Hack the Future part 10 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

„I am Irelle.“she continued, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Then she turned briefly to her companions and addressed them as well. „Remember, don’t harm them! We are here to enter into a contract with them.“ The two elves simply nodded, and raised their glasses towards TJ and Blade. Waiting.

„As I said earlier, I wish to discuss a job with you, should you be interested.“ she looked directly at TJ. Her golden, cat-like eyes locking on his – which no longer seemed to be the dark, thunderclouds they’d been just moments ago, but had reverted to his usual bluish-gray, and holding them in an eerie, unblinking stare. She raised her glass to his. Watched. Waited. He was still angry but, more than that, he was curious. He almost seemed confused. Irelle’s lip twitched slightly in what might’ve been amusement.

„If you raise your glass and drink, we’ll negotiate. If you set the glass on the table, we will leave in peace. No harm will come to you through me or mine.“ She finished that last sentence with a smile that showed her teeth. If anything, that smile only made her look even more dangerous.

TJ had been unfazed by her intent stare, though as she finished speaking, he sighed softly. There was the briefest moment where he glanced towards Blade, then he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. He almost wished his partner weren’t here. Almost. Oh well, he couldn’t keep all of his secrets forever, and if there was ever a time to spill this particular one, it was now. „In peace, you say?“ he muttered softly. But if he wanted an answer, he didn’t wait for it, for even as Irelle nodded, he muttered even more softly „Very well…“ Dropping his hand from his nose, he slid it under the glass. Letting the container rest on his palm, while he steadied it with his other hand. He raised it to the elven woman and nodded, then turned the glass by one hundred and eighty degrees, before he intoned formally „Vala zhi; Vala zhi’rha; hla zhi, zhi’rha Vala!“ before flashing Irelle a wide, insolent grin.

The four surprised gasps that assaulted his ears in unison were like music, the incredulous stares from Blade and Irelle’s gophers washed over him like a gentle breeze, and seeing sorceress’s aloof poise shatter, if only for an instant, brought a self-satisfied smile to his lips. He brought the glass to his lips and took a long, deep drink, then sighed softly as he savoured the taste of the rich, amber liquid. Damn! It’s been ages since I had this stuff… Never one to let opportunities slip by, TJ reached down and lightly patted Irelle’s foot, just before he gingerly pinched the sole of her shoe at its open-toed tip not unlike he’d pinched his nose just a moment ago, and moved her dangerously positioned leg aside. „Serrahn, and not a recent vintage either“; he mused aloud after swallowing the heady fruit wine. „Someone came prepared, it seems.“

„Not prepared enough, evidently“ Irelle replied, her eyes meeting his. Watching him curiously and carefully, as the moment of surprise finally faded. Her guards glared daggers at him and, from the corner of his eye he could see Blade looking at him with an expression that seemed a perplexed amalgam of ‘What the fuck?’ and ‘We need to talk!’ Still, he couldn’t quite get that smug grin off his face, so he merely shrugged and addressed the blonde elf. Who, he noted pleasantly, had also taken a drink, just as her helpers did. „Twice now, you mentioned a job. So why don’t you be a dear and kindly elaborate on the nature of said job?“

If Irelle was irritated, she hid it well. Once again, she made sure her hair didn’t cover her runes, then she took another sip of wine before setting the glass on the table and slowly standing with as much grace as she showed when sitting down. „I will of course get to that“; she said in that soft soprano of hers. „Though as we’ve reached an accord, there is something I must do before then.”

And so she did. Once again she held his gaze, as if to convince him that she really didn’t mean him any harm, as she reached out her hand and slipped it under the collar of his shirt.

Those long, slender fingers felt cool against his skin and, though he knew it wasn’t the case, it was as if she was caressing him. That impression was brief, however, because he suddenly felt her nails dig into the flesh of his shoulder, just around the angry wound the bullet had left earlier today. The pain was much the same, if not worse, and it was only the fact she held his gaze that he didn’t flinch. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. So he simply sat there with gritted teeth and clenched fists, as her elven magic knitted his flesh and skin back the way it was before that Dayner fucker shot him.

It took all of ten or fifteen seconds before his shoulder looked and felt like new. After Irelle had withdrawn her hand, he rolled it a few times just to be sure but, it didn’t even feel sore anymore. The blonde elf smirked. „And you’re back to one hundred percent!“ With that she turned to face Blade, and slowly dropped down onto one knee, and even as TJ muttered „So I am, much obliged.“

The elf’s sharp nails dug into his partner’s damaged leg. He smiled as he watched the process. Having just gone through it himself, over a much smaller area, he could only imagine the pain Blade must be feeling right about now. As such, that she only sucked in a sharp breath through her teeth showed she was as tough -or as stubborn- as he was. Nodding encouragement at her, he reached over and clamped a hand over her shoulder in support.

Fixing Blade’s leg had taken decidedly longer, though how much longer he couldn’t say. And he took another mental note of how all this healing magic didn’t seem to wear Irelle out in the slightest. On the contrary, he’d watched the elf, and halfway through the process, she had suddenly blinked, then grinned almost wickedly as she cast a sidelong glance up at him. Standing slowly after she was done, Irelle still wore that wicked, secretive grin, and she trailed her long fingers along Blade’s natural arm, then along her shoulder and neck. When she leaned in, TJ almost thought the sorceress might plant a kiss on his partner but, she merely gazed at her as her fingers brushed along one of Blade’s ears.

Irelle frowned. TJ quirked his brow at Blade in an unspoken question but she didn’t meet his eyes. Instead, he heard Irelle laugh, and wished he hadn’t. As musical as it sounded, it was a decidedly eerie laugh, which stopped as suddenly as it begun. The runes on the side of her head flashed white hot, and she spun towards the mages just as TJ saw them both reach for their wands. So much for peace!

Hack the Future Part 6 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

“He’s gone, we’d better get scarce too.” Blade nodded, and focused on the alcohol. Her burned lips and tongue mumbled out the spell once more. The plastic bottle started softening in her hand and she immediately threw it at the glass. She and TJ darted back to the other side of the narrow room, barely avoiding getting splashed. The window, made of Lexan, melted quickly, but for Blade, it was a glacial process. TJ took the time to re-store the plastique, and the detonator back in the hollow heels for later. He grabbed the chair he’d sat in and a hard yank tore the corroded legs in half. Hefting it, he threw it with all his might and the window splattered outwards, giving them a gaping hole to dive through.

TJ was already more than just a little irate about how this job had gone down but, as they both barely managed to not get splashed by Blade’s acid projectile, watching his jacket melt away was the icing of today’s cake. It pissed him off so much that he threw the chair with such force that Blade’s acid might’ve been superfluous. However, after a quick once over of the killed guard, they’d managed to not only retrieve their guns from his corpse but, surprisingly, he’d also had the polished aluminum cube tucked in one of his pockets. „Not a total loss…“; he muttered to Blade over the blaring alarms.

They both cleared the hole cleanly, and managed to avoid any of the melted spatter. The alarms blared their shrieking warning through the whole facility. They grabbed their weapons, and then headed down to the garage. Miraculously finding their vehicle still parked and unmolested, they drove quickly away, the alarm still blaring behind them. The garage security door had been torn off its mountings and thrown aside, leaving them a clean exit, which they took.

As uneventful as their way to the garage was, he couldn’t help but wonder if the alarms were going crazy over them leaving, or that damned Vampire running amok somewhere in the building. And if it was the latter, what the hell was that thing doing here? Something, he decided, that they’d have to think about when they got home. As the black 1980 Quattro sped out of the garage, he smirked a bit; Vampires have /some/ uses, it seems. Racing away from Dayner like a bat out of hell, albeit to a different song blaring over the speakers, he had to eventually blend in to normal traffic. At least until they made it out of Spandau and hit the A 10. Then all bets were off, and coaxed every last bit out his old Audi.

…and it was also time to at least try and lighten the mood a bit after this fiasco. Leaning over to open the glove box and stow their hard earned prize, he got the first good look at the sad state Blade’s leg was in. He knew all about her ‘special upgrade’ but, he’d never actually seen the hefty price that came with using it. „Remind me never to ask you for a footjob.“; he muttered with an insolent grin on his face. But when he didn’t get a response, he shrugged and concentrated on putting as much distance between himself and the Dayner building as fast as possible.

TJ drove like a madman on the A10, slowing only enough to match traffic and avoid any attention. It was a long, tension-filled trip back to their flat in downtown Oranienburg. Once there, Blade ran to the bathroom and grabbed the bentonite clay suspension, swallowing a mouthful as she focused on a healing spell. The agony in her mouth slowly subsided as the clay absorbed the remaining acid, and healed the burned tissues. She walked back into the small living room as TJ poured some bentonite on his burn. The whole job had gone pear-shaped. Depending on their employer, they might have a contract on them by tomorrow if he, she, or it decided they were a loose end.


Hack the Future part 2 (Steven Schaufler & J Dark)

Despite the annoyed retort on the cusp of exploding into his microphone, it was the doors finally opening which made him pull it back only to be forgotten with the countless others she’d more than deserved, but never heard, over the course of their working relationship. And it had been one that was not only mutually beneficial but, also, quite lucrative. If that meant he had to take her sass along with her skills, then so be it.

Now he winced. Not only because ninety seconds was cutting things way closer than he would have liked, especially with his paunch not allowing him to slip sideways through the door before it fully opened like he would have a few years ago, but because Blade’s last impatient urging was cut off by a gunshot. Cursing a string of expletives under his breath that would make even the hardiest sailors blush, he wasted precious seconds by considering whether to prioritize the job or his partner… Then he moved, and he hated himself for it.

„Blade, I’m going for the prize. Don’t get your pretty little ass shot!“ He all but cried into the headset, not knowing whether she heard him or not.

It wasn’t nearly enough to clear his conscience if she did get herself killed but, it would have to do for now. He had reached the display case at the end of the cavernous and mirror paneled room and, while under normal circumstances he would’ve checked for any secondary alarms, he neither had the time for it, nor really the need for secrecy anymore. The glass case shattered after just one quick and precise application of his P7’s grip, and the polished aluminum cube which had been on display beneath it found itself in his free hand. He would’ve worn a self-satisfied smile, if not for the fact the door was beginning to close a good fifteen seconds before it should have.

Acting on pure instinct and trusting luck more than skill, he didn’t even tuck the newly liberated container into his satchel but merely took three long strides, before taking a leaping dive onto the mirrored floor and letting his momentum carry him forward like a skater on ice. And it was that momentum, along with a generous helping of luck, that saved his hide. He’d slid across the smooth surface so fast, that when his shoulders touched the carpet outside, it was almost like hitting a wall. His legs had nowhere to go but up, so he barely managed to clear the door before it shut and, whoever it was that fired at him didn’t factor in the sudden stop either, for the projectile which was no doubt meant to pop his head like a melon, buried itself into the carpeted, concrete floor a few centimeters in front of him.

„I’m getting too old for this shit!“ He yelled into his headset. Though the ways things were going, it likely was a futile gesture. Ever since he heard that initial gunshot on Blade’s end, all he’d gotten from the damned thing was static. Rolling over and zig-zagging along the narrow hall in a crouched run to avoid getting hit by whomever was shooting at him he somehow managed to make it to the stairwell unharmed.

Unlike his partner, who had to hack into the system several stories up, his objective had been on the sub-level. As such, he decided that if he was going to even to try to attempt getting to Blade, he had to first grab something better than his P7 from the car. Though once he opened the door to the garage, that became a moot point. Directly across from him, albeit separated by a good thirty or more meters, Blade was already hobbling towards the car. Grinning wickedly, he called out to her „I think we…“ and whatever else he’d meant to say was lost to the thunderous echo of a single gunshot tearing through the garage as violently as the projectile tore through his shoulder.

Hack the Future part 1 ( Steven Schaufler & J Dark )

She flipped her straight black hair back with a light toss of her head, then grunted in annoyance as strands floated like black silk back in front of her eyes. Grumbling, she took an alligator clip from her open kit with her right hand, and used it as an impromptu barrette to hold her hair. “Come on Blade, where’s that hack?” She muttered something low and scathing as the wires leading from her left hand continued to send signals, attempting to finesse the security login. “Hey! What’d you….”, the voice growled. She snapped back, “Shut it, spud. It’s hard enough hacking with a dog yapping.” The angry growl at the other end of her earbud promised a long talk when they got done. The last electron pattern for the security code dropped into place, the yellow ‘query’ going to a green ‘proceed’.

“I got it, I’m in. Doors opening now. We got ninety seconds before Dayner’s pet ‘runners find the hack.” She started feeding spoofers, small programs designed to randomly look, and act like a virus attempting to hack a program. Spoofers used a random algorithm to choose targets, then attached themselves to the program, and replicated, attempting to absorb all available memory. It was a slight variation on a distributed denial of service attack, but one that was internal rather than the archaic method of overwhelming the link to the ‘net.

Blade watched the spoofers take off, and watched the speed that the ‘watchdogs’, the company’s personal security runners isolated the spoofer swarm and began to deny them expansion. “It doesn’t look good, these guys are sharp. Pick up the pace. I…”, she started to say then dropped flat on her back as a soft scrape reached her ears. Three impacts hit just above her, the bullets pockmarking the wall and spalling ceramic dust into her eyes and nose. She brought her foot up, aiming the heel at the security guards in dark brown uniforms. Both carried silenced StGS Wasps, the stubby assault pistol with a silencer longer than the snub barrel. The guard to her left dropped to a knee to brace, the right guard leaned against the corner, only his head and right shoulder seen.

She lifted her left leg, tightened her toes a certain way, and the heel-mounted pulse laser fired, obliterating her boot, and the kneeling guard from the sternum up. The cauterized remains flopped and twitched as the body began to realize it had died. The other guard had ducked back around the corner as she’d fired. I got to get out of here. They found me way too fast. “They found me, I have to bail. Abort. Abort abort abort!” Dammit, there goes our payday. Angry at the shift in fortune, she pulled her father’s old Smith&Wesson Model 29 from the shoulder holster, and snapped a quick shot at the corner where the other security guard had slipped behind. The thunderous boom of the old .44 magnum raised the settling ceramic dust and she sneezed. The bullet tore a fist-sized chunk of cement and ceramic from the wall. She smiled grimly as she heard choking and coughing from around the corner.

She hobbled to her feet and ran clumsily, reaching the stairwell door, and yanking it open. It was second nature to slap the big D-ring around the steel railing and leap over the edge, using the rappelling wire brake to slow her descent. Landing at the bottom o the stairwell, she slapped the rappelling rig’s quick-release and sprinted out the doorway into the underground parking garage. Where is he?! I’m screwed if he gets caught. He’s got the keys.

Interviewing the Father of ‘Building Baby Brother’ part 2

Here is the second half of my interview with Steven Radecki, the author of ‘Building Baby Brother’.

Here’s a question about choosing a topic to write about. Do you feel that a story needs to have relevance in society?

I think that having some kind of social relevance helps to deepen a story. The trick, though, is to do it in such a way that it doesn’t feel preachy or pedantic to the reader. That can turn them off to the message (and story!) very quickly.

Comics are used at times to offer controversial subjects in stories. In ‘Civil War’, the idea of registration comes up. Do you feel ‘Building Baby Brother’ has touched a subject that could become more important as robotics and Artificial Intelligence become more sophisticated?

I think it raises the point that we probably need to re-examine our preconceptions about AI, much of which is driven by popular science fiction films, television, and literature.

It’s been said that all great stories like BBB are built on previous works the writer had read. In that vein, who, influenced your vision of the story?

There are several influences to this story, some of which are even subtly referenced during the course of the story. One of the inspirations that kept coming to my mind as I wrote and edited it was David Gerrold’s When Harlie was One. (I still prefer the original edition. Sorry, David.) Other conscious influences were the movie A.I. and, of course, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m certain that there were many, many unconscious influences as well, such as Mycroft Holmes from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but none I specifically set out to emulate.

Were there any books that helped solidify your idea, or an author you enjoyed reading that might have given you ideas on style and presentation?

As mentioned in my answer to your previous question, I think David Gerrold with When Harlie was One was a major influence, both thematically and stylistically. Finding the right voice for this story was definitely a challenge—and one of the reasons that I very rarely tell a story from a first-person point-of-view. I felt that this story, though, demanded a first-person narrative perspective. Other than that, I can’t say that any specific storytelling style influenced the one used in this story. I’m not saying that it isn’t there, just like that I don’t recall using any other author’s particular style as an inspiration or template.

Interviewing the Father of ‘Building Baby Brother’

Hello all!

I’m J Dark, author of ‘Best Intentions’, book one of a series I’ve come to call ‘Glass Bottles’.

I’m here to interview the author of a story I really have wanted to see in print since I first critiqued it. That story is ‘Building Baby Brother’ ( BBB ), by Steven Radecki. What we’re going to do today is a little Q&A about his story.  This is a two-part series, with the second portion tomorrow.

I’m really honored to be the one to do this interview. So to jump right in, thank you Steven for sharing your time with the readers.

My first question is probably the one all authors get at least once every time your promoting a book. That question is: Where did you get the idea for BBB?

To be honest, I don’t remember where the actual idea for the plot came from. The story itself started as part of an exercise that, well, kind of got out hand. My son’s charter had planned to sponsor an event to help foster reading and writing skills by asking students and willing family members to write a short story and then read it out loud at this event. Always willing to write, particularly for a good cause such as that one, I started pondering possible story ideas. I knew I wanted something kind of “Twilight Zone”-ish—something short, entertaining, but with a fun twist at the end. From there, the basic concept of the story was born.

Every author develops their stories differently. In your case, did you create an outline first, or just choose a direction, or something else?

I rarely work from an outline for a short story. They are usually based on some concept I want to explore and I kind of see where the characters involved take it. In case, since it was originally only supposed to be 2,000 words, I felt a full-fledged outline might be overkill. As a result, though, the last third or so of the story went a direction that surprised even me.

No story ever flows smoothly as it’s created. What parts, or scenes were the hardest to develop?

I always have trouble with the middle. They say that maintaining the story and pace in the second book of a trilogy is often difficult, and I think the same thing is true about the middle of any story. I usually know how to start my stories and have a pretty good idea how it will end either when I start it or before I get a quarter of the way through it. In this story, probably the most difficult scene was scene with the police because I needed something that would transition the story from its setup to exploring the implications of the actions performed in its first half. I had a really tough time coming up with a scene that would work that would get me to where I wanted the story to go.

Another question I’m sure authors get asked all the time is, what made you decide to be a writer? With all the professions around, why get into writing?

Why not? I’ve always wanted to create—whether it be writing or filmmaking. There’s immensely satisfying about “putting on a show” and presenting it to an audience. With writing, perhaps even more than with filmmaking, you can have full control over your production: all the way from set design, costuming, and casting. Of course, when you sell the movie rights, you tend to lose those.

My last question for this series is, where and when do you like to write? I know that David Weber has said that he prefers the evenings, as it allows him to relax and concentrate. What are your favorite conditions for writing?

Peace and quiet—and good luck getting that! My preferred writing environment is where were I’m unlikely to be interrupted. I prefer to be able to get mentally lost in the world that I’m writing about. I find that the characters tend to be more vivid in my mind and are more to behave as they should so that mostly all I have to do is transcribe as they take whatever action the story requires of them. I’ve written in a lot of places: home, work, coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotel rooms…I’m pretty good at tuning out external distractions. Still, a quiet environment is my preference. Also, I don’t write with music on in the background; I find it too distracting.

Skid Style part 1

Charlie ‘Skid’ Moore ran leisurely in traffic, easily keeping up with the forty mile an hour pace. His bright suit of red shirt and blue pants stood out in the traffic. He’d originally gone for a dark grey and black, thinking it looked cooler, but after four very near misses with hurtling vehicles, he’d opted for a brighter, more visible color combination. While it kept him from more near misses, it also created it’s own problems. People, especially those in the news business, and fanatics on both sides of the ‘superhero’ argument were prone to following him around. It made it hard to enjoy just being himself for the sake of it. Now however, the rush hour traffic made it easy to avoid the newsies and just enjoy running.

Skid accelerated to sixty miles an hour, weaving quickly between cars. The cars honked, with some swerving to avoid the speedster in traffic. Skid grimaced at the noise and prayed that he just hadn’t started a chain reaction wreck, but beyond agitated honking, nothing sounded like a wreck. Thankful, and just a bit tense, Skid took the down ramp and dashed east towards the dockyards. I’ll start patrolling there. The scanner last night said there were a few robberies. Some missing crates and busted loading doors. I can check that. He angled off on to Belcher street, then sped up.

His field of vision narrowed. His eyes started to have trouble registering things closest to him. The ‘tunnel effect’ continued to narrow as he accelerated. God if I could only see stuff around me. That was what had gotten the papers to nickname him ‘Skid’. Early on in his career, he’d tried to use his full speed to catch a van escaping from a convenience store robbery. He was on the van so fast that he barely had time to register the impending collision and darted out of the way. He tripped on steps to a brownstone, then stumbled along the sidewalk, still at high speed.

He’d managed to dodge a couple out for an afternoon stroll, then angled back into the street and stopped running. The skid marks of his melting sneakers as he tried to stop like a comic book hero were over sixty yards long. The van got away by turning on a side street while Charlie had frantically tried to avoid collisions. He learned his lesson after that, staying under sixty miles an hour in moving traffic. He’d accelerate, when he had room, but in a city like Boston, room to run flat out was near impossible to find.

He turned off Belcher, then slowed and turned on Collier. The street ran north and fronted the warehouses that stored good from the ships being serviced at the docks. The pace on the docks and warehouses was frantic. It looked to Charlie like a ant nest that had been kicked open. Cranes were moving cargo off the freighters in large pallets. Another freighter was sliding containers down a ramp to waiting eighteen wheel tractor-trailer flatbeds. The line of trucks waiting for cargo stretched over a quarter mile by his estimate.

Glass Bottles Teaser

Zhirk turned Hervald over. A small bottle clung to the side of his hand. I squatted down to get a better view. It was made of an odd looking metallic glass. A small cork stopper lay on the floor.

I looked Hervald over carefully. His eyes were open and glassy. Spittle dribbled from the corner of his mouth, dripping to the carpet and soaking slowly in. His chest rose and fell shallowly, so he wasn’t dead. It was like no one was home at all. I looked again at the bottle and sounded out a small spell to see if magick was active. The moment the spell activated, I had to douse it, as the power nearly burned my eyes from their sockets. The bottle was glowing like a small sun. What the hell was going on here?