I’m pleased to announce that my new science fiction novel, Strictly Analog, is now available in print and e-book editions. The cover art is by Mark Walsh, and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out.Here’s a taste of the first chapter:
I was dreaming about Las Vegas again when the ferret woke me. He stuck his cold little nose in my ear, interrupting the nightmare that had been my final battle.
“God damn it, Rex,” I shouted as I swung my feet to the concrete floor, rubbed my eye, and then checked my watch. 6:20. I hadn’t planned on falling asleep, and after a second felt relieved that the ferret had woken me.
My outburst had sent him scurrying as the dream faded from my thoughts. I can’t tell you how many times I’d had that dream in the eighteen years since the Border War, so when I say it faded, it wasn’t like I forgot the details. The chaos of my living space just overtook the chaos of my memories once I was awake. No matter; the horrors of Flamingo Boulevard were just a REM movement away. I had come to accept it.
Somewhere behind me, the ferret burrowed frantically through all my crap. I took the little lamp off the storage box beside the bed and set it on the floor. Then I lifted the lid and pulled out a canister of raisins. I only had to shake it twice before Rex appeared between my feet, his tail still brushed up to three times its normal size from the scare I’d given him. I popped the top and gave him a raisin, picking him up by the scruff of the neck.
My place was a wreck, but then it was always a wreck, ferret or no ferret, with boxes stacked in no particular order and surrounded by piles of books and papers that should have gone in the boxes but probably never would. The bed was just a thin mattress on a steel frame with squeaky springs. The lamp, the lone survivor of what might have been a fancy set long ago, was the only other real piece of furniture. Somewhere behind me was a bag half full of dirty laundry—Rex’s favorite hiding place whenever he broke out of Angel’s unit and found his way through the wall into mine.
I cradled the ferret, popped the bolt on the roll-up, and pulled the cord attached to the bottom of the door. It jerked up on its track with a rattle that made me wince. Then I went into the corridor to knock next door at Angel’s. The sheetrock that formed the hallway walls was unpainted save for the layers of graffiti, most of it incomprehensible; the lurid colors and competing gang script boasting of virility and permanence even as it crossed out the same messages put up by other hands. A dozen doors down, a little kid rode his tricycle in figure eights under the bare fluorescents. I tried not to notice him, but he saw me not looking and flipped me off as he looped and looped again.
“’T’s open,” I heard Angel call after I finished rapping on her roll-up, so I reached down and yanked up on the handle. Her door was just as rattly as mine and every other door in the building. If it hadn’t been Rex who woke me, it would have been somebody’s door.
The inside of her place was somehow twice as crowded as mine yet ten times more organized. Angel sat at her desk—an old composite door that rested on two stacks of boxes, something she’d scavenged from who knows where. She had a rusty folding chair with a pillow between it and her butt and a little black desk lamp held together with duct tape. She was focused intently on her laptop even though she also had on her iyz and didn’t even look up to see who’d come in. I could have been a twister with a hard-on or the Secret Police or one of her long lost children, and she wouldn’t have noticed. How she could divide her attention between the pair of computers was beyond me, one hand working the track pad while two thimble-tipped fingers of the other moved in the air to control the iyz.
“Playing both ends against the middle?” I asked her.
She held up a finger for me to wait. Biting her lip, she leaned in toward the screen, then expertly tapped a key. There was a moment’s pause. Her stare told me that the fate of some transaction rested on the information she’d sent. Then she leaned back and said, “Yes!” as a smile sliced her face in half. “Got it,” she said and then looked at me for the first time since I’d come in.
She hopped up from the chair, almost knocking it over. “Oh shit! Rexie! I’m sorry, Lomax.” She darted from the desk and took the ferret from me. It was finished with the raisin now and looking around innocently for more. Angel held him by the scruff and wagged a finger in his face. “You bad boy, Rexie! Bad!” Then she put his face to her lips and let him lick her as she puckered. I’d seen her do it a hundred times, but never got used to it. “Sorry, Lomax,” she repeated. “I don’t know how he keeps getting out.”
She had three of them, each with its own cage stacked along the back wall of her unit. We both knew damn well how the ferret had gotten out—Angel had let him out to play and then forgot about him, pulled into her business transactions online. It happened with all three, but Rex had a knack for getting into the walls while the other two were content to curl up in a quiet spot and sleep. Now Angel turned from me and stepped around her bed to toss Rex into his cage and slip the bolt. The ferret climbed into his hammock, sticking half of his long body over the side to crunch the cat food in his bowl.
Angel turned to me with an embarrassed grin. She had long black hair streaked with gray and wore a pair of iyz with thick white frames and amber lenses. Angel claimed to be a Morongo Indian, but she looked more Filipino to me, and I’d heard her speaking effortless Mandarin more than once. Ever since the Border War, you just didn’t ask where someone was from. If you’d made it into California before the split from the States, you were as good as a native.
Me, I’d been dragged here as a kid. I used to think my parents were nuts for telling themselves California would solve all their problems. But now I was grateful; if we’d stayed in Nebraska, I’d have had a great future to look forward to, most likely spending my days assembling toys for Chinese children in one of the city-sized factories that dotted the Midwest. As it was, when the Border War had come, I’d been brash enough and Californian enough to strap on a uniform and fight. Eighteen years later, here I was, living not so well as others but a hell of a lot better than anyone unlucky enough to still be east of the Colorado River.
I nodded toward the laptop. “So what’s the big score?”
Again, the smile overtook her face, yellow teeth behind thin lips. “Porn. Guy who put it up didn’t know what he had—just a couple pictures. It looks like vintage 80s stuff.”
“You can move it?”
She shook her head in amazement, her smile now telling me I didn’t know the half of it. Angel made her living on eBay, the boxes in her unit filled with antiques that she scavenged or bought online and then sold at a higher markup. “I got buyers in Hong Kong who get zipped over old issues of Penthouse. I’ll make a few shares on this one.”
“And the other?” I pointed at her iyz.
“Ashtrays. Got three from old Vegas casinos I’m selling. End in another…six minutes now. With three bidders warring over them.” She rubbed her hands together.
Apparently, the Chinese can’t get enough of items that symbolize the decadence of America in its prime. “Very nice,” I said and turned to go. “Good luck with it all.”
“When you gonna stop all that tough guy shit and come work for me?” she asked. “You do the legwork for me, and I do the techie stuff. We’d be a great team.”
I smiled and shook my head. “No teams for me.” Not since the army, I thought. “Besides, I don’t know what’s big shares and what’s crap. And no iyz to check on the fly.” I tapped a fingernail against the plastic eyeball that I’d had since the RPG attack that had ended my service to California. You needed two eyes for the images to make sense in your visual cortex; just one and it was all a blur.
“Jesus, Lomax!” She turned her face away and put a hand up, as if to ward me off. “Creeps the shit outta me when you do that!”
I chuckled. “Sorry. Maybe that makes us even for Rex making me jump out of my skin just now.”
“All right, all right.” She pushed her iyz up on the bridge of her nose, and I could see that the lenses had just about all her attention again. Every once in a while, I saw a flash of light leak out the sides of the amber plastic as she received data. “You know,” she said a bit absently and then focused more on me, satisfied with whatever information she’d gotten. “I hear shit about tech sometimes. They got better eyes than that one now, some with cameras imbedded. You could shoot live and bounce it to the web, then process it back into a single lens. Put the images together, and bang! You got binocular vision. And you could access the web. Be like a normal person.”
I shook my head by way of answer, but she wouldn’t let it go.
“Big war hero like you? Should be easy to get something like that for cheap.”
“Not for me,” I said. I didn’t feel the need to explain to her that I didn’t like the idea of my data—especially the things I looked at—being transmitted anywhere, even right back to me. There was always a middleman, someone who could peek in from time to time. I had made my whole reputation—such as it was—on being immune to snooping, and I wasn’t interested in giving that up, even if I got a working eye in the trade-off.
Angel must have misunderstood me, as she gave me an exaggerated pout and said, “Poor Lomax. No strings to pull. You musta pissed off some of the big boys.” She cackled at me.
No, I thought, just one.
Miles Waring had been my lieutenant and friend. I’d returned his friendship by starting up with his fiancée. I’d known it was wrong, but she looked good in a uniform, and the way our unit was billeted in the MGM Grand, it had made slipping away together way too easy. Miles had sent me down Flamingo the day we got hit with the RPG, having assured me that the area was secure, with all the fighters routed and dug in around the dam. And as soon as I’d seen the RPG zipping through the air toward our transports, I’d known he knew about me and Sarah, that he’d sent me and a dozen others down this road to die just to keep me from putting my hands on her again.
I didn’t say anything else to Angel. Just gave her another nod and turned to go. I pulled her door down, then my own, taking my iD from my pocket and waving it before the lock. Though I heard it click, I tugged at the handle anyway just to be sure, then headed toward the service unit.
When I’d signed the rental agreement three years earlier, there had been a clause stating that tenants would not store any animals living or dead and that they would not sleep on the property or modify their unit in any way that would allow it to function as a residence. Then the manager had programmed my iD for all the locks I’d need to pass through, including the service units. These he didn’t explain, but walked me past, raising one of the doors to reveal toilet, shower, and sink, all thinly partitioned.
To head for the nearest one meant running a gauntlet past a dozen units in my hallway, many with their doors up. Tenants all considered it impolite to look in. Even so, peripheral vision still served—though I had less than most. Some units were disasters, stacked high with all the shit people had hoarded for years when they’d been able to afford a stand-alone and were now unable to jettison anything in their denial. Others were sparse, ascetic—a mat on the ground and maybe a hotplate, one bare bulb hanging from an extension cord. Even the closed doors made you think about what was on the other side; it couldn’t be helped what with the smells that drifted out—smells of curry and garlic, frying fish and steaming coffee, dirty diapers and day old garbage, marijuana and cat piss.
After the service unit, I headed back down the same hallway and noticed a woman heading toward me. It took me only a few seconds to see that it was Amy. Her chestnut hair curled around her face, her eyes hidden behind dark-rimmed iyz with gray lenses. She wore a flowery blouse and a black skirt too short for my liking, made worse by high-heeled sandals that clicked loudly on the concrete floor. She must not have noticed me coming toward her because she stopped in front of my unit and rapped on the door.
“Give me a second,” I called out.
She turned toward me, a faint smile of recognition. Then she stuck a knuckle up under the iyz, like she was wiping away tears. “Hey, Daddy,” she said, a waver in her voice.
That’s all for now. Check it out on Amazon. If you’d be so inclined, it would be great if you could hit the “like” button and share it.
I’d love to hear what people think.