Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An Expectation of Failure (In the category of Mean What You Say.) #52Weeks


What was I thinking? As loyal readers of this blog, you know the weekly struggle I experience to meet my #52Weeks commitment. You’ve heard whispers of how all the time I now spend writing might be annoying my patient and loving spouse just a teensy bit. (The #Hokies have helped recently – I can spend my Saturdays writing while ignoring whatever football game we happen to be losing – and I find it a better, saner use of my time.) You’d think it would be enough for me to just try to meet this goal, this #52Weeks.

You would, apparently, be wrong.

#NaNoWriMo: it’s a fun hashtag. It’s fun to say, I like how it looks when it’s written out. I’ve signed up for it, and now I have every expectation of failure, a position I don’t normally tolerate, but what the hell? You only live once. National Novel Writing Month or #NaNoWriMo challenges writers (276,921 of us signed up this year) to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Not just any words -- 50,000 iterations of “All work and no play make Kim a dull girl,” won’t cut it. The words have to form a novel. Not a good novel, mind you. I will not be editing for conciseness this time around. No siree. I’m still proofing for spelling and grammar errors. I’m hardwired for that sort of thing. But brevity? The search for the perfect word to replace six? The subtle nuances that can be contrived with a simple phrase here, a character’s shrug there? Nope. Not this time. This time it's all about word count -- 1,667 words per day to be exact.

I asked my friend, @PhilthePill, if I could skip my #52Weeks posts for November to do #NaNoWriMo. He got me into this weekly blogging business, and he knows the rules better than I (primarily, I believe, because he is making them up as he goes). I know I didn’t have to ask him, and certainly, I am under no obligation to do what Phil says – I was merely testing his instincts for generosity.

Phil said no.

He suggested, instead, that I blog about the #NaNoWriMo experience. He also recommended I quit my day job, and he may have a point (although I really do not have that option). My first lesson this November is that employed people don’t actually have enough time in each day to write 1,667 words plus another 1,000 or so words for a weekly blog post. Not if they also want to eat, sleep, and bathe with any regularity. I’d need a time turner to get all this done, and Harry and Hermione smashed the lot of them when they broke into the Department of Mysteries.

On October 30, two days before #NaNoWriMo began, I made an outline of my new novel. I pinned down the finer details by asking various Tweeps questions: what’s your favorite genre, your favorite flavor, your favorite place to vacation, something you find disgusting, your preferred jewelry, your preferred weapon, the name you wish your parents had given you, your favorite color? I used their answers to develop my characters, my setting, and my plot line. In a satisfyingly short period of time, I had an outline and an opening paragraph. The words came easily, bolstering me with false confidence. I can do this, I thought. I can write a novel in a month.

Today is Day Five and I’m already more than 2,000 words behind pace. I’m not giving up – not this easily – but it’s getting away from me much more quickly than I expected.

Beyond accepting that I will most likely fail the #NaNoWriMo challenge, I have already learned other things about myself. For starters, fiction, novel writing – that’s my thing. I love it, every bit of it. I get a heady sense of control when I’m creating a new universe. Everything obeys Kim’s Laws of Nature. Screw Newton. I knew this about me, but #NaNoWriMo has reinforced that truth. I like all types of writing, but I love writing fiction, even wordy, verbose, anything-but-concise fiction.

I’ve also discovered I don’t like to write sex scenes, which I think is weird because I really like sex. But writing about it makes me uncomfortable. I’m attempting to work through that quickly as the very next scene I need to write is, in fact, a sex scene. The sex scene must happen. It’s imperative to the plotline that our hero (Santiago Fillup) has sex with the green alien very early on in the story. He’s going to end up regretting it, but it has to happen. I probably won’t linger overlong on any details about the moment, but I will try to avoid clich├ęs. Does the reader really need to know about the nipples, the interesting crook in the...? I’ll have to answer these questions, and soon, because I will never get on with the rest of the story until this part of it comes together.

This blog post is now about 858 words, no 859, 860 words long...it will have to be enough. I need to get back to the novel. In case you are curious (and have oodles of free time to read my writing) Chapter 1 is below.

#52Weeks

UNSPOKEN: A NOVEL BY KIM NORRIS #NANOWRIMO

Chapter 1

“This court has found you guilty of murder. You shall now be sentenced.”

Santiago Fillup tried to keep his face impassive, but his heart beat violently in his chest. He scanned the rainbow of faces that stared down at him. The courtroom was more like a bowl with stadium seating from floor to ceiling. At one end, behind the tall bench, the judge scowled down, his blue lips curled in a sneer. Santiago felt momentarily mesmerized by the small strand of spittle that formed at the corners of the judge’s lips as he spoke. The green ooze contrasted brilliantly against the cobalt lips.

Obfus Catians came in every shade imaginable, but the majority was born blue, green, or purple. Red, yellow, or orange Obfus Catians, referred to as “Blushies,” were less common and had a lower social status. Santiago had only been on Obfus Cate 10 a short time, but he knew from past visits to avoid the Blushies as they all had serious chips on their shoulders which they tended to take out on “Aliens,” their name for anyone not from Obfus Cate 10. Santiago had nearly been killed by two Blushies his first night on the planet as he made his way through the seamier side of town. He’d be dead right now if it hadn’t been for Jewell.

Jewell. That green bitch had set him up, and he had never seen it coming. There was no question about it: he’d also be a free man right now, if it hadn’t been for Jewell.

“Given the heinous nature of the crime, the cowardly use of poison as the murder weapon, and the fact that you are an Alien, this court hereby sentences you to death. You shall be executed tomorrow night. Court is adjourned!” The judged banged a double ended gavel with enough enthusiasm that the drip of spittle flung itself from his lips and splattered inches away from Santiago.

Santiago stood dumbfounded as two armed guards grabbed his shackled arms and hauled him out of the courtroom. The death sentenced hadn’t shocked him – Obfus Catians were notorious for executing Aliens for even the most minor of offenses. But tomorrow night? Even by fast-track standards, that brief amount of time was unheard of. He’d never sort out an escape plan by then.

For the first time in his career as an intergalactic spy, Santiago felt worried. Very worried.

The guards unshackled Santiago and pushed him into the capsule that would take him back to his cell. The clear pod barely fit Santiago. At six feet, one inch, 185 pounds he was a head taller and several inches wider than the average Obfus Catian, and the comfort of Aliens meant little to them. He scrunched into the seat and grabbed the holdbar with both hands. One of the guards waved a hand over the control panel and the capsule door snapped shut. The pod dropped with a sickening jolt through the floor, then accelerated sideways. As he traveled down the tube, lights flickered, each one marking a stop on the line. His capsule continued to the Maximum Security section of the prison before coming to a sudden stop in bright light. Moments later, two new armed guards escorted him back to his cell.

Though he had only been in prison a few days (the trial had gone blazingly fast as well), he felt relieved to return to the tiny cell. The bed was too small, and the mesh covered window looked out only onto the wall of the next cell block, but they had at least put him in a solitary cell. It seemed the Obfus Catians preferred to execute their Alien prisoners using the proper means rather than just putting him in with the general prison population, comprised mainly of Blushies, and letting them stick him with a shiv. The bed was too short for his frame, but it was comfortable by prison standards. (Santiago had been in prison before, hell even the death sentence wasn’t completely novel, but tomorrow night?) Meals appeared in a portal situated near the door to the cell. The food tasted synthesized, though. He doubted the prison had an actual kitchen in it somewhere.

He lay down on the bed with his hands behind his head and stared up at the gray ceiling, the same strange substance that made up the rest of the cell. It gleamed like metal, but it felt more like silicone. He could push a dent into the material easily with one finger, but the dent sprang back out to smoothness as soon as he took his finger away. The first couple of days, out of sheer boredom, he tried to injure himself by throwing his body against the wall, but the surface felt soft, like a padded room in one of the nut-huts on his home planet of Sequest.

Santiago considered his situation. The window, should he breach it, lead to nowhere. The food portal made regular checks by the guards completely unnecessary, so no hope of overpowering one, and the cell afforded no possible way to injure himself, which was the only other means he could think of to get the guards to come to his cell at all. He was in a jam but good. How the hell had it gotten to this point?

***

The mission began routinely enough. NatSecChief had called him into a meeting, the usual briefing about the mission, but when members of the Supreme Council joined them, Santiago began to suspect this mission would be anything but routine. After introductions all around (the Defense Minister was so much shorter than he appeared on the holo) NatSecChief got straight to the point.

“We don’t know what you are looking for, who has it, or where it is, but we need you to find it first.”

“Find what?”

“That’s just it, we aren’t sure.”

“Then how the hell,” Santiago began, sitting up and looking around the room, “do you expect me to find it?”

The Defense Minister cleared his throat and sat up straighter himself, which did little to elevate him to Santiago’s eye level. “I assume,” he said, looking at Santiago, “that you have the highest level of security clearance?”

“I believe so,” Santiago replied jovially, “unless you’ve come up with a level higher than Super Secret.”

“We have not.” The Defense Minister’s tone made it clear he had no sense of humor regarding matters of security clearance. “I must stress to you that the information I am about to share with you is highly classified. If we did have clearance level above Super Secret, this mission would be classified as such. No one, I mean no one outside of this room can know of this mission.”

The Defense Minister's tone irked Santiago. “I’ve been handling this agency’s Super Secret missions for longer than you’ve been the Defense Minister.” (This was true in that the Defense Minister had been elected only two years ago. Santiago was in his fifth year as an agent.) “I understand protocol, Mr. Minister.”

“Very well then.” The Defense Minister turned to his right and addressed the younger man sitting beside him. “Mr. Wyzish has already been introduced. He runs our Super Secret Surveillance Operation. I’ll turn the meeting over to him for now.”

Mr. Wyzish, a portly man of medium build with startling orange hair, stood as he spoke. “As part of our ongoing national surveillance program, we monitor all communications going off-planet. Not the content per se, but the comings and goings. Meta data, nothing concrete, but it’s great for uncovering trends…”

The Defense Minister interrupted, “I don’t think we need a full brief on security protocols, Mr. Wyzish.”

The younger man flushed a bit. “Yes of course, Minister. So, using this meta data, we discovered a thread of communications that, on further review, appear to be very troubling. The messages go from Sequest all the way to the planet Obfus Cate 10, which you may or may not know is clear on the other side of the galaxy. While the recipient here on Sequest was unknown to us before this, the sender on Obfus Cate 10 is a known agent who works for GarPol. As you are all aware, GarPol has sworn to obliterate Sequest and all of its citizens if given the chance.”

Santiago tried but failed to cover the derisive snort. Everyone turned to look at him. The Defense Minister wore a particularly nasty scowl. “Well it’s GarPol, isn’t it? I mean they’ve been threatening to obliterate us since we landed on their planet.”

“It appears they may have found a means to do it. Or at the very least, they are actively seeking a means. Based on what we have intercepted, we believe the GarPolese are searching for the Words of Power.”

“The what?” Santiago had never heard of them, at least not outside of a fairy tale.

“The Words of Power,” Wyzish repeated. According to legend, at the dawn of the galaxy, Saints who formed the universe spoke the Words of Power to create all of the heavens and planets we know today. The Saints then recorded the Words by some means about which we do not know the exact nature and hid them in a temple. It is said that if the Words of Power are again spoken, the heavens and planets will be created anew. Or put another way, creation as we know it would be destroyed and something else would emerge.”

“Several moons ago, we intercepted three separate messages, all originating from the same point on Sequest and terminating at the same point on GarPol. We activated a local agent on Obfus Cate 10 to track down the recipient.  Last night we received a message confirming our suspicions that GarPol was involved. More troubling, though, is the intelligence we received about the Words of Power themselves. Our agent on Obfus Cate 10 believes they know someone who knows the actual location of the Words of Power. And they’re pretty sure this someone has already given this information to the GarPol agent. Our enemies may actually be very close to achieving their ultimate goals.”

“What a load of vacashit!” Santiago laughed out loud. “It’s a legend. It doesn’t actually exist. This is a ploy. GarPol may be up to something, but laying hands on a fairy tale isn’t it.”

Wyzish looked peeved. “We felt that way, too, at first, but then we contacted Raj Manashakan” Wyzish nodded to the man seated across from him. “He heads the archeological department at the main campus of Sequest World University.” Wyzish nodded and sat down.

Manashakan was tall, dark, and very serious looking. The room darkened as he activated the large monitor that comprised one entire wall of the meeting room. The professor had a soft voice, and Santiago had to strain to catch his words. As he spoke, images from the Book of Saints and other reference materials about the Saints flashed across the screen.

“For many years, while most people have accepted that the legend of the Saints and their Words of Power are merely that – legend, archeologists have searched throughout the galaxy for proof of their existence. What is vacashit to some,” he nodded in Santiago’s direction, “is history to others.”

Santiago snorted again, but held his tongue. He watched as a three-dimensional star chart of the known galaxy materialized in the center of the room.

“The Sequest World University’s archeology department first began searching for concrete proof of the Words of Power many many moons ago, before the parentals of any of us here were born. Ancient legends suggested several possible locations for the Temple of Words, which was the name given to the chamber that legend says the Saints built to guard their transcript.”

Three planets in the 3-D galaxy hovering in the center of the darkened room glowed brightly. Santiago recognized his home planet, Sequest as well as the distant world of Obfus Cate 10, a planet he had been to several times before. He wondered at the identity of the agent that Wyzish had mentioned. Santiago had never before heard anyone suggest that Sequest had agents on that world. He could not recall the name of the third planet. It was located at the far edge of the galaxy; Santiago felt certain he had never been there before.

As if Manashakan could read Santiago’s thoughts, the unknown planet enlarged, overtaking the entire 3-D galaxy. As if they were parachuting from the edge of the planet’s atmosphere down into the clouds and haze, the visual effect was that of a falling very fast, through cold mist and out into bright light. As the surface of the planet came into focus, Santiago noticed that most of it was covered in water. The three dimensional map continued to zoom in on details, moving them across shimmering waves to a large city built partly on the small island of dry land and partly on the water. As the map took them on a visual tour of the city, Santiago marveled at the buildings that bobbed in the waves attached to more stable edifices by swinging bridges. At “street level” (he couldn’t think of a better term…canal level maybe?) he saw strange small flat boats moving through the canals in an orderly manner, a watery highway. Citizens on Motodisks, ridiculous flying platforms that Santiago could never get the hang of, made their way between buildings and across bridges.

“They’re strange looking,” Santiago remarked. Indeed the Motodisk riders all resembled aquatic creatures that had managed to crawl out of the ooze and develop the means to walk upright without losing the gills or the webbed hands. “What planet is that?”

“Veneto.” It’s a remote planet, and as you can see, it’s quite wet. The Venetians never developed intergalactic travel capabilities, mostly due to the lack of enough dry land to construct the needed spaceport. They had no trouble accepting visitors from other worlds when their planet was explored, however. And as with every other known inhabited planet, the legend of the Words of Power, which they call the Unspokens, is known on Veneto. Fascinating place. My wife and I honeymooned there. The Sarde en Saor is delicious.”

Santiago had not expected the scholarly man to be married, believing as he did that bookish types cared more about knowledge than noodling. Ever since he was a small child, he had preferred sex over scholarship, but then education had come easy to Santiago – he never had to study as hard as his classmates, and he graduated top of his class with ease. Santiago had no trouble meeting women; he had no trouble getting their ankles in the air. Certainly, his career choice of intergalactic spy made anything like a “normal” relationship challenging. Keeping a woman who was actually worth keeping for longer than a few moons, however, had so far proven impossible.

The 3-D representation of Veneto zoomed back out rapidly until it was once again just one of three bright spots on the galactic map. With dizzying speed, the planet of Obfus Cate 10 enlarged and they once again began zooming down through clouds towards the surface of the holographic planet. Santiago recognized the capital city as it came into focus. The port city of Clarity was as beautiful and dangerous as any on which he had landed. The natives of the planet had the exact same humanoid body as Sequestrians; the two beings were compatible in every way. Obfus Catians had a smaller build than Sequestrians, and where natives of Sequest tended to have so-called “neutral” skin and hair coloring, Obfus Catians coloring ranged the complete spectrum of the rainbow. They all bled green though, a fact of which Santiago was all too aware.

Manashakan continued, “Various legends trace the origin of the galaxy and the placement of the Unspokens to each of these three planets for various reasons, all of them thinly veiled attempts to claim the status of First Planet. But the three very disparate legends all have several common themes, the most prevalent of which is the belief that the means by which the Words of Power were transcribed and secured involves submergence.”

“Submergence?” NatSecChief and Santiago spoke at the same time.

Wyzish spoke up, “that means they are submerged,” then quickly quieted under the withering looks of everyone else in the room.

The Defense Minister looked shrewdly at Santiago. “We believe it may be necessary to dive or swim or perform some other feats under some sort of liquid in order to acquire the Unspokens. Do you see any problem with this?”

Santiago Fillup didn’t answer immediately. The sneering Defense Minister’s face briefly swam out of focus. Ten-year-old Santiago once again bobbed in the Sea of Sequest amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the airship his parentals and undersib had, only moments before, been navigating through a sudden and violent storm. As large pieces of the craft pushed the young boy under the water, tossed by the waves and the battering winds, he struggled to breathe and keep his head up. He was on the verge of relenting and allowing himself to slip below the surface of the stormy waters when a rescue craft teleported him to safety. But his family had perished…Santiago was suddenly an orphan.

Santiago’s mind snapped back to the present, and he remembered where he sat. The Defense Minister’s face came back into focus. He continued to sneer.

“None,” Santiago said forcefully. NatSecChief gave him a sidelong glance, which Santiago met with a look of defiance.

“Then we need you to leave for Obfus Cate 10 immediately. Your ship has been made ready while we have been meeting here.”

“That’s big of you. But you still haven’t told me what it is that I am supposed to find.”

NatSecChief shifted in his chair. “Your first priority will be to make contact with our agent on Obfus Cate 10. They will take you to the person who allegedly knows how to find the Unspokens. Instructions have been programmed into your ship’s computer. You should be fully stocked with all the equipment you might need to...”

“For Saints’ sake, how do you figure that? You can’t even tell me what I’m looking for.” Santiago knew his boss hated to be interrupted, but this “mission” sounded like a complete waste of time. Everyone in the room ignored his comment. The Defense Minister smirked at him again – a look that made Santiago certain that the man knew more than he wanted to tell.

Instead of revealing anything pertinent, though, he just looked at Santiago and said, “You’ll need to adjust your appearance to fit in better on Obfus Cate 10. We can’t have you looking like a Blushie. Do you have a color preference?”

“Anything but blue,” Santiago answered.

The Defense Minister chuckled a bit and handed Santiago a bright green capsule. “Take this just before you land. It will last for only two Obfus Cate 10 moons. That moon cycle lasts a bit longer than ours though. It should be enough time to determine if the Unspokens are on Obfus Cate 10. You won’t need to worry about a disguise on Veneto, if it should even be necessary to go there. You’ll pose as a tourist.”

“Right,” said Santiago as he pocketed the pill. Then he got up and strode out the door.

His pilot’s instincts kicked in when he arrived at the spaceport. His ship, the Anna-Rae (he had named it for his mother), was parked in its own, secured area. It took two retina scans and a full body scan to gain access to the bridge. He checked the power cells and nav system before making his way aft to make sure he carried no stowaways. Equipment of all sorts had been stowed in the two large storage lockers that flanked the area of the ship reserved for passengers. Once he was satisfied that all was as it needed to be, he went back to the bridge and signaled the spaceport controllers that he was ready to depart.

He could have let the Anna-Rae do all the work of taking off, leaving orbit and navigating to the wormhole that would speed the trip across the galaxy by significant digits. She was Sequest’s most advanced piece of engineering for space travel. Every time he landed at his home spaceport, the talented NatSec engineers installed upgrades to every system: weapons, navigation, power, controls – they were all the best that the rich government of Sequest could buy. But at heart, Santiago was a pilot. He loved to fly, so he handled the controls himself. As soon as he reached the wormhole, he set the course to Obfus Cate 10 and let the ship take over so he could review the mission instructions that had been stored in the ship’s computer.

Santiago didn’t know why he expected the instructions to enlighten him any more than the briefing had, but they contained little in the way of new information. He was to make his way through Clarity, the main city on Obfus Cate 10, to a restaurant called the Slippery Slope. The Sequest agent would meet him there. They would be looking for him, so the instructions gave no description of who he was meeting. The agent would greet him with the phrase, “Deep water is cold.” He was to reply, “It’s better than boiling,” to identify himself.

“Who writes this crap?” he wondered aloud.

Even traveling through the wormhole, the trip across the galaxy would take long enough for him to get some sleep. He set an alarm, dimmed the bridge lights, and kicked back for a snooze.

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