“Come on. You’ve got it…” The Boy whispered to himself.
Arn was running full out towards the large open doors of the Goal Building when he ran out of seconds. The Mech cleared the obscurity of the Tower Building and immediately zero’d in on him. Without changing the path of its broad armored treads, the Mech’s torso-trunk rotated and its weapon arms swung to the right. The gathered tribe and their captors had already seen what came next several times this morning. Bluish light boiled up along the needled length of the weapon pods and then blasted Arn into a dark, smoldering stain on the tarmac of discolored and cratered smoothstone.
The Mech’s arms rotated back to their original position, apparently satisfied with their work. Above the arms the head of the thing spread out to a flattened sort of disk shape. Several spikes of various lengths arose from the head like a crown. Two red embers glowed from the dark orbs that were the head’s only other feature. Over the years the Scav tribes had speculated about what each part of the massive thing was and what it did. They had never gotten much further than speculation. No one had ever gotten close enough to study it and for good reason. It was a rolling, death-dealing monument of the time Before when people were able to create such wonderful and horrific machines.
The Mech continued its patrol along the smoothstone expanse. It circled the same set of buildings in the middle of the Southern Wastes, rolling along the track it had worn into that stone over all the cycles since Before. In a few minutes it would turn back behind the low buildings and would be out of sight for another 47 seconds.
“Why do we run?”
Da stopped what he was doing and put down his tools. He moved the thin metal plates that he had been holding to barter until after Carnival. Every cycle the Scav tribes of the Southern Wastes gathered for a Carnival to barter items and information. The highlight of the Carnival would be when different Scavs would attempt to the run the 47 Seconds and get what they could from the Tek that littered the field around the Goal Building. The Elders of the gathered tribes set strong rules for bartering during the Carnival to keep bloodshed to a minimum. It would be easier to get a better price for the plates once Carnival was over. Sifting through several of the bits of Tek on his workbench, he picked up something small. He turned and looked at the Boy with a warm smile and held it out.
“This is why we run.” Da put the small device in the Boy’s hand.
“Go ahead, press that button.”
“But you said,”
“‘Never press a button if you don’t know what it does.’ I know, but it’s safe, press it.”
Carefully the Boy pressed the button.
The small piece of Tek began to vibrate in the Boy’s hand and suddenly several other items around the tent began to flash, beep or, in one case, leap out of a crate to bounce and shake upon the sandy floor. The Boy dropped the small device and jumped back as his Da laughed heartily.
“How did it do that?”
“I honestly don’t know, but we are learning a lot about Before from the Tek the Mech guards. Even from simple stuff like that.”
“Well that’s just a damn shame.” First Scribe sarcastically lamented. “I really thought he was gonna make it. Sorry.” He nodded to Second Scribe, who shot Aria in the head. There was a chorus of anguished cries from the Boy’s tribe. Her ancient body snapped back, and then crumpled down onto the bloody sand. There she lay among the bodies of the other olders that the Scribes had killed that morning each time a runner had failed.
“I don’t know if there’s enough of you to actually make it in that place, but dammit we don’t have anywhere else to go.” First said.
The Boy winced and looked around. Arn had been next to him in line of those captives capable of running. He had been the last of the bearded men of the tribe. Sara had run before him and she had failed as well. As the largest of the youngers, the Boy would be the next runner. The hard realization settled in that it was time to face his 47 seconds.
“But Da, who are they?” The Boy urgently whispered.
Da gave him that look that meant that he wasn’t happy but that he would answer his questions just to quiet him down.
“They come from far to the north and west. From a tribe called ‘Scribes’.” It was a strange sounding word.
“Are they like us? Do they want to scav here?”
“Yes and No. They do want to scav, but these Scribes say they only look for knowledge. That is what they are asking the Elders. They want to stay for Carnival and see the Running.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“I don’t know. We have never dealt with them before. I don’t see any weapons though.”
“Will the Elders let them? Let them stay?”
“No more questions. Let’s listen and hear what they say.”
When Carnival ended and the other tribes had left, the Scribes returned with guns and took the Boy’s tribe captive. After killing the few men who initially resisted they separated the tribe into two groups; those capable of running the 47 seconds and then those they could use as hostages. So far that morning they had forced several runners to try for the Goal Building. When a runner failed to make it, they killed one of the hostages.
“Well now it looks like we are down to the little ones.” First said and grabbed the Boy out of the line of runners. “I hope you’re faster than you look son.”
Second turned and grabbed the next hostage in line. It was the Boy’s grandmother and she cried out to him. That got her a hard backhand from Second. The Boy lunged at him but First pulled him back hard. He pulled against First’s grip, and almost broke loose. Then First pressed the barrel of his gun to the Boy’s forehead. The metal was warm and hard.
“If you want her to live, do exactly what I tell you.”
Unsure of what to say, the Boy nodded.
“Good.” First said and led the Boy by the scruff of his neck towards the fence line that encircled the buildings.
“Now, you’ve seen this enough. Get over that fence and don’t get caught up in that claw wire.” He gestured to the tall metal mesh fence that was topped by a spiral of wire that had claws wound into it. Several meters inside the fence there was double row of the claw wire. There were some melted sections where the Mech zero’d a runner who got caught in it. None of those gaps created a straight line and the runners who tried for them had ended up like Arn. It used too many seconds to run for the gaps. “Get past those and then you just need to leg it to the open door. Easy.” First finished with a chuckle as they reached the start line. It was anything but easy. The Boy nodded anyway.
“No.” The Boy said.
“Da, do you have to run?”
“Are you worried son?”
“I don’t want you to run out of seconds.”
“Oh, I won’t. Arn and I have a plan. He is going to run first and check the ‘Kopter. He’ll just run out and spy it and then run back.”
“And then you’ll run after and get whatever he spied?”
“Yes. He’ll spend his seconds finding something good, and I will spend my seconds getting what he found.”
“Like a team.”
“But why go for the ‘Kopter? Isn’t that too far in?”
“It is kinda far, but everything closer is picked over. The ‘Kopter still has a lot inside it we think. That is why we are working together. One run isn’t enough seconds to find something and take it. Arn will find it, I will take it.”
“Will the Elders allow that? What about the Great Handshake?”
“They will. The Great Handshake just sets the rules for running the 47 seconds. So you can’t run two at a time. That stopped working anyway once the close stuff was all picked over. Now it just gets the attention of that damned thing much faster. But you can work together on different runs. Some have tried to remove the fence or the claw wire, but it’s too dug in to do any real work in a few seconds. Better to get in, get what you can and get out.”
“Is that what they tried last Carnival?”
“Yes, but they tried to get something too big, ran out of seconds.”
“You won’t do that?”
“No. We want something smaller, or something that we can take in pieces, even if it takes a few runs.”
“Will anyone go for the Goal Building this cycle?”
“I don’t know, but what is our rule?”
“Scav’s that go for the Goal Building become Scav stains in front of the Goal Building.”
“Oh, you can speak eh?”
“I need something from my Da’s tent.”
First raised his eyebrows at this. He glanced at Second who shrugged.
“Okay, but it better be good. Try anything and we’ll kill the next three Olders in line.”
First let go of the Boy who wasted no time and sprinted up the dune for a stand of bright colored tents just at the top of the sandy rise. The gathered captives and the two Scribes watched him disappear into one of the tents. A few seconds later there was a loud crash from the tent.
“Boy! If you ain’t back by the time I get to 10 the first one is dead!” First shouted towards the tents.
The Boy appeared among the tents and raced from one to another hauling something over his shoulder.
“What the? 4!”
First looked over at Second and the two exchanged a questioning look.
The Boy came out of one tent and dove into another.
With that the Boy came out of the last tent with something wound up in his hands. He turned down hill and sprinted towards the frustrated Scribe. First continued to call out numbers until he reached 8 and the Boy was standing right in front of him. The Boy huffed and puffed, trying to catch his breath from the run down the sandy hillside.
“Son, you like to play things on the edge don’t you?”
“10…” The Boy said between breaths.
“You said I had until 10.” The Boy replied.
“So I did, but I think you made those three over there wet themselves.” he gestured to the hostages that Second had his gun aimed at.
“Sorry.” The Boy said sheepishly to them.
“So now what the hells?” First was looking at the bundle the Boy now held. It looked like three or maybe four thin metal plates that were now wound up in a cord of some sort. The plates were each about a man’s arm length long and half that wide. They had a slight curve to them. The cord was wound around and between each plate so that there were gaps between them. The Boy held them tightly which kept them together in a neat stack.
“I’m ready.” The Boy did not answer the question.
“Yeah, but what are you going to do with that?” First persisted.
The Boy looked past the Scribe and saw that the Mech was rounding the far building. It was starting to turn behind the Goal Building. His 47 seconds were about to start.
“It’s time.” Second said.
First leaned down close to the Boy and spoke in a low voice. One meant for only him to hear. “Inside that building is a machine, a terminal. It will let you shut down the Mech and then we can all go in.” The Boy’s eyes widened at that. “We are looking for something inside there and once we get it, you all,” First waved his gun towards the Boy’s tribe, “can go scav whatever you want and we’ll leave you be.”
The Boy did not believe First. They were bad men and had already killed to get what they wanted. And they really wanted something in that building. If he could get it, he would have barter. He would have power over them somehow. His Da had taught him to always barter when you had the power and never when you did not.
His Da had been the second man they had made run the 47 seconds. Da had no power then, and the Boy knew he had no power now.
“Got it?” First asked.
The Boy nodded.
“The sand makes me slow Da.”
“Stop complaining. The sand will make you fast.”
“How? It is so hard to run in.”
Da had that look like he was about to explain more, so the Boy tried to wait, but couldn’t.
“How? How does the slow sand make me faster?”
“If you can run fast through the sand, how fast do you think you can run across the smoothstone?”
“I don’t know!” The Boy knew that might get him a smack, but his legs burned and his chest heaved and he really hated running the sand.
“Running the sand is easier than running the seconds. Now go!”
He groaned but then turned and ran as hard as could across the sifting footing of the sand dune.
The Boy moved quickly down the slope holding the bundled plates tight under his arm. The dune ended as the sand spilled over the hard smoothstone. There was a red line painted several meters onto the stone. It marked the closest a runner could get to the fence and not get zero’d by the Mech. There were several scorch marks that told of failed attempts to mark that line.
The Boy walked to the line and crouched down, ready to spring for the fence. He watched the Mech as it turned and trundled in its endless path around the buildings. The instant the head dropped out of sight behind the far end of the Goal Building the Boy launched like a spring and started to count his seconds.
He reached the fence and immediately started to climb it with his one free hand. The plates slowed him, but his hand was quick each time he let go and reached up to grab more fence to pull himself up. Luck be with him he did not miss a grab, and his toes kept up with his hand as he climbed.
At the top of the fence he would face his first true obstacle: A looped coil of claw wire.
The Boy turned the bundled plates in his hand and then pushed them up and over the claw wire. He had them curved downward so that they created a smooth metal hump atop the fence. He pulled himself up and over.
The plates were too smooth and he slipped. He had just enough presence to roll forward so that his legs would not get caught. As he tumbled into the space between the top of the fence and the smoothstone ground he pulled at the plates.
The Boy turned over, managed to land on his feet and rolled forward to absorb the shock. As he came back to his feet he looked around quickly like a caged beast. Then he saw it. The cord that he had bundled the plates with to carry them had gotten caught by the claw wire. One plate was hanging on the far side of the fence. Another was hanging on this side. Two of the plates had come loose and where sitting on the ground. He sprinted back, snatched those up then turned back towards the Goal Building.
He covered the distance from the fence to the row of claw wire in several quick strides. As he ran he slipped his fingers into the gap between the two plates. When he reached the wire he flung the first plate at the barrier. The plate landed atop the spiral with its curve downwards.
The Boy gauged the way the plate settled on the wire and then stepped on it, pushing it down, and leapt across. The ‘Kopter was now just in front of him and after that he had a straight run to the Goal Building. He had one plate left.
“Da, what is in the Goal Building?”
“We only know what the Top Scav said was there.”
“What did he say?”
“Top Scav said that there were wonders in there. Tek from Before like he had never seen.”
“Is that what he brought back?”
“Yes, they say he had something incredible. Whatever it was he kept it to himself and his tribe.”
“That’s the right of scav though, he scaved it, so it was his.”
“Yes, that is our rule. But you know what?” Da’s voice got low and scary, like when he told stories at the fire before bed. The kind that Momma would yell at him about before she had gotten the sickies.
“They say that whatever it was, it was cursed!”
“That’s what they say. Cursed.” Da said with a knowing nod.
“Why? Why do they say that?”
“Well, because Top Scav’s tribe disappeared. They did not show up at the next Carnival. No one ever saw them again.”
“But that could be raiders or sickies, or I don’t know.”
“True, but no other tribe ever totally disappeared. You know what else they say?”
“Some say that what he found…was a map.”
“Yes, a map that he used to lead his tribe to an impenetrable shelter with lots of food and clean water. They say they all live there even today, happy and safe!”
The Boy zig zagged around the smashed smoothstone that surrounded the ‘Kopter. He cleared a large chunk of the fallen sky machine and the open doors of the Goal Building beckoned to him. There were a few craters that broke up the smoothstone, but he could run in an almost straight line.
His legs felt light and he ran fast. Without the shifting sands beneath his feet he felt solid and pushed himself hard. He came to the path of the Mech that had been worn into the smoothstone. From beyond the fence line it didn’t look like more than two ruts. Up close the ruts were deep. The Boy thought that it must have been running this path since the beginning of time to wear down into the hard smoothstone. He leapt across them and ran hard toward the Goal Building.
He risked a look at the Tower Building and he thought he saw the Mech’s head pass just beyond the roofline. He had one last chance…
The Mech started to clear the side of the Tower Building when the Boy was still too far.
He heard the cries of his tribe, and recognized the sound of his grandmother’s voice.
He threw out the last metal plate. It skidded out across the smoothstone a few paces in front of him and several paces from the open doors.
The Boy dove forward. As his seconds ticked away, he felt as if everything seemed to slow down. For a long moment he found himself in midair, watching the blue lights sparkle into existence along the Mech’s needle arm and at the same time tracking the plate as it skidded over the stone.
He hit the plate with all his speed and it lurched forward even faster. As he skidded over the ground he heard a loud “SKREEEE” that competed with the burning air stitching sound of the Mech’s beam weapon.
“Will you ever try for the Goal Building?”
Da stopped and looked at him.
“Do you want me to?”
“I don’t want you to become a stain Da.”
“I’m glad for that, but why do you ask?”
“Well, if Top Scav made it, maybe you could.”
“Maybe, but no one knows how he did it, and no one has done it since.”
“If his tribe is really safe and happy now, is it worth trying?”
“Well that would be something, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes. So will you?”
“Son, what do I always tell you about After?”
“We are never safe.”
The plate skidded across the hard stone and clipped the edge of a small crater. It bounced over the broken stone and through the open doorway and into the goal building. The hair on the Boy’s arms and legs stood on end as the blue light burned across the smoothstone behind him. It burned the very air as it melted the ground. Still moving fast the plate and its rider smashed into something large that did not move. The wind was knocked out of the Boy as something tipped over and rained heavy metals tools down on him. He covered up as best he could, but something heavy hit him in the head. He started to see everything in threes.
The loud scrape of metal on stone reverberated through his skull. Behind that was the receding sound of sizzling stone and air. Whatever he had slammed into had not only dropped the tools on him, but it kicked up a cloud of dust like a small sandstorm. He coughed and shook his head. Pain erupted from his side when he coughed and he curled over. A heavy piece of metal fell off of him and clattered to the hard floor. As his eyes matched two of the three images and merged them, he started to look around. The floor around him was full of large crates and boxes.
That was when he realized where he was.
The sun shone in through the large open doors, but it was not enough to dispel the shadows that lurked deeper within the building. The Boy had not realized how large the Goal Building was. He had always looked at it from back well beyond the fence line. Inside the room seemed to be a large pen for various machines from Before. There were a few stalls set in front of the doors within the large open space. The vehicles were long gone and the area was now littered with tools, crates, and all kinds of things from Before. The whole area was what Da would call a ‘wreck’. The Boy knew that if he ever made such a wreck of Da’s work tent he would get a beating he would not forget. Now he looked around and wondered who had made such a mess of the place and why. When he thought of how many people had died to get in this building, he was amazed that he was here and that everything was just lying around. He picked up a long metal tool and turned it over in his hands. It was solid and cold. He had no idea what it did, but it seemed much better than any of the tools Da had. The whole place was a treasure trove for a Scav.
It was First. His voice brought the Boy back to the world outside.
“Did you make it?”
They could not see inside. They did not know if he made it or not. Maybe he could hide here until he figured out a way to use this stuff to save his people?
Then he realized that they would just kill his grandmother and send another runner. More death while he hid away. He could not allow that.
“Yes! I am here. I made it!”
There was silence for a second and then he heard a cheer from his tribe. They called out to him until the Scribes silenced them.
“Boy?” First called out again.
“Inside there, do you see a terminal?”
“Ummm. There’s lots of stuff in here. What’s a terminal look like?”
There was a pause and he looked and saw the two Scribes talking.
“It’s a machine. It will be on a table, maybe inside a smaller room. It will have a screen, a flat part that sits on the table. If it’s on it’ll have glowing letters on it.”
Da gave him that look that said ‘You aren’t going anywhere.’
“Why do I have to do this? No one else does this?”
“Do I care what everyone else does?”
“And why are you asking me a question that you already know the answer to?”
The Boy listened wistfully to the sounds of his friends outside the tent. They were collecting a team for Slamball against another tribe that just arrived for the Carnival.
“Look, I know you want to go play with your friends, but this is important. If you can tell me why it’s important, I’ll let you go play.”
“I will, but you’ll have to do two tonight.”
That was a hard barter, but he knew he would take the deal.
“Yes, two tonight, if I can go now!” The Boy held out his hand earnestly.
Da held out his hand, but when the Boy reached for the handshake that would seal the barter, he pulled it back.
“Are you forgetting something?”
“Letters are important because you can’t scav good if you don’t know what to scav!”
They said the last few words in unison, and then there was a fast handshake and the Boy was out of the tent leaving only a flurry of movement behind him.
Glowing letters? The Boy had to see that to believe it. He looked around the large room he was in. Without moving further in there was not much he could see. His sight lines were cut off by all the junk. So he carefully picked his way deeper inside. He threaded through several large crates that were half opened. One was on its side and its contents were spilled out over the floor. Just then he heard a rumbling sound and ducked down.
He looked through the large open doors and saw the source of the noise. The Mech was rolling by on its age worn path. He realized that he had never thought about if the Mech would blast him once he was inside the building. Runners had tried to hide in the broken down trucks, or in the ‘Kopter, but the Mech had always seen them. What the Mech saw, it blasted. He watched the Mech roll by and thought how he was the first one to see the Mech from this side since the Top Scav. He wondered if he would be the last. The Mech rolled on by, taking no notice of him. It must ignore people inside the building the same it does people beyond the start line.
Moving through the large bays that housed the trucks and various crates, the Boy was careful not to touch anything. That was a big rule for Scavs. Don’t touch anything that you don’t need to. It was harder than he thought because there was so much here to look at, to check out. His whole tribe could spend weeks in here going through it all. He thought of his tribe and pulled himself back to his job. Deciding that the place was too big and too crowded with stuff to search quickly, he decided to take a risk. He climbed up on top of a crate. From here he could see the back of the room. There was a large door that seemed to be made out of smoothstone, or even metal. It was big enough that the Mech could fit through it. Just outside that was a smaller room. There was a door that led into the room, and it was half open.
The Boy carefully climbed down from the crate and made his way to that part of the building. He creeped up and peered into it. Like the larger room that it was nestled in, it was overly full. There were two tables or work benches set along the back wall. Several smaller boxes and their contents were littered about the small space. The Boy was quickly cataloging the room as he had been taught when he saw him.
Someone was sitting in a chair with his back to him.
He jumped back in fright and bumped into a one of the crates. It tipped over and metal pipes clanged and clattered along the smoothstone floor, kicking up another cloud of ancient dust. He cringed at the sound and looked frantically for a place to hide. He started toward a shadowy corner, but kicked one of the pipes, hurt his toe and yelped in pain. He watched in horror as the pipe rolled slowly and loudly across the floor. The Boy froze in place and stared at the open doorway of the room. He waited for whoever was in there to come out. Or to call out. Or call the Mech in here to blast him. But none of that happened.
As the seconds passed he gained confidence and moved back to the doorway. He peered inside and saw that nothing had changed. The figure was still seated in the chair with its back to him. Carefully he moved into the room and closed the distance with the unmoving person. Stepping over a small box he got a closer look at the seated person and his horror turned to relief.
The person was long dead. In fact all that remained was a skeleton. The skeleton wore a set of clothes though that made it look more substantial. The clothes looked like blue work coveralls of some sort. A small, round label on the left side if the chest said “Joe”.
“Hello Joe.” The Boy said looking over the remains. Scavs were no stranger to dead bodies. In fact, it was common for Scavs to deal with the bodies of the dead. It was another rule for Scav’s to treat the dead with respect, and to be thankful to them for what they had left behind. Even still the Boy had never seen a skeleton that was so old. Looking over the body in more detail he saw a large hole in the skull itself. It looked like Joe had been shot at very close range. The Boy scanned around the chair and the table that Joe was seated at and he saw it. A gun lay on the floor next to the chair. Dropped from Joe’s own hand after his fatal decision. Suicide was also something that Scavs were no stranger too. The Boy picked up the gun and felt its competent weight.
He looked over the table in front of Joe and wondered what may have caused the man to shoot himself. There was yet another box on the table, so the Boy moved it. Just behind was a piece of Tek that might be the terminal that the Scribes sought. It was a wide panel that was made of some kind of shiny material. There was a small board in front of it and when he brushed away some of the dust the Boy saw letters set in rows along that board. Despite the rules his Da had always recited he reached out and pressed one of the letters.
“Boy!?” First called from beyond the fence.
“What?” He called back.
“Did you find the terminal?”
The Boy looked at the table. He was sure he had found something, but he was not sure what he had found.
“Well hurry up. I don’t have much patience left and we have a lot of people here and a lot of bullets.”
“I’m looking! It’s a mess in here!”
The Boy turned back in frustration and his foot kicked something. He looked down and saw a small book. It was a kind that he had seen before.
“You have to be able to write and draw, son.”
“But why?” He whined.
“When you are on a scav you have to keep a journal.”
“You said that already.” He was frustrated and challenged his Da more than he should have. The sharp smack to the back of his head was a quick reminder of his place.
“You never know what you will see on a scav, so we keep journals. You write down the signs you see, and you draw maps and pieces of Tek. Your journal is your lifeline. When you come back, if you come back, your journal shows where you were, and what you found.”
“So you share it with the tribe?”
“But isn’t that a barter?”
“Not really. It is just information. If someone else in the tribe sees something in your journal that they can help you Scav, then they are bound to do it.”
“But then there is a barter?”
“Yes, then we barter and there will be a handshake on how the cargo is to be divided. We work together. That is why a journal is so important.”
The Boy picked up the journal. It was old and smelled of mold. It had to be the journal of the Top Scav. But why would he have left that here? He carefully flipped through it until he came to the latest entry. Laid out in faded detail was a map of the inside of the Goal Building. There were notes all over the map. On the part of the map where the small room was, where the Boy now stood, there was a note that read ‘Joe’. Next to that it said ‘Access Controls’. On the next page was a quickly scrawled picture of the table in front of Joe. An arrow pointed to the side of the larger piece of Tek that stood upon the table and a note said “Press Here”. He looked closely at the edge of the Tek and saw a small button. He pressed it. There was a crackling pop. Words slowly glowed into being on the panel.
“Thank you!” He said to the journal and then read on, because there was a lot more there about the terminal. The terminal was a world unto itself. The Boy followed the path laid out in the journal to do something called ‘logging in’ using words from a small paper that was stuck down on the table. Once inside there were several options. The Boy used arrow buttons to move a blinking dot over the different selections and another button to go inside each one. The journal directed him to a place called ‘Security’. When he arrowed past an option called ‘Messages’ his curiosity grabbed him and he hit the other button to go in.
Inside there was a list of messages. He selected one but found that he could read the letters but the words made no sense to him. He tried a few more until he found one that he understood.
“Damn.” The Boy whispered to himself and then out of habit looked around for his Da and an incoming smack for swearing. He looked at Joe’s skeleton with newfound respect and sadness. He opened up the map on the terminal, and saw that it had been copied into the journal.
“Boy! You had better find that terminal!” First’s call jolted the Boy back to his own world of After.
He tapped the buttons to get out of the messages and worked his way into Security. The journal had instructions for getting through the Security part of the terminal. It led him to a part with two options. He found himself staring at the glowing letters for “System Shut Down” and “System Reset”. He knew the Scribes wanted inside this place. If they knew about the terminal, what else did they know? Did they think that they could take control of the Mech? Maybe they even knew of the ones Joe said where below. The idea of those two in control of 86 Mechs sent a shiver through him. The Journal said that the reset would only stop the Mech for a short time, maybe 200 seconds. Once it started up again this place would be secure. But if he did that, the Scribes would kill him and more of his people.
Staring at the terminal he thought of a barter; one where he would have the strength. He picked up the gun, a small piece of Tek from the table that reminded him of something, and the journal. Then he made his choice and hit a key.
The Mech stopped.
Shock rippled through the Scavs and Scribes alike. They all stared for a long moment disbelieving their eyes.
Then the Boy walked out of the Goal Building.
Walked. Not ran.
He held up a small piece of Tek in his hand.
“I found the terminal, and now I am in control of this Mech and the others inside!” he called across the flat expanse of the tarmac to the Scribes up on the dunes.
They watched in stunned silence as the Boy walked out onto the smoothstone. He walked with no apparent rush. As he crossed the pockmarked expanse he hopped lightly over the ruts of the Mech’s path. He walked just a few strides away from the massive death machine as calmly as if he was strolling through the tents of his tribe.
“Boy! What did you do?” First called. “You’re going to make us,”
“Shut up,” the Boy interrupted him.
“What?” First called back in surprise and then turned to Second, “Shoot her. Teach this little boy that we aren’t playing games.”
A loud crack-ping echoed across the wastes and a cry erupted from the people around First. He looked back at the Boy, who was holding a gun pointed at the Mech. The Boy had actually shot the Mech.
Yet there it stood, motionless.
“I said ‘Shut up.’”
First just looked back in shock.
“I know what you want in there, but I found it first. I found it and now I control the Mechs with this.” The Boy said and held up a small piece of Tek. He was too far away still for First to make out any details of the device.
“So let me tell you what you two are going to do.” The Boy now began to walk towards the fence line, counting the seconds in his head.
“Drop your weapons and leave. Go as fast as you can away from here. Tell the rest of your tribe to never come back.” The Boy continued to walk slowly towards them. “If I can still see you when I get to ten, the Mech will kill you both.” He was holding up the device in one hand and the gun in his other.
The two Scribes looked at one another.
First held up his gun and then dropped it into the sand at his feet.
Second dropped his gun and then the two men turned and started to run up the hill away from the fence line.
“4!” The Boy yelled loudly after them and started to walk as fast as he thought he could without them noticing.
The Scribes crested the hill, and then First stopped. He looked back down on the fence, the tarmac with its destroyed vehicles, and the set of now unreachable buildings. He took a second to lament the treasures lost inside to these savages. The Mech still stood motionless and the Boy was still walking towards the fence holding the device and the gun.
“5!” The Boy screamed up at him.
First turned and ran over the hill and out of sight.
The Boy immediately broke into a sprint towards the fence line.
“6!” He called out after the Scribes, trying to keep count of his other seconds in his head.
He reached the fence line and climbed it as quickly as he could. At the top he pushed down the claw wire and scrambled over it.
“7!” He yelled from atop the fence, and then dropped down. The wire grabbed at his shirt and his skin, tearing a bloody line across his side and pulling something free that he had at the small of his back. He hit the ground and started to run to the start line. He clutched at his bleeding side, and saw what had fallen. He skidded to a stop in the sand and then he turned back and run-crawled to the fence to grab the fallen item.
The Mech suddenly began to move. Its head turned first one direction and then the other. The lower weapon arm turned and zero’d on the Boy as the bluish light began to boil up from its innards. The Boy turned again and launched himself towards the start line.
He crossed it just as the blue beams lanced along the edge of the tarmac behind him.
He rolled to the ground and lay there breathing heavily. He could not bring himself to open his eyes, and instead just listened. The journal with the scribbled maps of the southern shelters was clutched in one hand, and the gun in his other. His tribe would be safe, as long as they survived the next few seconds. Would the Mech go back to its patrol? Or would something change because he had reset it?
He listened and waited.
“So it’s okay to lie?”
“No, you don’t want to lie. You want to barter from strength. Never Weakness.”
“So you can lie that you are strong?”
“No. You always want to seem strong. To make others think you are.”
“So you lie.”
“No. That’s what makes it hard. To project strength, even when you don’t have it.”
“So lie about it…”
“Why are you so difficult? Just act strong, always. Then others won’t try to take from you because they think you are weak.”
“Still think that’s lying…”
His Da groaned.
The rumble of the Mech echoed off the smoothstone as it resumed its restless patrol along the ancient worn path.
Note: All artwork on this page is licensed via CreativeCommons 2.0.
Well, that took longer than expected!
As you know, (since I know you follow this little blog religiously) I have been doing some editing. I finished up Contact a few (ed. several) weeks ago. So when that was done I turned my sites on Connect. Same process. I used the Hemingway App which helps to focus on readability. I found it helpful to tighten things up a lot. New version is posted to Kindle and Smashwords will follow soon after I get the reformatted version through the Meatgrinder. (Seriously that is the name of Smashwords’ program that converts the files to ePub, Mobi etc.)
At this point though now I have to swear off of that stuff. You can easily turn into George Lucas and keep going back and revising, re-editing, r-writing. And we all know how that goes. I am better writer now than I was when I first typed out
No one knew what had happened to the world Before.
Only that what had been Before was now gone and all that was left was After.
Of course, none of that was Mason’s concern at this moment.
But that doesn’t mean I should be rewriting the book.
Time to move on to some new things. I will be posting a short story I wrote called “47 Seconds” in this space soon. After that I have work to do on Conflict, the Mason Chronicles Part III (Gasp! Spoiler alert!) and I think I have several other good short stories to be told. I want to branch out of the world of After, so expect to see some other places and faces.
Good advice, me thinks!
If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I have doing some edits…
— Rich Jones (@IM_RichJones) February 10, 2016
Day 4 of Edits. The red is abating. Am able to sleep, but still the dreams come! #amwriting
— Rich Jones (@IM_RichJones) February 11, 2016
Day 5 of Edits. I think I am done. WooHoo! Wait…OMG…What have I done!? WHATHAVEIDONE!!? #amwriting
— Rich Jones (@IM_RichJones) February 12, 2016
Day 7 of edits. What is a Semi Colon? No seriously WTF is it!? WHATISIT? *Whimpers into glass of whiskey*
— Rich Jones (@IM_RichJones) February 15, 2016
So far I have been doing most of my writing without a good editor who doesn’t have the same name as I do. Editor’s cost money and so far I have been hedging on investing too much in this little hobby of mine.
I still don’t have an editor, but I found a nice option that I think helped me tune up the prose. I used the Hemingway Editor app in this revision. It’s a simple tool and it basically scans your text and flags various things for your consideration. Think of it like Spelling and Grammar check in Word, but where it focuses on things that make it hard to read. So it color codes sentences that may be Hard or Very Hard to read and it gives you counts on usage of Adverbs and Passive Voice. It also points out any place that there is a Simpler Alternative to what you wrote. By no means is it a replacement for a true editor, but I found it helped me zero in on sections of my writing that were not user friendly. A lot of my writing came up as Hard to read. Mostly it was because of complex sentences with lots of “and” usage that merged a few ideas together which in turn made the prose less concise and a lot less tight and readable. Kind of like that last sentence. See what I did there?
So I pushed the edited versions out and now new readers will hopefully find Contact much more enjoyable and easy to read. Also if you want to see the difference, I would suggest re-reading the first chapter. That had a lot of edits. Makes sense because it was the first one I wrote and I was trying to introduce a lot of complex ideas. As I made my way through the edits I clearly improved and found a lot less edits were required. So reading Chapter 1 – Tank, should you give you a good idea of the improvements.
No I don’t expect anyone to re read the book, this was more for new readers.
So there it is, I am working on Connect now and will let you all know how that goes.
Well, I finally went and did it. I know, “Why!?” you cry out. Well it was time.
And really, I just wanted to see what would happen…
Connect, The Mason Chronicles Part II is now enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program. While this program is not without some controversy in the publishing world, I did it anyway. Mainly because we are not talking about large sums of money here. I have said it before but I ain’t in it for the money. While KDP Select may lower the ceiling of $$$ I could earn on the book, it opens up a lot of advertising and promotional opportunities as far as Amazon goes. Also it puts the book in the Kindle Unlimited Library, which can also bring more eyes to the book.
The only other thing that would help more than this would have been more reviews. For now Connect only has 1 review on Amazon, and while it is a good review, there needs to be a lot more to move it up in the lists and search algorithms. So if you did read Connect, please, I beg you, go and give it a review, even if only a brief one. It helps more than anything else at this stage.
Lastly as part of this update both Connect and Contact will be Free on Amazon starting tomorrow, Thursday February 4th and through Sunday February 7th. So if you haven’t read either, now is a great time to grab them. Or rather tomorrow will be…er unless you are reading this tomorrow, which would be today…Unless you are reading this while crossing the International date line in which case you are clearly from the future and already read part 3 so no Spoilers! Seriously, who doesn’t hate Time Travelers?
Making my way back here after the Holidays and catching up on some reviews of my work. Yes some people out there on the internet have actually read my books and decided to comment on them in the various review sections available to them. As someone who appreciates feedback because I want my product to be the best it can, it’s hard to turn a blind eye. It’s not all bad (I am but a small fish in the publishing world) but I have to wonder how anyone who garners large volumes of critical attention doesn’t go Jay and Silent Bob on some folks. (Embedded video is NSFW, just in case the ‘Jay and Silent Bob’ reference didn’t forewarn you.)
Seriously though if you have read my work, please rate it, comment on it, review it, or whatever option is available to you. Or even comment here. I won’t show up at your door.
That’s what lackeys are for.
Also I have started work on a new short story project and then will probably begin work on Part 3.
Mr. Scalzi essentially says that aside from writing a great novel that people want to read, you have to be yourself and not just focus on promotion. If people find you interesting then they will more than likely look to see what it is that you are promoting. From there it comes down the product, nor novel itself. The Promotion did it’s job and got eyes on your book, and it’s up to the merits of the book to go from there. Conversely if all you do is push your wares then your audience is probably going to hit the mute button in whatever form that takes. Great advice I think especially since I know I have been guilty of the “Promote! Promote! Promote!” method.
Social media is an amazing tool for self promotion, but not all of us handle it well. I know I don’t always do good work with it. I’ll have to take this advice to heart and see where it goes.
So if you’re trying to Promote something yourself, do think this is good advice? What methods have worked for you and what have not?
In short the ‘Sins’ cover a variety of mistakes a Creator can make when framing out the World of their narrative. They cover things from 1) Not thinking about basic infrastructure (plumbing, food, waste management, etc.) to 7) Introducing some superpower, like magic or insane tech, without fully accounting for how it would change society.
It’s an interesting read especially for someone who has engaged in this practice from when I was a little 7th grader handwriting a Sci-Fi
Epic on looseleaf. I completely agree that world building is essential in Fiction and especially Fantasy and Science Fiction, and these 7 sins certainly address the authenticity of the world. The world that the characters inhabit and that the plot effects has to feel sensible, even if it it is populated by Dragons, Zombies, and Mutant Bunnies wielding chain-guns. If it fails the reader’s sniff test, then it risks breaking their suspension of disbelief. It becomes an Easter Egg hunt for what else did the author not think off when they created this world, and the story suffers for its delivery to the reader.
However, to this humble writer’s sensibilities, the worst sin when world building is when the creator has done an excellent job avoiding most, if not all of these sins, but they bring all of that detail into the foreground. I think the best built, best imagined worlds fall easily into the background and inform the reader of the world around them when want to look about. That is not easy to do because you somehow have to explain how the bunnies became mutated, where did they get their chain-guns from and why they took up the chain-guns in the first place. Maybe every mutated bunny does not want to use their chain gun. Maybe they want a rocket launcher. Maybe some of them aren’t feeling the chain gunning as much as the rest of the Bunnies.
Stopping the narrative to have two of Bunnies argue the merits of the Chain-gun over the rocket launcher and who made them and why, often just won’t work. Why? Because the Mutated Bunnies know all this. It’s what is known to them and therefore they don’t stop to explain this to one another while the reader listens in. Have you ever stood on a subway platform and have the person next to you explain what the subway is, why it exists and why you’re all standing there? Ever have someone come out of the bathroom and explain exactly what they just did in there and what happened when they flushed? (well some of you may have if you know ‘that dude’) The reason is because we all know this information so there’s no reason to discuss it. In fact, in some cases social morays actually prohibit you from pointing out or explaining something that is “inappropriate”. We may refer to it, and an alien listener, i.e. reader, might infer from those references what it going on while these two people stand around impatiently ignoring the large mass of people about them and staring down a large tube into the darkness while standing on a yellow line that several signs about them expressly prohibit them from standing on.
The same holds true for the Bunnies. Perhaps Rocket Launcher’s are frowned upon because in 2147 the Exgenys Corporation stole patents and intellectual property from the Inxel Corporation regarding animal super soldiers and various weapons platforms for support of said super soldiers. The impending court battle led to a separation of the patents whereby the Chaingun patent and Super Soldier serum for Bunnies was awarded to Exgenys. Not satisfied with the ruling of the courts, Exgenys went on to breed said super soldier bunnies, armed them with chain-guns built for their little but capable paws and unleashed them on Inxel Corporation. Inxel fought back with poorly remade Super Soldier Squirrel Monkeys armed with Rocket Launchers. In the end Exgenys and its Bunnies won out, but the body counts of the bunnies was very high at the hands of the rocket flinging Monkeys.
Thus happened the first open corporate military action in what later turned out to be a long series of skirmishes that devastated vast parts of the world and that was referred to as the “Great Corporate War”. That was later relabeled as the GCW I when, after fifty years of peace, a second rash of battles erupted over terra-forming rights for Mars where Mutated Crabs were hard at work and wanted to unionize became GCW II.
See? It’s all very interesting, but unless part of the narrative happens in a history class for the mutated bunnies all these little nuggets don’t come up naturally. Even then it might be showing the hand of the Author in that the narrative going into the history class only exists to deliver all of these facts to the reader in a nice little package.
For me the best world building is done outside of the narrative. The little details and facts just drop into place as the story unfolds and the characters, or narrator, fill in the spaces as it makes sense. Often through references that don’t give the reader the whole background and genealogical history of the place or person.