If you are at all interested in reading my upcoming SciFi thriller, Conditioned Response, without knowing what happens, just leave now. I'm going to snippet something I'm currently working on from about the 80% mark of the book and the spoilers are abundant! Video and synchronicity lie ahead with the spoilers, though, so if you're spoiler-resistant, click on through the jump-break for the good stuff. If not, well, sorry...the eBook should be out sometime around New Year's or by the end of January, 2012 at the latest! Paperback edition to follow 3 months later.
I love synchronicity and today, it hit like some kind of cosmic harmonic. I was editing along in the scene right after Raif's death (around 125,000 words into the book). It was kind of a gruesome death: briefly, he and Shayla were having sex and a mental directive (or programming or brainwashing or whatever you want to call it) was triggered by the flood of brain chemicals that occurs when a man orgasms. Such a ripoff we females don't have the same flood of chemicals in our brains! The triggered directive was for Raif to try to kill Shayla. Her only defense was to kill him instead.
As we will have found out after the first 100,000+ words of this book, Phoenicians (the people of the Phoenix, sun worshippers) can absorb and radiate heat energy and some (99% of the time only males) can even direct it in what's referred to as a "throw" like firing a laser. A Phoenician throw is a glowing blue-white light that can be directed, focused, intensified--and obviously, fast "as the speed of light" :-)
Shayla is part of the 1% of females who can throw...so she does. She has to kill Raif--just after she's come to grips with the fact she's in love with him. Yeah, this is NOT a romance novel. The Hero dies and the Heroine...well, let's not give everything away just yet ^_^
Immediately after Shayla has done this, she's in shock. A couple of Proctors (Collier and Ronen) are trying to calm her down and find out what happened. Raif's "son" (Designated Heir as a person's sole legal genetic progeny is called in this futuristic dystopia), named Brennan, comes into the room and is looking at the charred remains....and at that moment, my playlist in RealPlayer started playing The Cruxshadows "Flames" from the album, Ethernaut. Check out these lyrics and play the video before scrolling down to read a snippet of what I was working on at that moment:
Anger, blacken my dream
A phoenix in flame,
returning in redemption
Angel, burning away
Cutting against the heartless unforgiven
And I see, the angel is me...the angel is me
Edited to add that another song from that album, Sofia, also has such amazingly relevant lyrics--and started playing as I was just finishing assembling this post.
And through these doubts and through your confusion
Know that you are chosen to this fight
Look to find a soul filled with compassion
Look to see a living source of light
Do not injustice to another
Defend the weak and innocent
Let truth and honor always guide you
Let courage find the light within
Stand up when no one else is willing,
Act not in hatred or in spite,
Be to this world a perfect Knight,
Even if it means your life
Here I am
Alive among the injured and the damned
Thy Will be done
Soooooo eerie how these lyrics fit the story! Proctors are essentially slaves, abused and injured and still willing to lay down their lives to protect the innocent (or at least the Councillor who owns them because their honor demands it) They are the injured and the damned, designed to stand up when no one else is willing. Proctors are the least entitled and most deserving in my futuristic dystopic view of humanity.
Oh yeah, and the snippet I was working on? As follows.....Bear in mind there's a lot of new material here so it's first draft, not proofread and could have missing words or other kinds of typos (as well as too many words because I blather on freely when I write and then go back to trim it up later!) I am NOT editing the formatting at all, just copy/pasting directly from MS Word into Blogger which may or may not format the paragraphs correctly. To anyone reading this blog via email, my apologies. I know Blogger's been munging any post where I copy/paste in from Word, leaving out spaces and such.
Soldier on, it's a rewarding enough read to make it worth it--and only 2275 words long. Just be sure to click "play" on The Cruxshadows first. Here's the Sofia video:
Brennan and Joshua walked apace, shoulder to shoulder, down the wide hallway on the third floor of the Council Office building in the Western Region. Their heels clicked on the polished stone and Brennan noticed their cadence was synchronized. He felt a little traitorous about that, marching along as though he belonged at Joshua’s side. He didn’t, not the way he did with Raif, but in just the few hours he’d spent alone with the man, they’d slipped into a comfortable and familiar rapport.
He was definitely in the middle of something now and for the first time in Brennan’s short life, he wasn’t sure he even wanted to be a Proctor anymore. That wasn’t going to go over well with Raif, who was a Proctor to his core, and especially not when he saw Brennan marching along in time with the man like he'd become some kind of puppet. Maybe it was petty, but Brennan put a little half step into his march to deliberately knock himself out of cadence with Joshua. The man glanced quickly at Brennan then shook his head with a smile and returned his attention to their destination at the end of the hall. The man certainly was focused, even more so than Raif.
Until the very moment when Joshua’s retinal scan had granted them access to the private lift out of the underground garage and up to the Councillors’ Level A3, Brennan hadn’t completely believed the man was really the Administrator. He believed it now—but that only made him feel even more guilty. Raif really didn’t trust this guy no matter what kind of title he claimed. Brennan wasn’t sure what his progenitor had against the man, but he suspected he was going to end up in the middle of their conflict the same way he had ended up involved in Raif’s complicated relationship to Shayla. Then there was Julia. To say the least, Brennan was in the middle of that Raif relationship. In fact, Brennan seemed to have ended up in the middle of everything lately, just when he’d thought joining Raif on Shayla’s team was going to simplify his life. So much for that idea.
It was clear from the congregation of grey uniforms outside Shayla’s office that something was going on. Of course, Brennan already knew something was going on; he just didn’t know what. Joshua did, or had hinted as much back in Trouville but Brennan had been so caught up in riding in that Viper, he’d neglected to take the few unmonitored minutes alone with the man to grill him about what he thought was going on here.
And it really had been just a few minutes, barely twenty, from the time they’d taken off until they’d scanned into that private lift. The Viper was so damned fast. The ground under his feet still sent little ripples of vibration through him from being shaken around in that thing. He hadn’t known the Viper had no dampening field. It was fun, once, but once was enough for Brennan.
He hoped nothing bad had happened to Shayla, but given Raif’s erratic and emotional state when last he’d seen them, Brennan wouldn’t be surprised to learn Raif had lost all situational awareness and let something slip in under his guard. Or worse, given his progenitor was falling apart at the seams—Raif’s own words that morning—and Brennan really didn’t want to be in the middle of an investigation, not with everything else he was in the middle of already.
Private Bowman, the only one newer to the team than Brennan, was apparently defending the door alone against an onslaught of Proctors all asking questions at once. No one even noticed Brennan and Joshua’s arrival at the back of the crowd. Brennan recognized most of the guys, a few were on Shayla’s team but most weren’t, they just worked on the hall. That’s when Brennan realized the hallway had been empty as they’d walked down it. He glanced back and sure enough, the guys who worked the doors they’d passed were missing—or rather, they were all crowded in here—and some of the crowd didn’t even work on this floor. What was the big attraction?
If he’d been in uniform, he might’ve gotten an emergency code tapped out on his Proctor’s belt. The Proctors had learned long ago to use their alarms—the means by which their Councillors could call them—with a binary code to communicate. It was based on some archaic code named after some guy back on Earth named Morse but since Brennan wasn't in uniform. He was still in the Class Two clothes he’d been wearing when they'd left so he had no idea if a call had gone out.
One of the guys at the front of the crowd, Sam, was right in Bowman’s face, demanding he be let into the office. Sam was a big bruiser of a guy and the only other Proctor still alive from Raif’s class at the Academy. Sam had been working in Security ever since graduating. If Sam were here, whatever Bowman was coping with was way over his pay grade. Brennan hoped he'd realize that soon and just cave. It would be the smart thing to do.
Joshua had been standing quietly next to Brennan, hands clasped low and loosely in front of himself, eyes scanning from one Proctor to the next. Now he cleared his throat and quick as that, every head turned and fell to silent attention. Then every Proctor in the crowd turned to face the pair of new arrivals and bowed over at them.
Without thinking, Brennan muttered, “What the fuck?”
He felt, rather than saw, Joshua's reaction. Sure enough when he glanced over at Joshua’s face, he found the man looking back with condescending impatience. Quietly, Joshua said, “Brennan, I’m glad you’re comfortable enough with me to open up and speak freely when we’re alone, but I’m afraid, Proctor, that in public, I must insist you remember I’m still the Administrator.” Then Joshua raised an eyebrow at Brennan expectantly.
That’s when Brennan’s gaze took in the golden broach pinned to Joshua’s silk tunic, just over his heart. The Administrator’s Seal. The guy had been wearing it in his hair, like some kind jewelry, hiding it in plain sight. Fuck. Brennan forced himself to bow over in proper deference to the office and he had to admit, to the man as well. When Brennan straightened up and scanned the faces in front of him, he noted Sam was practically grinding his teeth to keep from speaking his mind in front of the Administrator.
Joshua asked the crowd, “Which of you is actually assigned to this Office?”
“Sir,” Bowman actually raised his hand and tried to shoulder his way into the crowd, “That’d be me, Sir. Private Bowman. Sir.”
Joshua’s eyes danced in amusement but his tone belied no condescension. “Stay right there, Bowman, and,” Joshua turned to Sam, “You’re from Security, I take it?”
“Yes, Sir.” Sam answered.
“Then I’d ask you to secure this hallway, starting with dispersing this crowd so that I might have a word with Private Bowman.” When Sam didn't immediately jump to comply, Joshua added, “Immediately, if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, Sir.” Sam repeated, “But I’ll have to ask you not to enter the premises before I return. I should accompany you in if you choose to enter the Office. I haven’t yet conducted a formal investigation into what happened and I can’t allow forensic evidence to be disturbed. I’m sure you’ll understand my request that you wait for me to accompany you.”
Joshua said, “I understand.” But Brennan could hear in the man’s tone that he completely understood Sam’s request. There was something inside that Sam figured might need to be covered up—and Sam intended to do so before letting the Administrator in to see it. Unfortunately for Sam, Brennan also knew that Joshua Andrew Caine had no intention of allowing Sam the lowly Security Proctor to either conceal evidence or tell him what he could or couldn’t do. Sam was going to be lucky if Joshua allowed him into the room.
Sam corralled the Proctors down the hall and left Brennan and Joshua alone with Private Bowman in front of the closed door to Shayla’s office and living quarters. Now that everyone was gone, Brennan got a clear view of the door. Something had hit it hard—from the inside—hard enough to actually dent the door. That was a door made out of a laser-proof alloy. It would take a cannon to make a dent like that and you couldn’t exactly fit one through the front door of the building, let alone the interior door of the office. There was only one thing on the planet that could dent the door like that and still fit inside that room and she didn't strike him as the kind of woman to be into violent sex so Brennan had to think of another reason why she might have banged on the door like that. It came to him quickly: to get out. What had Raif done that Shayla had felt she needed to escape by banging the door down?
Joshua waited until the crowd was nearly out of earshot and then spoke quietly to the private. “Now, Private Bowman, I’d like you to open that door so that myself and Brennan here can go in. Then, you are to close it and keep it closed unless or until I, personally, direct you otherwise. No one goes in, no one comes out. Is that clear?”
Bowman gulped, nodded, then finally said, “Yes, Sir.” The private took an override key off his belt and held it over the contact. The door started to slide open but scraped and ground to a halt three quarters of the way. It was enough. Brennan could see into the room. Joshua took in and let out a deep breath then put a hand onto Bowman’s shoulder. The greenhorn was staring at his feet as though afraid to look anywhere else.
“Thank you, Bowman.” Joshua said and patted at the man’s shoulder then strode into the room without hesitation.
Brennan stood there in the doorway looking in. Inside and to the left, Collier was crouched down next to the desk, at Shayla’s feet, and Ronen was behind the desk, trying to close the door again. Joshua was headed straight for them, but not Brennan. His eyes were drawn inside to the right, where the morbidity of death, starkly dark and crisply charred against the soft, peach-colored sheets of his Councillor's bed was laid out before him. Brennan walked slowly towards the grisly spectacle and noticed Collier stood up and moved to intercept him. They met at the side of the bed, Raif’s clothes mingled with Shayla’s on the floor at their feet. It was pretty obvious just from the discarded clothing who was in the bed and what he’d been doing there. Brennan had hoped he’d had it wrong but the charred carcass on the bed spoke volumes.
He just had to hope Raif hadn’t hurt her, the way he’d said he was worried he might do. It wasn’t right for a man like Raif to end his legendary career in an act as heinous as assaulting his Councillor. Sexually assaulting her. Raif would rather have died, which had to kind of give the scene in front of Brennan more meaning the longer he took it in. Of course, it was possible Shayla hadn’t deliberately done this but had just had another “accident” like the one she’d nearly had back in Trouville. He’d probably have to testify against her if that were the case. That would be just great.
Collier asked him, “What do you think happened?”
Brennan's head snapped up from his study of the remains. “She didn’t tell you?”
“No, she’s not making any sense." Brennan was going to ask something else but Collier rattled on, flood gates wide open for a sympathetic ear. "She hardly even knows her own name right now. I’ve never seen her like this, not even when Dramond—not ever, not in the thirteen years I’ve known her. She’s always been able to keep it together. It’s what made her such a good leader. You could trust her to keep it together when everyone else fell apart." Collier finally ground to a halt and added in a whisper, "It’s what they had in common.”
Brennan’s eyes had fallen back to the charred remains on the bed in front of him. “Has this been going on for a while?”
“Has what been going on?”
“Him, them sleeping together. He told me he wasn’t but obviously, he was. How long has it been going on?”
Collier straightened up. “Look, Brennan, you’re new so I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that—once. Don’t you ever say a thing like that again. He never laid a hand on her in thirteen years and she wouldn’t have let him if he tried. That doesn’t happen on this team, you get it?”
“Collier, look at that corpse. It happened today. I’m just trying to figure out whose idea it was. If he forced himself on her—”
“He wouldn’t and you see this?” Collier pointed to his own scarred face. “She wouldn’t have let him. She’s told me for years how seeing this reminds her, she’ll never take a human lover again. And no one could force her to do anything. She could snap you in half over her knee, and she could have thrown him off with one hand tied behind her back if he’d ever tried anything—but he wouldn’t. Neither of them–you don’t understand, Brennan. You haven’t been here long enough. They weren’t like that.”
That’s when Brennan realized the guy was in love with Shayla. He’d heard the Proctor talk in the Lounge that Collier kept the scars because he thought he and Shayla were going to get back together, but now Brennan could see it. Looking at the charred remains, Collier saw Shayla’s betrayal of his own unrequited love. Brennan hadn’t been here long, it was true, but he’d seen how Shayla had looked at Raif, how she’d practically melted under his touch. She was never going to look at Collier that way. Poor guy just didn’t know it.
“Look Collier, the dent in that door says she had a reason to want to get out of here.”
“You’re looking at it, Brennan. Shit, I’ve only been here a few minutes and I want to bang the door down to get away from that. We need to figure out what happened—and how we’re going to handle…them.” Collier looked past Brennan at the closed door. “I’m not the only one who’ll want to avenge Raif’s death, but something truly fucked up happened here and we don’t know who did it. Either you’re going to help me get to the truth or you can just turn around and wait out there with the rest of them. I had to let the Administrator in. You, I got no problem tossing outta here. With Raif out of the picture, I’m ranking officer and that puts me in charge. Got it?”
Brennan had to admit, the stench of burnt flesh was getting to him but he wasn’t ready to leave and he wasn’t about to let Collier take the upper hand with him. For some reason, the guy had had it in for Brennan since the day he arrived. It had to be the face he was wearing. Raif’s face.
“Got it. Let’s work together, Collier.”
“Good call, asshole. Now see if she’ll talk to that magic face of yours. Get down low so she can see you.”
Yeah, Collier’s objection to Brennan was definitely tied to the way he looked. Brennan never asked for this face and he’d offered to change it when he’d found out about Raif. He used to like to look in the mirror, didn’t mind the way he looked but now…. He didn’t like being one of many. He wasn’t much but at least he’d still been himself until Raif and Joshua showed up. Now he was just some copy of some else. Two someones. A copy of a copy? He didn’t even know anymore.
He crouched in front of Shayla and at first she didn’t even notice him then she suddenly recognized the familiar face and took said face in both hands, cradling the damning features between her palms. It made him feel like a thing, like he’d felt back in the early days on Kindi’s table, before he’d learned to disassociate from the moment. He wanted to distance himself now, escape into his own mind and never come out again—or not until she stopped looking at him like that, searching for Raif behind Brennan’s eyes. What would she find, he wondered. Not Raif, he hoped.
Her hands dropped to her lap and her eyes welled up again. Not Raif, it seemed. He didn’t want to feel guilty for being glad she could see the difference so easily.
He asked her, “Tell me what happened, Shayla. After you and Raif came in here, did he—what did he do?”
“He asked me to kill him, Brennan. He handed me his gun and asked me to just—he knew. He knew they’d used him and…I thought I’d fixed it. I tried to fix it, but they tricked me. They used him, Brennan, they used him to get to me and used me to—”
Brennan glanced back over at the bed—and all of the faces staring down at him, expecting him to magically extract the truth from her. It seemed to be working so he kept going. “Shayla, a pistol wouldn’t have done that. The whole bed would’ve gone up, half the room or—you didn’t use his gun, did you?”
“No. No gun. Just me. I killed him myself.” She looked up, directly into his eyes. “I hate guns, Brennan. You know I hate guns. I just couldn’t stop it.”
“Like in Trouville?” Joshua asked from behind her.
“No.” She shook her head. “The trigger. I couldn’t stop the trigger in his head from firing.” Brennan leaned back and the other two Proctors took a small step away from her. It was a conditioned response. The word “trigger” held that kind of power in their conditioned minds.
Shayla went on, “They planted it, mixed it in with his real feelings and I just…I was respecting his privacy. I didn’t see it when we made—” She put a hand up over her mouth and her chest heaved a few times then, faster than Brennan could even track with his eyes, she’d reached forward into his jacket and pulled out his long blade, the one he’d had sheathed under his arm. She just knocked his arm out of the way and grabbed almost twenty centimeters of lethal metal. It gleamed in her hands as her eyes spilled over with tears. She lifted the knife and turned it towards herself and he grabbed for her, trying to stop her from hurting herself.
She blocked with her free arm and then kicked him once, hard in the center of his chest with the flat of her foot. He went flying across the room. His head slammed into the wall over the couch and he stumbled over the arm of the couch on his way down to the floor. He broke his fall badly, landing with all his weight on one hand. He didn’t lose consciousness but he had to have been hallucinating. When he focused on her again, Joshua was holding Collier back and Ronen was helping her hack off her hip-length hair. It was glowing. She was glowing as she sawed at the locks, one handful after another, cutting the hair off up at the base of her skull and throwing the clumps to the floor where Ronen was picking them up.
Collier got free and crossed the room towards Brennan, then slapped at his face to get his attention.
“You hear me?”
“I’m here.” Brennan assured him but it was hard to focus. Or breathe.
Collier’s fingers probed roughly in a quick field examination. “You’ll live. I’ll get a MedTech up here to stitch that. Don’t move.”
Brennan looked down at his hand, where Collier had pointed, and saw that his wrist was probably broken. He didn’t know how his hand could bend back that way otherwise. He hadn’t even felt it until he’d seen it. Now it hurt, to say the least.
Collier went back to the desk and Brennan heard him tell Joshua that Brennan’s collar bone was fractured. Was it? No way. He lifted his good hand to probe himself and decided it was probably a shoulder blade not his collar bone, but he’d be glad to see the MedTech and his pain killer patches. Ronen left the office carrying Shayla’s hair stretched between his hands like it was some kind of corpse he was carrying. Brennan tried to twist his head around to see up over his head and check the damage his impact had done to the wall. He’d just decided maybe his collarbone was broken, too, when Joshua crouched down in front of him.
“You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”
“Hey, I’m the one lying here.” Brennan defended himself though he wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong.
“Exactly my point.” Joshua stood up and added to Collier. “There’s a specific MedTech I’d like you to get up here if you don’t mind requesting him by name.”
“We got a guy we usually use. He’s already familiar with all of our—sorry, Administrator.” Collier dropped his head in shame. “What’s the name of the MedTech you’d like me to request?”
Collier’s head snapped up. “That’s our guy.”
“Is it? Well, isn’t that nice? Then we’ll all be happy. Please see to that immediately, Collier, and then I’d appreciate your waiting out in the hall for him, to intercept him before any of your friends out there do.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll take care of it, Sir.” Collier snapped to attention and gave a curt bow then trotted off to fulfill his assignment.
Joshua crouched down again and said “We’re going to get you patched up good as new and then you’re not to get yourself broken again, is that clear? Just say yes, Brennan, like a good little boy because I really don’t have time to kill you and start all over again.”
Brennan was definitely seeing what Raif didn’t like about the guy.