voice wasn’t as near as it had been before. 
“It was a test, you see,” Alu said, “we had a wager that you would crack under the pressure. It helped that Medayma Skartarine accelerated her timetable.”
“She was in on this? She set me up?”
“No,” Jugee said, still pouting. “No. We were there to retrieve a certain article from her directly. Alu had it in his head that you might want to test yourself by coming with us, joining us but I insisted that you wouldn’t be interested or if you were, not capable enough.”
Anger. Fury. Rage. Fire from my belly surged through my body and I fought to keep it under control. I took an extra two seconds to be sure I said what I wanted to say. Then I took two more seconds.
“I wouldn’t have put it past her to have engineered — this.” I threw my hands out to take in the entire flight deck. 
It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say, so I bit back on my feelings to wait for the consequences of my outburst. In my mind I was sure they were going to space me long before we got to Poosh. I couldn’t face Alu so I examined the carpet under my boots. I liked the color, a dark maroon that blended in well.
“Ship,” Alu said.
“Ready and waiting!” The ship’s AI voice was mature like Madeleine’s but had a different tenor, more sonorous. Despite the eager tinge to her reply, I suspected something lay underneath it. Unsure of what it was, I filed that fact away as something to look into later. If there was a later.
“Ship, plot our course for Poosh.”
“Got it.”
“What’s the best time?”
“If I course correct now and fire the FTL no more than one hour after that, we’ll make it in three ships’ days.”
“Which are how long?” Alu was asking for my benefit, not his. I still couldn’t look up.
“Thirty bells total across three ten-bell cycles. Each bell is half an hour standard.”
“Do you understand that?” Alu addressed me.
Slowly I brought my face up but kept my eyes to my left, where my valise lay in a flight couch. After I swallowed I looked Alu in the eye and said, “Yes.”
No matter how I tried I couldn’t read him, he looked hard again but I thought I saw a flicker of compassion.
“Ship, set course for Poosh, best time. Set our transponder code to innocuous with a four bell rotation. Use set ‘Dodger’ and randomize it.”
“Roger, ‘Dodger’.” Ship seemed to enjoy the rhyme. 
“You need to rest,” Alu said. He sounded like an exasperated father. “But while you are resting I want you to consider this proposition: I am in need of an apprentice. You have skills, you are clever and a lethally quick study. You remind me of me in some ways. 
“This would not be easy. I will test you in ways you have never been tested and you will grow to hate me. But I believe that you might have a knack for what we do.”
“How long is the apprenticeship? Am I free to go whenever I want?”
“You are not a prisoner. You will stay because you want to. The length of your apprenticeship depends entirely on your performance. I will dismiss you if it turns out you are not suited to the job.”
Before I could ask the next questions, Alu went on. “We will drop you on the nearest settled world and you will have your ferune plus whatever you earn along the way. You need not fear for your well being.”
I didn’t know what to make of this. It sounded like I could go whenever I wanted but I would learn some trade skills. Illegal trade skills but…
“You’ll have my answer when I’ve rested,” I said. “Though I reserve the right to ask some questions.”
“Done.” Alu put out his scaly hand. 
I took it. 

To my surprise, I wasn’t repulsed at all by the feel of his hand in mind.


***


Jugee lit the way back to my room when I insisted on not taking the vator. “I want to learn the ship,” I told him. 
“You’ll remember better when you’re rested,” he said. I got the feeling that he was torqued at me. For losing ten thousand? I didn’t know.
I climbed down the ladder to the corner of the lounge where I’d come in from the lander. The vator was across the room. The door nearest me on my right opened.
“Your room,” Jugee said. The frame around another door lit. “That’s Alu’s room. Strictly off-limits. So are the other two.”
“I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, if you don’t mind.”
For the longest while Jugee didn’t answer. I waited, though, because I was genuinely curious. My eyes roved over the entire room now that I was relaxed in it, and I was surprised there wasn’t any art on the walls. Alu must not have been much of a decorator.
“Go ahead,” Jugee replied at last. 
“Thank you. Where are you in the ship?”
“You saw the frozen light lattice on our approach. That’s the backup mainframe. My quantum servers are housed underneath that lattice.”
“Oh.” I had a nominal understanding of the basics of quantum computing and had only ever scanned articles about frozen light systems. “So you’re a quantum AI.”
“Correct,” Jugee said. “I am a McCarthy MH1997 programmed by Talokian designers on the planet Urewgan in the Eathet system. I am programmed to behave as a thirty year-old human, in your case, using references to popular culture, science, politics and general interest topics within fifty parsecs and fifty standard years. That said, I can emulate a simulacrum of any of the two hundred forty seven sentient races, with permutations for regional and continental differences as needed.”
“Huh?” I was always elegant when I was dumbfounded. I can’t help it.
“It’s easy to interface with local satellite systems. Of course it helps that they don’t know I’m doing it.” He couldn’t help himself. Jugee was full of pride at being able to steal knowledge like that. His programmers were geniuses, really. I still marvel at what he did.
But that’s off-topic. He continued to tell me how great he was, how much he could do, how essential he was to Alu’s operation. Well, he called it ‘their’ operation. Finally he came to the point he’d been dancing around.
“My stochastic quantum optimizers give me storage for more information than would be possible to keep in any organic brain. But I’m not a computer, I am a sentient in my own right. I am a person.” If he’d had a body, he would have puffed out his chest, maybe he would have thumped his fist on it for emphasis. 
I stood outside my room, looking in at the bed. Its invitation whispered softly in my ear, promising soft covers and deep pillows to lay on. A place to really rest. It occurred to me then that I had no concept of the time. I’d napped for about two hours, and it took us three hours from the surface to arrive on the yacht and we escaped the embassy which took us another hour…
It was hopeless. No way would I put it all together. “Jugee? What time is it?”
“Five bells.”
My confusion must have shown, because Jugee quickly added: “It’s midafternoon.”
“Ah. Well, I shouldn’t sleep now,” I said but I didn’t mean it. The lack of adrenaline was more than noticeable and my energy levels were terribly  low. I was betting the walk would do me some good. “How about that tour?”
I was at a disadvantage in every conversation with Jugee. Without seeing him I couldn’t get a read on his emotions. The house AI back at Madeleine’s wasn’t nearly at his level so all my experience didn’t help me either. In the end I didn’t know if he hesitated or not because he could make calculations or reach deductions a thousand times faster than anyone else I’d ever known. 
“Fine,” he said and lit the hatch that I’d entered the ship by. “Gravity is off in the access tunnel but follow the lights and I’ll show you the servers.”
I went feet first into the access. With the hatch closed, Jugee guided me down ten rungs and had me follow the curve of the tunnel to my left. There was another hatch, one I hadn’t noticed the first time. I went through.
And came out on my hands and knees. 
“I turned the gravity on in here just because you’re going to prefer standing up but remember that you’re standing parallel to the access. You might watch your head, too. It’s short in here.”
When I got to my feet my hair touched the panels overhead. At my height, I’m not used to feeling the ceiling close at all. It was weird.
The space was filled by a loud hum punctuated by whirrs and clicks. Monitors and keyboards lined the tiny room. I imagined that if I was ever stuck in here I would probably feel claustrophobic quickly. 
“The main workstation here,” Jugee said flashing three red lights above a monitor, “is where all the ship’s AI functions can be monitored.”
“Right, because you two are separate.”
“I’m a person, Miss Holling.”
“Some would argue the ship AI is, too.”
“Yes.” Jugee stumbled over that, I thought.
“Just because you’re smarter doesn’t make you better.”
“You’ll notice that glass wall at the end of the room. That gives you  the view of the actual servers.” 
I walked to the huge window. That rainbow I saw on our approach to the yacht dominated the view, its light so bright that I couldn’t see the stars behind. Each beam crossed six others and within each was variation the likes of which I’d never seen before. “The lattice,” I said. “You said you were a quantum computer. That’s frozen light out there for an optical computer.”
”I’m sure that you could eventually understand it all and if you decide to go with us I may explain it. But for now this is all you need to know.”
My training as a diplomat allowed me to take the compliment and to know when it was appropriate to let a statement pass. “Well, it’s beautiful,” I said. “I bet Alu comes here all the time just to meditate.”
“I can’t say.”
“Jugee?”
“Yes.”
“Does he own you? I mean the servers being part of the ship must mean that you came along with it.”
In my gut I know I surprised him. He hid it well, though.”
“I am a free person, Miss Holling.”
“Dee. Call me Dee.” Yes, I was warming up to him. In retrospect, I’d probably already made my decision.
“I am a free person, Dee.”
“And yet you respond to him as if he were your master. How do you reconcile that?”
The hatch popped open with a hiss. My feet floated off the floor and I began to tumble. “What the -?”
“Time to go back,” Jugee said. “I will show you the food lockers, the kitchen, the composer and all the things you’ll need to do for yourself while you’re on the ship.”
Flailing, I grabbed for a handhold as I twisted and tumbled with the sudden absence of gravity. “Hey!”
“Anything can happen any time,” Jugee said. “You will have to learn to prepare yourself.”


***

I learned where everything was in relation to my apartment. Jugee’s attitude bothered me but I let it roll off so I could think about what I needed to do. 
Since there was no plan — and that was something neither Jugee nor Alu needed to know — I decided to go with them. I took time to discern the level of surveillance in my rooms without hiding it. Jugee dropped two eyes and four ears to the floor.
“Alu ordered all the rooms be audited on a regular basis when guests were on board,” he said. 
“Yeah? And how many guests have you had on board?”
“You’re the first.”
“How long have you been with him?”
“Long enough to know that I’m not falling into that argument with you again. I am a free person and it’s in my own interests as well as his to keep tabs on you.”
“So if there are a handful of eyes and ears in here that you’re showing me, how many more are there?” I waited for an answer which came in the form of ten more devices slipping out of their hiding places to the floor. “Come on, Jugee. There’s more, isn’t there?”
Two more, one over the door and one at the ceiling dropped.
“Keep the main camera there, facing the door, and the two-way comm.” I shucked off my jacket and threw it on the edge of the bed. “No spying on me. I expect privacy the same way Alu does. No coming in unless you’re invited. You can call if you want to talk to me.”
If he’d been a flesh and blood person, I imagined that Jugee would have been exasperated with me.
But that didn’t last long.
“Alu is asking for you on the flight deck.”
“I’m busy,” I said.
“It’s an emergency. You’re needed.” 
The door to my apartment slid back. “Now,” Jugee said.
Annoyed, I grabbed my jacket and climbed the ladder up to the flight deck. I cursed with every step.
“You should have taken the vator,” Alu said as I emerged from the ladder well. 
“I’m not your slave like some other people,” I said. I closed my jacket and joined him in the center of the flight couches. “Now what’s the deal?” My intention was to sound as pissed off as I could to show that I didn’t appreciate being ordered around.
Floating above the edge of the well was a large screen that showed empty space. 
“Coming in fast, Alu. From the far side of the sector, heading for Ffeine.”
“Keep it out of our systems as long as you can,” Alu said without taking his squinted eyes off the screen. “Ship, cycle the call signs.”
“What is going on?” I stood close to Alu without thinking about it, kept my eyes on the screen. “Oh Jommua. It’s the favring Clave, isn’t it?”
“They’re pinging us hard, Alu. I’ve got them looking in the ghost environments. If they punch through, there’s another layer just in case. They’re running bioscans too. I’ve shown the false schematics but this is new for them.”
“Ship?”
“We’re a pleasure craft on honeymoon from Arcl Six, heading for Okingery and just passing through. We laid over at Ffeine for two weeks. You are a well-known plasma dealer and Miss Holling is a beauty queen.”
Alu scowled down at me, snorted. “Maybe they will believe it.” When he returned his attention to the screen, he pointed. “There. Do you see?”
I peered forward and saw nothing but stars. Finally a pinpoint of light grew too fast in dead center of the screen. “Okay, there it is.” I felt a little better. Of course the ship and Jugee could register that kind of thing way farther than any Eye could see. 
“It’s not slowing,” the ship said. “Collision in forty seconds.”
“He will not smash us,” Alu said. “The Clave are never suicidal.”
My shin bumped against one of the flight couches. “I don’t know anything about them. Where they come from, how they work… None of that is available in any database -“
“Quiet. Later. After.”
“They’re hailing us, Alu.”
“Thirty-five seconds to impact. Their weapons systems are online and charging.”
“On the screen.” Alu immediately softened, allowing his body to slacken as he held his hands out in the universal gesture for I didn’t mean to piss you off.
In front of us the screen showed a green background behind the Clave’s badge: a hand with an eye in the palm. “By order of the Clave, declare your origin and destination. Failure to declare in ten seconds will result in your destruction.”
“We’re on our honeymoon!”
“Impact in twenty-five seconds,” the ship said.
“Declare, Jugee,” Alu said then faced the screen again. “I promise we are -“
“Origin and identity confirmed.” The screen went black then changed back to the original view of the star field. Their ship was flat and ovoid, no wings or fins, just a rock skating across the black water of space. It was plain, too, which made it even more intimidating, I guess. 
“They haven’t changed course, Alu.” Jugee sounded worried. “And they’re continuing scans, including the deep records in the underenvirons. Trying hard to crack the servers.”
“Ten seconds,” the ship’s AI said. “No change. They’re going to hit in eight, seven…”
“Change of course,” Jugee said. 
“Six, five.”
“They’re going to pass over us but will miss us by only half a mile!”
“Four.”
The ship lurched and I was thrown into the wall of the well, hitting it hard with my back and head. Alu had grabbed onto one of the couches to steady himself but he strained to stay  standing. My angle on the screen was distorted but I saw the exhaust of the Clave ship fuzz out the picture. When I realized I was holding too tightly to one of the braces for the rail, I relaxed a little. In a moment, the ship had settled back and I could get to my feet.
It hurt to stand up. I had taken a harder shot than I thought when I crashed into the wall. The couch nearest me seemed so far away I didn’t try to reach it. Instead I laid my arm across the rail and leaned into it.
“We’re clear,” Jugee said. “They’re in orbit now around Ffeine.”
“Okay,” I said. “You want my answer now?”
Alu held out a hand to slow me down. “In a moment. First, ship - lay in our course for Poosh and execute. Fastest route avoiding all known Clave sectors.”
“Done.”
“Jugee, check our inventory, reset the ‘Dodger’ cycle and -“
“Who died and made you boss?”
Alu stopped short. “Is there an issue?” He cast a sidelong glance at me, which I returned as stonily as I’d ever seen him give me.
“What will you be doing while I and the ship take care of everything?”
“I will be in my quarters.” He said it so coldly that even I shivered. His anger wasn’t hot, boiling or anything like I’d ever encountered. He was icy, harsh, biting. So of course he returned to me. “What is your answer?”
Just like that. No preamble, no subtlety or nicety, just the straightforward question.
So I gave it back. “I’m with you. I’m your apprentice.”



END OF BOOK ONE.


NEXT: BOOK TWO!

©2016 by Jason Arnett. All Rights Reserved. Please share by linking to this page.

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Cold Distance : Chapter Seven

Welcome to the first adventure of Jugee & the Duchess:

Dee makes the hard choices, the ones that change people's lives. The result of her latest choice means she must put a lot of space between herself and her adopted home with the law hot on her trail. Her escape is cut off and she strikes a bargain with a mysterious alien and his companion to get off planet. 
As she learns more about her traveling companions, Dee must decide whether to join them or evade agents of the enigmatic Clave on her own. More hard choices are in her future and she has to make the right ones if she wants to live.

This is Book One, Way Out. It will run for four weeks from July 18th through August 11th. I'll be at Kansas City Comicon August 12th through the 14th where we can talk about it face to face if you like. Chapters will drop on Mondays and Thursdays at 7 AM Central Time. Feel free to comment here or over at my Facebook Page.  If you like it, please tell your friends. You know us writers are an insecure, superstitious lot.

Previously:
Chapter One 
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six

All ahead full!

CHAPTER SEVEN

Lights outlined a door to my right as it slid back. “This is your room. There are three others on this deck and all are off-limits to you. Understand?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“I’ll give you a tour later. The refresher is on the left.”
Exhausted, I went inside. The door closed immediately and I was alone. My room was as chic as the one at the Riange. I yawned while I walked around, touching the walls and the light fixtures. The clothes on the bed were functional: sleek red leather pants, a short jacket with a v-neck undershirt, and knee-high boots with low heels to match. The leather was soft, well broken in. They were a stark contrast to the golden coverlet underneath them. The bed itself was king sized with four pillows, firm to my touch which suited me fine.
Four drawers in the wall next to the door to the refresher had everything else I might need, in exactly my size. When I closed the drawers I felt sticky and ill. Jugee must have measured me somehow. Upon further thought, they had all my clothes out of the valise. A good composer could have produced these items while we talked in the lounge. Of course that’s what they’d done. 
Which reminded me that I should be indignant about that when I wasn’t so debilitated. 
I undressed and took a shower. Relishing the hot water washing over me, I took my time without thinking about it. As I toweled off, it hit me that the water supply was limited here and I should be careful. Then I thought that it likely I would have received a warning about using too much water. I dressed, finding the suit the most comfortable thing I’d ever worn. I searched the room for a mirror and one rolled down to the floor.
Yeah, I looked good.

Aside from the dark circles under my eyes, which made me look like a Procyon. I waved my hand and the mirror rolled back up to disappear into the wall. Fatigue washed over me. I turned the corner around the foot of the bed and crawled up on it, boots, jacket and all. The pillows smelled good, so I snugged down.

***



Startled, I sat up straight. Wide awake. Nothing was changed. I was still in the room I’d fallen asleep in. I was not in the crush of people trying to escape a crumbling building. Not in the cabinet of a conference room with the door held shut. 
But the screams echoed off the walls. It took me too long to slow my racing heart, to even out my breathing. 
“Miss Holling.”
Jugee.
“Yes.” The echoes had faded back into memory or wherever my mind had dredged them up from. My heart slowed.
“Alu is asking to debrief on the flight deck. Do you need some time to ready yourself?”
Why was he so formal now? It sent the message that they were concerned, which meant that I should be concerned too. But they knew everything and still took me in. 
“Can I have five minutes to compose myself?”
“Alu says three. I will light the way for you.”
It hit me that I’d been passing out a lot since I met these two. Stress and fatigue and the shifting gravity had something to do with it, but maybe they did too. Maybe they were bad actors looking to push me into something I didn’t want to do. After all, no one would miss me now. And I got the sense they could drop off the grid any time they wanted to avoid the darmes, hide in plain sight. Even from the Clave.
Again I asked myself, what had I gotten into?
The door opened and I stood, smoothing down my hair, pulling my jacket straight. I drew a deep breath and followed the lights. First to the vator which took me up. When the door opened I traced the light path onto the flight deck. 
I wasn’t prepared for what the flight deck was or what it looked like. It stopped me dead in my tracks.
Clean and sharp are the adjectives that still stick with me. The deck was carpeted and the walls were painted a comforting shade of green. Four workstations circled the room with embedded keyboards and large screens; plush benches hovered in front of each station; the desks were large with space for a dinner plate on one side and a tablet on the other. In the center of the round flight deck, two steps down, four flight couches faced into each other.  Above was a digital board, one of the large round ones I’d seen at sporting events. It displayed a series of designs that faded one into the other after about twenty seconds or so. 
Alu reclined in one of the couches, my valise was closed on another to his right. He indicated I should sit across from him. 
I stepped into the well and paused next to the couch with one hand on the headrest. Alu’s face was inscrutable which made me nervous. Swallowing, I sat down and rested my hands in my lap.
After a moment, he looked up at me and asked, “Did you sleep well?”
“I suppose so,” I said. “I don’t know how long I was out.”
“Two hours,” Jugee chimed in. 
“And there is much to discuss. For instance, do you have an idea where you would like to be dropped off?”
My shoulders moved up involuntarily. In fact I hadn’t given it much thought, too much had been going on. “Where are you going?”
“Someplace you will not want to go, I am sure,” Alu said. “But we could take a slight detour toward Poosh.” 
His face was an absolute mask of impassivity. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, anxious or anything. Those cold, deep set Symbi eyes gave me no clue as to what he wanted or whether I was a burden. Jugee stayed silent, which of course was no help at all. 
“I don’t know enough about Poosh,” I said. “My education didn’t include much about anything outside of the system.”
“A decided lack in your education. Our business takes us to several systems. Eventually we will get to Leileu, but that will not be for quite some time. Are you prepared to pay for a long voyage?” 
His face changed as he asked the question, his left brow rising as he asked it. He surely doubted that I would want to incur an expenditure like that given that my funds were severely limited. This negotiation was not going my way. I needed to find a way to regain my stature here.
“Without knowing the cost, I can’t agree to any such charge.”
“That is a diplomatic answer.” 
“What are you charging for me to travel with you?”
Jugee chimed in. “Your weight and nutritional requirements - plus the calculated fuel cost - comes to just under fifteen thousand ferune. More for use of the composer for things like clothes and toiletries.”
My eyes widened.
“And that’s just to Poosh. If you continue on with us to Leileu it comes to forty-seven thousand.”
“I can’t pay that much,” I said. I could, but it would have left me with less than half that to live on while I established myself.
Alu held out his right hand, palm up, and pointed at the valise. “I have questions. Your answers may go some way to paying for part of the costs.”
Without taking my eyes off Alu, I nodded. I should have asked how much that would take off the price of passage but I was too stunned by the numbers to think with any clarity. 
“Be assured I have no interest in fleecing you,” Alu said. “I know how much money you have. I know enough about you to have some more questions. I believe you may be open to a business proposition.”
My guard went up. “I’m no doxy.”
“She judges too quickly, Alu. I told you.”
“I do not propose anything of the sort.”
“Then —?”
Irritation showed on his features. All the scales in his brow and chin slid together in a frightening display. If I didn’t know better I would swear that he was ready to tear my arms off. Twice now I’d seen real emotion in his face. 
“You make too many assumptions. You have not learned your trade well. Perhaps we will drop you at Poosh simply to be rid of you.” He waved a hand and made to get up from his couch.
“Wait,” I said. I counted three and went on. “Ask your questions. I’ll give you the best answers I can.”
Alu didn’t stop. He got up and left the well, headed for the door to the vator.
“I will give you answers,” I said as forcefully as possible.
The door to the vator opened but Alu paused. When the door closed, he was still on deck.

***

I’m uncertain how long Alu studied the closed door but it stretched out to what seemed forever. Prudence dictated I not push the issue so I sat in my couch, staring at his back while he decided what to do. He had all my attention when he was ready for it.
“I will know if you lie to me,” he said at last. He was so quiet I took a second to be sure I’d heard him correctly.
“I believe you will. So — truth.”
Over his shoulder he asked, “You have a cipher chip for translation, yes?”
“True.”
Alu turned slowly now, unforgiving once again. I nodded to emphasize my answer.
“How many languages?”
“The Seven plus thirteen others. All the languages and dialects in the Ffeinian system.”
“Total of sixty-one,” Jugee offered. “Her translation scores were first in her class.”
“Any machine languages?”
“A smattering of of Jiswis Architecture and less BASA.” I hated coding bur was forced to take a year. “My tutor got so frustrated he quit three times and I only barely passed the courses.”
“Visual and aural translation?” He was facing me now, his hands behind his back in the manner of a schoolmaster quizzing a troublesome student. Which was true enough.
“Yes. I wasn’t allowed the upgrade to understand the pheromone options of Gitsu, though. I wouldn’t trust my translations without that. The nuances of the language are too fine, mistakes could cause a lot of trouble.”
Alu raised his head to look down on me, seemingly satisfied. An odd feeling came over me, then, that I was pleased he was pleased. I shoved it down hard because I didn’t want his approval. I didn’t need it. He took two steps and leaned on the rail around the well. “Any other bodymods? Phone? DNA? Physical?”
“Just a phone.”
If he’d had a microscope I couldn’t have felt more on display as he considered the validity of my statement. There was no shading in anything I’d said, either. I had everything to gain by being honest with him because I really didn’t want to go to Poosh. That would be going backwards. Waaaay, backwards. Frontiers hold no romance for me, I’m an urban girl. Always have been.
In contrast I’ve always felt that cosmetic bodymods were for insecure people. I can achieve the same looks by modifying viewpointers, and in a much wider range.
“She’s telling the truth, Alu.”
A screen popped open next to Alu but it was masked so I couldn’t see anything but the barely lit outline. I assumed it was more information from Jugee, maybe the readings of his biometric scans.
Alu waved the screen out and stood straight. “Tell me about the contents of your case.”
Without looking at it, I launched into the list of the inventory which included all the wearable tech embedded in my blouses, pants, belts and shoes. I ran down the the entire list and didn’t leave anything out. He inquired about the specs regarding memory and processing speeds, interoperability and version upgrades. And I gave it all to him. Alu had it all anyway so I was being tested yet again. If they didn’t have everything - a categorical impossibility given what little I knew of them, especially Jugee - they could have easily figured it all out. I intended to pass their test.
When I was done, Alu continued his assessment of my demeanor. “Jugee?”
“Absolutely honest.”
“Good. As long as this continues I will be generous and take you to Leileu at the fifteen thousand ferune rate.”
Before I objected to the outrageousness of the rate, I held my tongue. Any respectable commercial line would charge only half that so I couldn’t be thankful. Except I was a fugitive at the moment and they were hiding me. So I looked Alu in the eye.
“Will you answer a couple of questions for me?”
He held up two fingers.
“What do you two do for a living? I mean, all this costs an impressive stack of djoffis. Probably several stacks.”
He chuckled. “We work for the University at Qarondepts, acquiring high value items for the museums. And other, anonymous, buyers looking to complete certain collections.”
The guffaw escaped before I registered it. “You’re thieves? You steal things?”
I clapped my hands over my mouth, horrified. I should never have insulted my host in so vulgar a fashion. I knew better, had been taught better. I backed up a step. I’d gone over a line I knew full well existed and now I was at greater risk.
“Quick to judge, I said.” Jugee’s reminder was cold with a tinge of glee at my gaffe.
Alu’s gaze fell on me, a storm I had no shelter from. His disdain was a physical thing that crushed the breath from my lungs. “There is truth in your assessment. Crude and cruel, but truth nonetheless.
“Yes, Miss Holling, we are thieves. And that is your second question.”

NEXT: CHAPTER EIGHT

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