Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sci-Fi/Anime Haikus

“Ode to Red Shirts”
Dangerous enemies
Red shirts go to fight them now
They will not be missed

“Ode to Red Shirts, II”
Forget your phaser
It will not help you at all
You are made to die

“Ode to Red Shirts, III”
Where did that guy go?
I’m hearing his awful scream
That monster got him

“Ode to Red Shirts, IV”
I don’t know your name
You are simply the fodder
Please accept your fate

The Angels attack
Asuka will defend us all
What are you, stupid?

“Golgo 13”
He is god of death
Duke Togo can’t be beat
Don’t even try it

Spiky yellow hair
He will be Hokage
You must believe it

“One Piece”
Luffy is rubber
He’ll be king of the pirates
Gum-Gum Gatling Gun!

Kenpachi is here
His zanpaku-to has no name
Will he get Bankai?

“Attack of the Clones”
Anakin is a wuss
Being afraid of that sand
Padme, are you nuts?

Lando is a stud
He can pull off the blue cape
The man sure knows style

Making fun of films
Because they are so horrible
Crow is my favorite

“Doctor Who”
The Time Lord cometh
In his awesome police box
And really cool scarf

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mirai: a Promise to Tomorrow--Chapter V

This is a chapter from my novel. If you like it, you can buy the novel from Amazon or Author's Den  (also available on Kindle for $0.99).

In the future following the Collapse, former rebel Zaq Martial just wanted to get away from his problems. But it turns out that's not so easy. He finds himself pursued not only by an oppressive government, but also by a vengeful ex-girlfriend. If he can survive that as well as superhuman enemies, a violent split personality, and even his own quirky allies, he may just become the hero the world needs. Can he stop the ruthless Benefactors, led by dangerous beauty Yamiyo? Or will humanity be led down an eternal dark path devoid of free will?

Chapter V—Welcome to Rockhorn

Yamiyo entered the operations center on the station, hopeful for any new information which would put her mind at ease. Dissident forces were in possession of the Zenith—and they were capable of using it. This was almost more than she could bear.
            Men and women wearing Benefactor uniforms sat at computer consoles positioned around the spherical, sterile room. They promptly stood at attention as the beautiful administrator entered. I hate these cold metallic environments, she thought to herself. I hate them because I have seen pictures of Mirai. That beautiful planet beckoned her to come down there. Soon! They promised me that. There weren’t even any windows in this room to look down at the captivating blue ball.
            “Report,” she said. Everyone stood at attention, and her lieutenant stepped forward. He was a tall, athletic individual and a firm by-the-books type named Reed. He was as professional as they came.
            “We have all our forces on the Western Continent on alert. It’s only a matter of time before the rebels are found,” he said.
            “Don’t forget: our primary objective is the recovery of the Zenith. Most everything else is insignificant. Tell our forces on the Western Continent that they may dispose of the two Camisards only after they retrieve the sword,” Yamiyo said.
            “So then the Grand Design is now secondary?”
            “Not exactly. Both operations can go on simultaneously but our focus is the search for the Zenith.  Simply keep the Grand Design going as best you can but remember it is not to impede our search for the Zenith.”
            “Understood, Administrator.”
            “What is the current progress of the Grand Design?”
            “We believe we have discovered a suitable match just off the Eastern Continent.”
            “Good. Prepare a report and have it sent to my office. I’ll be waiting.” And with that she left the room. No one wants the Grand Design to be realized more than I, but there’s no telling how much damage Zaq Martial could cause with the Zenith. It must be found. She sighed and clenched her fist when she thought of him. Zaq Martial. Why did you have to come back now?
            Well, perhaps she could still turn the situation to her advantage.

Morning had now come to the Dry Soil Zone of the Western Continent. The sun beamed down upon the desert and the sparse plant life that managed to grow there. This was a rocky region with numerous mountain ranges and an arid climate.
Now that it was the scheduled time, the ticket-taker came out to do his job. A middle-aged man with graying hair, he took pride in his job and in his white-and-red-striped RailWay uniform. When he got to the last passenger car he felt good. As he recalled there was only one person to check in there. Sure enough, the only one in there was the man he expected to find.
            “Can I see your ticket, sir?”
            “Here you go,” he said, presenting his ticket.
            “Thank you.” He then left the room. Looking out the window the passenger saw the mountain ranges coming very close and soon spied the one they were headed for. It was round—though sharp edges still jutted awkwardly up from it—and eight sets of RailWay tracks rose up into it. Those tracks came together from all over the continent and merged into this particular mountain. Within minutes the tracks rose sharply and the train entered the mountain via one of eight openings in the massive rock wall. The train had arrived in Rockhorn.

Zaq and Reima snuck out of the train and into the massive cavernous area (it actually was a cavern) that was the RailWay station. The dome-shaped cavern held the main building of the station.  Many lights built into the ceiling provided ample illumination for the whole area.
They looked over the place; they saw the various sets of tracks (only about a third of them had trains on them at the moment), the rock walls and high rock ceiling, the support beams that lined the area, and finally the brick-laden multistoried building lined up against the far wall that was the main complex of the station. It was through there that passengers entered the city of Rockhorn.
            They stepped out into Rockhorn. They had been here before on missions, but Zaq was always amazed at the unique design of the whole place. The Benefactors were said to have scooped out this mountain with their orbital canon Kenosis long ago. What they then filled it with was a multi-tiered environment that resembled nothing anyone had ever seen before. Essentially a gargantuan inverted cone built in the middle of a mountain, Rockhorn was composed of ten levels (not including the ground floor), each of which was located fifty feet above the previous one. The top floor, which they were now on (and which was called First Floor), was three miles in diameter, but the levels became narrower the lower they came to the ground. The center of each level was a ring of open space that looked down upon the lower levels, and each ring became smaller the closer they came to the ground. The ground itself—the bottom floor, as it were—contained only one structure: a large mansion of gothic architecture. He remembered having to break into that mansion on a previous mission to steal various documents.
            The north side of the top floor of Rockhorn was home to Residential District A, and many houses and apartment complexes were packed together, often one on top of the other. Some of the wealthier houses stood apart, but mostly it was houses on top of houses. Directly below them on the next level was Residential District B and it was much the same, just darker because of the rock ceiling above them.
            The south side was occupied by many quaint brick factories pumping out essential goods for the city such as shoes, clothing, concrete to build and fix houses, and metal beams for the RailWay. Smog billowed out of several of these factories daily. Only authorized personnel were allowed in that district, and a large fence blocked it off from trespassers.
            Most of the east side was taken up by the train station. Storage facilities inhabited the rest of the district.
            On the west side were the office buildings of city officials not important enough to get a job in the city mansion.
            Almost all the levels below were a less-organized assortment of residential housing, businesses and shopping complexes. There was also the occasional playground for children (although even those were perpetually bathed in artificial light since not much sun reached them).
            They proceeded to head down to the next level via one of the many sets of stairs scattered throughout the city. Once down there, they made their way to Residential District B. The houses down here were made of rock from the mountain and were inhabited by those less fortunate than the above dwellers. Zaq and Reima moved past these houses on their way to the Zinthral home.
            “Didn’t you say once that your younger brother suffered from some sort of mental illness?” Zaq said.
            “Yes, he has severe depression. He gets medication, but it’s not enough. The Benefactors keep the best medicines to themselves. It’s funny: I don’t remember his birth, but it was a turning point in my life. It was when my parents could no longer afford to support our family—making such a meager income as they did—and agreed to send me off to the Camisards via the contact they used to have in this city. The rebels would take care of me as long as I worked for them.”
            “Sounds harsh.”
            “It was for the best. My parents were able to raise Truth and I got to grow up with you. And I get to come home and visit occasionally. All in all, not a bad deal. Except for having to deal with you.” She spotted the house they were looking for and, taking out a key from her pocket, she unlocked the door of the one-story adobe house.
            Inside they found a sparsely decorated living room with an ugly mustard-color tile floor and a small hand-woven rug in the middle of the room. The only furniture Zaq could see was a wooden rocking chair in the corner and an old beaten-up couch sat against the wall, which he saw was now occupied.
            “Wake up, Truth. I’m home!” Reima said to the figure lying on the couch. Zaq guessed correctly that it was her younger brother, as he slumped upwards into a sitting position like a lethargic slave. The eyes of the seventeen year-old drooped heavily and it was clear that he had been asleep. Zaq studied him carefully, noting his short, skinny frame, shaggy hair, oversized grey cotton shirt and khaki jeans. Apparently style wasn’t high on his list of priorities. Actually, scratch that; he didn’t seem to have any priorities.
            He looked around him for a moment, and then said, “Huh? Oh, hey Reima. What are you doing here?”
             “I’m your sister. You know I come home every now and then,” she said.
            “Who’re you?” Truth said, referring to Zaq.
            “This is my partner, Zaq. I’ve told you about him plenty of times.”
            “Oh, right. Nice to meet you, I guess,” Truth said. Although Zaq had been to Rockhorn before, it was always on a mission, and neither he nor Reima were allowed to contact her family while on missions, lest they inadvertently jeopardize the safety of her family. Every once and a while Reima would be allowed to go home and visit, though only when she would not be doing any illegal operations. Zaq was never allowed to visit since it was deemed an unnecessary risk.
            “Glad to see you’re all right,” Zaq said. Reima proceeded to hug her brother fiercely.
            “Aggg! Cut it out!” Truth said, apparently not enjoying it as much as she was.
            “This place seems kind of….barren,” Zaq said.
            “Our parents never made much money. That’s why they had to send Reima away. Every city is supposed to be self-sufficient, with everyone working together to contribute to the greater good. Funny how it doesn’t seem to work that well.” In theory, the citizens of the city would work at their jobs to produce goods and services for everyone, and everyone would get what they need. Cities often traded with each other via the RailWay. While people received adequate supplies of food and clothing, the reeve (or official in charge of the city) got a lot more than everyone else and thus lived comfortably. In addition, the workers earned a meager income—not many yunos to go around—from their jobs which they could spend at the bar or other businesses in the city. The Zinthral parents were such citizens until a year ago.
            “I was sorry to hear about the accident. I told her to send you my sympathies, but I don’t know if she did.”
            “She did. Thanks.”
Zaq was referring to the explosion; their parents had worked in a factory that manufactured shoes. One day the reeve decided to temporarily store explosives—for Benefactor construction work—in the factory. It was inevitable that someone would eventually get careless, and unfortunately for Reima and Truth it was during their parents’ shift. The building was destroyed beyond repair and the Zinthrals were reportedly killed instantly.
            “I really am sorry for you both,” Zaq said.
            “Death changes you. Did you know that? You aren’t the same person after someone close to you dies,” Truth said.
            “Yeah, I know. Most of my friends died recently,” Zaq said. Reima nodded grimly, and they proceeded to explain the situation.
            When they finished, Reima said to him, “And that’s why we have to get out of here quickly.”
            “Blast. Well, I guess getting out of this place isn’t so bad. Not like it’s a palace,” Truth said.
            Reima harshly scolded him. “Our parents did the best they could. This house may not be that great, but its home,” she said.
            He waved her off. “All right, all right. Let’s just go.”
            “Is there any food in the fridge?” Reima said.
            “A little. Mostly celery and pork.” He went into the next room, which was the kitchen, and grabbed all the food that was in the house. They put the refrigerated food in an ice chest, the rest in a bag which Truth carried, and the trio left the house.

“How are we supposed to find this contact we’re looking for?” Zaq said as they walked through the streets of the second level of Rockhorn. Reima walked beside him, with Truth following behind.
            “Fox said the contact would be wearing an ‘intelligent hat’.”
            “What’s that supposed to mean?” Zaq said.
            “I’m not sure. Let’s just look around for anything that could be an ‘intelligent hat’.” At that moment they passed by a particular building and Truth stopped to stare at it intently. It looked like an ordinary doctor’s office sitting against the massive rock wall. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it.
            “Truth, what’s wrong?” Reima said.
            “I hate this place.”
            “Why?” Zaq said. They saw a woman with a very full and round stomach enter the building in tears, accompanied by a man they presumed to be her husband. “This place….”
            “In order to control population, the Benefactors have placed very strict limits on the size of families. No household can have more than two children. When a third is conceived, they are required to come here to have the pregnancy terminated,” Truth said.
            “It’s so cruel,” Reima said.
            “If the expectant mother does not show up here by the designated date, they execute her,” Truth said.
            “How can they do that?” Zaq said.
            “They can do this because no one stops them. Life is precious, but those in power can’t see that. Those that can lack the means to do anything about it,” Truth said.
            “We’ll stop them,” Zaq said.

They wandered around the city for a few hours before finally stopping to rest outside a bar. While they sat there they discussed the current situation.
            “Oh come on! How on Mirai are we supposed to find one person in a city with twenty blasted stories?” Zaq said. All three of them were tired and frustrated.
            “Weren’t you given any other clues?” Truth said.
            “It was so long ago! I don’t remember,” Reima said, obviously frustrated.
            “After all that walking, I’m hungry. Let’s have lunch,” Zaq said.
            “The only food we have ready is celery and bread. The rest needs to be cooked,” Truth said.
            “It’ll have to do,” Reima said. Underneath the shade of the massive floor of the previous level they dined on a lunch of bread and celery, and drank out of thermoses of water they took from the Zinthral house.
            “Now what do we do?” Zaq said when they were done. Truth didn’t seem to hear him, as he was looking across the bar at something.
            “Look over there,” he said.
Zaq and Reima turned their heads to where he was pointing. They saw an olive-skinned man on a bench reading a book. He seemed completely unremarkable except for his glasses. He was wearing one pair, but he had another pair resting on top of his head.
            “Those glasses are on his head, almost like a hat,” Truth said.
            “OK, kinda weird, but it’ll do,” Reima said.
            “How do we find out if it’s him? I can’t see him opening up to complete strangers and admitting he’s part of a rebel movement,” Zaq said.
            “Don’t you remember anything we were taught? We’re supposed to give the password.”
            “Oh, right.” They walked over to the multi-spectacled man and stood in front of him.
            “Err, can I help you?” he asked with an innocent and somewhat confused tone.
            “These wayward travelers seek sanctuary in thy embrace,” Reima said. Oh man, thought Zaq. This better be the right guy or I’ll never survive this humiliation. Suddenly the man’s eyes narrowed as he seemed to be scrutinizing the three of them. He looked around, perhaps to make sure no unwanted parties were listening in.
            “You are Camisards?” he said. Two of them were, up until recently, they said. “My name is Devon. We lost contact with your group a few weeks ago. What happened?” They explained the situation to him, at which point he seemed to go pale, if it were possible for someone of his complexion.
            “It can’t be,” he whispered. “If what you say is true, we could be on the brink of annihilation. Mr. James must be told.”
            “James?” they asked. He referred to Erik James, the leader of the Scholars. He then instructed them to come with him to his house. He didn’t say another word, but began walking. They followed behind him.

Mirai: a Promise to Tomorrow--Chapter IV

This is a chapter from my novel. If you like it, you can buy the novel from Amazon or Author's Den  (also available on Kindle for $0.99).

In the future following the Collapse, former rebel Zaq Martial just wanted to get away from his problems. But it turns out that's not so easy. He finds himself pursued not only by an oppressive government, but also by a vengeful ex-girlfriend. If he can survive that as well as superhuman enemies, a violent split personality, and even his own quirky allies, he may just become the hero the world needs. Can he stop the ruthless Benefactors, led by dangerous beauty Yamiyo? Or will humanity be led down an eternal dark path devoid of free will?

Chapter IV—Find the Zenith

Zaq sat against a tree in front of the Lithics’ burned-out house that afternoon. Reima sat opposite him on the other side of it. They had found it necessary to take shelter under it the previous night while a storm drowned the world outside. That had put out the forest fire, so it was no longer in danger of reaching them.
            “I must be getting lazy. I seem to spend most of my time resting these days,” he said in an attempt to lighten the mood.
            “Be quiet,” she said.
Zaq wondered how someone who meant no harm could cause so much to someone. In the days leading up to his decision to leave the Camisard Liberation Front, he had been very much on edge. In fact, during that time he tried to avoid Reima as much as he could. He did not realize until now that his pain was also hers. In trying to escape it he had wounded her. But no more, he decided. He would not run away from her again. Whatever happened they would face it together, and although he still feared what was to come he was determined not to let it control him again.
            “Reima, I need to ask you something,” he said.
            “What?” she said.
            “About the deadline for our partnership: what did you decide?”
            “It was only last month that I decided. I wanted to wait as long as was necessary so that I could successfully determine our compatibility. But I was finally able to make a decision. I decided to spend the rest of my life with you.”
            “But were you fully aware of what that means? We would be committed to staying together forever, even if somehow our mission ends and the Benefactors are overthrown. We would eat together, travel together, and live together forever. We would even be sleeping together. We would have no secrets from each other.”
            “What’s so bad about that?”
            “I don’t know. I guess I’m just uneasy about making you a part of me.”
            “And that’s why you ran? Idiot. Listen, I wouldn’t be a part of you and you wouldn’t be a part of me. We would both be two halves of the same whole.”
            “Let’s not beat around the bush. This is marriage. If we both agreed within the time limit we would be married.”
            “So? I know it isn’t how marriages are normally done. But when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. It gives people a lot more time to decide on their future mates.”
            Zaq thought on this a moment, then, “I guess.”

Administrator Yamiyo found her work interrupted by an urgent visitor. It wasn’t that secretary, but rather the man who came into her office was one of her top officials. This must be important, she realized.
            “I’m sorry to bother you at such a busy hour, Administrator, but there’s been an incident,” he said. He handed her a data disk. A look of grave concern came over her face as she saw the blood-red color of the disk. Only Class-2 intelligence and higher was put on these heavily-encrypted disks. With great urgency she put it into her desktop console and decrypted it. Onto her screen appeared an infrared image of a forest. Two glowing orange and red blobs could be seen. One of them seemed to be stuck to a tree.
            “What am I looking at?” Yamiyo said.
            “This is a satellite image taken last night at 2100 hours on the Western Continent. There are three figures here. You can only see two of them because Agent Starblood is the third individual.”
            “Ah yes. Agent Starblood doesn’t radiate much but can be tracked thanks to the transmitters all Jacobins carry. But who are the other two?”
            “They are—or were—members of the Camisard Liberation Front. According to the latest report, Starblood was sent to that region to recruit one Zaq Martial, a very promising young man.”
            “Why would the Council send a Jacobin all that way just to recruit some rebel? I don’t understand.” She knew the Council had nothing to do with it, but she had her own agenda which they might not approve of. She decided to let her subordinates believe Starblood and the Assassin Corps were acting under the Council’s orders.
            “I learned long ago not to question them.”
            Yamiyo feigned a frown. “What could they be trying to accomplish by recruiting a dissident?”
            “Well, his home and all his friends were recently wiped out, as you know. I guess the Council figured someone who has nothing left to live for would be more willing to join the enemy.”
            “So be it.” She decided to turn her attention to more urgent matters. “Tell me what’s so important about this intel you’ve brought me.”
            “While our satellite was over the area it took a series of still pictures. Advance the pictures forward slowly.” Yamiyo did so, and the result was a slideshow that showed one of the blobs slowly moving upward across the screen.
            “That’s Zaq Martial running toward Starblood. Now here he’s pulling out some sort of blade. Watch carefully,” the man said. As Yamiyo did so, she saw Martial’s blade begin to glow as brightly as anything else on the screen. Rapidly it began glowing more and more until it blocked out all the rest of the images with its radiance. It seemed to reach its peak right as Martial reached Agent Starblood.
            “What is this?” Yamiyo said.
            “It is clear that Zaq Martial has a sword which can produce unbelievably high temperatures. He has the Zenith.”
            “No! How can he have it?”
            “It must have been Erik James and his crew of traitors. They stole the Zenith from us twenty years ago.”
            Yamiyo spoke, more to herself than him. “We never detected its use so we assumed no one knew how to use it. That also meant we couldn’t find it.”
            “But now someone has. And he has used it to defeat a Jacobin in battle. This is unprecedented. The Zenith can destroy us if its wielder can figure out how to use it.” 
Yamiyo’s normally serene face contorted with horror. “We cannot let that happen!”  However, she quickly regained her composure. “Send another member of the Jacobin Cell to find Zaq Martial and the Zenith. Use any means necessary to resolve the situation.”
            “Yes, m’am!”

Zaq sat against the rubble looking over the letter of intent Reima had given him. She let him think in silence because she knew how important this decision was. Finally he seemed to have hit an impasse in his deliberating and decided to forget about it for the time being.
            “What should we do now?” he said.
            “Have you come to a decision?”
            “Not yet. For now we should focus on what we’re going to do about our situation. We have no home, no allies and no shortage of enemies.”
            “That’s not entirely true. The Camisards may be gone,” she said, trying to fend off the heaviness in her heart. “But we still have the Scholars.”
            Those guys? They’ve always seemed more interested in reading books than the fate of humanity.”
            “They’re every bit as committed to the cause as the Camisards. They just choose to focus more on intelligence-gathering than physical combat. We may be two different rebel groups, but we have worked together in the past. If the Scholars hadn’t supplied us with key intel we never would have been able to do as much as we did. They always tracked down information on the Benefactors’ activities, and we always used it to take action against them.”
            “But we don’t even have a clue where they are. Only the higher-ups knew that.”
            “Again, not exactly true. Don’t you remember what they taught us? If we’re ever in trouble and need the Scholars’ help, then we have to go to Rockhorn and find their contact there.”
            “Sounds as good a plan as any. Okay, then, we need to get to Rockhorn and find the Scholars. Then we’ll work with them to figure out how to take down the Benefactors.” They got up and started walking north from the burned-down house.
            “I also need to go there to get Truth,” Reima said.
            “Your brother?”
            “Yes. Now that our base has been compromised he could be in serious danger.”
            “Why didn’t you go to Rockhorn as soon as the Benefactors attacked our base?” At that moment Reima stopped suddenly and stared at the ground. A single tear ran down her cheek and she buried her face in her hands to stop the rest.
            “I don’t know!” she said, her words muffled. “All I could think about was you. I was obsessed, and because of that my own brother….” She was startled when Zaq quickly grabbed her and put his arms around her. She found herself embracing him back.
            “I’m such a dreck, doing this to you,” he said.
            “No, I told you. It’s my fault for losing my mind like that. They trained us better than that.”
            “In a lot of ways, we’re still just kids, Reima. No amount of training can change your age.” He separated himself from her and grasped her hands in his. For weeks he had denied his desire to do this. He had kept pushing it to the back of his mind, pretending it didn’t exist. But he could no longer resist it. “But if we’re there to support each other, we can find the strength to do what we must,” he said.
            She looked away from him. “Zaq, don’t do this to me. It’s not fair. You can’t just run out on me and then come back like this.”
            He let go of her hands and looked away, his face red. “You’re right. For now let’s just get to Rockhorn. As I recall, it’s several hundred miles to the west. We’ll need to catch a ride on the RailWay.”
Reima regained her composure. “Right. Let’s continue heading north,” she said.

After a day of walking, at dusk they reached their destination: the vast structure that helped make up the RailWay. It was a series of train tracks that traversed entire continents and even ran along the ocean floor to connect them. Train stations were hundreds of miles apart, and there were none around here.
However, at this particular spot was a large rocky hill, the top of which overlooked the tracks by ten feet.
            “Up for a climb?” Zaq said.
            “Let’s rest a bit first.” And so they sat down against the pillars for about twenty minutes before continuing. Zaq asked Reima again if she was ready.
            “Right behind you,” she said.
            They got up and climbed the hill. When both of them were on top of it all they had to do was wait for the nearest train. They came through several times a day at regular intervals.
            “Hey, I see the nomads,” Zaq said.
            “Really?” She looked in the direction he was pointing. In the distance they could see a series of tents and other small shelters lit by torches. There was a bon fire in the center and they could just make out a few of the horses that the group used to move from place to place. Nomadic wanderers were not unheard of in that part of the world; although the bulk of civilization lived in large cities scattered across the globe, there were still bands of people who preferred the simplicity of nature. They traveled from place to place, living off the land and then moving on when they either got bored or exhausted the resources of the area.
            Their attention was diverted by a light in the distance, followed by a low rumbling of the RailWay which was gradually increasing.
            “Good. It’s going the right way,” Reima said. There were two sets of tracks below them on the RailWay: one for going east and one for going west. The train that was headed towards them now was going west.
            Having both done this before, each knew what to do. They crouched on the hill to avoid being seen by anyone on the train, even though it was dark now; they didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. Within moments the metal frame of the train was directly underneath them. Soon the end of the train was in sight. The roar made it too loud for words so Zaq used his hand to make a polite gesture to Reima: women first. Noting the humor, she nonetheless agreed to take the initiative. She removed a set of curved spikes from the strap at her waist, and Zaq did the same from his smaller bag.
            She gripped both of her spikes, carefully checked her timing and took the drop down onto the speeding locomotive. As soon as she hit the roof she swiftly plunged both spikes down onto the roof. This kept her from sliding off the train; many hitchhikers have met their deaths by falling to the ground below. Zaq then put the straps from both his bags around his neck and jumped down onto the train after Reima.
            She looked behind her to make sure that Zaq had landed safely. When she saw that he had she waited for him to make the next move. He then cautiously removed one of his spikes and waited a few moments to make sure he wouldn’t lose his remaining “foothold”. He seemed to still be secure enough so he slowly drove his free spike into the roof behind him. Then he removed the other one, turned around (keeping his hand firmly on the implanted spike) and planted it next to the one behind him. Reima did the same and they gradually made their way to the last car of the train.
            When they at last reached the last car Zaq planted both his spikes on the edge at the very end of the train and slowly lowered himself down onto the narrow walkway below. Fortunately this was a passenger train or else it wouldn’t have had one; passengers liked to sometimes go out onto the walkway and look out and the scenery around them. But that was only during the day, as the door leading out there was locked at night for safety reasons.
            When Reima finally lowered herself down Zaq grabbed onto her to support her. She felt a tinge of excitement from the physical contact and quietly chastised herself for it.
            Zaq took out two small bent pieces of metal and inserted into the hole in the door. After a few moments of wriggling them the door was unlocked and they made their way inside. The room they found themselves inside was completely dark except for a dull glow at the door at the opposite end, probably coming from a passenger car up ahead. This room was most likely for storing luggage.
            “We should arrive at Rockhorn in the morning,” Reima said.
            “We’d better hide out in here until then.”

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mirai: a Promise to Tomorrow--Chapter III

This is a chapter from my novel. If you like it, you can buy the novel from Amazon or Author's Den  (also available on Kindle for $0.99).

In the future following the Collapse, former rebel Zaq Martial just wanted to get away from his problems. But it turns out that's not so easy. He finds himself pursued not only by an oppressive government, but also by a vengeful ex-girlfriend. If he can survive that as well as superhuman enemies, a violent split personality, and even his own quirky allies, he may just become the hero the world needs. Can he stop the ruthless Benefactors, led by dangerous beauty Yamiyo? Or will humanity be led down an eternal dark path devoid of free will?

Chapter III—Past, Present and Future

Seventeen years ago:
All five quorum members were in attendance at that meeting. They met weekly in that dusty room inside that large building which before the Collapse was an economic hub of the world. That building was located in the ruins of a great and powerful city. This was New Babylon Zone, formerly a symbol of freedom and opportunity on the Western Continent.
            Three men and two women sat opposite each other at the round table in that small office. All of them wore the blue-and-green uniforms of the senior members; the only difference between them was the fact that the men wore suits and the women wore suits with skirts. They had some particularly important business to discuss on this day. Fox, the middle-aged man wearing the bushy brown beard and black eye patch over his left eye—and senior member of the group—spoke first.
            “As you know, this morning one of our patrols found a small boy wandering around the city. He cannot be more than three years old.”
            “I don’t like it. How could this boy have been living by himself in this abandoned and decayed city? And we haven’t seen any adults around,” said Guy, another man sitting two seats over from Fox.
            “I agree. This could be a Benefactor trap,” said Hara, the black-skinned woman sitting next to Guy. She had long hair tied in a knot by a red ribbon.
            “That thought had occurred to me. However, the doctors have thoroughly checked him over for diseases or concealed bombs. X-rays revealed nothing,” Fox said.
            “If the Benefactors even suspected we were here, they would simply bomb us with their orbital cannon,” said Jean, the woman sitting opposite Fox.
            “I think we can rule out him being a trap,” Fox said.
            “So are we going to train him?” said Marcus, the fifth man.
            “Yes. For one thing, he has seen us and knows where we are. We can’t let him leave, lest the Benefactors find him. Second, he has no home that we know of, and even if he did we have no way of finding it. And last of all we can’t ignore a child who has not yet been conditioned to accept the Benefactors’ tyranny,” Fox said. “Are well all agreed on this? I move for a vote. All in favor? All opposed? Then it’s decided. We will train him.”

Two years later: another meeting.
“Young Zaq has been doing well in his studies. He has the potential to be a great Camisard. However, I think it’s time to choose a partner for him, one he will be most compatible with. They will need to make an effective team when they are old enough to go on missions,” Fox said.
“He seems to be getting along well with Little Reima. They appear to have made a strong connection,” Hara said.
            “I have also noticed it. They’re always together and appear to be quite in synch,” Jean said.
            “Let’s not jump to conclusions. We can’t be sure that they will always remain that way,” Guy said.
            “Good point. But that’s why we have the Partner system.”
Shortly after the Collapse the need for the repopulation of the human race was strong, so there used to be a custom among many villages for choosing lifelong partners. Two families would decide which of their sons would be paired up with which of their daughters early in life, which was similar to the Camisard’s system. The difference with the Camisards was that if both partners did not give their expressed consent for a lifetime union by a certain date, it would be void. The date was up to the families. It varied, but ages eighteen or twenty was common.
            “So if Zaq and Reima did not agree to the partnership by a certain date, they would be free to break off and choose other partners,” the second woman said.
“Exactly,” Fox said. “All in favor of pairing up Zaq and Reima? All opposed? Then it’s decided.”

She looked out the window of the space station Samaritus and not for the first time thought what a beautiful sight she beheld. It was a double-edged sword, unfortunately; it was breathtaking and inspiring, but it also constantly reminded her of longings unfulfilled. She had her duties to carry out and until she had finished them she would never be able to realize her dreams. She was Yamiyo, administrator of Samaritus.
Every day (an ironic expression because she had never experienced true daytime) she looked upon that blue sphere from the confines of her office. That is where I belong. The office was illuminated only by the light from outside the window and a lamp on her desk. She liked to keep an intimate atmosphere. The walls and carpet were a quaint brown color, similar to that of certain species of trees that existed on the planet below. Oh how I long to go there. However, she understood the importance of the functions she had been assigned. She saw the celestial body as a paradise, even though she had never been there; instead she had lived on the station all her life. Nevertheless, she knew it would not be worth living there until the Benefactors carefully restructured it according to the Grand Design. Then it would truly be a utopia.
At that moment the chime of her office doors brought her out of her current thought stream.
“Come in,” she said. Into the office walked a secretary wearing the white uniform of the Benefactors. On his chest was the red insignia that depicted a hand reaching down to pull up another hand, representing the Benefactors’ professed desire to pull humanity up from the destruction caused by the Collapse.
He walked up to her desk and experienced the same sensations that he always did when he encountered her. She knew he held a great admiration for this woman who had such a monumental role to play in history. She also knew her appearance still sent tingles up his spine. He stole brief glances at her silver hair tapered in the back, her mouth covered with purple lipstick, her pale skin and her form-fitting ornate blue dress with the slit down her perfectly smooth legs that supposedly was very popular in the eastern regions of Mirai before the Collapse. It was obvious he relished every encounter with her, but at the same time never let that interfere with his duties. If it did, she would make him suffer.
“Here is the latest report, Administrator,” he said. He handed her an encrypted data disk.
“Thank you,” she replied. With his job done, he left her office. She then wasted no time putting the disk into the console at her desk and running the decryption program. As she looked through the data on the Grand Design that was now available to her, she couldn’t resist a sly smile. Yes, it won’t be long now. We’re close, very close to finding it. And when we do, no one will be able to resist our will. Because everyone is going to have the same will.212 P.C will forever be remembered as the year we put humanity back on course to the future. Yamiyo allowed herself a few more moments of daydreaming.

Zaq and Reima sat down opposite each other against a large tree in the forest. Dusk had arrived, and they’d been resting there a while.
“So what do you have to say for yourself?” Reima finally said.
            “What is there to say? I abandoned everyone. I’m pathetic,” Zaq said.
            Reima let out an ironic snicker. “What did I ever see in you? Can you tell me that?”
            Zaq was too ashamed to look at her. “I don’t know.” At that moment he couldn’t understand why anyone would have ever taken a liking to him. In his mind, he had effectively proven that he was undeserving of the life that had been given to him. By all rights he shouldn’t be alive. He deserved death. “I won’t ask your forgiveness.”
            “And you won’t get it. I can’t believe I came all the way out here just for some….idiot!” She spat out the last word.
            “You clearly weren’t yourself. I mean, I’m sorry to say it but, you were, well, crazy.”
Reima grimaced. “What came over me? Why was I so determined to track you down and hurt you? Yes, I was disgusted with you, but that couldn’t be the only reason. Why?” she said, more to herself than to Zaq.
He really had no idea. “I’ve never seen you like that before. Maybe….” He stopped short. What was he going to say? Maybe I ruined your life so badly it drove you insane? “I don’t know.”
“It’s like I became a completely different person.”
            “Yeah.” He wanted to change the subject. “By the way, how did you find me?”
            “You forget we were trained to track targets. I was really lagging behind you for a while since you never seemed to stop. You always did have a lot of stamina.”
            “Not enough, apparently, since you caught up with me.”
            “Like you I took the RailWay, but based on the pattern of your movements I decided you were heading aimlessly west with no real destination. I took a gamble and rode it further than you did in the hopes of catching up with you.”
            “I’m impressed. I’m just sorry I made you go to all that trouble.”
            “I was so angry with you, I admit. In fact, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive you. But now that I think about it, if you hadn’t left then I wouldn’t have left to go after you. We both would’ve been killed.”
            “That’s no excuse. I was wrong to run away.”
            “Yes, you were. But right now there’s no point in trying to figure out a past that we can’t change. Right now we need to figure out what we’re going to do about it.”
            “I don’t know about you, but I have a score to settle.”
            “With who?”
            “With a specter.”
            “Last night I was staying with a nice old couple. A mysterious figure attacked and killed them. It was cloaked in black from head to toe. I couldn’t tell its gender, but I guess it’s a guy. He said he was a Jacobin.”
            “A Jacobin? You actually encountered one?”
The Jacobins were the most elite unit of the Benefactor military. Shrouded in secrecy, no one knew their identities or even their numbers. Rumors placed them anywhere from a half dozen to a thousand. The latter was not generally accepted, however, since such a large force was considered too big to effectively conceal. No one had any idea how to spot a Jacobin, though, so it was anybody’s guess. All the populace could generally agree on was that they were a terrifying group.
            “That’s what he said. And after having seen it, I’m in no position to argue. That thing was something else. He didn’t even seem human to me,” Zaq said.
            “Fox once speculated that they might be the product of genetic engineering, a technology known to very few people outside the Benefactors.”
            “I have a feeling it’s more than that.”
            “But what happened? How are you still alive?”
            “Believer it or not, he wanted me to join the Benefactors. Of course I refused, but then he said he would give me twenty-four hours to think it over, and then he knocked me out. When I woke up, I came over to this forest to rest up….well, you know the rest.”
            “So you’re going to fight this Jacobin?”
            “I have to. He killed those nice old people. They didn’t deserve it. I’m going to beat him, then I’m going to take down all the other Benefactors. I won’t be satisfied until we can live in a world without them.”
            “Then I will fight with you. Not that I particularly enjoy your company right now, but we have the same desire to destroy the Benefactors.”
            They both stood up when suddenly a grey blur flew at Reima, and she found herself pinned against the tree by a metallic mesh. She struggled to free herself, but couldn’t move a muscle against it. It was lined with a series of spikes that had lodged the whole thing tightly into the tree. They both saw the source of the trap drop from a nearby tree. Zaq recognized the sleek black form of the specter. He would never forget that streamlined body that seemed to absorb all light like a black hole and showed no skin whatsoever; it was completely covered in that material which he couldn’t identify. And what’s the deal with that mask? It has all the features of a human face except for eyes. Where there should have been eyes or at least eye slits to see out of, there were only dark sockets and a figure eight.
            “You….!” Zaq said.
            “My apologies. I realize I agreed to give you twenty-four hours, but it is obvious you have already made up your mind,” it said.
            “That’s right. You can’t kill so many of one’s friends and expect anything less than outright bloodlust from them.”
            He shrugged. “We will keep that in mind for future dealings.”
            “For you, there won’t be any future dealings.”
            Reima struggled against the net. “No, Zaq! I don’t think you can handle him on your own,” Reima said.
            “What do you expect me to do? Run? I won’t leave you,” he replied.
            “Running is what you’re good at, so do it!”
            “It is irrelevant,” the Jacobin said. This area will be cleaned of all dissidents, regardless of your actions. But if you stay and fight, I will give you an honorable death,” He usheathed
 his katana from its hilt. And with that, Zaq picked up his sword and assumed a defensive stance. Knowing his decision had been made, Reima kept quiet so as not to distract him. Nonetheless, she still searched for some way to free herself from the metal net.
            “What about her?” Zaq said.
 “I will run her through with my sword after I cut you down,” he said matter-of-fact.
“Now you’re really making me angry. And that’s a mistake you don’t want to make,” Zaq said.
            “Then let us settle this,” the specter said.
Taking his cue, Zaq rushed swiftly and swung at the specter, who quickly blocked one-handed with the katana and with great surge of strength forced him back. Seeing his opportunity to strike, he sliced downward at Zaq. However, Zaq rolled out of the way to the specter’s left side and slashed at his foe’s neck. The specter blocked this attack with his forearm and took only an instant to survey the damage. Where he had slashed there was a cut but Zaq couldn’t tell how deep it was. Even the cut on the specter was completely black and blended in well with the rest of his body.
            With his hand still raised to block Zaq’s attack, the specter back-handed him with lightning speed. Zaq went flying back into the nearest tree, dropping his sword. His vision was blurred for a moment as he seemed to lose all feeling in his body. Then it returned, and he hurt like hell. Zaq’s eyelids drooped, and he seemed to lose consciousness.
            “Zaq!” Reima said.
            The specter aimed his katana at Zaq’s heart and moved forward to strike, but at the last instant Zaq dropped to the ground and the specter’s katana pierced the tree. Zaq grabbed his sword off the ground and when his enemy turned around to face him he surged it halfway into his chest. Zaq thought it was over.
 Suddenly, though, the specter grabbed hold of the blade piercing his chest—with Zaq still holding onto handle—and slowly pulled it out, despite Zaq’s resistance. Using his unnatural strength he shoved the handle of the sword into Zaq’s solar plexus and again sent him flying backwards onto the ground.
            Zaq staggered to his feet. The specter lowered his katana in one hand and raised its other arm, pointing it at Zaq. Out of his wrist came some sort of dart, which Zaq blocked with his sword. Unfortunately for him, that gave the specter an opening which he wasted no time taking. Rushing forward he swung the katana through the air, nearly taking off Zaq’s head. But once again Zaq managed to duck under the blade. He got behind the specter and cut a large gash down its backside, but again it seemed not to feel it. The Jacobin swung around and for several moments they parried strikes, with Zaq being continually forced back by his enemy’s incredible strength. Finally he was knocked him down for what looked like the last time. He couldn’t summon enough energy to get back up. Panic registered in Reima at this point. She was still pinned to the tree and unable to help.
            “Zaq! You’ve got to get up! It can’t end like this!” she said.
The specter looked over at her. “Zaq Martial, you are putting up less of an effort than I would have liked, but perhaps I can use this female to encourage you to try a little harder. After all, battles were meant to be enjoyed, and there is still more enjoyment to be had. I will kill your friend now. Unless, of course, you can stop me before my blade reaches her.”
He moved toward Reima casually while Zaq looked on. No! I can’t let this happen! I can’t let her die because of me, he thought. No, that’s not the real reason. The truth is, I’m selfish and I don’t want her taken away from me, even if she does hate me. Digging deep down inside him, he mustered the will to grab his sword and get up one last time. His racing pulse and rising blood pressure reverberated through his hand that tightly gripped the sword.

“Stop!” Zaq roared. Even the specter seemed taken aback by this, and turned to face the source of piercing howl. He saw his previously beaten adversary rushing forward with an almost animalistic rage. But what the specter found most disturbing was the light suddenly emanating from his blade. It was almost as if it were on fire. Perplexed, he reacted instinctively, raising his katana to block. But Zaq Martial’s sword only seemed to glow brighter the closer he came to his enemy. By the time he was in striking distance, the light was almost blinding. The last thing the specter could remember seeing was Zaq swinging at him and then his entire field of vision engulfed in that fiery luminosity.

He was uncertain how much time had passed, but as his vision returned the specter became aware of his surroundings and how much they had changed since Zaq Martial had struck with his glowing sword. Gone was the darkness of the forest; in its place was a fiery disaster area. All around the woods were ablaze and smoke was everywhere. And there was Zaq Martial with the female he was so fond of. The specter saw that he had helped her get free of the net he had trapped her with. Although on his knees, the specter was determined to get up and finish what he had begun. However, upon standing he realized that he could barely move one leg forward. He was confused by this and looked over his body to find an explanation. What he found did not please him; all the cuts inflicted by Zaq Martial were filled with fire; flames were pouring out of every cut and knick on his once-sleek body. The rest of his body was smoldering, and he hadn’t noticed until now because he was incapable of feeling pain.
            “No!” he bellowed in that metallic androgynous voice. “They assured me this body was invincible!”
            “And up until now I’m sure you had no reason to doubt it,” Zaq said.
            “Nothing is indestructible. That’s a fundamental law of the universe,” Reima said.
            “Tell me….what is the name of that blade?” the specter said.
            “This?” Zaq said, looking at his sword. “It’s called Hon’oah. I don’t remember who came up with it, or even what it means.”
            “There can be no doubt. The Administrator….needs to know about this,” the specter said. And with that, the mysterious dark figure toppled to the ground.
But the night’s struggle was not over yet.
            “We have to get out of here before this fire consumes us,” Reima said.
            “I think that’s going to take some doing,” Zaq said. Indeed, he could barely move.
            “After what we’ve gone through today, we’re not dying here. Give me your arm.” Positioning herself under his arm, Reima staggered out of the forest with him. Stealing one last look behind him, the last thing Zaq saw was a large flaming tree collapsing onto the body of the specter.