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The SERIOUS BUSINESS Critique Thread:

Ok Five X here's my take on your work:

To be fixed:
  • some proofreading issues here, words missing that kind of stuff, reread and make sure all your sentences are grammatically correct, don't have typos, that kind of stuff.
  • Pop culture references get dated very quickly. Not to mention that entire section where they talk about movies feels very much 20MinutesWithJerks. Remember your readers want a zombie story and characterisation can be done better than simply having them discuss some movies they like.
  • the stuff about not using the Z-word feels a bit like Shaun of the Dead, if you're going for a shout out try to make that more apparent, otherwise it'll just feel like you're taking that joke from them.
  • Finally, your Prologue starts with "Thump Thump Thump". Ask yourself if you really want to start your book with Thump Thump Thump. Keep it more varied, use better onomatopoeia and just make those scenes faster and more suspense building than that.

Stuff I liked:
  • It's got a kind of Troperiffic feel to it. Like it knows it's a typical zombie story and isn't afraid to admit it and have fun with the conventions and the like.
  • The writing style and dialogue is fairly casual, which in this case is appropriate to the story. Jessi's characterisation has come out fairly well so I'd recommend bringing the others into the spotlight to let them develop.

Ok, Here is the first chapter of my script for this graphic novel/comic book series that I'm working on called Oasis. Unfortunately as it's a script without the art it's going to be a lot harder to review (Sorry) but feel free to just say whatever you want. I'm planning on rewriting it in any case so be as brutal as you can, what you liked would be nice (so I know what to keep) but definitely not necessary.

This chapter begins in medias res with ch2 and 3 getting into the plot setup so I hope it works out.

Ok here we go:

Page 1: [1.] EXTERIOR overhead shot of the outskirts of Redset city, this part of the city looks somewhat normal, still slightly dilapidated but not overly.

[2.] Overhead shot of the taxi

[3.] side on shot of Noah in taxi (already drawn)

[4.] Medium sized long panel, shot of Noah leaving taxi, taken from EXTERIOR.

Driver (offscreen): You be careful in this place, okay kid? Try not to wander too far in.

Page 2: Large panel – Full page

Noah, full figure, stands outside the car, headphones no longer on his ears but hanging loosely around his neck, this image is framed with the title OASIS at the top left corner and on the top right the title of the chapter “Chapter 1: You know the Score”)

Noah: Really? Cause I plan on going straight into the centre.

Dialogue Box: Noah Freedman

Page 3-4: (Double spread of the characters in the photo, in the photo we have the main characters, Jay Walker, Lance Perlman, Nica Wilkins, Chief Brad Lamach and Nica’s little sister Nia, Noah’s thumb is against the edge so it’s clear that he’s holding it in his hand)

Balloon [No Tail] - Noah (his uncle’s letter): “Reception’s terrible out here so I’ve got the two guys in the middle [Jay and Lance] out looking for you, if you see them they’ll take you home, and be careful Noah, Uncle Brad” Sound’s good to me.

{Over the top of this is a much larger Oasis title font and stuff)

Page 5: [1.] Medium sized long panel on top row – close of Noah side on (facing to the Right), walking. This panel (including Noah) is divided into 3 smaller panels. Behind each smaller panel is a different background and sky colour (showing the transition from outer city to inner city as well as time as Noah walks through the city). The first panel is a populated region daytime, the last panel is a barren dilapidated city (punctuate with a worn out street sign labelling the city as Redset) and at Night time. The middle panel is dusk and a slightly dilapidated city but still has some people roaming around the city.

[2.] Large Panel, under [1.] takes up rest of the page.

Long shot of Noah entering a building with two dark silhouettes behind him.

Page 6: [1.] INTERIOR Medium sized panel with Noah in a crowded bar showing the photo to people

[2.] Medium sized panel – reaction shot of a woman shrugging [3.] Medium sized panel – reaction shot of some guy yelling at him (no dialogue) (this guy later turns out to be Thug #3)

[4.] Medium sized panel – Noah getting shoved by someone, depicted side on, showing ¾ of body (up to knees)

[5.] Medium sized long panel - Close up of Noah, turning his head, looking over his shoulder. Curious/unsure expression .

Thug #1 (offscreen): Hey mate, you lookin’ for something?

Page 7: full page, full figures of thugs #1 and #2 up to you what you want them to look like but make them look kind of imposing but in a comic book way, in front of them is the back of Noah, sweatdropping in usual anime fashion) Noah (^.^;) : Who me? No I was just asking those people about something else.

Page 8: [1.] EXTERIOR Medium sized long panel of Noah pushing open the door to exit the bar, Confused expression.

[2.] Close up of Noah looking to his left (our right)

[3.] Long shot of Thug #1 further down the road panel size is fairly small.

[4.] Larger panel, Long shot of Noah walking in opposite direction, we can see Thug #1 start to move after him as well.

Page 9:

[1.] Large Panel 1/3 of page. Full figure of Noah quickening his pace, looking over his shoulder worried expression. His shoes start to spark and the arrows on his shoes start to glow.

[2.] Medium sized long panel: Slightly side-on Noah bumps into something large (Thug #2)

[3.] Medium shot – side on, Noah facing Thug #2.

Thug#2 :Woah! Excuse me kid! You okay?” Noah: Sorry…I..didn’t see.

Page 10:

[1.] Medium shot of Noah trying to move around Thug #2, Thug #2 is just a dark silhouette in the foreground

[2.] Medium shot from behind Noah, Thug #2 sidesteps to block Noah

Thug#2: In a hurry are we? What’s your name kid? Noah: Yeah, ..uh..Noah, I have to meet my uncle.

[3.] Shot from behind Noah about 45 degrees side-on and slightly low-angle. In the foreground on the right of the panel is a dark silhouette. In the mid-ground is Noah turning slightly over his shoulder (or like, about to), surprised/oh crap expression. In the background is Thug#2 speaking to silhouette behind Noah. Thug#2: oh your uncle? We could help you out couldn’t we, Jake?

[4.] Medium shot with a close of Noah’s face in the foreground, he’s facing Thug #2 again but he’s looking down, sweating, scared shitless. Behind him is a medium shot from the waist up of Thug # 1.

Thug#1: Yeah, we could help you out, for a price.

Page 11-12 Double spread, split into two sections.

[1.] Large Panel that takes up most of the page. Noah, Full figured in the foreground, uses his shoes to speed his way past the two surprised thugs, in the background. As this shot is from Noah’s perspective, the entire background looks wavy, noisy and blurry and we can barely see the thugs. There are streaks and arrows around Noah but especially focused around his shoes to emphasis that his shoes are doing this. The camera angle is in a kind of perspective shot that focuses around Noah’s face (as he charges towards left side of the panel and slightly out of the page) and seems to distort around the rest of the focus.

[2.] Thin column showing a cropped, full figure shot of Thug#2 looking amused. Thug#2: Oooh, this one’s got a little bit of spirit/fight in him.

Page 13: [1.] Overhead shot of a semi blurry Noah with speedy trail marks speeding through the street.

[2.] Medium sized long panel, close up of Noah not as blurry but with speed marks, behind him the background is quite blurry to show all the speed. Noah’s face is all sweaty, he looks really scared and like he’s almost about to scream.

[3.] Smaller panel still a close of Noah wincing as he crashes into something (this time it should look like there’s nothing there.

[4.] Long shot of Noah, from behind, falling over. In front of him is some kind of force field (represented by hexagonal shaped outlines vaguely drawn on the force field).

Page 14: [1.] Large panel half a page of ¾ figures (i.e. from the knees up) Thugs #1 and #2 stepping out of a nearby car, Thug #1 is wearing a glove that seems to be holding up the forcefield (energy from the forcefield seems to lead into his glove). The shot is low angle to emphasise the power of the two thugs. Thug #1: You aren’t the only one with powers. Thug #2: Come on kid, just give it all up and we might just make this quick and painless.

[2.] Close up of Thug #2 triggering his wrist bands.

[3.] Close up of Thug #2’s arm (s) swelling up and appearing to become more muscular as they are pumped with psynergy.

[4.] Close up of Thug #2’s leg (s) similarly swelling up and appearing to become more muscular as they are pumped with psynergy.

Page 15: [1.] half page panel of a huge, full figure Thug #2, facing off against Noah (Noah is in the foreground viewed from behind, we can only see Noah from the waist up) in the background we can see Thug#1 establishing a massive force field that surrounds them on all sides. Thug #2: Just hand over whatever you have, trust you don’t want to make me angry.

[2.] Close up of Noah wincing in pain, dodging to one side. We see a blurry arm just grazing his shoulder.

Noah: Augh!

[3.] Medium shot of Noah taking a punch into his stomach he is wide eyed and is winded.

Thug #2: You won’t like me when I’m angry.

[4.] Small panel of a close up of Noah’s winded face

Lance (offscreen): INCOMING!

Page 16: [1.] Half page panel, Full figures as Lance uses his quake boots to smash down onto the ground, creating a mini quake and knocking everyone over.

Lance: YEAH!!! COME ON WHO WANTS SOME OF THIS!

[2.] Medium shot of Lance helping Noah get up. Noah is pretty bloodied and bruised.

[3.] Medium sized panel, medium shot of Lance facing the reader, from the waist up, outstretched hand, sword in hilt/scabbard strapped to his back.

Lance: You Noah? The name’s Lance I work for your Uncle Brad.

Dialogue box: Lance Perlman

Page 17:

[1.] 1/3 page panel, ¾ figures (from the knees up), medium shot as a third guy, Comes in from the left and elbows Lance in the face. Thug #3 is the guy yelling from page 6 as mentioned earlier.

[2.] Close up of Thug #3 cracking knuckles. Thug#3: Nobody ever expects another accomplice to be hiding in the shadows.

Sound FX: Krick! (knuckles cracking)

[3.] High angle shot of Lance looking up and smirking Lance: Guess again, whackjob.

Page 18: [1.] ¾ page panel, low angle shot of Thug #3 getting shot from behind. In the foreground we see Lance and Noah from behind (again from the waist up), Noah is ducking behind Lance, in surprise/fear/shock from the sound of the shot.

Sound FX: BAM!

[2.] Medium shot of Lance, Noah comes out from behind him Lance (eyes closed, smirking): Took your damn time getting here.

Page 19: Full page of Jay crouched on a lamppost, his gun aiming at the reader with the night sky and the moon in the background

Balloon [no tail] Lance (off screen): Jay

Dialogue Box: Jay Walker

Page 20: [1.] Medium shot of Jay jumping down from the lamppost.

[2.] Close up of Jay (into an earpiece): It’s Jay, yeah I have three guys out cold near the old theatre, one of them’s critically wounded…I didn’t have a choice…he should last a few hours hopefully.

[3.] Medium shot of Noah from behind as Jay faces him (Jay faces Noah) Noah: You guys..the photo- it’s you! Jay: Welcome to Redset, Noah. I’m Jay let’s go see your uncle.

[4.] Long shot of them heading off, we can see a black silhouette spying on them from behind a wall in the background.

[5.] Close up of Mook’s face Mook (into earpiece): yeah I have them in sight

End of chapter

If anyone's interested, I did have a page with most of the main characters (as in the photo on page 3-4) that I had inked before deciding to focus solely on the script with my friend and hiring an artist (or sending to a publisher) later.

edited 20th Sep '10 8:56:34 PM by ShadowScythe

Maelstrom
Trust me, you haven't seen half of the pop-culture references in those few chapters alone. The movies thing isn't meant for any real characterization. It's there 'cause that's what the characters would do. Also, the "Z-word" bit isn't a shout out. I wrote that mockery years ago, before I watched Sot D. In fact it's the opposite of Shaun of the Dead. The characters freely say "zombie" and whatnot. I specifically drew attention to no one picking up conversation about it. The "Thump Thump Thump" beginning has been read before, and is preferred by 90% of readers. I will use it.

And if you're interested in a "typical zombie story" or a fun comedic novel, don't read the later chapters. I'm writing this partially to critique the standard zombie story, which should become more apparent in later chapters.

EDIT: This is not a zombie story!! It's about the characters, not stupid shambling undead. If this is a zombie story, then I'm failing at writing this story. I guess that, again, becomes more obvious later.

Ah, thanks for reading it, though.

edited 20th Sep '10 10:56:38 PM by Five_X

Shaun of the Dead still uses the word zombie though I think that's the problem, so both stories are kinda doing the same thing here lampshading the lack of people using the word zombie in a zombie flick and then freely using it themselves. So I think you'd need to set it up as a shout out unfortunately, or it will definitely feel like you were taking their joke (sad I know).

Also the idea of the book becoming a critique on zombie fiction and getting worse seems quite appealing so I'm looking forward to what you follow through with it.

 204 callsignecho, Tue, 21st Sep '10 10:54:37 AM from Flight Level 050
Critique for Shadow Scythe

First, a question: what style will this be drawn in? I was picturing your typical western (hemisphere, not genre) comic book style before I got to some manga-ish references. I don't know that it will change anything in the critique, but it would be better to have a true picture of what it's going to look like.

Second, I like the way the powers are introduced. It doesn't require a lot of exposition. It's pretty clear these powers are not organic, but come from technology or some kind of artifact, and the implied variety is interesting. I get the impression we can expect a lot of really exotic powers.

Perhaps it's a little slow to start, with a couple pages of walking around showing the picture, but maybe not. It's hard to say without seeing how it's drawn.

One punctuation nitpick: "Sound's good to me." Nix that apostrophe.

edited 21st Sep '10 10:55:59 AM by callsignecho

Screaming along at mach .2 with my hair on fire.
^ Um, I'm not sure tbh. Originally it was going to be really animesque as a shounen parody but it gradually got more and more serious and became more of a cyberpunk story. Also, now that I started reading a lot more western comics, my interpretation of the art style is definitely shifting. I'm not going to be drawing it with my friend anymore but if I do get an artist, I think the style would look more western, but with animesque eyes (albeit not as big) as well as the whole speed lines and effects like that, which are more common in manga. Not the best explanation I guess.

also, thanks for the thing about slowness. I've noticed that page 5 is a bit redundant. I think I'll merge it with page 6 and add another page of more action oriented stuff, and try to stick things in the background to help give more plot exposition without dialogue (or at least chekov's guns)

edited 22nd Sep '10 6:09:58 AM by ShadowScythe

Well this is surprising- right now no one needs to be critiqued and yet no one is posting their work. Huh, well I'll go ahead and post chapter 2 then - there's more exposition in this oen- introducing the full team and a very light touch on their motives- which will be further explained in chapter 3. Realistically the series could just as easily start with this chapter- but I prefer starting with the first chapter as a kind of semi prologue.

Ok here we go:

Page 1:

[1.] Big Panel, 1/3 of the page

EXTERIOR of an OASIS lab, The building looks new and clean but the surrounding city is torn apart and dilapidated. There is a sign lying on the ground all faded and torn that says Redset, other features to add could be things like worn out street signs, graffiti on walls (other than the oasis building) and in burn marks (as in like black smears and stuff) and bullet holes in street signs and general signs of conflict going on in the city, the lab is of course exempt from all this.

Thought bubble [Marla]: The outside world is in ruins but look at you!

[2.] INTERIOR of lab entrance, medium shot of a reception at the table, scientists seem to be walking all around her, the entrance is also, of course spotless and all that, there is a TV screen hanging above the receptionist playing some ad for Oasis.

Thought bubble [Marla]: Lying in your dream world, sheltered.

[3.] INTERIOR, going further into lab, scientists in front of monitors and analysing readings etc. (on the monitors is Marla in her tube and the various vitals and stuff if you want to go into that detail)

[4.] Long panel at the bottom, OVERHEAD shot of a room, at the centre is the test tube thing with Marla (obscured in this image) and various cables and stuff come out from one end and travel to various surrounding peripheral devices giving readouts and stuff. A lone security guard stands nearby the tube.

Thought bubble [Marla]: You can’t stay here forever, really, you can’t stay here at all.

Page 2:

[1.] Big Panel full page. Full figure shot of Marla (long hair) in the tube, various cables connected to her, she is in the fetal position, it is SYMBOLIC- definitely not fanservice. Certain…parts of her body are obscured

Thought bubble [Marla]: So, Marla, isn’t it time you woke up?

TITLE: OASIS chapter 2: Wake up and Smell the Ashes

Page 3:

[1.] Big panel ½ page, MEDIUM shot of tube opening, security guard is at a computer opening the tube.

[2.] medium, long panel. Close up of Marla’s face, her eyes open.

[3.] Another Medium, long panel. Marla struggles out of her tube, the water and her hair obscure her breasts, the panel only shows her from the waist up.

Page 4:

[1.] Medium on the back of the Security guard as he hands Marla (who is drying herself in a towel) some clothes and an earset.

[2.] small panel, close up on guard’s face

Guard: You’d better hurry up, we don’t have much time.

[3.] Medium shot of Marla slipping on a jacket, she doesn’t have a shirt or anything underneath, her breasts are once again obscured. Her pants are already on in this scene. Behind her the guard is looking away, he is armed and readying himself to fire if anyone else comes in.

[4.] close up of Marla’s face as she slips on the ear piece.

Balloon [No Tail - earpiece]: Okay, Marla can you hear me?

Marla: Yes.

[5.] Long, overhead shot of Marla and the Guard running through the lab, it is empty for the moment.

Balloon [No Tail- earpiece]: Good, now listen carefully as I help you and our friend get out of here.

Page 5:

[1.] FULL FIGURES as, in the foreground Marla and the guard run and duck behind desks and columns. In the background a security team is Firing at them, hitting the desks and all the background stuff, the guard with Marla is shooting back at them

Sound Effects (SFX): gunshot sounds, BRAKABRAKABRAKA Balloons (above security team, no need for tails): — moves pretty fast! — Don’t hit the girl! — Arrgh! (above a guy getting shot) — Man Down!

[2.] Full figure of Guard with Marla in his arms, rolling across the floor still firing at the guards in front of him (although you can’t seem them so it looks like he’s shooting at the reader) Bullets fire all around him, one hits him in the side.

Guard: augh!

[3.] Guard shoves Marla into a doorway into the next room.

Guard (he looks clearly tired/wounded): get out of here, I’ll deal with these guys.

[4.] Medium sized, long panel at the bottom of the page. Close up of Marla as she runs. Behind her you can see the guard spraying like crazy.

Page 6:

[1.] Medium panel, FULL FIGURES as Marla runs through the reception/entrance area (pretty much a version of panel 2 in page 1 with more chaos and everyone shocked and chasing after her.)

Balloon [no tail - earpiece]: Keep going Marla you’re almost there.

[2.] medium shot of Marla elbowing a scientist in the face, scientist makes a typical “ugh” grunt, drops lab notes for extra effect.

[3.] Medium shot of Marla from behind heading towards the doorway.

[4.] Large Panel, massive overhead shot of Oasis security vehicles (note: definitely not police at this stage, Oasis doesn’t want to draw attention even if they pretty much own the police) and security guards pointing their guns at Marla.

Balloons [no tails]: — Put your hands above your head and get down on the ground. — Do not attack! We will shoot, I repeat we will shoot you if we have to!

Balloon [no tail- earpiece]: No they won’t, relax Marla, we’ll take care of all this.

Page 7-8:

Long shot, full figures. Figures in black hoods drop down onto the mass of security and go crazy, the page is a mess of combat and sprays of psynergy everywhere. Some features to add would include the hooded figures spamming bolts of psynergy at various guards and electrocuting them, hooded figures getting behind guards and snapping their necks, Figures in the far distance sniping down guards (a thin streak for a bullet coming out from the rifle and into a guard indicates this) etc etc.

Balloon [no tail-earpiece]: Okay! GO! RUN!

Marla is bolting away from the mess in this page as well.

Page 9:

[1.] Overhead shot of Marla running into the city.

Balloon [no tail]: Okay, good if you get into the shopping plaza, you should be able to lose them, I’ve got another team coming to pick you up from there.

[2.] medium shot of Marla in the plaza, dilapidated shopping centres around her.

Marla (into earpiece): I’m in the plaza. Where to now?

Balloon [no tail}: reception out here’s-fhgfkj- ifficult to speak -fds- you. The other team –fzzzghz- looking for – fzzhfggf- on your own, sorry.

[3.] Medium of Marla walking through the city, she’s trying to tie up her hair as it’s long/gets in her way.

Marla: Damn it. (as in, cause she’s on her own)

[4.] Medium sized long panel. Marla walks through the street, dark silhouettes are behind her.

Page 10:

[1.] Close up of Marla, Turning her head, looking over shoulder, severe expression like she can tell she’s being followed.

[2.] Full figures as Marla bolts through the street. Silhouettes behind her.

[3.] Medium sized, long panel. Close up of Marla’s face from the front, she looks slightly scared, behind her we can see two oasis mooks (Generic looking, visors, gasmasks etc) chasing after her. They wear a Ø symbol on them so it’s clear that they’re Oasis.

[4.] Marla turns to fight them. A black hole starts to form in her hand, on mook looks surprised the other goes in to take her out.

Page 11-12:

Double spread- Jay is crouching in the bottom left hand corner, gun smoking (he is facing to the left) the light source is behind him so his face is all shadowed and his sunglasses are white/light grey against his black/shadowed face. Behind him a mook falls, his arm bleeding. There are movement lines that indicate that Jay has shoot the mook in the arm from atop a nearby stairway before jumping down into the crouch. Lance and Noah take out the other mook, Lance kicking him in the stomach and Noah speeding up (looking fairly blurry) from behind and punching him, Marla looks on at them, surprised.

Jay (smirking): You guys again? How many of you are there around here?

Page 13:

[1.] Jay stands up and turns towards Marla, he’s all frowning clint eastwood/badass style.

[2.] Large panel. Marla turns to fight Jay in self defence. She grabs his arm, a massive black hole appears around his arm. Jay isn’t bothered by it.

[3.] Close up of Jay’s face.

Jay: Yeah, that’s not going to work. Relax. We’re here to help.

Page 14:

[1.] Medium shot of the team in a car, Lance is driving, the car is kind of like a jeep but more futuristic/dilapidated so it doesn’t have a roof.

Jay: You’ll be staying with us for now. It won’t be as good as living back there, but you’ll be safer.

Marla: Who are you?

[2.] Overhead shot of the jeep.

Jay: My name’s Jay. We’re part of a small team of…well, free-lance police if you like, we’re kinda like reinforcements for the police for some of the more…tricky stuff.

[3.] Close up of Lance

Jay (offscreen): This is Lance. Lance: Howdy

[4.] Close up of Noah

Jay (offscreen): And that’s Noah. Noah: Hey.

Page 15:

[1.] Long shot of the Jeep arriving at their office/home thing. The outside of the building looks somewhat worn out, blends with the surrounding scenery.

Jay: We’re here, so what’s your name by the way? Marla: Marla.

[2.] Large Panel, takes up rest of the page. Full figure shot of Brad Lamach standing next to his table, cigar/cigarette in mouth.

Brad: Welcome to the team, lady. Try to make yourself at home. Give us a shout if you need anything.

Dialogue Box: Chief Brad Lamach.

Page 16:

[1.] Medium shot of Nica with various protective gear as she works on the Jeep in the garage, her face is a obscured cause she’s wearing a helmet or some kind of protective face gear. In the background Jay and Marla are walking into the Garage.

[2.] Medium shot of Nica taking off her face gear. She’s covered in grease and stuff and it looks sexy.

Jay: The grease monkey over there is Nica.

Nica: Heya! (she’s doing that two finger thing and winking)

Dialogue Box: Nica Wilkins

[3.] medium shot of Nica’s sister in the monster outfit thing that you drew.

Jay: That’s Nia, Nica’s little sister.

Nia, doesn’t say anything, just ducks shyly behind Nica.

Dialogue Box: Nia Wilkins

[4.] Long shot of the room, behind Marla and Jay is a large silhouette of SPANNER.

Silhouette: Hey there hot stuff!

Page 17:

[1.] Large Panel, ½ page. There is a huge shadow of SPANNER against the wall and then on the table is a tiny SPANNER – SPANNER is a miniature robot that aids Nica with her repairing and can also transform into a spanner when she needs him to, in this panel he’s in robot form but he has clear features that still make him look like a spanner. SPANNER doesn’t have a face but rather a single optic that resembles HAL-9000.

SPANNER: I’m the Structural Precautionary A Nalysis and Non-finite Engineering Robotics but you can call me SPANNER, toots.

Nica (facepalming): Ignore him, get over here SPANNER!

[2.] Medium of Jay and Marla walking out of the room.

Jay: We have a spare bed nearby, it’s not exactly in good condition. Better than lying in a fish tank I guess, but still, sorry about the whole- Marla: No it’s fine. Everything’s fine.

Page 18:

[1.] Overheard Panel of Marla sitting in her new bedroom.

Thought bubble [Marla]: This place is a dump.

[2.] Medium shot, in the foreground is Jay looking over his guy, maybe tweaking it or whatever. In the background Noah and Lance are playing a video game, the TV is grainy and has a lot of noise. In the background we can also see a window that indicates that it’s night time.

Thought bubble [Marla]: But it could be worse. At least the people here are nice.

[3.] Long shot of Marla lying on her bed forming a blackhole in her hand, moon light seeps through the venetian blinds.

Thought bubble [Marla]: Besides, just how long were you going to stay in that place, and let them do all those things to you? Might as well take this hell over that other.

[4.] Close up of Marla’s face, trying to sleep.

Thought bubble [Marla]: So, wake up, Marla. Wake up…and smell the ashes.

 207 Latia, Fri, 1st Oct '10 7:22:22 PM from The Bottom of Texas
life is hard U_U
Okay, I’ll do this as best I can.

Andddddd this will probably focus more on writing than the “visual” aspect. Suprise! It didn't.

Thought bubble [Marla]: The outside world is in ruins but look at you!

Maybe needs a “…” or comma between “ruins” and “but”, just a pause.

Balloon [No Tail - earpiece]: Okay, Marla can you hear me?

How will you show it’s from the ear piece? Might I suggest a different text bubble or font?

2.] Full figure of Guard with Marla in his arms, rolling across the floor still firing at the guards in front of him (although you can’t seem them so it looks like he’s shooting at the reader)

A lot is happening here and might be confusing. Maybe you should show the motion of his roll into several smaller panels?

[1.] Close up of Marla, Turning her head, looking over shoulder, severe expression like she can tell she’s being followed.

[2.] Full figures as Marla bolts through the street. Silhouettes behind her.

Might want to include one panel in between to show her seeing her pursuers with an Oh Crap look.

Overall: You give a good feel for the situation, but I see this happening a bit quickly. Don’t be afraid to include “in-between” actions.

As for me...well, have at you. Feel free to only comment on one section or just a few sections as opposed to the whole thing. Also, it's not quite finished yet (three more "syllables" to go)

edited 1st Oct '10 7:27:00 PM by Latia

 208 Tomoe Michieru, Thu, 7th Oct '10 12:57:17 AM from Huntsville AL
Samurai Troper
Latia:

Really, the most troubling thing about the whole ordeal had been the dreams. Miranda’s dreams were often vague and whimsical, with her never remembering anything aside a few amusing fragments for her to recall to Adrian over coffee. It was…it was if she had plastic wrap stretched around her in dreams. As if she grew a second layer of thin transparent skin that let nothing sink in deep enough to make an impact.

I'd omit the first "It was" in the sentence "It was...stretched around her in dreams." If that were dialogue it'd be better, but it seems excessive.

I'm curious as to the significance of Miranda's dreams. You spent a lot of time mentioning them - well, relatively speaking - so I'm guessing they have some significance. Especially since there's only one or two that she can remember thoroughly.

Also I like the present-past-present thing you've got going on. You segue between them nicely. What's the next news Dr Bernstein gave her at the end of VI?

From what you're describing of the whole scenario, this doesn't strike me as a normal situation. Me not being a woman and thus never having been pregnant, I can't say whether it'd cause odd dreams. The one that struck me as the most significant was the one about the egg in the aquarium. Kinda a A So Ia F vibe with Dany and the dragons, but I could be wrong. If you're going for a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane thing here, you're doing really well with it.

edited 7th Oct '10 1:20:50 AM by TomoeMichieru

 209 Tomoe Michieru, Thu, 7th Oct '10 1:18:13 AM from Huntsville AL
Samurai Troper
I have a rather long piece (17 pages double-spaced in Word and still in progress) that I'd like to post here. I'll post up the first section if that's okay. I forget if I've posted it up anywhere else.

Serious Issues

In the middle of the street, fire erupted from the boy’s hunched-over body. It expanded in a white-hot sphere of pure destruction. Everything in its path went up in smoke and ashes – plants, grass, mailboxes, houses and people. Scorched flesh peeled from charred bones. The orange light in the centre of his chest burned almost white in answer to the flame – it was the source of the immolation, the Essence of Fire. The teenager watched in horror, knowing that it had only been a matter of time before he lost control – the last faces he saw were those of his parents, mouthing ‘What have we done?’ before succumbing to the fire.

Yonten jerked awake, breathing hard as his sheets stuck to the bony frame of his bare chest. He sat up and glanced at the clock beside him – 6:23, about half an hour before he was supposed to get up for school. His head hit the sweat-soaked pillow again with a soft thump as he groaned in frustration, letting out a few Mancunian swears directed at nothing in particular. He really, really didn’t want to be conscious just yet – or dreaming. Just sleep, thank you very much. The sphere of red-orange light pulsed faintly in his chest; good, it was okay, he wasn’t about to go up in a ball of fire.

Hopefully Yaori wasn’t already up; she liked to take her showers first thing in the morning like he did, and damned if he didn’t need one even before the day had started. Had he spent the night in the Devil’s private sauna?

As he approached the bathroom, he heard the shower running and light showed under the door. He could tell she’d been in there a while; steam was rising from the crack. Dammit, what was she doing up so early? Yonten stalked off, taking care not to wake his younger brother and sister as he made his way downstairs. His parents were up too, likely sparring outside in the garden - their two favourite swords were missing from their usual places in the living room next to the red-brick fireplace. He made his way around the dozens of immaculately-cleaned swords, spears and all sorts of weapons. A good portion of them were traditional Japanese or Okinawan weapons. There were a few rapiers here, a scimitar there, a longsword and claymore hung together on the wall, a few bows, shields and pole arms scattered in the lot; an eclectic collection overall. There was even his father’s suit of samurai armour; a sword gash marred the otherwise perfectly-kept steel breastplate. Ancient, battle-nicked but still razor-sharp blades glinted in the dim lamplight. Time was when he’d wanted to draw one of them and just play with it for a while like most young boys do, but that urge had been squished pretty quickly: ‘One of our children training with sharp pointy things is enough, ’ his mum had said after taking the sword off him. Yaori was different, of course; she’d been reluctantly allowed to learn swordplay from their father and she took to it like a moth to an open flame.

The back door opened, and Yonten’s parents came in laughing and sheathing their swords, still out of view and earshot – well, the former, anyway.

“Just like old times, isn’t it, Chang?”

“Yeah, and you’re still letting me kick your arse up and down the garden, you androgynous git.”

“That’s not what you were calling me several hours ago, love.”

“Totally beside the point…oh! Yonten, you scared the Hell out of me.” Chang came into view, visibly startled. “Why’re you up so early?”

“Couldn’t sleep, ” he replied, trying vainly to unhear what he’d just heard. “Wanted to shower but Yaori’s takin’ her sweet fuckin’ time…”

“Language, Yonten, ” said his father as he rounded the corner.

“Oh, Michi, let it go, ” his mother said. “Couldn’t you have at least said ‘good morning’ to him?”

“’S’okay, ” mumbled Yonten before his father could reply. Yonten knew his parents wouldn’t argue in front of him – they really didn’t argue much anyway – but he also should have remembered his father didn’t like hearing his kids talking like dockworkers. “Sorry, not feelin’ too good.”

“What’s wrong?” Michi asked, handing his sheathed katana to Chang and coming over to the counter to look at Yonten before doing a double-take and flinching. “You’re burning up, I can feel it from here...”

“Just hot for some reason. Likely nothing.” Yonten poured himself a bowl of Rice Krispies and sprinkled a liberal dose of whey protein and sugar on top of it, drinking right from the bowl. His stomach twisted and growled – he’d noticed his appetite increasing lately, but it hadn’t been this bad before. One of Yaori’s bananas was the next to go, then two glasses of milk and orange juice, all in the space of a minute. “Hungry too, ” he continued with his mouth full.

“I...noticed...” replied Michi as he and Chang exchanged flummoxed glances. “You’re sure you’re all right?”

“Really, Dad, I’ll be fine, ” he insisted. “Got a lot to do today, so it doesn’t matter.”

“Yonten - ”

“Your dad’s right, ” said Chang, even before he could continue his sentence. “Nothing’s so important that it’s worth risking your health over. Take the day off – for me if nothing else, okay?” Her green eyes held a knowing look. It didn’t surprise Yonten - if on the off-chance his little condition right now was somehow due to Fire magic, she’d know a Hell of a lot more about it than he did. Maybe she’d gone through something like this, she was a bit thin. Enough curves to let you know she was female, but only just. He’d gotten a lot of his looks from her, especially that scarlet hair. Fire mage hair, she called it.

Dammit, he couldn’t say no to her. As much as he wanted to get to school and try to actually strike up a non-swimming related conversation with Emma for once in the past few years, his mum was likely right. She’d be there tomorrow, and he could make up his Maths exam. The swim team could do without its co-captain for the day.

“If you say so, ” he said. “Goin’ back to bed for a bit – guess you want to work on some magic stuff with me later?”

“The thought had crossed my mind, ” Chang replied with the faintest hint of a smile. He knew as much as she claimed she wanted him to be as normal as possible, she liked doing Fire magic exercises with him, and he liked practicing at home.

“But only when you’re feeling better, ” Michi warned, lifting a long index finger. Chang nodded in agreement. “If you overstress yourself, your body and mind are going to suffer for it and you’re still developing.”

“I know, I know, thirteen years old and all that...” Yonten said, dropping his dishes into the sink. “See you later.” He padded along the wooden floor, going back upstairs.

Yaori was still in the shower, he could hear the water running. Something had to be up, because no one should normally take over half an hour to bathe. Oh well – he couldn’t exactly look in to check on her, and if she wanted him to know she’d tell him later. Yonten shrugged, closing the door to his room, stripping naked and turning the fan on full blast before collapsing onto his rumpled bed for another few hours of sleep. Maths can go fuck itself, he thought, kicking the open textbook off the foot of the bed and cursing loudly when he stubbed his big toe on the bedpost.

The thing about sleep is that it hardly ever comes when you want it. He hated lying in bed with nothing to occupy him – the PS2 was in Luke’s room right now, and there was never anything good on TV during the mornings. So magic practice it was. It was always good to keep his skills up, and learn more control in the process. He spread his hand palm up, focusing his willpower into it. The Fire Essence glowed brighter in response. His hand began to heat up, and a small tongue of flame flickered to life just above his palm. The Essence heated up in his chest even more, its power roaring through his body.

The room vanished into a haze of flame that only existed in his mind – though just because something’s only in your mind doesn’t make it any less real. That infinite spiritual fire was always raging deep inside, consuming him – the way he usually visualised it was a campfire that had been stupidly lit without any sort of rocks or trenches around it. So here he was again, almost all his mental effort spent in putting imaginary rocks around an imaginary fire that could still become lethally real. Eventually he got it under control – he always did, being the bearer of an Essence, avatar of Fire from birth.

He walked the flame up and down his fingers a few times and yawned. That little near-miss had drained him nearly totally. Letting the flame around his fingers puff out of existence, Yonten closed his eyes and drifted into what he hoped would be temporary oblivion.

I need a drink
Sorry, didn't realize.

Its a good story. You succeeded in creating a world which I could envision clearly. It was well paced and I was able to tell a great deal about the character from what you gave us. I did find that one bit where he described his mother a little weird though. Just seemed a tiny bit squicky to me. Overall, a job well done.

Short Story/Untitled

The cold, wet street makes my bones ache. The smell of dampness and cigarette butts, carelessly discarded on the ground, makes me nauseous. I feel like vomiting.

The buzzing, flickering street light above me brings no comfort either. As the adrenaline begins to flush itself out of my system, I once again look at the scene before me from my perch against the cold steel of the lamp. The crumpled body sprawled chaotically on the ground, the stained knife and the small pool of blood uniting all the elements together. "How did it all go wrong?"I desperately need a hit. I begin to cry.

After a few minutes, I raise myself up on my feet and wipe the tears from my face. I don't know why but I start thinking of my mother and how she would always talk about God. "Dios te ayudar hijo. God will help you". Of course I never believed her. There was a time I used to make fun of her and her superstitions. Me, the big college boy. Where did it all go wrong?

The words echo through my head and out of desperation I look up at the street light and for a few minutes try to pretend as if God washing my sins away, but it fails. I still can't wipe the memory of what's happened out of my head. Though I shut my eyes tightly, the events are still so clear and they hound me.

I'm walking down this very street, the knife in my pocket is heavy and the handle is covered in my own sweat. I continuously tell myself "I need the money, I need the money" as I scratch and agitate the sores on my neck and my chest. "This will be the last time", I try to tell myself in my most convincing voice, but it's a lie. For a few months now that's all that's ever really came out of my mouth.

As I dart my eyes, scanning the street I see her walking on the opposite sidewalk. Long red hair, tight blue sweater, denim jacket. Even in the dim light I can see the gold chain hanging loosely from her neck. It looks old, probably a family heirloom. I know a pawn broker over on Holland Street who could give me money for it. I wait for her to past by before I cross the street and make my move. The street light is only a few blocks away; the adrenaline starts to kick in. I followed her for a while and briefly study her; the way her hips sway with each step, like they had some sort of orbit of thier own. Her legs are great, dressed in skin tight jeans that only excentuate their curves. For a split second I find myself smiling when I see her shoes. Lime green All-Stars. I quickly hide the smile, I need the money. Forgive Me.

Through sheer force of will I bring myself to the present. I walk to the cold lifeless body before me; its partly opened lips are blue, its hands and stomach covered in blood. I begin to cry again and the memories come flooding back, there much more intense this time. It all goes by so fast.

As I approach myself behind her, I pull out the knife and grab her arm, she fight back harder than I thought she would. As we dance violently, trying to take control of the knife, our bodies come closer together and for a brief moment, silence fills our small world. We both realize what's happened. As we look at each others fear bleached faces, we back away slowly, like lovers from the old movies. She starts to cry, blood is on her hands and stomach. My legs feel like jelly. She slowly turns and walks away, stumbling. I attempt to follow...I fall.

What happens next is a blur of visions and sensations, in truth I don't remember what happened as I hit the concrete, but I didn't see any lights, no familiar faces. Only darkness. I wake up, staring at what is now a lifeless cllection of meat and bones, what was once my body. Words cannot describe the sensation. My lifeless lungs gasp for air and I sit, stunned. That was five minutes ago. I lean on the steel of the streetlamp and bath myself in its artificial halo.

What's going to happen to me? To her? I don't blame her...for what she did, if she ever had to face a court she'd get let off. Self defence against some junkie with a knife, a beautiful girl like her. It shouldn't have been like this.

The cold emanating from my own bones is making them ache. The smell of this horrible, surreal new existence and my own lifeless body is making me nauseous. I feel like vomiting.

edited 8th Oct '10 6:52:44 PM by AtomJames

Theres sex and death and human grime in monochrome for one thin dime and at least the trains all run on time but they dont go anywhere.
 211 A H R, Fri, 8th Oct '10 2:22:18 PM from Crevice of your Mind
Resistance is Futile
Atom James, you need to critique the piece above yours (or wait for someone else to critique it and not post anything) before posting your own work.
 212 deathjavu, Fri, 8th Oct '10 2:41:37 PM from The internet, obviously
This foreboding is fa...
Tomoe Michieru-critiques ahoy

"In the middle of the street, fire erupted from the boy’s hunched-over body. It expanded in a white-hot sphere of pure destruction." I'd rewrite this as one sentence, "In the middle of the street, fire erupted from the boy’s hunched-over body, expanding in a white-hot sphere of pure destruction." Just sounds better, at least to me. Also, spheres of fire, hooray!  *

"Everything in its path went up in smoke and ashes – plants, grass, mailboxes, houses and people." This sentence might benefit from merging with the next as well, as in "...plants, grass, mailboxes, houses and people-people, their scorched flesh peeled away from their charred bones." Feels like it adds more weight to the description if it's more closely associated with people.

Why yes, I do kind of have a thing for longer sentences. Take my advice for merging with a pinch of salt!

Replace "the teenager" with "He"...something about that word (teenager) took me straight out of the scene. It should still be clear enough that we're talking about the person from the beginning of the paragraph. If you need a more descriptive word try "adolescent" or something...something about teenager just has too many connotations.

Same sentence: seems like the word "powerless" might belong in there somewhere. As in: "He watched in horror, powerless...he'd always known it would only be a matter of time until he lost control." New sentence there, might want to swap out the parents words for just a description of how they looked at him...I'm having a hard time describing this without just putting up words, but something about the emotions of non-verbal communication that seems appropriate for this scene. Something about their disappointment and sadness at his loss of control...

"...conscious just yet – or dreaming." I see why you feel the need to distinguish these two even though dreaming is a form of consciousness-it could be confusing to the reader otherwise. But this feels a bit jarring. Maybe something like "...conscious just yet, even dream-conscious."

Change "sleep" to "sleeping." Try replacing "okay" with "under control", because having good and okay in the same sentence seems weird.

"...shower running and light showed..." Two tenses. I can't think of a good way to re-write that sentence to fix that, but it does sound a bit awkward as is.

"He could tell she’d been in there a while" too. Seems like it needs a too.

"He made his way around the dozens of immaculately-cleaned swords, spears and all sorts of weapons." Should probably start with the general (all sorts of weapons) and then move to specific (dozens of immaculately cleaned swords). Starting with the specific creates for me an expectation of more specifics, and the general after that felt weird. And then we go back to specifics. Wasn't samurai armor not typically a solid steel breastplate?  *

"...draw one of them and just play..." 'and just' should be 'just to'.

The bit about "kicking ass up and down" made me think of other things when the innuendo starts...

Is hell supposed to be capitalized when it's not used as a specific place?

Hehe, mental scarring.

"“Your dad’s right, ” said Chang, even before he could continue his sentence." Took me a few reads to figure out that you meant the dad's sentence, and not Yonten's expected objection.  * Might want to find another way to say that to make it clear whose sentence gets cut off. Or maybe not, since it seems obvious now.

Again a capitalized hell...I just can't shake the feeling that that's not correct. At the very least it sticks out too much in the dialog.

"Maybe she’d gone through something like this, she was a bit thin." Semicolon instead of comma, methinks.

Maths...is that deliberate or a typo of Math (which as far as I know would be the correct thing to say)? Oh, there it is again, must not be a typo.

"...no one should normally take over half an hour to bathe." Something feels off about this sentence, specifically with the word normally.

"...on TV during the mornings." Should be "on TV during the morning" or better yet "on TV in the morning".

Pros:

Diaogue feels very natural, seems to give us a good idea of what the character are like. Seems like quite the interesting world, what with people going to school and being pyrokinetics. The last description is by far the best, the bit with the campfire.

Cons:

Descriptions early on seem to be a bit choppy sometimes. Lots of small quibbles about flow and whatnot, but honestly those are just opinions, and as I mentioned are to be taken with massive lumps of salt.

Overall, good stuff!

Oh yeah, what AHR just said. Shame shame Atom James, even if your piece does do an excellent job of fooling us about who's dead until the end (that's what you were aiming for, right, to make us think he murdered someone instead of him dying?).

Oh right, my piece. Yeah. How much of my original fiction can I post in one go? Hopefully 10 pages (one chapter) isn't too much...


Chapter 1: Death of mother, death of father

Most people would have greatly appreciated the scenery before her, verdant and fresh. Most people would have at least passively enjoyed the warm, pleasant day, the clear skies, blue as ocean; if not actively marveling at the beauty of nature as they passed through that forest. They might have remarked with excitement at the wheeling motions of a massive eagle, not far distant, briefly pausing to imagine gracefully swooping through the sky. They might, too, have noticed it falling from the sky with a piercing cry of dismay, transfixed by an arrow shaft.

But a moments glance would make known that she was no ordinary person. She was dirty and bedraggled, her shoulder length black hair covered in dirt and blood. Her ragged clothes were plastered against her tall, slender frame. Even her eyes told a story of someone who no longer cared, who could no longer care, eyes bloodshot and infinitely distant. And yet, there was still something in the back of that remote gaze, something in her posture and bearing that suggested an iron will, an unshakeable determination born of infinite confidence. The last few days had stolen much from her, but that they had been unable to take.

Forward she marched, looking neither left nor right as her path led her out of the woods and up the slope of a grassy hill, stepping unfalteringly over a small stream that ran to her right, back into the curving stretch of forest. Every movement was deliberate, a step towards her destination.

Cresting that same hill, her eyes were met with a horrific scene. Scores of monstrosities arose from their places of concealment, hideous forms wrapped in black armor that seemed to pull in the surrounding light. Behind her a similar group had arisen, and the hill was soon an island amid a raging sea of darkness, the light paling to twilight, an unnatural murky gloom that served only to further distort their twisted features.

And what twisted features, indeed: here a claw, there a fang; bodies of animals and men twisted together in unnatural forms, bound by their own internal devilry. There was something that resembled a cross between a dog and a bear, with a heaping portion of low cunning. There was a long, spindly…human? animal?- it was wholly neither and perhaps closer to a tall, limber orangutan; it too seemed possessed of malefic artifice. And there, far to the rear, was one with the head of a tiger and fierce, deformed rams' horns, it's tightly muscled human midsection eventually fading away to a silvery wisp at a point still yet several inches above the ground.

This, however, had nothing to do with the horror and revulsion she'd felt, because her eyes were fixed on another sight in the middle of the field, oblivious to the tides of darkness washing around her. There, bound to a post, covered in scars and injuries, chest struggling to rise and fall, was a man she'd never thought to see again.

A torrent of emotions welled through her, ranging from relief to self-admonishment at her own stupidity. Without so much as examining the body she'd left him there at the base of the cliff, unable to bear the sight. Another problem she'd merely run from, and now look what it had caused.

Overcome with sadness and joy, she drew her sword from her back, a keen, eighty centimeter-blade katana; it's sides reflecting a swirl of blue and yellow to be found nowhere in the surrounding scenery. Leaning heavily on it's weight, she sunk to her knees as the blade slid easily into the ground.

Slowly, the horde of darkness advanced up the hill.

Several minutes previously, the orangutan creature had arisen from its cover, bow in hand, intent on having a little fun. Aiming its sights carefully on an eagle gliding above, he let fly, yelping with success when the target was struck. Its cry was soon turned to dismay when the slain eagle was snapped up by the bear-dog as it fell, shredding it apart and flinging pieces everywhere. This food, was in turn, snapped up by other varieties of creature, some more human, some more animal, and some so hideous or corporeal and radiating of evil that they were clearly neither.

It was then further turned to grief by the admonishing grunts and wails of the tiger-ram. Thoroughly chastised by its superior for breaking cover, it was given the task of checking on their prisoner.

He was still securely bound to the post they had set in the middle of the field, injuries from their latest round of entertainment still fresh and raw. But he was more than their cure for boredom-he was the ticket to their success.

And what a success it had been, the tiger-ram thought. Everything had gone exactly according to the master's plan- she had arrived, seen the prisoner, and collapsed into a useless heap. The sheer brilliance of the plan resolved it to never to questioning the master or scheme against him again. An instant later it forgot even the memory of such a virtuous thought, as wicked things do.

He urged his command onward, seeing their hesitation, their fear that perhaps it was a ploy, a trap. But she remained kneeling, sobbing, and her apparent obliviousness of their approach emboldened them. They approached faster and faster, their vile faces alight with twisted joy at the prospect of the kill. They soon stood atop the hill, within a meter of her, cackling and growling with evil delight as they advanced towards the seemingly defenseless woman.

Then, puzzlingly, the ones leading the charge slowed to a stop.

The ghastly tiger-ram furiously clawed his way through the confused throng to reach the woman. He had it in mind that he would finish the job himself, and have the master slay this wretched mob of cowardly, incompetent morons as his first reward.

When he reached the front, he found her still kneeling before her buried sword, now silent. Eager to finish the job, he rushed forward, hand outstretched...but a flash of the same instinctual fear that had caused the horde to stop brought him up short. Another moment allowed him to identify what was wrong: she was no longer adrift in a confusing torrent of emotion.

The burning heat of an incredible fury was emanating from every pore of her body.

For the first time in several days, her eyes became clear and focused, drifting upwards as she slowly rose from her position. Settling on the tiger-ram, her gaze narrowed to an intensity that could almost be felt.

He flinched for a second under the terrible gaze, then grinned wickedly as he pulled out his own horrible scimitar. Unlike her sword, it was crude and unfinished, with many rough edges, and possessed a shadowed color not unlike the hordes behind him, or his own black heart. He grinned again and said a low muttering of words in a nasty tone, half growled and half spiteful.

Her response was a lightning-fast swing of her katana, the surface of which had retained not a speck of dirt and now seemed to be reflecting the red in her eyes. The fluid motion swept through both blade and wielder in one fell stroke. The former exploded into a thousand black shards of twisting anger, disintegrating in the heat from her blade. The latter screamed in anger and then agony as the blade cut through him, staring upwards at his own body in disbelief for an instant before death.

Her eyes, fixed on the halved tiger-ram, suddenly snapped up on the rest of the crowd, burning red and more fearsome than the eyes of the terrible creatures all around her. The creatures all took a step back, many feeling the instinctual fear that had first stopped them growing by the second.

The limber orangutan creature, who had hung back in the charge, reluctantly began to walk towards the prisoner. After seeing how easily she'd dispatched of their leader, it was sure that she was going to murder them all, plan or no. The first phase of disarming her via the sight of the prisoner had failed, and it doubted that continuing would bring it anything but pain.

Nevertheless, he pressed through the agitated mob, which was whirling around in a disorganized frenzy in response to their leader’s death. The ambitious ones were slowly advancing in the hopes of taking the commander’s position, their arrogance brought to the forefront by his death; the craven retreated hastily, terrified of the woman’s fury.

The orangutan was doing neither. As the lieutenant, it had been given orders for the second phase in the event that the first did not afford them a chance to kill the victim, and it intended to carry them out. It began to remove a shimmering cloak from beneath the folds of its own.

This cloak was truly unique in that it possessed no singular appearance, but rather shifted from angle to moment, a confusing phantasm that nevertheless retained its basic shape. From one momentary view it appeared to be made of scales, from another, feathers, from another fur, from another skin, from another angle it appeared to be nothing more than air-passing through a dozen other less identifiable forms each time.

The orangutan continued to move steadily towards the prisoner, never pausing to watch the raging battle, detached from the deaths of those attempting to fight the woman. As it reached the prisoner, it swept the cloak around and draped it over his back.

Instantly the cloak began to bond to the prisoners skin, smothering his senses and drowning his hapless cries. The cloak folded itself over every inch of his skin, oblivious to his pain, sinking through his clothing and skin, until it was a part of him.

Slowly it began to resume its original, unaltered appearance, forcibly twisting his body beneath its morphing shape. Eventually it resumed the form it had chosen, and he appeared as its original wearer had upon its first creation.

He appeared, in other words, as a skinwalker. A morphling, αλλαγή δαίμονας, Allaciġ Damiouŝ. Change demon.

The woman, effortlessly disposing all those who dared attack her, had been slowly advancing down the hill, eyes locked on the prisoner. She had to know everything, and there were only two ways to do so. She could take him with her, watching, asking, examining and re-examining, working at him constantly until she could piece together what she felt was the truth. The other option, although both faster and more reliable, required a sacrifice of some magnitude…

Then she turned her eyes from him for a second to run her sword through a foolish Burk that tried to charge her. In that moment, the orangutan threw the change demon’s skin over the prisoner. When she turned back, the prisoner was writhing as though his insides were trying to exit his skin, and he underwent the slow transformation to the appearance of a change demon.

She screamed in revulsion at this sight, denying it with unintelligible screams, willing it to be gone. Heedless of the danger all around, she cried with pain and shame, tears reflected in the blades mirrored surface. She doubled up over the handle to throw up, sick to her very core. The blade seemed now dark as the field itself, and the grass nearby began to wither and die.

One of the creatures, the bear-dog that had challenged the orangutan’s authority by eating his kill, decided to kill her now and claim the captinancy, and have that idiotic monkey slain for fleeing from this pathetic woman. It slunk closer, reaching out its razor sharp claws towards the back of her neck. One tiny slice… but when it got within mere centimeters of her neck, it realized what the tiger-ram had. She had worked past mere sadness.

It swore under his breath and tried to back away, but it was too late. A sphere of flame erupted around her, the burning glare reflected in her maddened eyes and the surface of her blade, incinerating the bear-dog instantly.

She became more and more angry, losing her well-practiced control, and as she did, streams of fire broke out of the sphere, incinerating all they touched. The fire circled around and around the prisoner in ever more violent and random patterns, darting closer and closer to him with each pass. Those monstrosities remaining in the field were consumed by the raging infernos until none but the orangutan and the prisoner remained.

The orangutan tried to run.

A hundred lances of fire burst out of the sphere and struck the orangutan, exploding into a thousand charred fragments of bone and flesh.

Her attention turned to the prisoner, eyes red as the burning fires. Moving closer to him he fell within the sphere of fire, now expanded to almost half the field. It didn’t burn him-rather it welcomed him inside like the embrace of a mother.

Standing before him, she saw him as anyone would have then, a change demon, most heinous of evils. Perhaps, had she followed her original plan, the time consuming, painful and difficult one, she might have found the cloak embedded within him, and still averted her fate. But anger's demands are immediate and powerful, and she was buried under its heady sway.

Still she hesitated, eyes lost once more in their past, the fire fading around her.

Before she could regain her composure, however, he spoke, the darkness in the cloak compelling him to speak as it would, uttering words of ultimate cruelty.

“Your son………will be......…DEMONSPAWN!”

Her eyes blazed again as she put the point of her sword on his chest.

Fire burst out from his body, consuming him instantly.

And then she saw the truth, for this was the fast and clear method for her to learn it.

She screamed in denial, then sadness and pain beyond that of any mere physical wounds, her mind broken. Now, with her practiced control totally lost, she could do nothing about her own anger towards herself. The prophecy was fulfilled.

The fire burst out of her sword and consumed her.

Somewhere, miles away, her child awoke from a terrible nightmare and began to cry.

The field and hill, once filled with springtime’s promise of life and rebirth, was now charred and barren. The stream that ran down the hill now swam with poisonous ashes and fumes, spitting death into the forest beyond. Every living thing in the field was totally and utterly dead, save one.

A small flower had started to sprout during the woman’s remorse, above the body of the man she had killed. As the fire had consumed her, the flower had quickly grown, and, despite the hot charcoal and deadly gasses, was already in full bloom. Her sword was nowhere to be found.

The mastermind behind the entire scene in the field, miles away, laughed maniacally. Its plan had worked perfectly, down to the last detail. It had deceived those simpletons into thinking their objective was to capture the woman, when in reality they had been sent to their deaths-the tiger-ram for his treacherous scheming and the most of the rest for gross incompetence. The monkey had been sent because someone reliable was necessary to ensure everything went according to plan-but he was replaceable, along with the others. They had done what they had been sent to do. They had succeeded in turning her weapon against her, and now it would be his.

Its thoughts turned back to the field, seeking the blade in the images rolling through the mirrors before it.

It screamed in utter disbelief. The sword was nowhere to be found!

It paced the length of the chamber of mirrors, locked in thought. Pouring over the events leading up to her death, but nothing he saw gave any indication of where the sword might have gone. He screamed again. Power, such power, and it had slipped right through his hands!

He was so angry, he missed the image of the flower passing along the mirrors.

edited 8th Oct '10 2:45:02 PM by deathjavu

Look, you can't make me speak in a logical, coherent, intelligent bananna.
 213 snowfoxofdeath, Fri, 8th Oct '10 5:52:39 PM from San Francisco Suburb
Thou errant flap-dragon!
Good:

1. Very intriguing beginning.

2. If the Nightmare Fuel was intentional, it worked very well.

Bad:

1. The use of the word "ticket" seems out of place with the surrounding prose. Maybe "key to success" fits in better.

2. You're getting close to Purple Prose. Most people don't like it, so be careful.

edited 8th Oct '10 5:52:50 PM by snowfoxofdeath

 214 deathjavu, Fri, 8th Oct '10 6:01:17 PM from The internet, obviously
This foreboding is fa...
Thank you, this opening bit was actually rewritten quite a bit to make it more interesting. The monsters and the cloak were, in fact, intended to be at least a little scary (the cloak in particular) so it's good to hear that I succeeded!

Key, eh? I think you're right.

Yeah this opening section is a bit purple, but honestly it's supposed to be. The rest of the book typically isn't this bad. (Or it might just be leftover residue from the fact that I wrote the first version of this opening back when I was 14. If you think it's purple now...)

edited 8th Oct '10 6:01:49 PM by deathjavu

Look, you can't make me speak in a logical, coherent, intelligent bananna.
 215 Tomoe Michieru, Fri, 8th Oct '10 11:07:38 PM from Huntsville AL
Samurai Troper
Thanks, deathjavu - I'll be sure to make some of those changes, since I can see them myself after you pointing them out. I'm alternating this story between Yonten and Yaori's perspectives, trying to portray a sense of practically complete isolation - the two of them aren't able to relate to anyone else on a complete level: their friends and teachers obviously can't understand the whole magic/mystical warrior background that their parents have. Their other two siblings don't understand what it's like to have to deal with magic inside you 24/7, and their parents don't understand what it's like to have to exist as a normal modern-day person. Chang's a Raised by Wolves Defused Tykebomb, and Michi's a Really 700 Years Old One-Man Army samurai. (They Fight Crime! ...not really, but I had to do it:P)
 216 Mac Fall, Wed, 13th Oct '10 10:33:47 AM from Western PA
Agorist
Ok, I'm just reading through this and commenting as I go.

In the middle of the street, fire erupted from the boy’s hunched-over body. It expanded in a white-hot sphere of pure destruction. Everything in its path went up in smoke and ashes – plants, grass, mailboxes, houses and people. Scorched flesh peeled from charred bones. The orange light in the centre of his chest burned almost white in answer to the flame – it was the source of the immolation, the Essence of Fire. The teenager watched in horror, knowing that it had only been a matter of time before he lost control – the last faces he saw were those of his parents, mouthing ‘What have we done?’ before succumbing to the fire.

This has the germ of a good hook in it. The problem is that it happens too quickly. We don't have time to care about anyone or anything in the scene before it all catches fire. Give the scene character (and give the character character too). How about telling us the name of one of the people who gets broiled alive? What does the neighborhood look like, suburban, urban, futuristic, medieval? Also, draw it out more. Give it some tension. Let your audience wonder just what is going to happen to this piece of the world you've created. There is so much you could do with this scene to make your audience sorry to see it go up in flames.

Yonten jerked awake, breathing hard as his sheets stuck to the bony frame of his bare chest. He sat up and glanced at the clock beside him – 6:23, about half an hour before he was supposed to get up for school. His head hit the sweat-soaked pillow again with a soft thump as he groaned in frustration, letting out a few Mancunian swears directed at nothing in particular. He really, really didn’t want to be conscious just yet – or dreaming. Just sleep, thank you very much. The sphere of red-orange light pulsed faintly in his chest; good, it was okay, he wasn’t about to go up in a ball of fire.

This is just a matter of opinion, but why reveal so soon that Yonten actually has the capacity for such mass-destruction? Why not let the audience just think it was All Just a Dream - and let them find out later that he actually has this power? Kurt Vonnegut may have thought that giving as much detail as early as possible was good, but I don't think he was entirely right. Keeping a plot point like that in your pocket for a while might be a good idea.

. . .

Time was when he’d wanted to draw one of them and just play with it for a while like most young boys do, but that urge had been squished pretty quickly: ‘One of our children training with sharp pointy things is enough, ’ his mum had said after taking the sword off him. Yaori was different, of course; she’d been reluctantly allowed to learn swordplay from their father and she took to it like a moth to an open flame.[/quote]

It would appear that the parents are enthusiasts of edged weapons. Why would they not want their children to learn their art?

[[quoteblock]]The back door opened, and Yonten’s parents came in laughing and sheathing their swords, still out of view and earshot – well, the former, anyway.

“Just like old times, isn’t it, Chang?”

“Yeah, and you’re still letting me kick your arse up and down the garden, you androgynous git.”

“That’s not what you were calling me several hours ago, love.”

“Totally beside the point…oh! Yonten, you scared the Hell out of me.” Chang came into view, visibly startled. “Why’re you up so early?”

“Couldn’t sleep, ” he replied, trying vainly to unhear what he’d just heard. “Wanted to shower but Yaori’s takin’ her sweet fuckin’ time…”

“Language, Yonten, ” said his father as he rounded the corner.

“Oh, Michi, let it go, ” his mother said. “Couldn’t you have at least said ‘good morning’ to him?”

“’S’okay, ” mumbled Yonten before his father could reply. Yonten knew his parents wouldn’t argue in front of him – they really didn’t argue much anyway – but he also should have remembered his father didn’t like hearing his kids talking like dockworkers. “Sorry, not feelin’ too good.”

I like the dialogue here, but this would have been a good time for you to fill in details on the parents. It helps to make dialogue seem more natural if you get to know the people speaking better in between lines. Just remember to "show, not tell" though.

“If you say so, ” he said. “Goin’ back to bed for a bit – guess you want to work on some magic stuff with me later?”

“The thought had crossed my mind, ” Chang replied with the faintest hint of a smile. He knew as much as she claimed she wanted him to be as normal as possible, she liked doing Fire magic exercises with him, and he liked practicing at home.

Idea: use the magic thing as a source of tension by having Chang cryptically express worry about it. What if her chief (apparent) reason for training him was for the sake of safety, for example? Once again, this is only my opinion; nothing in the rules of writing say you have to do it.

The room vanished into a haze of flame that only existed in his mind – though just because something’s only in your mind doesn’t make it any less real.

The thing is... normally, yeah it does. Make it clear that his particular power is what makes it real in his case, because for most people, we would call that idea insanity.

[[quoteblock]]That infinite spiritual fire was always raging deep inside, consuming him – the way he usually visualised it was a campfire that had been stupidly lit without any sort of rocks or trenches around it. So here he was again, almost all his mental effort spent in putting imaginary rocks around an imaginary fire that could still become lethally real. Eventually he got it under control – he always did, being the bearer of an Essence, avatar of Fire from birth.[[/quote]

Not such a modest destiny, eh? You might want to play that detail close to the chest for a while.

CONS: It needs basic revision, of course - all rough drafts do. But at the core of the story, it feels like you've given us too much too soon. Conserve your plot points, because they all have the capacity for dramatic power. And first, the audience needs more sympathy for the characters, and more detail as well. Imagine the story of Batman and the Joker, if the first thing you see in the story, with no context or background, is a guy dressed as a bat chasing another guy dressed as a clown. It would have no dramatic impact whatsoever. The audience would be like "WTF is going on here?" they might even find it humorous.

Now, that is a very extreme example, but that's what a lack of detail, sympathy, and even the passage of time can do to a potential dramatic goldmine. Good writing takes patience. If it helps, write some scenes that contain the elements you are eager to reveal (or whose creation you want to experience), then set those scenes aside while you develop the rest of the story. Later, drop those scenes in, see how they fit, adjust as necessary. But keep in mind that what you want to write may not be what your audience needs to read in order to appreciate the story in the same way you do.

PROS: The characters are likable, if not yet sympathetic. The world seems to be fertile ground for an urban fantasy - modern and familiar, yet clearly different from our own. Exploit that some more. The magic thing... well, I want to know more about that, so you've created interest. It can be more effective, but it's there.
No king but Christ; no law but liberty!
 217 Mac Fall, Wed, 13th Oct '10 10:43:41 AM from Western PA
Agorist
This is the first installment of a sci-fi adventure/comedy serial that I will be publishing soon.

_________________________________________________- _______________________

CHAPTER I

The fan swept the spider from the ceiling for what was either the thirteenth or fourteenth time since lunch. I had been counting because I was bored, and it is a natural tendency of bored people to watch other people doing things (although not with enough interest to count accurately). So I watched a largish spider skitter across the ceiling, finding to its apparent consternation a wall on one end, turn to traverse to the other side, only to find another wall! Then it would scuttle around for a bit until it found something of interest, the only thing of interest in the room, in fact, besides itself: the fan. Perhaps it thought it might build a web there.

"Worth a shot, " it might say as it approached the perimeter of the fan's sweep.

"Not really, " the fan would retort, and send the spider flying through the air dragging an emergency line behind it. It usually struck the wall and tumbled to the floor, standing there dejectedly as it figured out what to do next. I was certain it must be suffering concussions with each time it hit the wall, because it always climbed the wall and tried the same routine over again.

Or maybe it did so because it was merely interesting. There certainly wasn't anything else interesting around, including myself, as I sat at my desk and watched a spider get swept from the ceiling by the fan for what was either the fourteenth or fifteenth time since lunch and hit the window pane with an amusing "ponk" sound.

I was bored.

The day had been long. They always seemed to be, come to think of it. Full of long hours, twenty-four of the awful things. At least today, I had something to watch. It had been agony before the spider came. I was tired of everything on the Net, had finished all my accounting, loathed everything the TV had to offer, and had long ago finished counting the different shades of nicotine stain on the walls and ceiling (there were thirteen thousand, eight hundred ninety-five shades of nicotine stain on the walls and ceiling). It had been almost a month since I'd had a job.

Oh, my job? Depends on what people needed. I was a bodyguard if they wanted one, a mercenary if they insisted, and a bounty hunter if I was lucky, but most often I ended up playing detective. I found a lot of things for people who wanted things found and hid people and things from other people who wanted to find them and shouldn't have, and occasionally I got a bounty. That's what I wanted the day the spider came.

The last one had been a piddly little job: somebody's kid hit somebody else's kid's boat in the intrasystem pipe, forcing an emergency docking about half an AU from her destination. The Somebody Else's kid's parents wanted the other one "brung back" (as they put it in their Northeast Megopolis urban hick accent) from wherever he was so they could sue him for all he was worth. Which turned out to be about 250 standard notes, a half a pack of cigarettes and a whole lot of cussing. I'd done it in a day and three hours and collected my fee of 1000 notes. Thank God I had decided to go flat rate, as the reckless youth had been uninsured and unbonded, and trying to get a cut from the wronged party's insurance claim would have been a long stroll through Mordor.

With that tidy stack of Standard notes I paid my bills, which left me about 120 Standard. Barely enough to buy the week's groceries. Well, groceries and a bottle of something that tasted like crap and felt like a smack in the face. But come to think of it, the smack in the face might have come as a result of something I'd done after I'd finished the bottle and before I'd awakened in my bathtub with my legs in a shirt that I thought I'd thrown away last month. In any case, that's the last time I take Bricker's advice on what's good to drink.

The spider had managed to attach a sturdy dragline to one of the fan blades and was sailing around in a wide, pathetic circle. It tried to pull itself back up the dragline, and I chuckled meanly at its misfortune. I was considering turning the fan up a bit to make things more interesting when somebody opened the door, startling me. I jumped, knocking the placard that read "Rick Tasher" from my desk.

In strolled Sal Crope, my neighbor from the suite down the hall. He was a man short of stature and shorter of temper, the latter probably owing to the former in some measure. I felt my stomach tighten and my mouth curl a bit because, you see, I can't stand Crope. I resisted the sudden urge to brandish my pistol and jump around like a chimpanzee, shouting bizarre things and finding out how long it would take for Crope to empty his bladder into his suit-pants in fright. Boredom, I have found, is essentially an advertisement for insanity.

As it turned out, it's a good thing I hadn't chosen that moment to lose my cool. For one thing, I'm famous for my cool, and if anyone had any idea how often I'd felt like my sanity was about to boil away into some kind of rabid fit I'd have no respect at all. But more importantly, he had a job for me.

"Tazer, " he said, deftly mangling the pronunciation of my last name, "I have a job for you." I made the decision to be hospitable, because Crope was filthy rich, and disliked me enough that he'd only be in my office if he had no other choice. And if he was that desperate, why, he might be willing to part with some of his money or perhaps a whole bloody lot of it, oh yes. Civility is the oil in the gears of business relations, I've learned, so I oiled: "Well Sal, why don't you have a seat? I can get you some coffee if you like."

Crope looked at me as if I'd turned purple, and said nothing. The man was incapable of nicety, but I'd be accommodating just the same.

"Or we could just get down to business, I suppose."

"If you don't mind."

"Ah, very well - you know there's something for you to sign before we can talk specifics." From a drawer I pulled a thin stack of papers. Crope reached across the desk and took them from me, which would have been funny considering the shortness of his reach, but I was beginning to succumb to my annoyance. He flipped through the papers.

"What's all this?"

"Waivers and such. You acknowledge that we will be discussing business of a nature that may fall under any sort of legal or ethical standing in certain precincts, and that if your standing in your job or community is in some way adversely affected by having had such discussions with a privateer it is, in short, your responsibility alone, and you won't hold me liable et cetera. A formality, really, but I don't take chances."

"Ah."

Several minutes passed in silence as he read and signed the papers with a stylus from his vest pocket. He finished the last one and stiffly put away his stylus, then pushed the stack of papers across the desk at me. Then he sat there staring at me as if I were eating his tie.

Conversation ground to a start once again. "So, Sal. Let's get the dirty part over with. How big a job are we talking here?" He twitched slightly, as if part of him resisted speaking, then took a deep breath before replying, "One million Standard."

I gracefully recovered from nearly falling out of my seat and after a minute or so I managed to inhale. "Hnrrrrr, " I said.

Crope raised an eyebrow briefly, as if he were trying to figure out what I meant by that, but then apparently dismissed it. "Yes, you heard me correctly. One million Standard notes. More money than your entire business is worth, " he pointed out unnecessarily. It made my annoyance surge a bit higher for a moment... but of course, he was right. Everything I owned - my boat, its storage berth on Luna, my desk, my guns, my Justice Foundation certificate, and all my clothes were probably worth less than one hundred thousand, if I found someone desperate to buy all of it. But of course the certificate couldn't be bought, which brought the price down by about a quarter. And he probably knew it for a fact, given that he was both a public accountant and also quite nosy.

I cleared my throat and said, "So, Mr. Crope, what is it that's worth the Big Stamp to you?" Crope's eyes narrowed and he didn't answer. It occurred to me after a moment that accountants, especially stuffy, piggish ones like Crope, often took exception to slang financial terms, but "The Big Stamp" has only half the syllables as "one million Standard notes", and I'll be starved before I'll let someone like Crope deprive me of my linguistic shortcuts. So I decided to play dumb.

"Is something the matter?"

Crope opened his mouth, closed it, and performed an exaggerated sigh. One of his nostrils whistled. His eyes went out of focus briefly, then he spoke. "Yes. Something is wrong. Something is terribly wrong, and it's made worse by the fact that I have to come to a private gunner to take care of it, and worse yet that it has to be YOU that I come to. Wrong? Yes. Very wrong indeed." With effort, I brushed aside his insults of my trade and my person, and asked: "So why is that you came to me, then?"

"Because you don't have any friends."

"Pardon?"

"Don't need it, thanks."

"Um, that's not-"

"You don't have any connections to financial institutions. Issuers of currency, specifically." Now that was interesting. Crope had a few very large clients in the currency market, involved in a lot of high-risk ventures; perhaps the price would be negotiable. And I had the advantage of Crope thinking I was an idiot. It occurred to me that, had I been paying attention, I might have noticed that he was being even more rude than usual. Considering that, along with the fact that he was here in spite of his stated protestations... it was obvious that I wasn't Crope's first choice, but somebody had apparently preempted him. Which meant I had a bit of leverage. I decided to play it hard.

"So. One of your clients sent you to me, didn't they?" Crope ground his teeth before grunting in the affirmative. "And they recognized me as someone who wouldn't present a conflict of interests if I were to be associated with the case, correct?"

"That's so."

"I also surmise that you don't have any other options."

Crope twitched violently before confirming my assumption. “No, in fact you were at the bottom of the list.”

I ignored that; it probably wasn't true. Maybe I was at the bottom of his personal list, but I would be much higher on the lists of anyone who mattered. I decided it was time for the pitch. "Five million, plus expenses."

"You're insane." His voice was deadpan, but he didn't bother to suppress the spasm of angst on his face.

"I'm a businessman. So are you, Crope, " I said, managing to force my amusement at his discomfort to come out in the form of an engaging smile. "And you understand that business has expenses. You know that my contractor's insurance won't cover the liability for a case involving a financial institution. One million isn't enough."

"My client will exempt you from those liabilities."

"That's very nice of your client, but it's not enough. Such exertions as the one I'm sure you want me to undertake always cost far more than catching a pipe-jumper or parole violator. At one million standard I'd risk barely breaking even, and I do intend to make a profit. And besides, if the issue warrants hiring outside the company in the first place, I know it's no small matter for your client - and for your clients, even a small matter is much bigger than one million Standard. I want five big stamps, half in advance and half on completion."

Crope sighed in obvious resignation, and I knew I'd won. I wouldn't get my five, but I'd get more than one.

"I can give you three million, if you accept standard liability."

I had to smile. That was easy. But I pressed on. "I told you, I want five. Don't act as if it wouldn't be worth it to you. You're lucky I'm not asking for a percentage."

"Three is a stretch on my authorized budget. I simply cannot go any higher."

"Drop the liabilities and I'll take it."

"Well then." Crope's terseness had dissolved into bitter acceptance. I figured I was probably cutting into his commission a bit. I wasn't sorry. He stood up and said, "I'll have the contract ready for you by this evening." He began to walk toward the door.

"Crope."

He turned around, his features regaining their terseness. "Yes, Tacker?"

"Tasher. What's the job?"

Crope thought briefly, then said "it would be hard to explain to one who is not familiar with the currency market."

"I know a fair bit about currency. In fact, I work in exchange for currency. Sometimes I get it, too."

"But do you know how it works?" he asked, edging toward the door.

"Well enough. Either you're being lazy or intentionally difficult; either way it's no way to treat your friend of last resort." I grinned at him. He returned it as a scowl.

"The details of the job are extremely sensitive. I will tell you as soon as you sign the preliminary agreement. But as you are so eager, I will go and get it now. I'll be back in less than an hour. And I'll have my client's representative with me." And he walked quickly out of my office, looking as if I'd just offered to show him my buttocks.

It was obvious to me what his difficulty was. He thought that if he had given me any details about his client's problem before I had signed his contract, no doubt including a secrecy clause and several dozen (mostly idle) threats about what would be done to me if I broke it, I might run off to one of his client's competitors and sing it to them.

But of course, that's only because Sal Crope is a rat in a business suit, and assumes that everyone else is nothing more than a dirtier rat in a considerably less impressive suit; an unfounded fear, as I would never go back on an agreement of any kind, not even the casual, verbal kind. One never makes any money if one does business that way, especially not if you're bonded by the Justice Foundation to 200% of your assets in case of willful breach of contract. Yes, that's right. Two hundred percent.

With Sal gone, I got up intending to have my things ready to go by the time he returned. I looked around the room, taking inventory of what I had in the office and making a list of things that would have to be retrieved from my home and my safe. I had my slug pistol from my desk drawer; my mini-gauss from behind the bookshelf, and enough coolant to fire for two minutes straight; my utility belt; a handful of universal power carts; two changes of clothing and a face kit; an emergency pack (legal); a "modified" emergency pack (illegal); and a crystomorphic lock pick. Everything else would have to be picked up later.

Having collected those items I sat down behind my desk to wait for Sal's return. I got on the Net for a while and checked over various lolsites, which as usual failed to amuse me. After a while, my eyes wandered to the ceiling where the spider had actually managed to begin a web from the wall to the downrod of the fan. I wondered how long it had taken it to stop trying to tie off on the moving blades. I wished it good luck, figuring that with me being gone for a few days, it would have its share of prey having nobody else in the office to keep things tidy.

A few quiet minutes later Crope returned, followed by another well-dressed gentleman who was slim and had a face not as serious as Crope's, and without the spite. I stood and addressed them cordially. "Good evening. Take a seat if you like. Mr. Crope, may I assume this gentleman represents your client?"

"You may indeed. Mr. Atson, this is Mr. ...Tasher." It apparently took some effort for him to get my name right. I was glad I wouldn't need to correct him for Mr. Atson's benefit. I extended a hand to Mr. Atson.

"How do you do, Mr. Atson? As Crope said, I'm Rick Tasher. Good to meet you."

"Likewise, ” he responded in a voice that carried a slight Brit accent. “Shall I call you Mr. Tasher?"

"I'd rather you call me Rick. That's what my friends call me. Only I don't have any friends, but that's how I'm known to people who haven't tried to kill me yet." I said it jovially, hoping that Atson was the sort to smile at a joke. He was.

"Very well, Rick. Let us be cordial. Call me Peter."

From Crope's grimace, I guessed that I had just obtained a better rapport with Atson than he had ever managed. I felt good about that.

"Peter it is, then. Ah, can I offer you fellows anything? A drink? Or shall we cut bone?"

"No time for a drink, I'm afraid. Let us, as you say, 'cut bone'. Mr. Crope, will you give Rick the preliminary agreement?" Crope opened his briefcase, pulled out a thin binder and held it less than an inch from my nose. I leaned back slowly before taking it smoothly from his hand. It contained three sheets, not counting the ornate cover page, which was stamped with the emblem of Galactic Standard Trust and Savings.

That surprised me. GSTS was quite an impressive organization for Crope to represent. With the resources they had, I wondered why they put up with his snarkiness, and didn't just hire someone else. Maybe he was better at what he did than I had given him credit for.

Beneath the GSTS emblem were the seals of the Justice Foundation (standard for any bounty), the Inner Planets Banking League, and (which impressed me further) the Free Worlds Coalition. I was somewhat startled by the last. For the FWC to be involved in an Inner-Planetary matter, this had to be more important than I had guessed. I wondered if I should have held out for ten million.

I opened the binder and surveyed the pages carefully. Standard stuff: the silence clause was repeated several times in different manners, and I was informed that in the case of a breach on my part I would forfeit my payment, owe double the amount of my advance in penalty, and that they would also see my certificate revoked in court. Not that they would need to; the Foundation would revoke certification without any court action needed if one of their members breached a contract underwritten by the FWC.

I signed my name on the last page, where the text ended with "this I do swear, " and room was given for authentication. I opened my desk drawer, took out my stamp, and imprinted at the bottom of the page the words:

RICHARD K. TASHER, IV Justice Foundation Certified Contractor

The words were flanked left and right respectively by my own emblem and that of the Justice Foundation.

The ink, black on contact, colored as it worked its way into the page, forming a nearly unforgeable mark of authentication. I was proud to own one of those: an advantage of certification through the Foundation. Atson looked impressed; Crope looked cranky. I handed the packet to Atson.

"Well, gentlemen, " I said, "I gather from the text of the prelim that this is a standard seek-and-save, but from the seals on it that it isn't standard at all. May I have the details?" Crope began to speak, and Atson cut him off.

"Certainly, Rick. As you have surely realized, I represent Galactic Standard. You are certainly familiar with our money, as we are one of very few private issuers of currency that the Global Commonwealth Bank can't quite squash. You can imagine how badly they resent that, I think. That makes us one of the most powerful organizations in the Solar region, and not insignificant in other parts of the Galaxy as well. And of course, that in turn makes us a big game target for... well, a lot of people. Including the Federation of States."

"I had figured that much, " I said.

“Good. Now here is something you haven't. Last week, an armed group of unknown affiliation attacked, boarded, and hijacked a freighter carrying almost four metric tons of plutonium. Which backs up, ...well, a substantial amount of Galactic Standard's currency."

He paused to let that sink in, and sink in it did. It was frankly a little shocking. I did some math in my head, and figured that would be worth something like twelve billion Standard notes. Billion, with a B. I felt cold. Like many people living on Earth – a number steadily growing as Commonwealth dollars became increasingly unstable - most of my assets were in Standard notes.

"This is an unprecedented move for them, and one which our defense agency was unable to deflect. The ramifications are more than serious. We suspect that whomever was behind this-” (the accent on “whomever” indicated that he had an idea of whom it might actually be) “might be planning to hit us again, here on Earth. We are moving the bulk of our staff and assets to a safe place off-planet. We will continue Earthside operations, but we can no longer have a strong physical presence here."

"How did anyone find out about the location of the plutonium in the first place?" I asked.

Atson frowned. "Well, my department is personnel, which is why I'm here to oversee the process of your contracting with us. But what I know is that immediately following that event, I was informed that it would be my unpleasant duty to release some of our associates into the hands of a few rather grim-looking armed agents waiting in the foyer. The agents weren't ours, but they weren't Feds either. It was a third-party firm, contracted by one of our security auditors to prosecute those former employees of ours for sabotage, commercial espionage, fraud, and murder."

"Federate agents, " I guessed, feeling chilly. Atson nodded. "That is what I think as well." Things were starting to add up, and I didn't like the sum. "So Peter - do you want me to go after that plutonium?" Such a mission didn't exactly sound to me like a fun party. It would be guarded against not only agents, but armies. Suddenly, three million standard didn't seem like all that much. I was ready to protest, but then Atson laughed. "Oh dear me, no. We know where it is – at least the general area - and we'll get it soon enough. What we need you to do is cover our... assets... in the meantime." He smiled at his own joke.

"What do you mean?"

"Mr. Crope will explain it to you. He knows more of the details than I do, having access to shelves of financial information that I have never even heard of. It seems that he picked you based on his extensive knowledge of the job. Crope, it's your show."

Crope: "At this time, there are fewer than a dozen people outside of Galactic Standard's payroll that know about the missing assets. Not counting the Feds. We intend to keep it that way, and that's where you come in.

"At the moment GSTS became aware of the theft, all of the company's data regarding their mineral and other reserves was condensed, encrypted, and placed on a single ultra-high-density data key. The system reverted to the last weekly backup, showing that all of our assets are still in place. The data key was on its way to a safe place when we lost contact with our courier. We suspect that it has been intercepted by the Feds or one of their spaceside allies. We-”

“Hold on!” I said. “Has the GSTS been issuing notes since the plutonium was lost? Notes supposedly backed by it?”

Atson answered. “We would prefer 'misplaced'. It is not lost; as I said, we know where it is. But yes, we have.”

“Then you are essentially asking me to help you cover up fraud. Fraud on a mass scale. A governmental scale.” From the look on Atson's face, that must have stung. “Rick, please, ” he said. “Member courts of the Foundation and many independent courts have ruled that an issuer of currency cannot be considered fraudulent unless the institution fails to meet its obligations. We wish to resolve this issue before any such obligations are called in. That would take a run on the bank, which will not happen if our data is secured and the fact of the misplaced plutonium remains a secret until it is back in our hands.”

“Other courts have ruled that fractional reserve banking is fraudulent in and of itself, ” I retorted. “And the insurance sector will probably side with them.”

“Yes. It's not quite resolved, even within the Foundation. The point is-”

“The point is you've asked me cover an activity that I believe to be unethical, even if the courts have not seen fit to suppress it as fraud.”

Atson seemed unsure how to reply for a moment. But Crope broke in, surprising me: “That will be on our shoulders. Entirely. If the Foundation later rules that what Galactic Standard did was fraud, they can't retroactively penalize you. And if they take your bond, we will compensate you.”

I knew he was right. The Foundation would not make me suffer for something which many of their own courts in good standing had ruled to be an acceptable practice. Nevertheless, I didn't feel like taking it lying down. Instead, I took that opportunity to make a precision offensive strike. I said, “I want five million, Crope.”

“Done.”

“If you expect- wait, what?”

“Done. Five million, plus we waive your liabilities, plus we will back up your bond. Just sign the damn contract.” He took another binder out of his case and tossed it across the desk at me. Was that smugness I saw on his face? Was I about to sell myself cheap, ethics and all? And the look on Atson's face was clear: relief. I wonder if he had intended to offer me a larger sum from the beginning. I felt played.

But then, it was five million Standard. That was almost enough for me to buy a jumpship of my own. I could expand my business outside of the Solar System. I could leave Earth and the Federation and Sal Crope far behind.

But then again... I would be known as the guy who helped GSTS cover up an outrageous breach of public trust. Legal or not, it would get me firmly on the bad side of a lot of people. Nobody had to do business with me if they didn't like my record, or heck, even if they didn't like the way I did my hair, regardless of what the Foundation said.

But... five million Standard!

I debated with myself for a few moments until another thought crossed my mind: if there were a run on the bank, there would be no telling how much damage the Standard note would take. It might be irreparable. And that was why the Free Worlds Coalition would be interested. Keeping planetary governments constrained to their respective planets was all they had been able to manage for almost forty years, and even that would be in jeopardy if the free banks failed. It would give the Commonwealth Bank enormous economic leverage against the FWC – and the Federation would be on the other end of the lever.

One of the least appealing ideas I could conjure was that of a Federate takeover of the solar system, and even worse was the idea of a larger, inter-system alliance. The Foundation and independent courts might make my life a bit harder if I went through with this, but the Feds would make it a living Hell. Truth: if they won out completely, I and everyone else in my trade would die in prison - unless we were unfortunate enough to be “rehabilitated”, or cowards enough to turn cloak and work for the Feds of our own volition.

My mind made up, I picked up the contract. Reading through it I saw that there were two assets that needed to be retrieved. First, the data key. That was priority. But the courier herself (the party was designated as “she” in the contract) was a secondary goal. I didn't think that a GSTS courier would need my help very much, but this one might have found herself up against some steep odds, and the GSTS apparently considered her worth spending a lot of cash to get her out of trouble.

Suppressing a worried thought that said trouble might not be worth even five million, I signed the contract, stamped it, and handed it to Crope. He took it quickly, as if worried I might change my mind. Atson said, “The four pre-signed parties will receive these documents within the hour. How soon can you go spaceside?”

“Tomorrow evening, barring unforeseen calamities.”

“Sooner than necessary. There's a shuttle headed to Port Luna Thursday afternoon from Polaris Station at the South Pole. You can ride on that. We will have a contact at Polaris to meet you and give you more information on the way. The shuttle is secure and will give you plenty of privacy. And as your contact will tell you, there is a good reason for you to wait a few days.”

“That sounds fine, but Polaris isn't exactly in the neighborhood. I was planning on taking a shuttle to the Moon from Pittsburgh. How am I going to get to Antarctica by then?”

“You will receive your advance by tomorrow morning. I will see to it personally. I think you will find that sufficient to make any transportation arrangements.” He smiled and stood. So did I. By tomorrow morning, I would be richer than I had ever been – richer, in fact, than anyone I had ever personally known.

And all I had to do was find and deliver the single most important collection of data in the Solar System – even, perhaps, in the Galaxy – to its rightful owners. And keep it out of the hands of some very powerful people who were certainly willing to do absolutely anything to have it for themselves. I wasn't sure whether I should be thrilled or terrified, so I settled for a little of both.

I extended my hand to Atson and Crope, wishing Atson well and bidding Crope a less sincere rendition of the same. Atson left, but Crope turned back at the door. “Mr. Taggert, ” he said.

“Tasher.”

“Yes. Tasher.” He paused, making the sort of face that people make when they are trying to say something difficult. Finally he spoke again. “The courier involved in the case is my niece. If you keep her safe, you will have earned my respect.”

I wasn't sure how to respond to that. It was shocking to have him be so... human before me, besides the general strangeness of coincidence in the revelation. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I wanted Crope's respect. But in the end I realized I pitied him, just a little, and it wasn't as if I wanted to dislike the man; he had just never given me a reason to like him. So with complete honesty I responded, “I hope that it works out that way, Sal.”

He nodded, and exited my office with uncharacteristic quietness, leaving me alone to get ready for the biggest job of my life. And which, I could only hope, would not be my last.
No king but Christ; no law but liberty!
 218 snowfoxofdeath, Mon, 18th Oct '10 7:09:05 PM from San Francisco Suburb
Thou errant flap-dragon!

edited 21st Dec '10 6:42:27 PM by snowfoxofdeath

 219 Wheezy, Mon, 21st Mar '11 9:26:48 AM from Tampa, FL. Again.
(That Guy You Met Once)
Edit: Never mind.

edited 21st Mar '11 11:27:22 AM by Wheezy

The system doesn't know you right now, so no post button for you.
You need to Get Known to get one of those.
Total posts: 219
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