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Renegades: The Gentle One: Excerpt

As Renegades: The Gentle One will soon be available in Print and is currently available as an ebook, I thought I’d give an excerpt from it.  The section below is an excerpt during a section of The Gentle One where the crew attempts to hijack an alien freighter in their attempt to escape the star system.

They sat quietly for long minutes while Ariadne stared at the freighter and tried not to worry.  She wished she could do something… “I’m an idiot.”

“Yeah, but what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” Mike asked.

“I can help, I can scout out what’s happening there with my mental powers,” Ariadne said.  Why had she not thought to do so?  Granted, it held risk, but her friends had already put themselves at risk, why should she not follow suit?”

“Uh, you can do that?” Mike asked

“Yes, I can try to focus on the other ship.  It’s difficult, not my strong point at all.  But maybe I can see where their crew is and what they’re doing,” Ariadne said.  “I just have to be careful not to join with one of the Chxor or if I do… well I need to avoid any kind of backlash from what they might feel or do.  Oh and I don’t want to overstress myself, especially because this is something I haven’t really experimented with.”

“What happens if you do that?” Mike asked.

“Um, well, If I overstress myself I could pass out, or if I really push too much I suppose I could fry my brain,” Ariadne said, “Or if I get some kind of feedback, well, I’m not sure.  Once I… had a connection with someone I killed and it nearly killed me.”

“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” Mike cautioned.

“Well, they might need my help,” Ariadne took a deep breath, “But don’t tell anyone I risked myself, please, I still don’t want them to know about my telepathic abilities.”

“Right, so if you keel over dead I should just tell them you had an aneurism?” Mike asked

“Yep,” Ariadne said.  “Oh, and please don’t let Run cut my brain up, that would be gross.”

“Yeah, it would be a real mess,” Mike said.  “When are you starting?”

Ariadne didn’t answer.  She closed her eyes and focused.  When she really felt calm, she opened her mind to the world around her.  It felt similar to when she used her abilities to navigate, except she could actually see things, and she consciously noticed things.  It seemed more difficult, and she could only sense a small area around her.  She could sense everything around her, the bloodstains in the seat, the small insect that had made some sort of nest under the console.  She could count Mike’s heart beats, which seemed to happen in slow motion.  She could vaguely feel movement throughout the rest of the ship, but could feel no details.  Slowly, she tried to expand that area of sensation, but it refused stubbornly.

Then she tried to move it.  It shifted, almost without resistance and she slid it up out of the ship towards the other vessel.  Darkness and silence immediately surrounded her.  For a moment she panicked as she lost even the sound of her own heartbeat.  The world simply vanished into complete darkness of the void.

Yet in that moment of panic, she felt something else.  She could feel the energy of the void, the slight hum of vacuum’s energy, and beneath the surface of reality itself, she could taste something else.  Without the interference of everything else… she could feel the fabric of Shadow Space.

Ariadne felt a moment of awe as she touched that boundary with her mind.  She had never approached her sense of Shadow Space from this method before.  It had always seemed a thing of intuition; something she unconsciously processed.  To feel it like she did now, it seemed so much more than the realm of shadows that most considered it.  She felt a sudden urge to dive deeper, to open her mind to that barrier and to taste the alien energy of that other universe.

Then she remembered her friends.  Her desire to help them overrode her curiosity.  She slid her consciousness further outward and then she felt the steel of a container at the edge of her senses.  As she moved further, she found that her sphere of senses had contracted over the distance.  More, she found that the details had faded.

Ariadne continued along the container until she reached where she felt the hull of the ship.  Her mind sank through the steel, and then through the insulation, conduits, and wiring.  They proved no barrier as she sank her mind deeper into the freighter.  Finally, she came to what felt like a galley.  She could sense a stove top and a meal heater.  She also felt several Chxor.  She could hear their conversation, and she could sense the edges of their minds, fuzzy with distance, but open and inviting.

A moment later, she felt a familiar mind sweep into the room.

She sensed Rastar enter, and then the reaction of the Chxor crew.  Most went still, their minds frozen by the impossible intruder.  One reacted quickly enough, however, to dive to the side.

She could hear and feel Rastar fire.  The shots seemed muffled, as did the Chxor’s scream of agony.  Ariadne sensed the other Chxor freeze, either frightened or aware that they would die if they challenged their attacker.

The situation seemed well in hand, so Ariadne sent her mind towards the aft of the ship.  She could sense the hum and energy of the ship’s fusion reactor.  As she approached it, she could feel the footsteps of two others.  Her mind caught up to them, unfettered by the speed at which they ran.  Her senses had grown less detailed, but the black shadow that raced down the corridor could only be Anubus.  The other seemed to be another Chxor.  She could feel both their hearts race as Anubus continued his pursuit.

The Chxor heartbeat picked up as he reached a closed hatch.  Ariadne could hear his hands as they scrabbled to open the hatch.  They rose to a crescendo as Anubus closed the gap.  Ariadne felt Anubus’s lunge, and his mind seemed to blaze for a moment as his jaws closed on the back of the Chxor’s neck.

Ariadne tore her mind away, terrified that Anubus’s mind would draw her in.  She went forward instead.  Her awareness seemed to move slower now though, and she felt the details fade even more.  Her bubble had contracted still further, she sensed details only a few meters in radius now.

Her mind found Eric and Simon as they pushed towards the bridge of the ship.  They stopped outside a hatch, and Ariadne pushed her mind through.  She sensed only one Chxor, his mind a still thing of order, like some clockwork machine.

Simon opened the hatch and Eric swept in, riot gun at the ready. The captain stood still, motionless and calm as Eric and Simon approached.  Yet something was wrong.  Ariadne could feel it, something about the Chxor captain’s calm put her on edge.

Even as she realized that, she felt her awareness start to fade entirely.  She could taste the edges of his mind, though, and in a last push of effort, she dove into it.

She almost recoiled from what she found there.  Inside the layers of angular logic and hard, emotionless decisions, she sensed a creature devoted to hate.  The Chxor captain might not even realize it, but he built his life on that hate.  A hate devoid of any kind of pity and long buried so deep that he could not know he held it.  Hate drove every action in his life, however, a burning hate for those who gave into the emotions that he had long denied himself.  A hate that fed on pain and cruelty to whatever other races came within his reach… and on whatever Chxor he found lacked a proper pattern of behavior.

 Yet as she recoiled, she could sense his thoughts.  She could taste his satisfaction, that even in his demise he would manage eliminate his killers.  They will have time to see their death and give into emotions such as despair before they die, the pathetic lesser creatures they are, he thought.

His hand darted for the switch on the console.  The switch which would initiate the program he had activated when he heard the first gunshot.  The switch that would drop the radiation containment on the reactor and flood the ship with lethal radiation.  It was the logical solution to the pirates who threatened him and the ship.  The ship would continue to its rendezvous in orbit over Logan Two, the pirates would die from the radiation surge, and the majority of cargo would remain intact, along with the ship after a cleaning procedure.

“No!” Ariadne shouted.  Her mind wrestled with that of the captain and for a moment, just a second, she had the strength, even over the distance, to hold his hand still.

In that moment, she shared his consciousness.  She sensed him recoil from the emotions he felt from her, even as a part of him railed at what his society had denied him.  She also saw through his eyes as Eric brought up his weapon.  She and the Captain both stared down the barrel of the riot gun.  “Eric, wait-” she spoke with the Chxor captain’s voice.

Eric squeezed the trigger.

Ariadne threw her mind away from the Chxor.  She had become too deeply meshed with his mind though.  She felt his mind vanish and the chaos of destruction nearly pulled her with it.  Her thoughts shattered and she felt herself scream as thousands of metal darts screamed through the brain that she shared.

Then her world disappeared into blessed, painless darkness.

The Singularity… how I came to love the computer

singularityThere are several trains of thought on the future of humanity. There are some who seem to feel that technology is inherently dangerous and humanity is too flawed to use it. Like some kind of sentient fire it will turn on us and burn us. There are others who seem to think that we should therefore reject technology, and like the Luddites of old, destroy it and attempt to live without. The idea is ridiculous for a number of reasons ranging from mass starvation to disease control. We are entirely reliant upon technology to produce, store, and transport our food, to create our vaccines and drugs, to control flooding (in the form of dams and drainage), to offset drought (in the form of irrigation and water storage), and to make places livable with heating and air conditioning. Even with such a broad overview, it becomes obvious that forsaking technology suddenly would result in the deaths of millions and probably the collapse of civilization.

Then there’s the theory of the singularity. There are a number of proponents, those who say that technology ever advances, and that the rate of advance will only accelerate. Most of the ideas behind the singularity, in my opinion, are aimed inwards. People who want to live in digital worlds, and explore the transition between humans and their inventions. Some of the believers in the singularity are the Transhumanists… these are the folks that want to enter the machine, and some of them want to meld humanity and technology together. The singularity, as proposed by Verner Vinge (a science fiction author, who would have guessed?) is mostly dependent upon some boost to intelligence or computational ability. It would rely upon either the creation of an artificial intelligence through accident or design or the boosting of human intelligence through cybernetics or biological means. The theory is that this will lead to an exponential growth in technology and that society will change at such a rate as to become unrecognizable.

A simplified example of this is the cell phone and now the smart phone. I grew up in a time when they were technological oddities. I still remember when it seemed absurd to have one, in that anywhere it had reception, you could find a payphone. Why would anyone want to carry around such a large and heavy item to make calls with poor reception? Yet now, if someone lacks one, they are thought bizarre. The cell phone is invaluable in emergency situations, where seconds can save lives. The smart phone is a a far more capable computer than the desktop my parents bought in 1997. We can access internet virtually anywhere, all on a device that slips easily into a pocket. A generation ago, everyone wore watches… now, most of the younger generation just carries their phone. Why would you need a watch when you can check your phone just as easily?

One interesting thing to me is that there are many science fiction authors who ignore this ‘singularity.’ If you look at classic science fiction, they often had little idea of how profoundly computers would change things. Heinlein is an excellent example. He couldn’t have known how advanced and capable computers would become. And yet, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, he has Mycroft, his AI who helps the lunar rebels win the war. Perhaps in some emulation, many modern Sci-Fi authors ignore the concepts of the singularity. This is seen most often in space opera, but also to an extent in exploration and ‘hard’ science fiction which is focused on pushing the boundaries of physical technology. There may be some AI’s, robots, automation, or limited cybernetics, but the focus is on ‘real’ people doing ‘real’ things. This is, I think, at its root, why the authors of these books write as if the singularity doesn’t matter. At it’s root, in this matter, it doesn’t. People will be people, whether improved through technology or not. And strong characterization is far more important than whether the main character has a cybernetic eye and arm.

Then there are the ‘singularity authors’, such as Verner Vinge, William Gibson or James Hogan, who write extensively on the advances towards the singularity. They deal with AI’s, transcendent beings, networks, cybernetic improvement, and a range of technological improvement. Yet their novels often turn inward, as if the exploration of humanity is more important than what lies beyond the stars. This is as much, I think, a product of theme and personal interest as anything else.

Yet is has created something of a blind spot. There is extensive science fiction about man going out to the stars, and extensive science fiction about man and computer rapidly pushing the boundaries of what it is to be human here on earth. There is rather little overlap. There are occasional novels that do overlap, but they often explore one aspect or the other in almost a sidebar, instead, focused on the main theme. Part of this, I think, is the varied readership. Many people drawn to the ideas of exploration of new worlds and stars want to think of being there themselves. They want to dream of feeling the dirt of other planets with their own fingers and they want to see these other worlds with their own eyes. The proponents of the singularity, instead, have a fascination with the internal, and with the realms of the mind. For them, it is far more interesting to push the boundaries of the human mind, to merge with the AI and to become something greater.

Yet, I think, the future of exploration will involve them both. Already we use probes and robots extensively both here on earth and for space exploration. We may well see a small crew, one or two people, with a host of computer controlled robotic minions as our first manned mission to Mars. The technological singularity could easily involve space exploration, or as I might prefer, space exploration might involve the singularity. There’s room for everyone, after all.

Whatcha Readin?

I’ve something of a confession… I’m always curious when I look over in an airplane and see someone reading a book or kindle or what-have-you… what are they reading? Sometimes, if it’s possible, I’ll look over and see if I can catch the cover. If they’re really into reading, I hate to interrupt them and ask. Sometimes I just ask them after the flight, while we’re all in that awkward moment while we wait to disembark, you know, when everyone has their stuff and are ready to leap into the aisle and make a dash for the door.

Some of my curiosity is just that, I’m naturally a curious person. Some comes from a desire to find new authors or interesting topics to read about. I think a good portion of it comes from just wanting to understand more about people. People, and what they read, are stories to themselves. The little old lady one row up who is reading Fifty Shades of Grey or the teenager across the aisle reading a calculus textbook. Those kinds of things fascinate me, because then my brain tries to put together a story about why these things happen.

What we read often defines who we are because it defines what we know. The books and stories we read are a profound statement about who we are and what we care about.

So then my question goes out to you… What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever read (in a public place)? What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever seen someone else reading?

How the…

So, more from curiosity than anything else, how did various visitors find my blog? Also, for those of you out there, I’d love some feedback and comments about what kind of content you would like to see. Samples of my work, short fiction, more pictures of Dragon*Con or various cons, the seven winning numbers to tomorrow’s lotto… well no guarantees on the last one, but I’ll see what I can do. The floor is open to you all.