Monday, December 15, 2008

Heartbreaker: Speculation

Wait, how is Singer supposed to contact this shadowy figure if she can't e-mail him back? Maybe she's just that crafty....


I must have told someone, she thought to herself. At one of the office parties. For a cover story. Something.

Singer zipped up her thick leather flight jacket and stepped onto the patio. She looked down at the park, where the risers were already up and ready. She sighed and pulled on her helmet.

It had taken her a couple extra weeks to find an apartment on the right floor, but it was worth it. From her balcony, she could get into traffic easily. She tapped in the password for the gate and stepped through, off the edge. Mind buzzing though it was with the mystery at hand, she still have more than enough focus to fly. Singer slipped easily from a walk to a drift, floating out from her apartment until she heard the gate click.

Maybe it was Farmer.

She lowered her head and streaked forward, cutting through the faintly flickering yellow field into the stream of fliers. Other telekinetics made up the bulk of the traffic flow, but there was the occasional winged dragon-breed flapping along, clearing his or herself a wide berth with their high profile. One person, she saw, was standing on the safety net, the force screen coalescing around their feet and glowing bright. They straightened their helmet, strapped it tight, and took off again, regaining the fifteen foot gap back into traffic.

It had to be Farmer, now that she thought of it. He'd cornered her at the last holiday party, the previous winter. She knew he'd had a crush on her for as long as they'd worked together, and she thought he knew she wasn't interested. Something, apparently, was unclear. Farmer was an all right guy, but too eager. He'd poured out to her more awkward detail about his life than was fair, and she must have told him the story out of some misguided sense of justice.

Singer floated to a stop, the field ahead lit red. As the cross-traffic unspooled from its cluster and began to flow again, she remembered that Farmer had just gotten back to the office yesterday, from his assignment in Red Bridge. She'd actually heard him griping about the long trip back north in the hall.

The red field dissipated, and Singer rounded the corner, coming into view of her office. The Psionic Solutions, Inc. tower was an elegant steel-fiber and polyglass affair, mostly black, with the impression of a highly polished onyx shard. Human forms darted in and out at skylane level as couriers delivered packages and consultants made their way to and from their assignments.

In essence, the Corporation was a psychic guild, providing consulting services to individuals and organizations, or so Public Relations said. At some point, everyone had a use for a telepath or a telekinetic. Collective bargaining had just quieted down for the season, and they now had to rely on other contracts for their income. This was usually Singer's favorite time of year. Last year she had worked one private investigation – the executive was cheating and embezzling, it turned out – and two big projects, both of which she had loved.

She alighted on the entrance nearest her office, unstrapping her helmet and turning her focus to the small box embedded in the wall. With a thought, the door opened. Singer shook her head, thinking of what price that little box would fetch on the open market. Just a little vial of psychoreactive fluid in a vial, hooked up to a computer with some very proprietary security software. The first step towards a psionic computer interface. As yet, all they could get the system to do was recognize people and open doors.

As usual, the office inside was nearly silent. The occasional drift of music or talk show hovered around someone's console, but no conversation filled the air. Singer stepped through the sliding glass door, which slid shut with a hiss.

-Morning, Singer, came the telepathic voice of Derek Baker, one of the trainees she supervised. He was nowhere in sight. Must have been waiting for her.

-Hey, Derek. Lemme guess. Fletcher's waiting.

-Good guess.

Singer walked straight past the kitchen and its inviting coffee-and-spiced-tea smell, on toward her boss's office.

-Morning, Elaine. How's your morning going?

That was Terrence Farmer. Singer stopped in front of his cubicle. He had turned around, hoping to get a glance at her, and now he was smiling as she actually stopped. His skin was a few shades darker than hers, more the average human brown than her pale pink. His eyes were a light brown, almost tan, and betrayed his eagerness to please people. Not un-handsome, and not a bad guy. Just tended toward desperate more often than not.

She narrowed her focus, quieting her telepathy to avoid eavesdroppers.

-Terry, hey. Got a question for you. She was annoyed, and trying not to let it show. Maybe he hadn't just let it slip. Maybe.

[By the way, Farmer is based loosely on me. More to come.]

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Heartbreaker: Enticement

Technically, due to the order in which I've posted the exerpts, today's story chunk is a flashback. I think this one is a little rougher than the others, but hey, it's a first draft. If you were wondering about the message Telfeyan sent so elaborately, read on.


Singer entered the 14-digit password from memory on the second attempt. Case-sensitive. She then stared at the kitchen table, frowning as the document failed to appear. She glanced back at the kitchen to see the text window on the kitchen wall, where Suq's call had come in. Singer sighed. "Over here." The window immediately blinked to the kitchen table. That's what she got for using a little-known, ill-supported notebook program, even if it was better than the mainstream software.

Singer glanced over what she had so far. Not much left to be said, really. The meeting had gone worse than she had expected - at least, worse for the Schwartzsten Group. Great for the Corporation's client, who was trying to find a way out of the negotiations. Which reminded her.

“Attach a note for Fletcher. Audio only. Set password as 'hedgehog milkshake.'” She snickered at the inside joke. “Record.” The waveform graph popped into being, fluctuating with her voice. “Hey, Fletch. Possible mode of approach for the meeting. Don't directly advise Gorok to back out, just keep suggesting that Schwartzsten is less than honest. Their rep has a crazy temper just below the surface. Keep pecking at him, and he'll blow, guaranteed, and Gorok will have all the excuse he needs to pull out. You can thank me later. Get pictures.” She had looked up the dwarf's name after the meeting, and was hardly surprised to find out that Roter meant “red.” Red he had been.

Singer was about to begin her work on the report itself when the new message chime sounded, and the floating envelope icon popped to the left. She'd forgotten to silence it before getting to work, which usually ended up costing her an extra half our. That icon was awfully hard to resist. She reached over and tapped it, rolling her eyes at her own predictability.

A text-only window scrolled open, revealing two short paragraphs. The sender was identified only as Secondshadow. No one she knew.

I hope this note finds you well. It was certainly an effort to find you in the first place, and, I pray, a worthwhile effort. An opportunity of untold magnitude awaits you. If such a grandiose but dreadfully general statement does not entice you, perhaps this statement will: my kingdom for a knight who hears me.

Her eyes stuck in place. A singular rush of cold recognition froze her. Those were her grandmother's words to her when she was nine years old. They were at the end of a fable she never forgot. They were how she knew she would marry Suqarin. She hadn't told that story to anyone except him.

If you are at all curious, contact me.

“Reply,” she ordered. A blank message appeared, with Secondshadow as the recipient. “Who are you? Send. Yes.” She barked the commands, anticipating the inevitable confirmation prompt. What she didn't anticipate was the error message.

[Error: Secondshadow is not a valid recipient.]

Singer glared at the box and stood up. The account obviously existed ten seconds ago. “Search network for Secondshadow, one word. Include Corporation.” No one knew that story. She hated mysteries.

[No results found. Did you mean second shadow?]

“Display properties for message.” A separate box appeared with statistics on the message itself. At the bottom was a series of network addresses the tiny digital parcel had been routed through. Singer slid her finger diagonally across the bottom of the box, drawing a selection rectangle around the information. She simultaneously tapped the right and bottom edges and dragged away a copy of the selection. “Call Dana Baker.”

Dana in IT answered a moment later, her small, dark face appearing on the kitchen table. “Hey, Singer. Mail problems?”

“Kinda,” Singer grumbled. “How'd you guess?”

“I don't wanna talk about it. Just found out this morning someone actually hacked through to our mail list last week.”

Oh, really. That was no small task. The Corporation had written their own proprietary operating system based almost entirely on the principle of data security. Their entire network was under layer upon layer of encryption, and was all but shut off to outside access.

“Funny you should mention. I just got an odd message and was hoping you could trace it back.”

“Yes. Forward it on.” Dana's game face was firmly in place. She was after the guy.

No sense in muddying the waters. “How about just the relay information?” She dragged and dropped the image onto the video feed, and watched as Dana reached offscreen to tap at the control surface.

“Mmm-hmm. That's all I need.” Her eyes had drifted away from the camera, and were flicking between several open windows. “Thought so. This address looks like it came from the Midlands.”

“Seriously? I thought their net access was junk out there.”

“Oh, it's enough. I'll let you know what I find out. So, what did the note say?”

“Nothing anyone in the Midlands needs to be saying to me.”

“Ksh. All right. I'll get back to you.” Dana flicked shut the window.

Singer glowered at the note. Contact me. The game was on.

Singer also hated games. Mostly because she couldn't resist them.

She thought of something else, and flicked the video window back open. “Hey, Dana?”

Dana looked up. “Aye?”

“I tried replying, but it said the account doesn't exist. And the search didn't turn up anything.”

“It said 'not valid,' right?”

Singer glanced over at the still-open dialog box. “Yeah.”

“Put that together with the Midlands network address, and you've got a flicker. Someone made a new account, sent you the message, and cut the network connection. The message would have gone through if they were still on the net.”

Singer knew how hard it was to get off the net here in the north. It had to be easier in the Midlands, where the tech was decades behind.

“Thanks, Dana.” Singer flicked the window closed and leaned on the table, scowling at the wall. She dragged her finger back and forth, waving the mystery message. Trying to shake the secrets loose.

[more to come.]

Monday, December 08, 2008

Heartbreaker Excerpt: Telfeyan's Entrance

Who is Telfeyan Crowflock? Today's snippet has blatant exposition!

If you're reading this, drop me a quick "ooh!" or "meh" in the comments section. Lemme know you're out there!


“My Queen, if I may be so bold-”

“I fear, Lord Eoderyn, that you would be bold with or without my leave.” Queen Leikalani fixed her cold, dark eyes on the elven noble, her gaze threatening to freeze him in place. His hand had paused in mid gesture, and his face betrayed only a hint of fear. Eoderyn's poise broke; his words ran out. The Queen allowed him a moment to sweat. “Come to your request.”

Despite his opulent attire, and immaculate courtly manner, Eoderyn managed to look genuinely timid. It somewhat diminished the effect of his wardrobe, complete with ages-old platinum earcuffs, a sharp-edged gray vest and robe of the latest fashion, and the cravat, bursting with reds and yellows. He was almost too old to pull off the look properly, but his face remained smooth enough to trim a few years from his appearance. His head bowed, and his tightly-braided blond ponytail rolled to one side. Eoderyn cleared his throat, and spoke, although in a smaller voice than before. “In order to complete the task at hand in the time you request, more resources will be required. In particular-”

The Queen threw up her hand, cutting him off again. “Tell me nothing of the particulars.” She folded her hands in her lap. “You have at your disposal all that you need. You have only to use it. You may ask my headservant for access to any particulars. Return tomorrow with your demands.”

Eoderyn bowed low, with great flourish. “It is with honor that I serve, my Queen. Your generosity is magnificent.” He lifted his head. “Let it be known that am ready and willing to offer you any...” He stopped at the sound of flapping wings and the rustling of the great, thick drapes covering the fifteen-foot window to his left. Eoderyn suppressed a snarl.

The Queen, on the other hand, allowed herself a smirk and looked to the window. “Is that you, Crowflock?”

Telfeyan shoved aside the thick red curtain and stepped into view. Telfeyan Crowflock, the Queen's spy and trusted agent. Who was once a man, and now was not. His rough canvas hands rustled against the curtain fabric. A tuft of straw poked out from his left wrist, which he surreptitiously, and automatically, tucked back in. Telfeyan smiled, the jagged white patch of material shifting in size and shape, bright against the black-dyed canvas of his face. He removed his black felt hat and bowed.

“My Queen.”

He straightened, and bowed shallowly to Lord Eoderyn. Not shallow enough to slight, but only just. “M'lord.” Telfeyan replaced the hat on his head and leaned against the ancient polished stone wall.

Eoderyn, as was his custom, gave Telfeyan a hard look. “Whenever you present yourself, Crowflock, I wonder to myself what I have said in the presence of crows.”

“You flatter me, M'lord. Certainly I cannot be everywhere at once.” He winked one triangular white eye at the noble.

One of Eoderyn's sharply pointed ears twitched. He inclined his head once again to the Queen. “By your leave, Your Majesty, I will continue the work at hand.”

“Go with my blessing, Lord Eoderyn,” the Queen said, without the usual ice in her voice.

The noble smiled at the Queen, turned and exited the tower room. Queen Leikalani watched Eoderyn go, then turned to her spy. “You do make him uncomfortable.”

Telfeyan stood casually and meandered into the center of the room. “Perhaps I remind him of someone he doesn't like. And isn't it curious, Your Majesty,” he continued abruptly, “that he would insist on meeting you in the least convenient of your meeting rooms, at the hour normally reserved for your afternoon rites in the gardens?”

The Queen stood from the sculpted iron throne on which she sat, and walked past Telfeyan to the door. Her form-fitting red dress, a darker maroon than the curtains, rustled slightly. Though his face had no nose to speak of, Telfeyan caught her scent – it brought to mind an image of blue water running over snow. “It bothers you when I refuse to include you in my plans.” She brushed a thin, pale finger over the softly glowing runes on the door, deactivating the magical silence placed on the room.

“I have no desire to be personally involved in all your plans, my Queen,” Telfeyan replied. “If I had any complaint, it would be simply that I do not know about all your plans. Perhaps you can sympathize with a spy's plight.”

“Do you have anything to report, spy?” The Queen was using her business voice, but was shamelessly smiling to herself.

You do enjoy toying with me, don't you? “Nothing, my Queen, to report. Except that your kingdom is unusually quiet and peaceful.”

“Then I might have to cause a stir, mightn't I?”

[oh, that sneaky Queen. more to come.]

Friday, December 05, 2008

Another excerpt

Here's another piece of Heartbreaker, from a little further into the story. Anyone recognize our second main character?


The text scrolled into place on the device's tiny screen, and Telfeyan smiled crookedly. “Paragraph. If you are... at all curious, contact me.” He stared at the glowing letters for a long moment. That was adequate. He set the handheld device next to him on the great rock on which he sat, and took up his stylus. With a brush of his rough finger, the sharped tip of the ancient wood lit with a green haze, bright white at its source. Leaning over in his cross-legged position, he set the point to the rock, drawing the final rune with a slow, steady, practiced hand. The stone furrowed, tiny pebbles rolling away from the point as Telfeyan drew it effortlessly through, leaving a shallow but definite score mark with every stroke.

He completed the formation and carefully reviewed each component before laying aside his stylus and pressing his hand to the cluster of runes. He had taken the extra time to add two redundant esphera runes for power and route them through three innite each. All that for the sake of quickness. Once again, it was time to test his runecraft.

The magic was already seeping into the formation through his palm. A good sign. Out of habit, he went through the motion of taking a deep breath and slowly opened the gate, allowing the magic to leak steadily through himself and prime the diagram. The green aura spread, filling out the subtle contours in the rock. Telfeyan watched its progress with unblinking eyes. And the moment the central rune began to show white, he dropped the gate and flooded the formation.

A blast of hot air whipped over Telfeyan's face as the portal opened. He looked out over the city of Edge, over a thousand miles north. Hundreds of feet below the magical aperture, mid-morning traffic was comprised of rapidly aging northern vehicles and, much more impressive, custom transports made from northern scraps. In the distance, a lone road stretched away to the north through the amber dunes. A minor sandstorm was gathering to the northeast, a dark swath in an otherwise blue sky.

He took only a second to enjoy the view, then grabbed the PDA and examined the indicator in the upper left of the screen. The antenna icon was, as he had been told to expect, blinking. His thumb scraped the Send button, and the device chirped a pleasant-sounding chime of denial. Telfeyan chuckled. This northern technology was polite even when it wasn't working.

Then, the antenna solidified, and was immediately replaced by five green bars. Telfeyan tapped the Send button again, and the message disappeared. Sent.

He immediately slammed shut the gate, and with it, the portal. The warm wind and blue desert sky disappeared with a hissing snap. As Telfeyan watched, the antenna icon reappeared on the PDA's screen, blinking three times before displaying instead a small red circle.

“Sorry,” he said to the device. “We are somewhat out of range, aren't we?” Laid the handheld computer in the center of the portal runes, then grabbed and re-energized his stylus. With broad strokes, he connected the main focus points, channeling them into the center. He cut off each of the outlets, and added three more oversized esphera. His left hand clenched into a fist, and he gathered a pool of energy there, a stopped gate. With his stylus, he traced a single connector a few feet long, ending in a simple spiral. A magical fuse. Over this he placed his left hand, and released. The spiral ignited bright white, and the green haze began to spread along the groove in the rock.

Telfeyan stood and brushed himself off. Walking a few paces away to the edge of the rock, he only looked back at the device once. If he had any way of using a PDA in the far south, he would be even more tempted to purchase one. That would raise some eyebrows at the royal court. Telfeyan snickered to himself and stepped off the edge of the mountain.

Cold mountain air rushed past his unblinking eyes. In the distance, he could see a large farm. They might hear the noise, but the flash would be lost in the late morning gloom.

As if in answer to his thoughts, the detonation sounded from the cliff above, as the magic essence reached the clogged, overpowered tangle of runes and exploded, tearing away the entire surface of rock on which it was etched and blowing the northern device to shreds.

Satisfied, Telfeyan took another deep breath. His form unwound, changing texture and warping, splitting. As he had a hundred times before, he burst apart, a hundred wings catching the rushing wind in a dive, then flapping into formation.

In the far distance, a farmer looked up at a rumbling echo, and saw only a flock of crows flying south toward Castle Stonewynd.

[more to come.]

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Gasp! Novel excerpt!

In November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month, further damaging my claims to sanity. The idea behind NaNo is to start on November 1 with a blank page, and finish the month with 50,000 words of a novel. I made a weak start, gained some momentum mid-month, and, well...

I'm quite pleased with what I did accomplish, though. I don't know if I've ever written this much for a given story. Ever. I plan on finishing the story, too, once I've planned it out a little better. I haven't been writing new material for it for the past few days, but I will be.

In celebration, I'm posting excerpts from what I managed to crank out during NaNo. These represent the roughest of rough drafts, but that's a lot of what gets posted here anyway. Heh. As yet, the story has no title, and will henceforth be referred to by its codename, Heartbreaker. A few of you will recognize a character, a name, or a setting, here and there.

Please enjoy, and feel free to comment.


A gentle swelling of light, and a gradual crescendo of harp music, and Elaine Singer awoke. The soft white light of the wall panels spread over the room, soaking the coffee-and-milk tan covers, the small lampstand, the many-colored ensembles just visible through the slightly ajar closet door. It took her a solid ten seconds to realize she was awake, ten seconds of staring at the red behind her eyelids. Subtle, embedded speakers in the wall above her futon grew slowly louder, insistently spreading the mystic sound of plucked strings. A vague memory of dream drifted away from her on a mental breeze, replaced quickly by another image.

In her mind, she was choking a harpist. Singer half-growled, half-groaned, rolling onto her stomach and burying her quickly-waking eyes in the pillow. A strand of her short red hair flipped into her ear. Itchy.

Have to minimize movement. We're not waking up. Not right now. Just gotta... oh, hell. She reached up at swatted at her own rebellious hair, knowing the battle was lost. Singer rolled over with a huff, tugging the covers off half the bed. Her voice was groggy when she spoke. “House. What time is it?”

The harp music quieted for the house computer's response, in a factual, but pleasant male voice. “It is 8:45 am.”

“Why would I get up at 8:45 am?” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes and trying to remember. Right. She had to finish her report on Schwartzsten for Fletcher before the meeting today. Because she had put it off until this morning so she and Suq wouldn't miss The Judicator last night. And it hadn't been that great an episode. She had no idea what they were doing with Starlight this season. He was supposed to become the next Judicator, they said that in the last season finale, but they kept-

She had almost fallen asleep again when she caught herself. “Mmn.” She had to get up. With one last sigh, she gathered her thoughts. Her mental focus slid into place, though a little slower than usual, since it was morning. Singer turned one hand palm-up under the covers. With a little ripple out from her hand, the covers lifted, nearly flat, until they were nearly grazing the ceiling. Singer sat up, popped her neck, and stood, slumping toward the bathroom. She let go her focus, and the blankets drifted down to the futon with a flop.

If she had a more consistent morning routine, maybe her mind wouldn't take so long to warm up. One of her mentors had insisted that was critical: being able to wake from a deep sleep and be at her telekinetic threshold a second later. Thus far, that ability hadn't exactly been mission-critical. Thus far, Elaine Singer had thoroughly enjoyed taking mid-afternoon and late-night assignments and letting the mornings drift away like fog.

The harp music was still going, and had followed her into the bathroom. The waterproof speakers were a little tinnier. If she had to be awake, she was going to actually wake up. “House. Playlist “punching the walls,” on random. Play.”

Per her settings, the volume ratcheted up three levels, and thundering drums and distorted electric cellos hammered the walls. That intro she knew. “Rending the Gates” by Praxis Maleficus. Good stuff.

One lingering shower later, Singer padded into the kitchen in her loose, broken-in jeans and a tank top that had once been black, and was now faded gray. Outside, only minimal traffic sounds, since the commuters had been at their desks for a little over an hour. The woosh-pop of flash welders echoed from the construction yard down the block into her apartment. The charged glass door leading to the minuscule patio was halfway opaque, tinting the bright city light down to a manageable shade. She peered out into the world and saw, ten stories down and eight blocks away, they were setting up for some sort of big event in Koral'ia Park.

Oh, right. Carpenter's rally. Knowing Carpenter's following, she'd probably be able to hear them across the distance. The man new how to draw a rabble. Which wasn't why she was voting against him, but it certainly didn't help his case with her.

A familiar, soft guitar line filled the kitchen, and the wallscreen by the cutting board lit up with an alert. Singer smiled. “House, answer it.”

A video window sprung open. On the other end of the call was a scaled blue face, with a line of tiny horns running up the nose ridge and over the hairless head. The eyes were a yellow-orange, with vertical pupils. It had the beginnings of a snout, which smiled with pointed carnivore teeth. It was wearing, she noticed, the t-shirt she had bought him last week.

“Morning, love,” said Suq. Suqarin Myssir. Her fiancĂ©.

[more to come. thanks for reading.]