Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

31 Days of OtherSpace II: No. 6 – “Everything’s Broken”

October 8, 2011 3 comments

“Everything’s broken,” she said.

It was hard for him to argue. The Nall hadn’t left much standing on this block when they pulled out of the Llivori capital on Kamsho. Their home, on the third floor of the Jarmol Building, had two fully collapsed walls. Most of the furniture that hadn’t been blown out onto the street below had been ruined by fire, smoke, or extinguishing chemicals.

“We can start over,” he said.

That got a smile from her, but it wasn’t a happy one. “Again?”

Merrick didn’t care much for the idea himself. They’d lost their entire home universe, it seemed, to the whims of the Kamir and their usual abuses of unspeakable power. Three years ago, they’d been with the refugees aboard Hancock Station during the voyage from Nocturn to Hiverspace. They lived in a shanty in an enclave aboard Comorro for about a year after that. Then they moved to Kamsho; got themselves a small apartment in the city of Vor. He thought they were done moving for a while. Maybe for good. He enjoyed the city. They welcomed Outversers here. Gave him a decent job working on their communications infrastructure. His wife, Carly, worked as a nurse in the main metropolitan hospital.

For a few moments, he just listened to the wind howling through the wreckage of the building. Then he said, “Yeah, again.” He shrugged. “What else are we going to do? Quit?”

She rested a palm against her forehead. “I’m tired of change.”

“It can be exhausting,” Merrick agreed. “But I doubt it’ll go away. Change is life’s only constant.”

Carly rolled her eyes, but at least that angry smile softened. “You’re an idiot.”

“Yeah,” he concurred.

“I love an idiot,” she said.

Merrick smirked. He threw an arm around her waist, drawing her close to his side. “No accounting for taste.”

“I want to go home,” Carly whispered.

Her husband frowned, tilting his head in thought. “Carly…Earth’s probably gone.”

“Probably isn’t definitely,” she argued.

He couldn’t differ with that. “I’ll find a way,” he said. “For you.”


31 Days of OtherSpace II: No. 5 – “Unexpected Opponent”

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

The horse reared back on its hind legs, pistoning the front hooves just inches above the snout of a Nall warrior named Ralk of Hatch Kavir.

Heavy shadows danced along the pebbled flesh of the warrior’s snout as he cradled the plasma rifle, coils burning hot and ready to open fire. Several of his comrades lay trampled on the stone floor of the planetoid cavern.

The Light Singer never said anything about a horse.

Ralkkavir hadn’t seen one in the flesh before. This would’ve been the last place he would ever expect to do so, on some forgotten pirate outpost in the wilds of Hiverspace. Yet here it was, carrying a human rider and stomping his comrades to death.

And he would be next, if he failed to act. More Nall warriors scrambled down the ramp from the transport behind him. Ralk wouldn’t suffer this beast to survive long enough to hurt any more of his comrades.

A clawed finger tugged on the trigger. Surprisingly little recoil to the Atasuin Sundagger plasma rifle, especially after seeing so much use on Kamsho without access to a lot of spare parts for maintenance.

With an agonized squeal, the horse toppled over, nearly crushing the rider.

Ralk felt grim satisfaction as he watched the beast die. That soon faded, though, as the human drew his blades and rose in a fury to storm toward him. The softskin’s outrage impressed.

He almost didn’t feel the end when it came.

31 Days of OtherSpace II: No. 4 – “Glass”

October 4, 2011 4 comments

The squeegee squeaked against the dusty window of the fifth floor office building that overlooked downtown Eiru on Pyracan.

Billy Lucas carried that black plastic tool with him like a sacred scepter, a holy relic from a lost age, but he liked to think that he wielded it with the finesse of a sharp-eyed gunslinger.

He’d been using it that afternoon in 1985, high above the streets of Manhattan, to clean the windows of the Chrysler Building. Then came the eruption of luminescence, God’s own blue-light special or the hand of fate. Whatever. It snatched him out of the realm of Reaganomics and into a 27th Century universe full of aliens and humans who got around the galaxy in faster-than-light starships.

Pretty damned cool.

But he didn’t know how to fly a fancy spaceship. He couldn’t speak many Earth languages besides English, let alone all the weird tongues heard in the vaulted cavities inside Comorro Station. He wasn’t a techy. He didn’t know how to hunt.

He could clean a window, though. Knew how to make it shine. Everyone wanted clean windows, no matter what century, right?

So, Billy bartered his grandfather’s silver pocket watch, hitched a shuttle to Pyracan, settled in among other human refugees, and found work as a freelancer. He’d been here for about a year.

It wasn’t hero work, but it kept a roof over his head. A few more gigs like this, Billy figured he could afford a ring for Meghan.

He dipped the squeegee in the water bucket, shaking it about, getting it soaked again for the next pane. Then he felt the suspended platform rattle. Earthquake? Not unheard of in Eiru, but rare. Billy looked up to make sure the ropes and pulleys weren’t tearing loose. So far, they looked fine. He looked down toward the street. Flashes of blue light – a bunch of them – rips in space and time, he thought, just like the one that grabbed him from the 20th Century.

He didn’t recognize the sinuous little bipedal reptiloids that came out of them, armed with really big rifles. The absurdity of the sight would’ve made him laugh under other circumstances. The thing is, they almost immediately started gunning people down in the street. Sooner or later, they might look up and shoot him. Or Meghan might be down there. Nothing funny about that.

Billy fumbled for the commlink in his pocket. He wanted to call Meghan and warn her. But then the rifts snapped shut with a thunderous consequence. Billy was staring at his own reflection in that perfectly cleaned window pane, link in one hand and dripping squeegee in the other, when it exploded.

The Road to World Conquest: Plan A

June 11, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s time to stop putting off Plan A.

When I was a young writer, I admired Harlan Ellison for this gimmick he devised, wherein he would park himself at a typewriter in the display window of a bookstore and spend the day churning out fiction. Sometimes, he’d draw inspiration from a reader for a title or theme. Then he’d just run with it.

I can’t say I’ve ever been comfortable in the skin of a traditional writer who labors best in solitude. So, when I used to ride to high school on the bus, I’d share outlandish stories that I wrote about my friends. When I worked at Walt Disney World, I turned day-to-day task ledgers into collections of creative missives that a friend of mine says he still has in his Tennessee home decades later. Back in the BBS days, I’d post message board epics on Vic DeGiorgio’s Philosopher’s Stone. At Valencia Community College, I partnered with Jeff Stanford and Liz Sentz to write fiction. After college, I became a journalist, putting out stories with a byline day after day after day for thousands of readers of the St. Petersburg Times. When newspapers started a serious decline and the Internet began its meteoric rise, I turned my attention back to creative writing with an audience. Instead of a school bus, though, it was an original-theme space opera MUD with a focus on collaborative storytelling rather than quests and monster-slaying. I called it OtherSpace.

It’s been online since 1998. Save for the occasional server crash, it’s been consistently running for 13 years – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of history gone by, in game and out. Three U.S. presidents. A madman blowing up a colony world. YouTube. A rift crisis threatening to tear the universe apart. Hulu. Everyone fleeing an invasion force aboard a giant lifeboat called Sanctuary.

OtherSpace outlasted my first marriage. It bridged the gap between my careers as a reporter and computer game designer. It was around before World of Warcraft and EVE Online.

All this time, I’ve rarely had the opportunity to treat OtherSpace as a day job. It’s always been more of a hobby, something done just for fun. It wasn’t practical to call it a job. But, make no mistake, it is work. Some of the best work I’ve done, I think, but it’s still work to pump new energy, new worlds, new characters, new stories into OtherSpace.

Now, I’ve got the chance. Thirteen years later, we’ve got at our disposal. So, I’ve kicked off a fundraising project with an eye toward subsidizing the next major arc project on OtherSpace, which I plan to run from Sept. 1-Nov. 30, 2011.

If we land the funding in the next 30 days, I’ll start working on pre-production for the arc – Across the Multiverse. It will be more ambitious than any that has gone before on OtherSpace, through major events, news articles, and short stories. And I’ll work it like a full-time job during that period, intent on giving every participant a chance to shine and experience an epic adventure that might make their characters into the legends that future players will talk about.

I think the time and the circumstances are ripe to get the support necessary to make this happen.

So, help spread the word and make sure OtherSpace: Across the Multiverse meets that 30-day goal!

The Road to World Conquest: Stormbringer, Part II

May 5, 2011 1 comment

April 28, 2011

I hadn’t eaten since after the blackout the night of the tornadoes. I’d sat in the darkness, eating tuna from a foil packet that reminded me of the astronaut snacks we used to buy in the Orlando Science Center gift shop when I was a kid.

In another example of poor planning on my part, I had neglected to grab a breakfast bar from the kitchen before taking Huck on our big gas hunt.

The drive to Athens really drove home for me how woefully unprepared I seemed to be. Had I given it any real thought, I would’ve stopped by the apartment before making the run to Athens. I would have grabbed some food. Fed the cat. Grabbed my luggage. And then I would be ready to just get the hell out of town once the Scion’s tank was full.

But, no, I played this far too much by the seat of my pants. While the gas dwindled toward empty, I found myself contemplating what might happen if we ran out of fuel. Huck and I would be stuck out between Huntsville and Athens, and we would become an unnecessary problem for emergency personnel. Calling AAA wouldn’t do much good: I had very little signal, if any, most of the time. On the radio, they kept saying, again and again, “Stay home. Don’t travel on the roads. Don’t become a problem.”

Yet here I was, potentially doing just that. No, I’m not proud. But, the simple fact was that I had made plans to get out of Alabama before this disaster struck, my girlfriend was stuck at the airport, and if I could get us out of town – well, we would no longer be a risky drain on local resources.

So, it was foolish, but I meant well.

While I waited in line at the gas station, I tried sending texts to family, friends, and co-workers. I texted my cousin Donna, a longtime Huntsville resident, but the message didn’t go through. I messaged my boss, Jamie, and that went through – but I wouldn’t hear back from him until the next day. I messaged my old friend Jeff in Florida, so I could follow up on plans to meet with him and his wife on Saturday, but that didn’t go through. I contacted my mother in Deltona, and that text transmitted just fine. I heard from Josh Drescher, one of my co-workers, who was heading north to Nashville with his wife. I tried calling and texting Catherine at the airport, and only got through to her once to let her know I was alive and well and seeking gasoline.

I had not seen any of the horrifying footage of the giant tornado wall that churned across Tuscaloosa. Since the power outage, I had been cut off from TV news, the Internet, and, for all intents and purposes, my iPhone. My only source of information: Local radio. It may be antiquated, but it sure is reliable in crisis situations.

Primarily, I listened to Lite 96.9, which has offices on Memorial Parkway, not far from my apartment. Their transmitter was on generator power. They asked for donations of fuel to keep the generators running. They talked about a TV meteorologist who had tried going into his house, only to have it blown away by a tornado. A church and a Doppler radar station had been obliterated outside town, they said. A neighborhood called Anderson Hills was largely destroyed. A huge swath of TVA power distribution lines were down and would have to be rebuilt practically from scratch.

It was a little piece of Armageddon, right in our back yard. I couldn’t wait to leave town.

As I drove south from Athens on I-65, I saw more devastation with my own eyes: A wrecked fuel tanker, shattered billboards, downed power lines, twisted trees. Traffic driving north to Nashville had slowed to a crawl, but the southbound lanes toward Madison and the airport were relatively clear.

Within 20 minutes, I pulled up in front of the airport terminal to find Catherine waiting for me. We loaded her bag in the back of the Juicebox and then drove onto I-565, making the eastward run to the apartment so that I could get my luggage and make sure the cat had plenty of food and water for the long weekend.

Again, I didn’t think this through. If I had, I would’ve packed Sienna along with Huck in the back seat. By just leaving Sienna with a limited ration of food and water, I created an unnecessary time pressure on myself that might require me to return to Huntsville prematurely. What if power wasn’t back on at my place for more than a week?

I opened a window for the cat so she wouldn’t get too hot, filled several food bowls for her, left a door open to the toilet and gave her a couple of large bowls of water. Then we locked up the apartment, jumped in the car, and drove west on I-565 toward the airport and I-65.

We then drove south. We made our way past more wreckage of the storm – outside Birmingham, we saw highway light poles that had been twisted like soda straws. We saw caravans of power crew trucks rolling north. We saw what might have been a Secret Service detail proceeding north, escorting a presidential-looking golf cart on a flatbed truck. NPR reported that President Barack Obama, fresh off the silly birth certificate issue, would be stopping by tornado-shattered Alabama on Friday morning.

Eventually, we stopped a couple hours south of Birmingham for gas and food. My first meal of the day? A burger and fries from Jack’s, with sweet tea to wash it down. Not diet friendly. Not cholesterol friendly. But, hey, I felt stressed. I needed comfort food.

My goal that day was the Florida Panhandle. We reached that goal at about 8:30 p.m., when we pulled off I-10 into the little town of Marianna and checked into the Super 8. This motel was conveniently located next to a Sonny’s BBQ. I called just before 9 to see what their hours were.

“Actually,” said the man who answered, “we’re closing right now.”

So much for barbecue!

We left Huck in the motel and drove to a strip mall across the street, where we found a little Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant that appeared to close at 9, but the waiter insisted that we could come right in. However, we had to order everything we wanted right then – even dessert – because the kitchen was closing.

We passed on dessert.

The Road to World Conquest: Stormbringer, Part I

April 27, 2011

I woke up before dawn on my day off so that I could walk Huck before my 7 a.m. appointment at Firestone. The Juicebox needed new brakes, especially since I was planning to carry Catherine and the dog in it on our drive to Florida so that she could meet my folks.

The news on TV chattered about storms rumbling toward the Deep South from Arkansas. They talked about tornado concerns. I’d been living in Huntsville for more than four months. The words “tornado watch” and “tornado warning” came up with numbing regularity. Longtime residents talked about the freak tornado of 1989 that wiped out Airport Road with a sort of reverence that suggested it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing that would never happen again.

I didn’t take the early warnings seriously on Wednesday. All I cared about was making sure I got those brakes fixed before lunch, so that I could be home during the thunderstorms to help keep Huck calm.

While the mechanic worked on the Scion, I started reading Blackout by Connie Willis, a novel about time-traveling historians sent back to key moments to witness major events, from the Black Death to Dunkirk to the second World Trade Center attack. On the TV, forecasters warned again that we would face some nasty weather in Huntsville. Rain fell for a while. I noticed a drip-drip-drip from the ceiling onto the carpet beside a table loaded with magazines. The manager told me the roof had a leak. They’d been planning to fix the roof, but hadn’t gotten to it yet. He fetched a bucket to catch the drops.

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The Road to World Conquest: The Jellystone Caper

I’m not sure the Baptists meant to kidnap us that morning.

It was already getting warm that Florida summer day in 1974. My brother Donnie and I wrestled in the grass under the shadeless chinaberry tree in the middle of the front yard. Nothing good on TV yet, and even if there were something to watch, we couldn’t, because our stepfather dozed in the master bedroom of our little tract house on Ursula Street. He worked graveyard shifts at Walt Disney World. Mom worked as a secretary for a law firm in downtown Orlando.

So, Dad slumbered when the whitewashed Bluebird school bus rolled to a stop in front of the house with plain black letters on the side: FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH. We broke up our scuffle, sitting on the grass and plucking sandspurs from our hair as we looked toward the church bus. A man with puffy white hair and a powder blue suit leaned out of the open doorway of the bus. He asked, “You boys going on the picnic?”

I was 7, going on 8 in a couple of months. My brother had just turned 5. If we stayed home, lunch would probably consist of Golden Grahams and whipped cream on Wonder Bread. I suspected this might be a better deal. Of course, Mom always told me never to talk to strangers, but this guy was with a church, probably the preacher, and the bus was full of kids who were laughing and smiling.

“Where?” I asked.

“Jellystone Park!” he answered.

Well, he didn’t have to say anymore. We were huge fans of Yogi and Boo-Boo. This bus would take us right to them!

“Sure,” I said, and then led my brother aboard the bus. We didn’t run inside to tell Dad we were leaving. We didn’t file a flight plan with the tower. We just got on. The door hissed shut behind us as we walked down the aisle and took a seat near the back.

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