WIP excerpt: A Queen in Hiding, chapter 1.1

Take our children to the stars.

Reva’s awareness expanded through the dark, cold void of space. She heard, as if from a great distance, a chorus of whispering voices. All around her was darkness, but on the edges of her vision, she saw brief pulses of white-blue light. When she turned to look, however, the light faded into the darkness the way that stars fade when looked at straight-on.

The pulses were combining and recombining, forming a vast network. It reminded her of neurons in the human brain. In the silence, signals spread through this network with remarkable speed.

She closed her eyes and reached out to them, offering herself to the collective mind.

Her awareness spread wide enough to encompass an entire planet, and as it did, the ancient alien consciousness began to awaken. She heard the gurgling of the underground streams, the drip drip drip of the subterranean caves, the bubbling of countless hot springs that had never seen the sun. A light began to rise over the horizon, sending the darkness to flight.

But it was not the light of the sun that dispelled the darkness. It was fire, falling from the sky in great sheets like a deadly aurora.

Everywhere it touched, all was extinguished. Her skin began to prickles as it swept over the entire world. She tried to run, but her legs wouldn’t respond. She was unable to do anything but watch. The worldfire bathed the entire planet, sending frantic signals like screams through the collective before it was broken and destroyed.

Take our children to the stars.

Reva’s eyes flew open. She was lying on her bed in the captain’s quarters of the Temujin, the tangled sheets drenched with her own sweat. Her heart raced so fast that sitting up made her dizzy. Several minutes past before she was able to sit up.

It had been nearly two weeks since their flight from Star’s End. Even so, the captain’s quarters still felt eerie to her. Gulchina had furnished it lavishly, but her taste in furnishings made the place feel old and austere. The central piece was a low-set table made from cherry wood and inlaid with a pattern of burgundy, teal, and mother-of-pearl. It lacked any sort of holoscreen or other smart device, which gave it the feel of an antique. In much the same way, the finely woven rug on which it sat was like something out of the ancient past, like an heirloom taken from Earth itself. Of course, that was impossible. Yet still, Reva couldn’t shake the feeling that something haunted the place, some malevolent spirit from a long lost age.

Isaac checked the scanners for the dozenth time since their last jump. The bridge of the Temujin was deathly quiet. Only the hum of the ventilation system broke the silence. Outside the forward window, which spanned a full semi-circle around the bridge, the endless sea of stars shone softly. All of the chairs were empty, and all of the screens were dark except his at astrogation. And yet, as Reva awoke, he couldn’t help but feel that whatever haunted the captain’s quarters haunted the whole ship.

I had the dream again, Reva thought to him.

I know, he thought back to her. I saw it too.

She sighed and pulled off her sweat-drenched sheets. The woolen rug felt pleasantly soft against her bare feet, and she took a few moments to stretch out the kinks in her neck and shoulders. The light breeze from the ventilation shafts immediately cooled her bare skin. She began to shiver.

You’ll feel better after a shower, Isaac suggested.

He was right. The hot, pressurized water washed the sweatiness away, replacing it with a refreshing fragrance. She stood in the center of the unit with her arms above her head while jets of soapy water sprayed her from every side and angle. For the first time since waking, her muscles relaxed.

Tomas closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation of the water rushing over Reva’s body. He’d been unable to sleep through her nightmare, but now, he could finally get some rest.

Reva waited until he fell into a peaceful sleep. A cold rinse reinvigorated her, and the hot air blasting through the ceiling vents left her comfortably dry. She stepped out and wrapped a towel around her hair, then made for the bridge without bothering to put on anything else.

Isaac tensed a little, but otherwise made no objection. Nudity always made him uncomfortable. That was just something he was going to have to live with, though, because Reva abhorred the unnatural custom of wearing clothes. To his credit, he’d come a long way toward making peace with it. And even in his own traditions, it wasn’t entirely unheard of. After all, hadn’t Adam and Eve been naked and unashamed?

That was different, he thought to her. Adam and Eve were innocent.

She kept her thoughts to herself, though of course he was still welcome to evesdrop. Unlike Isaac and Tomas, she kept every part of her mind and memory open to scrutiny. As the mother-queen, that was her duty. It also gave her power, though after the destruction of Star’s End, that power was considerably lessened.

She palmed the door open and stepped onto the bridge. Isaac stared at his screen as she took her seat in the command chair at the center.

“What’s our status?” she asked aloud.

“Everything is nominal,” Isaac muttered. “No sign of Gulchina.”

She glanced at the main holoscreen display, and reading her desires, he brought up a fifty light-year starmap of the local vicinity. Star’s End was still only a short distance away, but the vast bulk of the Good Hope Nebula spilled off beyond the field of view. On the other side, more than a hundred parsecs away, was everything they knew. Friends, family, allies, enemies—they were all more than a year’s journey away.

All except for Gulchina, of course. No doubt she was already hunting them.

“We could still turn and go around the other side of the Good Hope Nebula,” Isaac suggested.

“No,” said Reva. “That’s a part of the Outworlds we don’t know. Our best route is to head for the New Pleiades.”

“But Gulchina’s men may already be between us and the New Pleiades.”

And if they’re using jump beacons to try and intercept us…

I expect they already are, Reva thought silently.

Every jump they made sent a ripple through space, an electro-magnetic signal that announced where they were. Since these ripples could only spread outward at the speed of light, they were safe for at least a few months in deep interstellar space. Sooner or later, though, one of Gulchina’s scouts would pick up a signal, and use it to follow them. They had to decide soon which way to go.

Isaac swallowed. “There is another option.”

“I know,” said Reva. “Tomas has pieced together only a fraction of the starlane, though. I may still be able to puzzle out the rest, but we have no way of knowing that it’s safe.”

“Not unless we have a mole.”

She took a deep breath. It’s too dangerous.

But it’s still our best option.

He was right, of course. The starlane was a network of jump beacons known only to Gulchina herself, linking Star’s End to the rest of the Outworlds. If they could piece together a map of it from the memories of the men now frozen in cryo, it would shorten their voyage from years to mere weeks. But there was always the risk that Gulchina was patrolling it. They could ill afford falling into an ambush, what with only the three of them to pilot the ship.

Isaac didn’t want to spend a year of his life in this deep space game of cat and mouse. There was a war raging on the frontiers of the New Pleiades, and his brother Aaron was caught up in it. More than anything else, he yearned to see his brother.

Don’t be afraid, Reva thought to him. You’ll see him again. I swear it.

But Isaac wasn’t so sure.

She sighed, leaning back against the well-worn leather command chair.

“You’re right. We need a mole.”

“Gulchina is more apt to trust a low-level officer than a mid-level one.”

“What makes you say that?”

Can’t you look into my mind and see?

Yes, Reva answered, but there’s a difference between pondering something inwardly and thinking it out loud.

Isaac sighed. “Lower-level officers don’t threaten her. She’s a paranoid psychopath with delusions of grandeur. You remember how she pitted you against Wolf.”

“That was just one of her tests.” And I didn’t fail it.

Yet here we are.

“Jebe’s probably our best choice,” she said, changing the subject. “But I won’t send him out until we have a working map of the starlane.”

“Better get back to work on that, then.”

“All in due time.”

She stared out at the deep space starfield. The purple-blue clouds of the Good Hope Nebula reminded her of her nightmare. The billowing towers of gas and dust were static, of course, but they shone the brightest in the rifts carved by the nearby stars, whose light was reflected in every wisp and filament.

What did you think of my dream? she asked silently.

Isaac closed off his mind to her. She prodded him just enough to get him to relent.

I think it’s creepy as hell.

His answer made her heart sink. She knew he didn’t like the connection they now shared, but she’d hoped that he was coming around to accept it. Apparently not.

“Sorry,” he said aloud.

“I made a promise, Isaac. This is bigger than the both of us now.”

“I know. It’s just…”

He left the thought unsaid.

Reva stood up and walked over to him. He tensed a little, but didn’t look away. She put a hand on his arm.

“I didn’t ask for this either, but that isn’t important anymore. We’re the last hope of an intelligent race that’s all but extinct. They’re in us now, part of us.”

Like a virus.

“They don’t mean us any harm. They’re not even a ‘they’ anymore, if that makes sense. They’re us. We’re them.”

“I know.”

“We have to get back to civilization and spread out so that the collective is distributed. It’s the only way to save what little of them is left.”

“And then what are we going to do?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.

“Assimilate as many people as we can? Force them to join our hive mind?”

Reva shook her head. “No, of course not. We’re not going to force ourselves on anyone.”

“Even if it’s the only way to save ‘them’?”

The forcefulness of his anger took her aback. She blinked and took a deep breath.

“There’s no ‘them’ anymore, Isaac. Just us.”

“Us the collective, or us Reva and Isaac?”

And all the rest of the pirates.

The ones you forced yourself on?

That was one time. We’re not going to do it again.

Until we need to.

She put he hands on his shoulders and looked him squarely in the eye. “I swear to you, Isaac, we’re not going to do that again. As for your other question, us the collective, and us Reva and Isaac.”

He met her gaze without flinching, but his mind was sealed off from her. She sighed and let her hands drop.

What are you thinking, Isaac? Please don’t do this to me.

“We’ve got a good four or five hours before the next jump. You’d better get to work on those cryo chambers.”

A lump rose in her throat. She mentally poked at him, asking again for him to open to her, but received no response.

“All right,” she said, nodding. “You know where to find me.”

When we can both see through each others’ eyes, how can we possibly get away from each other?

Even she had to admit that he had a point.

Beginning of July update

So! It’s been an eventful month. Hard to believe that June is over already. So much to do, so little time.

On Friday, I finally finished Patriots in Retreat. Needs a quick revision pass before it’s ready to be published, but that shouldn’t take more than a couple of days. For now, it’s on the back burner while I move on to the next book in the series, A Queen in Hiding. Should be a lot of fun.

I want to finish off these Sons of the Starfarers books quickly so I can move on to other projects, like Edenfall and the next Gunslingers book. The important thing right now is to build momentum. I want to be writing at least 2k words a day, which shouldn’t be too difficult to do, provided I guard my writing time from interruption.

There was a lot of life interruptions in the last couple of weeks. My truck’s transmission went the way of all the Earth, and I need to replace the catalytic converter as well. It’s almost worth it to buy a new one, but I already know the problems with this vehicle so it’s probably better to keep it. Definitely stressful, though.

My blogging experiment in June was actually a lot of fun. At the same time, engagement didn’t increase notably, so I think I’ll scale back to three or four posts a week, rather than posting daily.

Lots and lots of work on the publishing side of things. I’ve got a backlog of tasks that need my attention. Fortunately, they’re logged in such a way that I’ve been able to keep up with all the important and urgent stuff. The 4th of July vacation should be an excellent opportunity to catch up with the rest.

The deadline for my next WIP is July 29th. I’m going to need to double my daily output in order to hit it, but that’s a very doable goal. Just in case, I’ve given myself a two week buffer before starting the next one, but I’m going to do all I can to avoid going over it. Any extra time is for short stories, and there’s a bunch of them that I’ve been waiting to write.

That just about does it for now. Onward and upward!

WIP excerpt: Patriots in Retreat

The bulkheads hummed in the bowels of the Merope-7. Mara palmed open the door to the cryo deck and stepped inside.

Cryotanks stood in their slots around the edges of the room. Windows in the upper sections showed the faces of those who were frozen. Sergeant Pallas, his chin tilted upward, his eyes peacefully closed. He looked as if he were about to ascend into heaven, if there were such a place. Mara had her doubts. The other members of his commando team were similarly frozen, ready to be thawed at her command. While they all looked so peaceful, in truth they probably expected to pick up their guns and fight the moment they awoke.

As she looked at each of their faces, Mara wanted nothing more than to tell them the war was over. She imagined the looks of relief on their faces as she thanked each one of them for their service.

Of course, where they would go next was anyone’s guess. As she thought back to her time on the Aegis, she realized that Sergeant Pallas was more likely to meet the news with disappointment than relief. The others, she hadn’t served with long enough to know their reactions.

You would be disappointed, too, if the war had ended before you’d had your chance to avenge your father.

The thought stabbed her like a knife. She could still see the Imperial officer’s face the moment before she’d blown his brains out. The terror in his eyes, mixed with the sinking realization that he was already dead. She’d expected that moment to feel satisfying. Instead, she’d felt dead inside ever since.

And yet, if she could turn back the clock and end the war, preventing that awful moment from ever happening, she didn’t know that she would.

The door hissed open, and Mathusael stepped inside. “There you are. Been looking all over for you, Captain.”

“Don’t call me that.”

He put a broad hand on her shoulder. “Hey. What’s wrong?”

“When is this war going to be over?” When can I stop sending people to their deaths?

“Last I heard, there’s some intrigue on Gaia Nova that could shape up to be another coup. Who knows what the outcome will be, but the odds at Vulcana are three to one that the war ends within a standard year.”

“Come on. You and I both know that’s bullshit.”

Mathusael grinned. “As a betting man, I prefer to see it as an opportunity. It’s not like our pay is going to get any better.”

“Some would say that it’s enough just to win our liberty.”

“And you?”

She smirked. “I’d put the odds at four to one that we get out of this damn thing alive. What difference does it make when you’re dead?”

“And yet, here you are.”

To that, she didn’t have an answer.

She walked past the commandos to the last cryotank in the corner. The face on the other side of the glass wasn’t peaceful at all, but contorted in terror and pain. Aaron Deltana: drop-ship pilot on the Aegis and former captain of the Merope-7. Now, little more than a brain-fried vegetable. She’d frozen him in cryo in the hopes that they’d find some way to cure him. But now, that hope seemed as far-fetched as a swift and peaceful end to the war.

“There’s only three of us left from Delta Oriana,” she said in their native Deltan. “Four, if you count Isaac. God only knows what’s happened to him. And Aaron might as well be dead, so that leaves just you and me.”

“What are you saying?”

“Three to one, Mathusael. One of us is gonna go, and it sure as hell had better not be you.”

“Hey, Aaron’s not dead yet. Don’t give up on him.”

Mara laughed bitterly. “Well, if Aaron doesn’t count, that means we both go down together. That certainly seems more likely. And with Aaron’s luck, he’ll probably end up drifting in space for another thousand years until someone finally finds and rescues him. The last Deltan. Poetic, don’t you think?”

“Stop.”

“It won’t all be bad, of course. They may even be able to cure him. But when he realizes that all the rest of us are gone—”

“Stop,” Mathusael repeated. He wasn’t laughing. His frown was so deep, his thick black beard hid his mouth. Mara hadn’t realized how much her words had affected him.

“Sorry,” she said. “Ever since the war, I’ve been something of a pessimist.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“In all seriousness, when this war is over, do you think we’ll be able to cure him?”

Mathusael grunted. “It’s a wide universe, Mara. I’m sure there’s someone out there who can help him.”

“How can you be sure?”

He smiled. “How can you be so sure that there isn’t?”

Mara rolled her eyes at his non-answer. Then she realized it wasn’t a non-answer at all. He really meant it.

“I’m not sure of anything anymore,” she admitted. “All I know is that people are depending on me, even though my job is to send them to their deaths.”

“That’s not quite true. High Command makes the life and death decisions. Your job is to clean up their mistakes.”

“What’s the difference?”

His smile turned into a look of puzzlement. “There’s a huge difference. Your job is to help us live and find on, not to send us to our deaths.”

“Not when High Command says otherwise.”

“You should lose the pessimism, Mara. It isn’t doing you any favors.”

“On the contrary,” she retorted. “It’s an excellent defense mechanism. Pessimists are always right in the long run.”

“But they always get their timing wrong.”

She shrugged. “Why does that matter?”

“Because if all you do is wait for your world to end, you’ll never be able to change it.”

Mara stared at Aaron’s contorted face and pondered Mathusael’s words. He was right, of course. But then again, he didn’t face the same burden of command.

“We’ll be at Colkhia soon,” he said, breaking the silence.

She nodded. “That’ll make the crew happy. A short leave will be good for them.”

“Yes, it will.”

“How about your wife and children? Do you think you’ll hear from them?”

He chuckled. “If I do, it’ll probably be that she wants money or something. That, or some dashing young star wanderer has run off with her.”

“Who’s the pessimist now?”

“Hey, so long as she’s happy.”

The shipwide intercom switched on, with Apollo’s voice carrying through. “Attention all hands, we are making the final jump to Colkhia in five minutes. Captain and first officer to bridge.”

“Duty calls,” said Mathusael.

Mara nodded, making one last glance around the room. The men frozen in cryo were depending on her, as well as everyone else on the ship. Her decisions would determine whether they would live or die. If it was just herself, that wouldn’t be so hard. But to have the lives of so many others at stake—that was enough for her to envy the men under ice.

Mid June update

So it’s the middle of June, and I really should have finished Patriots in Retreat by now, but it’s been difficult to stick to any kind of writing routine, and the story is at that place where everything seems broken and writing through it is like slogging through a swamp.

Call me crazy, but I’m starting to think that’s not healthy. In Brandon Sanderson’s English 318R class at BYU, he always said the most important thing was to power through and just finish the damn thing–that you can always go back and “fix it in post”–but while that’s good advice for a new writer who hasn’t ever finished anything, I don’t think it works very well for my own writing process.

I think that what I need to do is take every weekend to cycle through the entire story from the beginning, not necessarily to rewrite it all, but to bring it into line with the stuff that unfolds later. Invariably, when I get to the three quarters mark of my WIP, it feels like the whole thing is barely holding together and that I’m writing myself into a train wreck.

For the last several years, I’ve tried to just write through that, only for one of two things to happen: either something else catches my interest and I decide to put the WIP on the back burner for a while, or it actually does turn into a train wreck and I have to set it on the back burner for a while in order to approach it with a new set of eyes.

Needless to say, neither of those outcomes is very productive.

Now, I don’t think Patriots in Retreat is broken. I think there’s actually a really good story in there, but it needs a little more excavation in certain parts before I can pull the whole thing out in one piece. This was my first time in years experimenting with the cycling process, and I don’t think I did it enough. Next WIP will be another experiment.

Long story short, I will probably have to push this one back another two weeks, which is going to push the release schedule for Sons of the Starfarers back another month. I’ve got another short story I can use to fill in the gap, but it is a bit of a personal disappointment.

Why is it so difficult to keep my own self-imposed deadlines? Am I really that flaky and unreliable? Not in other aspects of my life. Maybe my writing process really does need a complete and fundamental overhaul. Should make for some interesting future posts.

In any case, that’s what I’ve been up to. I really really really want to write a couple of short stories in a universe that may turn into a recurring one, but those will have to wait until Patriots is finished (hopefully early next week). On the publishing side of things, I’ve got a new short story and short story bundle out—more on that tomorrow! Lots of other stuff too, but it’s mostly behind the scenes, so not worth talking much about atm.

Patriots in Retreat will be finished soon, it’s just in the “this sucks and I’m a horrible writer!” phase. Which, hopefully, I’ll find a way to remove from my writing process altogether, because it isn’t healthy. When I figure out how to do that, I’ll let you know.

Beginning of June update

So it’s the beginning of June already, and it’s starting to feel like summer here in Iowa. Because it’s so flat, the sky stays light F O R E V E R, which is kind of neat. Lots more time to go on walks, which is where I work out plot points and other stuff.

Patriots in Retreat
Phase:Draft 1.0
100%

In any case, Patriots in Retreat (my current WIP) is coming along well. It’s turning out to be shorter than I’d expected; there’s only three chapters left, and it’s not quite 20k words. Will probably come in between 3ok and 25k, making it one of the shorter Sons of the Starfarers books.

Middles are tough, even for short novels. I have no idea if this draft is going to turn out clean or not. But I am trying to cycle through as I write, to minimize the number of drafts I need to do. If I can master that technique, I can double or triple my production.

The Sword Keeper is just about finished, only a few more touch-ups before I send it out to my editor. Need to get back in touch with him. We’re definitely still on track for a release this fall, and I’m super excited because I think this is one of the best books I’ve written. Look out for a WIP excerpt later on this week.

There’s a couple of short stories I really want to write, but I’m so swamped with the other stuff that I don’t know when I’ll be able to get to it. I’m not behind (yet) on my current WIP, but I need to keep a steady pace of just under 3k words to meet my deadline, which is going to take some effort.

I haven’t started writing Gunslinger to the Galaxy yet (the sequel to Gunslinger to the Stars)… well, that’s not quite true, because I have written the first line:

My name is Jane Kletchka, and I’m here to set the record straight.

…but in any case, I’m starting to get a bunch of great ideas for that one. Will probably start working on it sometime this fall.

Publishing-wise, I’ve got a ton of stuff to work on but not enough time to juggle it. Most of the stuff falling by the wayside is marketing stuff, which isn’t good, but sales seem to have picked up in the last month so hopefully that isn’t too much of a problem. Still waiting for some reviews to roll in for Gunslinger.

Major items on my publishing to do list include:

  • Write the author’s notes for “The Open Source Time Machine” single and short story bundle.
  • Compile the metadata for “The Open Source Time Machine” single and short story bundle.
  • Format and publish “The Open Source Time Machine” single and bundle.
  • Send The Sword Keeper to Josh Leavitt for editing.
  • Write the book description for The Sword Keeper.
  • Find a cover artist for The Sword Keeper.
  • Rewrite all short story descriptions.
  • Make a new cover for A Hill On Which To Die.
  • Upload all books to DriveThruFiction.

Not a small list—and that doesn’t include all the maintenance-type stuff!

So that’s the big challenge: making time for all of this while working the day job. It’s only 5-6 hours a day, but it adds up. I am saving money, though. My goal is to turn around at least $100 from my writing profits each month into investments. It would be really cool to start investing in space technologies, and the research for that could tie into my writing projects very well. Virtuous cycle and all that good stuff.

That’s what I’m up to these days. Peace, love, and penguins y’all. Thanks for reading!