Chapter 6. Life on the Lam

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Chloe was more than a bit put off by the accommodations in the safe house.  There was a cot, a pillow,  a scratchy blanket, and a cupboard stocked with some canned goods.  The bathroom was about the size of a broom closet, and the water in the shower never got hotter than lukewarm.  Apparently, the Gray aliens never heard of Martha Stewart.  As far as they were concerned, Chloe’s basic needs were met, and they weren’t going to furnish the place with even a single doily.

Well, that’s life on the lam, Chloe sighed.  Her best guess was that some Barney Fife already listed her as a person of interest in Jeremy’s murder.  Plenty of people saw them leave the party together.  Of course, there wasn’t a sober person in the house that night, and their credibility as witnesses would be severely undermined by even the most incompetent public defender.

The surveillance cameras were a different story though.  The two genetically engineered agents in Guy Noir outfits were supposed to use some kind of magnetic device to interfere with the cameras, but who knows.  Chloe didn’t trust them – she just played along because they were her only connection to the Gray aliens.  Not that she trusted the Grays, but they were her only remaining connection to the Programmers who existed outside the simulation.  She didn’t exactly trust the Programmers either, but they were her creators, and at least that was something you could hang your hat on.

When the Programmers had a direct link into her mind, they controlled her thoughts and actions to achieve their ends. The world existed in a binary state where any given switch was either on or off at any given time.  Life was simple.

Once the link was severed, Chloe’s mind wandered out into philosophical waters – dangerous waters.  Pesky, human thoughts began to bob to the surface.  She considered the nature of this existence: Are the experiences of the beings inside the simulation genuine?  If so, what are the ethical implications of my actions?  What, exactly, are the Programmers looking for?  If the simulation crashes, will I exist in some capacity in another reality?  Or, is that it?  Goodnight, Vienna.  No mas.  Finito.

There were plenty of questions, and no real answers.  Chloe grabbed a can of albacore out of the cupboard, but then set it back down as she was gripped with anxiety and indecision.  There were the health risks of  mercury contamination to consider, and it made her sad to think of the dolphins that get caught in the tuna nets.  Does any of this even matter in a simulated universe, she wondered.

Her thoughts were cutoff when front door blew off the hinges – splinters rained  sideways through the room.  Chloe was momentarily knocked out by the concussive force of the blast.  When she came to, she recognized the assailant – it was Jeremy’s roommate, Chett.  He looked certifiably insane with a Cheshire Cat grin, oversized mirrored sunglasses, a tie-dye t-shirt with a big peace symbol on the front, jungle print camouflage pants, and a handheld weapon she guessed was something beyond human technology.

He gave her some instructions, but she couldn’t understand.  Her ears were ringing, everything was foggy.  Chett produced a roll of duct tape from one of his cargo pockets and secured her hands behind her back.  He got her to her feet and marched her outside.  The two men in black agents who were supposed to be protecting her lay dead in the gravel driveway – both face down in a pool of grayish fluid.  Presumably, it was their own blood.

Chett searched through their pockets and recovered the Brain Emulation Device that contained a facsimile of Jeremy’s mind.  He ushered Chloe into the trunk of a maroon colored Chevy Impala, and she tried to keep her sense of direction as the car accelerated down the long driveway and turned west onto the county road.

It occurred to Chloe that a college stoner with a 1.8 GPA certainly wouldn’t be capable of silently assassinating two men in black agents.  Chett must be working for someone big – maybe someone outside the simulation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serial Sci-Fi

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Chapter 5. One-Hundred Thousand Quadrillion Vigintillion

The heater in Chloe’s 1999 Ford Ranger gave up the ghost about ten miles in to the hundred and twenty mile ride.  “Unbelievable,” she said out loud as the absurdity of the situation sunk in.

She knew there was no such thing as magic – she didn’t expect them to equip her with a flying carpet or a Pegasus.  There exists roughly 10^82 atoms in the observable universe – in plain English that number is pronounced, one-hundred thousand quadrillion vigintillion.  It’s unfathomable.  But if they dropped in just one more atom, and the ledger didn’t balance, the whole simulation would crash and our universe would cease to be.  Thermodynamics, the law of conservation of energy, and all that jazz always apply.  The Programmers who exist outside the simulation must play by the rules, lest they break their own toy.

“But you’d think they could have at least hooked me up with a vehicle that was built in this century,” she complained, the words condensing into little puffs of vapor inside the frigid cab.

Chloe made an unscheduled stop at an all night diner to get some hot coffee, and for those pancakes she’d been craving.  The detour set her back almost a half hour, and when she got to the rendezvous point on a gravel service road at the edge of a cornfield, the two agents seemed more agitated than usual.

Even the most casual conspiracy theorist would have recognized them as Men in Black.  They wore dark suits complete with Humphrey Bogart hats, and had ashen, hairless faces.  Their eyes seemed a little too big, and their movements were not very fluid.

Only one of them talked – that had been the protocol during each of the previous three meetings as well.

“Was the brain emulation a success?” the talker asked.

“Yes,” Chloe confirmed.

“Give me the emulation device.”

“You’re welcome,” she said as she handed it over.  It wasn’t bravado – she simply wasn’t afraid of these guys.  They were genetically engineered errand boys cooked up by the Gray aliens on some frosty moon base back in the 1940’s.  She was next generation technology – concocted by the Programmers themselves and carefully spliced into the cosmic algorithm to have powers of telepathy, telekinesis, and invisibility.  She was well equipped to serve her purpose: Espionage.

The problem was that the computational processes driving the simulation had somehow become corrupted.  That little incident when she phase shifted in front Jeremy was every bit as inconvenient and embarrassing as showing up for a date with cold sore.  She wouldn’t have killed him if it hadn’t been for that.  Silly as it sounds, she sorta had a crush on him.

Now she was very much alone, and her superhuman powers were gone, perhaps the result of her specialized program reverting to default mode in order to conserve memory in an increasingly unstable computer simulation.  She had become just an ordinary girl, albeit, one who looked like a model and had a level genius I.Q.

“I SAID YOU’RE WELCOME!” Chloe shouted.

“Thank you,” he finally said in his awkward, almost digitized voice.  “We’ll be in contact with your next set of instructions.” With that, the strange men in dark suits ambled to their idling car and drove away.  It was a late model Mercedes-Benz luxury E-Class sedan in either Black, or Obsidian Black. She couldn’t quite tell – it was too dark out.

Chloe got back in her rusting pickup truck, and for the first time in her existence, she cried.  I know one thing, she thought to herself, I’d look a hell of a lot cuter in that car than those two dorks.  

 

 

Chapter 4. The Haunted Flash Drive

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There, among the dusty trinkets, broken tools, and displaced idols of our messy human history, Chloe and Jeremy embraced in a kiss.  His mind raced as he tried to calculate the odds of a workaholic grad student coming by in the wee hours to index, say, some late 17th century cuff links.  Jeremy’s best guess was that he and Chloe probably had the room to themselves until about 7:00 AM.

“Do you know what I’m thinking?” he said, almost panting.

Chloe let her lips brush gently against his neck, and then whispered seductively in his ear, “I will in a minute.”  She discretely removed something from her coat pocket – it resembled a flash drive, except where you would expect to see the standard USB plug there was a four-inch-long metallic needle that tapered to a fine point.   With a sudden, practiced movement, she  plunged the needle into the back of his neck just above the c1 vertebrae, angling for the brain stem.

There was a high pitched whine as the mechanism deployed an energy pulse that surged through Jeremy’s neural networks.  It was powerful enough to make his slack jawed skull momentarily visible through the flesh of his face.

He fell dead at Chloe’s feet, and the acrid smell of singed hair wafted up to her as she inspected the mechanism.  A small, blinking red light embedded in the side of the killer flash drive changed to solid green, indicating the Whole Brain Emulation was a success.  The entirety of Jeremy’s sentient mind had been transferred and stored in the form of light energy on a quantum memory chip.

“That’s pretty neat,” Chloe said as she tucked the device back into her pocket and stepped over the body.  She noted the clock on the wall when she got to ground level: 12:41 AM.  She really wanted to stop at Roy’s 24/7 Diner for pancakes, but there wasn’t time.  She had to rendezvous with an agent on the outskirts of some little farm town way out in the sticks.

Chloe sighed and fed a few dollars into the vending machine, finally opting for M&M’s and Cool Ranch Doritos.  “Breakfast of champions,” she muttered as she headed out the door.

 

Serial Fiction

I thought I’d try an exercise in writing serial fiction.  My objective is to get an installment out on the last Sunday of every month.  This isn’t going to be novel length –  maybe four or five installments.  I thought it would be interesting to see how a narrative develops in this format.  So far, it looks like the story is leaning toward horror, or possibly Sci Fi, or maybe some combination of the two.  I’m not quite sure how this is going to go.  Questions and comments are always welcome.

-Hawkelson

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It was not a dark and stormy night, and that was the scary part.  If it had been, Jeremy could have chalked it up to an overactive imagination brought on by watching one too many paranormal videos on Youtube.  As it turned out, it was a bright sunny day in mid autumn.  There was no doubting his senses.

He was sitting on a bench outside Hannah Hall waiting for his sort-of-girlfriend, Chloe, to finish her French exam.  He wasn’t sure if it was a date or not, but whatever it was, they were going to walk to the student union for a bite to eat.  It was hard to get a read on her.  She said she didn’t like to put labels on things, and Jeremy accepted that because she was very eccentric, and highly intelligent.  She was also smokin’ hot, so he decided to wait awhile longer to see how things would play out.

Chloe came walking out of the building at about a quarter ‘til two.  Jeremy realized she had finished her exam in fifteen minutes.  He wondered how she ended up at a mediocre state university when she clearly had Ivy League brains.  He wondered about a lot of things.  She told him her parents split up when she was a kid, and she was shuffled between grandparents, aunts, uncles, and foster homes until she was eighteen. She said she had lived just about everywhere in the country, but she didn’t think of any place as home.

Chloe descended the stone stairs, looking quite stunning.  She was tall and tan with dark hair, and blue eyes like glacial ice.  A lot of people thought she wore colored contact lenses, but that wasn’t the case.  It was just in her genes.  And in her jeans, Jeremy chuckled to himself.  He was an English major – always on the lookout for puns, especially bawdy ones.

He waved to her, and she waived back.  He had a cheesy line he was going to say to her in French: Ça t’a fait mal quand tu es tombée du ciel ? He had practiced the pronunciation for a solid half hour, and he felt like he had it down fairly well.  It translates to something like, Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?  He thought she’d get a kick out of it, or at least appreciate the effort.  But what he saw next made him forget the line.  In fact, it made him forget about his notions of reality.

Chloe began to blink on and off, as if phasing out of existence.  Then, in mid-stride, she vanished completely.  Jeremy wanted to scream out for her, but terror had crystallized in him.  He was unable to move or think.  A diffuse fog appeared in the space she had occupied.  It collected in roughly human form, and drifted toward him.  The fog seemed to gain density and opaqueness as it closed the distance, becoming less like a vapor and more like a syrupy liquid, then like sand, and finally, Chloe was restored in her entirety.

She plopped down on the bench next to him and said dramatically, “I’m so glad that exam is over.  I think I got an A, or a high B at worst.”

Jeremy’s faculties were jolted back to life, and he stood abruptly and took a big step backward.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Chloe, what just happened?”

“I finished my exam, silly.  Now we’re gonna get lunch.”

“Tell me what just happened.”

“I’m sorry, Jeremy.  You weren’t supposed to see that.  There are glitches, sometimes.”

“Tell me what just happened.  Please.”

“Don’t pry,” she said.

“They have cameras all over campus.  I’ll get the surveillance video.”

“Go home, Jeremy.  Go out with your friends tonight. Forget about this.”

Writing a Novel

clockSo, you’ve come up with a riveting concept and several well developed characters that are going to land you a lucrative book deal.  Now, all you have to do is sit down and write the book.  It seems obvious, but this is where most writers utterly fail.  They talk about how they’re going to start writing the book.  They post their intentions on social media, and make appropriate adjustments to mood and status.  They go to coffee shops and get amped up on high octane java and outline everything they’ll need to do to start writing.  They hang opulent calendars and highlight critical dates with fluorescent markers that will keep them on schedule.  They do everything except write the damned book.

It takes a lot of work to transform those intriguing concepts and vibrant characters into what we recognize as language.  In previous posts, I’ve presented some tips and tricks on how to get in touch with your creative side.  Today, I’m going to give you my two cents on tackling the practical side.

Dress for the Job:

Even if you’re working from home, it’s important to formalize the writing process by actually getting dressed.  I don’t put on a suit and tie, but I do put on pants, a shirt, and shoes.  Lounging on the sofa in my boxers does not make for a productive writing session.

The Writing Session:

I touched on this briefly in my last post.  I dedicate 90 minute blocks of time to writing.  I schedule these blocks throughout the week, and I take them very seriously.  Unless I have a severed artery, or there are mushroom clouds on the horizon, I write for an hour and a half.  I started with twenty-minute writing blocks, and gradually increased the sessions.  An hour and a half seems to be my max.  Any more, and I lose focus and efficiency.

I show up to my writing session with a very solid idea of what I’m going to be writing for the next hour and a half.  That means the creative process is largely completed – all my notes, scribblings, and sketches are on hand.  Refer to my previous posts if you’d like some insight into my creative process.

Finer Points:

I like to be comfortable, but not cozy.  I get more done in a cool room – somewhere around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  I don’t devour a huge meal before my writing session, but I do have a light snack.  I don’ drink any alcohol before or during my writing session.  Some people think chemicals enhance their writing ability, but I know for certain they don’t help me in the least.  Lastly, I have to be sitting upright in a sturdy chair at a desk to really get every last bit of productivity out of my writing session.

Of course, what works for me won’t apply to everybody.  It’s up to you to optimize your writing sessions.  The clock is ticking.  I suggest you get started.

 

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawkelson

 

When Your Muse is on Hiatus

It’s easy to write creatively when your muse shows up and fills your head with elegant verse and provocative prose.  But what do you do when your muse decides to call in sick, or worse, goes on a week-long booze cruise in Cancun?

A serious writer should try to keep a cache of ideas to survive these creative droughts.  I tend to be more creative at night, so I dedicate a half hour per night to brainstorming ideas.  I don’t have a specific time – it just has to be dark outside.  The ideas are usually very raw – sometimes just a single word, sometimes a phrase, sometimes a sentence complete with a subject and predicate.

I isolate the ideas that seem to have potential, and I expand them into content for this blog, or into poems, or short fiction.  I do this by dedicating 90 minute blocks of time to my actual writing, or as I call it, No B.S. Writing Sessions.  I schedule two or three of these writing sessions per week, and I try to sneak in another one or two on weekends.  Believe it or not, I wrote a 90,000 word Sci Fi manuscript in just under a year by sticking to my formula.  Of course, getting the manuscript to complete the metamorphosis into a full-fledged novel is a whole other thing.  If that ever happens, you’ll be sure to hear about it.

The point is this: The seconds, and minutes, and hours you need to be a productive writer are there for the taking.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s something I scribbled down while I was on hold with tech support –Time bleeds out of me into the thirsty sand.

Now, I was on hold for about three minutes, and I could have killed that time by playing Solitaire, or Candy Crush, or twiddling my thumbs, but I elected to brainstorm a little bit.

During my next 90 minute writing session, I looked at my cache of ideas and there it was: Time bleeds out of me into the thirsty sand.  I thought it sounded kind of poetic, so I elaborated on it.  Eventually, I completed the poem.

It’s about a guy who lost his Muse.  I kind of like it, and I feel like it’s good enough to share with you.  By the way, it was the inspiration for this week’s blog.  And to think, it all started while I was on hold with tech support.

 

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

 

-Hawkelson

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Marrow

 

The blank page has swelled into some forsaken

wasteland where words cannot grow,

where morning never comes, but I can feel Time bleeding

out of me into the thirsty sand beneath my feet.

I have stumbled upon the skeleton of my Muse,

half buried in a windswept dune, still clutching her lyre.

I crack open the long bones and suck out the marrow;

these are all the words she had left in her.

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Haiku

Several posts ago, my topic of the week was on the literary form of haibun.  Typically, a haibun piece consists of a prose narrative followed by a haiku that illuminates some aspect of the prose in a subtle, but meaningful way.  I am still quite the novice at this form, however, I felt that I knew enough to submit a work of my own to a journal called, Haibun Today.

A few weeks later I was contacted by the publication’s general editor, Ray Rasmussen.  He felt the prose portion of my submission was strong, but the haiku needed work.  A lot of work.  Under his patient guidance, I was able to revise the piece, and it was ultimately accepted for publication in the upcoming December 2017 edition.

This post isn’t about me patting myself on the back.  Well, it is a little bit because it means a lot to have my work appear in a journal that I hold dear to my heart.  But besides that, this post is meant to reinforce a theme I touched on two months ago.  It was titled, “On Rejection.”

In that post, I emphasized how valuable an editor’s constructive criticism can be for a writer.  It’s rare when an editor takes the time to do this for an unsolicited submission. Seize the opportunity when it happens.  Chances are you’re going to learn something about the craft of writing.

And that’s exactly what happened to me.  I learned something about writing haiku – and I can apply that lesson to every facet of my writing.  Haiku forces a writer to focus a concept into a literary laser beam.  A lot has to happen in seventeen syllables or less, and if it’s done well, the reader’s brain will vaporize from the impact your haiku just made.  There is a ton of helpful articles out there on the subject – Ray Rasmussen gave me this link to get me started, and I highly recommend it to you: http://www.haiku.org.uk/two-image.htm

I’m not claiming to be a haiku expert, but I am claiming that studying the haiku form can help a writer eliminate a lot of the mental clutter that tends to bog them down.  When you’re writing in English, you can express a concept in a multitude of ways.  A given word could have dozens of synonyms that ever so slightly change the tone of a phrase or sentence.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the possibilities.

Reading and writing haiku for a half hour or so seems to prime my brain to think more concisely.  My mind feels more focused and agile, and my writing session is noticeably more productive.  If I was independently wealthy, I’d commission a team of cognitive scientists to figure out why this happens to me.  But, unless I hit the Mega Millions, you’re just gonna have to take my word for it.  And see if it works for you.  It certainly won’t hurt.

I’ll leave you with a haiku I finished a few nights ago.  Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

 

-Hawkelson

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pastel sky

lazy shadows spill

from the still trees