This blog picked up a lot of new followers last week as a result of getting Freshly Pressed, so I thought I’d post a quick welcome to everyone and extend my gratitude with a Giveaway and a bargain.
If you’re just getting to know me and my blog, you should know that I’m mostly blogging about writing, indie publishing, and science fiction along with some other (mostly) related topics. I just released my fourth indie book on Amazon last month, a paranormal fantasy called Unfinished Business, part of my Ace Stubble series.
The other big thing going on right now is that my dystopian science fiction novel Strictly Analog is a quarterfinalist in Amazon’s Breakout Novel Awards competition. The next round will shrink nominees in my field from 100 down to 5, so the odds aren’t great, but there’s still a chance.
To help new readers get a taste for my fiction and to welcome them (and any other interested parties), I’ve decided to run a little Giveaway here on the blog and reduce the price of the Strictly Analog for one week.
Here’s the way the giveaway will work:
- Below is the same 5000 word excerpt of Strictly Analog that the expert reviewers at Amazon read in judging the last round.
- Read the excerpt and then leave a comment about it. For example, you could comment on what you liked or didn’t like, whether you’d like to read more, other books it reminded you of, etc.
- The contest runs until 11:59 pm on Monday April 15, 2013. After that, I will use the integer generator at Random.org to select two (2) winners from among the people who commented on this blog post.
- Each of the winners will receive a free SIGNED copy of the paperback edition of Strictly Analog. Winners will need to provide me with their mailing address. The books will be free, postage included for US winners only. International winners will need to pay for postage.
Additionally, I will reduce the price of the e-book on Amazon from its current price of $3.99 to 99 cents for the duration of the giveaway. You can buy the book here.
So, here’s the excerpt. Read, enjoy (I hope), and let me know what you think in the comments. And don’t forget, it’s only 99 cents on Amazon for the next week.
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.
Amy only called me “Daddy” when she was terribly sad, or when she was infuriated with me. Otherwise, she had always opted for “Ted,” probably because it annoyed her mother more than for any other reason.
“What’s wrong, kiddo?” I asked, pulling out my iD.
She shook her head. I shrugged and waved the card. When the lock popped, I pulled the door up and waved her in, then pulled it shut behind us. She sat on the edge of my bed without needing an invitation. I pulled up a box so I could sit across from her and waited, trying to see her eyes through the lenses.
“I left a message,” she said, her voice more under control now.
“Sorry,” I answered, pulling out the phone I’d been using for a few weeks. It was pink, a little girl’s disposable, the kind of thing parents give their four-year-old to keep her from begging for iyz. I’d tried giving Amy one similar to it when she was little, but Sarah had seen to it that Miles got her one already. Now Amy laughed when she saw the phone, and I raised an eyebrow as I hit the button to turn it on.
“Oh, God,” she said. “You don’t even keep it on? How do you live like this?” She wasn’t entirely joking.
“I get along,” I said, punching the code to get my messages. I’d been working a case for the last week and usually kept the phone off when I worked. But the case was about wrapped, so I really should have been putting out feelers for the next one.
There were two messages—one of them a hang up and the other Amy asking if she could see me, trying hard to hide that waver while she talked.
“Sorry I missed you,” I said, clicking off the phone. I meant it. “So what’s going on?”
She shook her head just a little and worked at keeping her chin from quivering before managing to say, “It’s Brandon.”
“Boyfriend?” I asked. She might have mentioned a Brandon before, but I’d never been able to keep the boys straight. Her mother tried, I knew, but probably not with more success. Amy wasn’t wild, but she wasn’t tame either. She’d grown up needing to assert herself. From a very young age, she’d known that Miles wasn’t her father; he’d practically insisted she wear a scarlet “B” for bastard. She had acted accordingly, no surprises there. And though I’d wished plenty of times that I could take her out of that house, I’d known all along that I couldn’t give her a fraction of what she had living with Sarah and Miles, even factoring in all the ugliness.
“He hurt you?” I asked with more than professional interest.
“No.” Looking toward the floor, she said, “We’ve been fighting. He’s been acting really weird. He scares me a little.”
“He always been like this?”
She shook her head. “Maybe the last two months…less, maybe. It started pretty much after he went away for training. I thought maybe he met somebody when he was gone, but he denies it. Just tells me not to push too hard at him.”
“So why stay with him?”
“Daddy,” she said with exasperation, drawing the word out. It was her way of saying I’d asked a stupid question, her way of saying she loved this guy and that I would be overstepping the boundaries if I made her say it out loud.
“Okay. So what’s he doing?”
She carried a little purse and pulled a tissue out of it now. Then she actually pulled her iyz off and wiped at her eyes. I couldn’t think of the last time I’d seen her without the interface lenses. Without trying, I could still see the little girl she’d been. It was unsettling; I hadn’t been able to see her that way in a long time. “He’s just unpredictable,” she said. “He zones out sometimes, acts like I’m not there, like he can’t hear or see me. Sometimes he laughs like he’s hearing jokes when no one’s talking, or he just starts singing at weird times. And we just fight over stupid shit.”
“And tonight was a big one?”
“This afternoon,” she corrected. “I went to his place and…he was just raving about infernal combustion or something like that.”
“Internal combustion.” She looked quizzically at me. “Old car engines,” I explained. “Gasoline.”
She shook her head, as if to say “whatever,” and then took a deep breath. “It just got worse from there. I tried talking sense to him, and he got paranoid, started accusing me of all kinds of awful things.”
Then she started crying full on, reliving the argument, I supposed. I decided to back off on the gory details. I’d heard enough anyway to know that hearing any more wouldn’t make much difference. I took a different approach, my main motivation just to get her to stop crying. Hoping to tap into something happier, I asked, “So how’d you meet him?”
She sobbed a couple more times, then drew a deep breath and dabbed at her eyes again. “Miles brought him home,” she said with a sad smile. “Brandon works with him.”
I’d lived through my share of earthquakes, had known very well that surreal sense in the first second or two of shaking when you realize that it’s really happening and that everything, everything, could just crumble to bits in the next few seconds—or it could all just stop and you’d look around with a nervous smile and realize you’d dodged the big one yet again. The feeling I had now was far worse. “You mean works with him?” I asked.
She just nodded. Then she blew her nose and slipped her iyz back on. She might have said something, but I wasn’t listening. Knowing that my daughter was dating—no, in love with—an agent of Cal-Cor’s Secret Police left me with a buzzing in my ears and a sense of dread not much less intense than what I’d felt back on Flamingo with the RPG coming at me, smoke trailing out behind it.
Amy must have noticed my distress. Maybe all the blood had drained from my face. “It’s not so bad, Ted,” she said. “They almost never kill anybody.” Then she giggled in spite of her own misery, probably more at my expression than her attempt at humor.
“Small blessing,” I said. I cleared my throat. “So, I suppose Miles’ relationship with your boyfriend complicates things a little.” So much for the sensitive approach; I was right back to asking the hard questions without even meaning to.
“Pretty much. When things get bad with Brandon, I can’t talk to Mom or Miles. Miles always takes his side, and Mom just clams up. And when things get bad at home…”
“Talking to boyfriend would be a security breech.”
“So you just wanted a shoulder to cry on,” I said.
She nodded, but said nothing.
“Girlfriends no help? That Stacy?”
She shrugged. “That’s what I usually do. Tonight I just wanted my dad. Is that okay?”
I smiled at her. “Sure, kiddo. Always. You got a picture of this guy?”
“I’ll send you one.”
I had asked out of professional rather than fatherly interest. All of this would blow over soon enough, I knew. Love or not, a relationship this volatile wouldn’t last much longer and Amy’d be on to the next one and a whole new set of problems. No, I wanted to see this guy, wanted to see what a young SP man looked like, to see what sort Miles Waring was recruiting these days. More than anything, I suppose I wanted to see if there was any of me in the kid, to see if Miles was still working at replacing me, never having been able to seal up the old wounds with anything as solid as the stitches and staples they’d used on my face after Vegas.
I could see Amy’s eyes darting behind her lenses while she moved the index and middle fingers of her right hand, the controls for her iyz embedded in the little gold unicorn and star affixed to her nails. Some people actually had implants; most, like Angel, just wore little rubber thimbles loaded with tech linked to their iyz. Amy slid her fingers through the air, and the iyz picked up the motion, allowing her to navigate the web, pull a file from her account and send it to mine, the little computer requesting and receiving data from the same satellites and transmission towers that had kept California running since the split.
“There,” she said with just a hint of showing off like she was still a little girl and waiting for me to respond with amazement to some little task she’d pulled off. She knew I’d never been able to look into a pair of iyz and see anything but a blur; the world she could access in those things was like another planet to me, and here she was bringing something back for me to see.
I checked my account again and brought the picture up on my disposable phone’s tiny screen. Brandon was thick necked with close-cropped dark hair showing a perfectly round skull. He had heavy eyebrows and little iyz. Good looking, I supposed, with prominent cheekbones and a lot teeth showing in his smile. Still, there was something about the picture that told me it hurt him to smile, that it was against his nature or just plain foreign to him—like eating a cat or traveling to the Floridian Republic to go to Disney rather than staying here and going to Anaheim.
“Looks like a nice guy,” I lied.
“He is.” She shrugged. “Used to be. I mean…he’s sweet. We have so much fun together. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much with anybody else. It’s just…his moods lately.”
“He on any medication?”
She shook her head.
“You think he should be?”
“I don’t know.” Again with the head shake. “I don’t know.”
She was going to cry again. “When’s the last time you ate?” I said quickly. “I gotta meet somebody later if you think you’re okay on your own for a bit, but…there’s time for a quick bite. You want something?”
“Okay,” she whispered. She smiled bravely and then took my hand when I offered it to her.
Even if I’d had the set-up for cooking in my unit, I don’t think I would have used it. Instead, I was a regular at Nick’s, a tiny place on Sunset next door to the Laundromat. It had probably been 70 years since anyone named Nick had owned the place, but they opened early and stayed open late, and the food was passable. Plus it was only half a block from Hollywood WeStore #6, so there just weren’t any downsides as far as I could see.
It was summer, and the sun had not yet gone down by the time Amy and I got to Nick’s and sat at the counter. The diminutive waitress was also the diminutive cook, an old Chinese woman with dyed black hair and little iyz with blue lenses. Always friendly, she saw me at least twice a day, but had never asked my name. “Girlfriend?” she asked when she saw me with Amy.
“Daughter,” I answered.
“Ah,” she said, and then added, “Two grilled cheese.” She stated it as a fact, not a solicitation, as though this were the only appropriate food for a man and his daughter to share. Amy and I exchanged glances and then nodded. We watched as the old woman set to work, using two old cast iron weights to press the sandwiches once they were on the grill, flattening them to look more like envelopes with cheese in them than anything else. Once they were in front of us on plates with a pickle apiece, she let us be and moved to the end of the counter where she just stood and chuckled now and then, no doubt watching a movie or show on her iyz or corresponding with her phriends.
Each of us tried hard to find conversation topics that wouldn’t upset the other, but we both gave up before we were halfway through the meal, so we finished eating in silence, flashing nervous smiles whenever we made eye contact. A few minutes later I waved my iD at the register and had my shares deducted. Then we got off our stools with their torn orange upholstery and headed out. The sun was down now, a glowing orange in the western sky with spears of pink shooting into the clouds above us. All the buildings to the west were in silhouette, the wind turbines rising from all the roofs and making the skyline look jagged, like the back of some monstrous, spiny reptile. Traffic on Sunset had thickened, with a strange blend of the hundreds of drive tones from all the cars. Soon, the nightlife would kick into gear farther west, and crowds of beautiful young people would line up to get into Paradise or Plastique, or mix houses like The Circuit and Byte. I looked at my watch: Philly opened shop at nine, and she’d get busy quick. The next few hours would be much easier on me if I could get Amy back to the WeStore soon and be on my way.
We rounded the corner to leave Sunset behind us, and I immediately knew I’d have to change my plans. A wall of aggression stood in front of us, eight guys or maybe seven guys and one mean looking girl. A mutt gang: Latinos, Asians, others who were probably Armenian, one AfrAm, and one angry white guy with a scruff of blond beard and the expression of someone who’s just stepped in shit. All wore cheap iyz, strictly All-Mart, mostly with straps around the backs of their heads to hold the units in place while they ran or fought.
Before I could react, the white guy had grabbed Amy by the arm and yanked her into the huddle. She let out a yelp, but he’d practically lifted her off her feet, and there’d been nothing else she could do.
“She’s ours now,” he said. “What else you got?”
Okay, that’s the end of the excerpt. You can download the entire book for 99 cents this week at Amazon. Don’t forget, if you want to be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment below about the excerpt. 2 lucky winners will be randomly selected after 11:59 pm on Monday April 15 2013.